Whales and dolphins are among the most beautiful creatures on Earth. The warm North Atlantic waters off the Portuguese coast provide a home for whales and dolphins year-round. Observing them in the wild will be the highlight of any vacation in Portugal.
There are many whale and dolphin watching tours in Portugal. Each whale watching excursion offers different features. To save you time, we have reviewed the top 5 dolphin and whale watching trips in Portugal. By reading these reviews, you can easily decide which Portuguese whale watching and dolphin watching cruise is best for you and your family.
And you also might like to check out our Portugal Travel Guide.
Best Dolphin & Whale Watching Tours in Portugal
|Full-Day Dolphin Watching Tour from Lisbon||From Lagos: Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour||All Inclusive Whale and Dolphin Watching Luxury Tour|
|Departure Point:||HF Fenix Hotel, Praça Marques de Pombal, Lisbon||Geladaria Italiana Café, Marina de Lagos, Lagos||OceanSee/VipDolphins Kiosk, New Marina, Funchal, Madeira|
|Departure Time:||8:30 AM||11:30 AM||10:00 AM, 2:30 PM|
|Duration:||6 hours||1.5 hours||3 hours|
|Includes:||Boat cruise, expert local guide, entrance to Arrábida Natural Park, sightseeing tour, and transport from meeting place||Boat cruise, marine biologist guide, and safety briefing||Boat cruise, local guide, swimming stop, snorkeling equipment, snacks, and drinks|
Quick Answer: The 5 Best Rated Dolphin & Whale Watching Tours in Portugal
- Full-Day Dolphin Watching Tour from Lisbon
- From Lagos: Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour
- All Inclusive Whale and Dolphin Watching Luxury Tour
- Funchal: Whale and Dolphin Watching Speed Boat Tour
- Funchal: Dolphin and Whale Watching Cruise
Dolphin & Whale Watching Tours in Portugal Reviewed
#1 Full-Day Dolphin Watching Tour from Lisbon
- Departure Point: HF Fenix Hotel, Praça Marques de Pombal, Lisbon
- Departure Time: 8:30 AM
- Duration: 6 hours
- Includes: Boat cruise, expert local guide, entrance to Arrábida Natural Park, sightseeing tour, and transport from meeting place
This is the best dolphin watching tour in Portugal for people who are passionate about nature. Not only do you get the opportunity to spot dolphins in their natural habitat, but this full-day tour also takes in Arrábida Natural Park and the Arrábida Mountain Range.
Depending upon weather conditions, you may find yourself aboard a fully-restored salt galleon as you sail across the Sado Estuary. In inclement weather, you will instead be transported aboard a luxury modern catamaran. Whichever boat you board, a local guide will steer you towards areas where you are most likely to encounter bottlenose dolphins in the wild. The knowledgeable guide will tell you about the dolphins’ ecology and lifecycle and answer any questions you may have.
After the cruise, you will be transported to the natural park where you will see the historic Arrábida Convent and learn about the area’s gastronomy and history. The highlight of this natural park is the panoramic views across the mountainous area and out toward the Atlantic Ocean.
During this Lisbon dolphin watching tour, you will learn much about Portugal’s natural history and experience some of the nations most beautiful views. If you’re looking to make long-lasting memories, this is the best Portuguese boat cruise for you and your family.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#2 From Lagos: Dolphin and Whale Watching Tour
- Departure Point: Geladaria Italiana Café, Marina de Lagos, Lagos
- Departure Time: 11:30 AM
- Duration: 1.5 hours
- Includes: Boat cruise, marine biologist guide, and safety briefing
This is the best whale and dolphin watching tour in the Algarve region and ideal for visitors who want to learn about marine biology. An onboard marine biologist is available to educate you about the natural habitat of whales and dolphins and to explain their behavior live as it happens all around you.
With its ancient city walls and historic center, Lagos is one of the most visited cities in the Algarve. For you, it is the perfect gateway to the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean where dolphins frolic and whales squirt jets of water high into the sky.
Make the most of your time while you have an expert marine biologist on hand to answer all your questions. Dolphins and whales aren’t the only sea creatures you may encounter, but your professional guide can educate and entertain you with information about any animals you come face-to-face with on this Lagos boat cruise.
If you want to enjoy a dolphin and whale watching cruise in Portugal, you couldn’t choose a more beautiful location. Keep your camera close at hand because you’re certain to witness unique displays by the local whales and dolphins.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#3 All Inclusive Whale and Dolphin Watching Luxury Tour
- Departure Point: OceanSee/VipDolphins Kiosk, New Marina, Funchal, Madeira
- Departure Time: 10:00 AM, 2:30 PM
- Duration: 3 hours
- Includes: Boat cruise, local guide, swimming stop, snorkeling equipment, snacks, and drinks
This is the best dolphin and whale watching cruise in Madeira. If you enjoy watersports, this is the best whale watching trip for you and your family. As well as the opportunity to observe dolphins and whales in their natural habitat, you will also anchor for a while in she shad of the world’s second highest sea cliff at Cabo Girão. Here you can swim in the warm water of the North Atlantic and snorkel under the waves in search of the local sea life.
Your 3-hour dolphin watching excursion takes place aboard a luxury modern catamaran. As well as enjoying breathtaking views and nature’s most fascinating sea mammals, you will also benefit from local snacks and unlimited drinks from the open bar. This whale watching boat cruise begins with a welcome glass of sparkling wine in Funchal’s new marina before you set sail to see some of the most beautiful sights nature has to offer.
The Cabo Girão sea cliffs are an astounding 1,920 feet high. This cruise offers you the chance to take unique photographs of this natural phenomenon as well as capturing action shots of sea turtles, whales, and dolphins. If you bring a waterproof camera or GoPro, you can even capture underwater images on this all-inclusive Madeira whale and dolphin watching tour.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#4 Funchal: Whale and Dolphin Watching Speed Boat Tour
- Departure Point: Ventura Orange shop, Marina de Funchal, Funchal, Madeira
- Departure Time: 9:30 AM, 1:00 PM
- Duration: 2.5 hours
- Includes: Speed boat cruise, marine biologist, life jackets, and insurance
This is the top whale and dolphin excursion in Madeira for nature lovers. It is also ideal for family groups due to its focus on safety. Each member of your group will be issued with a life jacket.
Aboard a modern speed boat, you can cover more water quicker. This means that you have a better chance of seeing more marine wildlife on this tour than any other. And with an expert marine biologist aboard, you will be transported to the most likely spots to see abundant wildlife and then benefit from expert commentary about the lifecycle and behavior of the dolphins and whales you encounter on this boat cruise from Funchal.
The tour begins with a short safety and ecology briefing from your marine biologist guide. After donning a life jacket, you will shoot out across the waves on an adrenaline-pumping journey in search of exciting marine mammals. This Madeira whale watching cruise also provides stunning views of the Madeira coastline from the ocean.
This dolphin and whale watching excursion in Portugal offers the highest chance of seeing cetaceans (whales and dolphins). In the unlikely event that you don’t see any during your Madeira cruise, you will be offered a second Funchal whale watching tour for free.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
#5 Funchal: Dolphin and Whale Watching Cruise
- Departure Point: Tour operators office, Marina de Funchal, Funchal, Madeira
- Departure Time: 10:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:30 PM
- Duration: 2 hours
- Includes: Speed boat cruise, certified guide, and snorkeling equipment
This is a wonderful Funchal dolphin and whale watching cruise for visitors who want to both swim and witness nature’s most amazing sea mammals. Aboard a 500HP-engine speed boat, you can reach pods of whales quickly and have the opportunity to come face-to-face with these amazing animals.
This is a small group tour, so you will have plenty of opportunity to talk with your certified guide to learn about the local sea wildlife. During the summer, the speed boat will anchor at a local beauty spot so you can take photographs of the scenery or swim in the crystal-clear waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Snorkeling equipment is available for your to explore beneath the waves and observe the marine life from a unique perspective.
This Portuguese whale and dolphin watching excursion is an excellent way to observe magnificent sea mammals in the wild. When you have seen whales breaching the waves and dolphins circling the boat, you will create memories that last a lifetime.
For tour prices, transportation and availability:
Portugal Travel Guide
Portugal’s importance in world history is often overlooked in favor of surrounding countries more prominent in modern history, such as the United Kingdom or Spain. However, Portugal formed the first global empire in history.
During the Age of Exploration, when European maritime nations raced to create colonies worldwide, Portugal was the first off the starting blocks and soon became the most powerful and influential country in the world.
Although its colonial ambitions began in north Africa, Brazil was by far its most successful colony. Today, Brazil is the largest Portuguese speaking nation in the world, and the largest country in Latin America.
Evidence of Portugal’s past wealth and power can be seen in the many monuments and structures surviving from its heyday. In Porto to the north and Lisbon to the south, impressive fortresses, grand palaces, and lofty cathedrals stand proudly and steal away their visitors’ breath.
But a fascinating history and culture are not the only features Portugal has to offer. Its unique position as the most westerly nation in Europe provide it with many unique natural landmarks, such as Peneda-Gerês National Park to the northeast of Porto, Arrábida Natural Park just south of Lisbon, and the Tagus River.
Dolphin and Whale Watching in Portugal
Portugal is an excellent country to indulge in whale watching and dolphin watching. The warm waters off the mainland coast provide a perfect environment for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) year-round. Whales and dolphins are often seen in the North Atlantic Ocean off the Portuguese shoreline.
The three places you can most easily watch whales and dolphins are off the mainland Portuguese coast, around the islands of the Madeira Archipelago, and around the islands of the Azores Archipelago. Over 25 cetacean species have been identified in Portuguese waters. Bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales can be observed year-round, especially in Madeira and the Azores. Other rarer species can be observed seasonally.
Off the Portuguese mainland, the Sado Estuary 25 miles south of Lisbon is renowned for its high population of bottlenose dolphins. Both common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins are also seen off the coastline of the Algarve. You may also see humpback whales, pilot whales, and harbor porpoise. The peak time for dolphin activity is from June through September.
Dolphins and whales are spotted year-round in Madeira, but the best time to see them is from spring through to the fall. You will see short-finned pilot whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, and striped dolphins at any time of the year.
Other species, such as killer whales, Risso’s dolphins, minke whales, and humpback whales sometimes make an appearance. Some tour boat companies employ spotters to keep watch atop the high Cabo Girão sea cliffs and direct the boats to any whale pods that appear.
The Tagus River
The Tagus River is not only the largest river in Portugal but also the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. It flows westward through Spain before entering Portugal and is blocked by multiple dams creating reservoirs to supply drinking water to millions and hydroelectric power stations to generate electricity.
At its mouth is a large estuary and the capital of Portugal — Lisbon. The Tagus River has played an important part in Portuguese history and culture. It is celebrated in poetry and songs and is lined with historic harbors from which Portuguese sailors set sail to explore the world and form colonies worldwide.
Where the river passes through Lisbon, there are many important monuments celebrating Portuguese achievements and history. These include the Padrăo dos Descobrimentos monument, Belém Tower, Cristo-Rei statue, and Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge.
All these landmarks and more are best viewed from the river. A Tagus River cruise is an essential part of any vacation in Portugal. It is the easiest and most enjoyable way to experience the sights around Lisbon and learn about Portuguese history and culture.
Traveling in the time of COVID
Like many destinations, some tours and visitor attractions in Portugal have adopted special precautionary measures during the pandemic.
Face masks are mandatory in some locations, notably in enclosed public areas such as travel hubs and shopping malls. You are expected to supply your own mask and wear it when you enter buildings.
It is in your own interest to keep your distance from other visitors who are not in your family group or bubble. You are expected to keep your distance inside boats, coaches, train compartments, and other vehicles and when seated in restaurants.
At the time of writing, Portugal welcomes visitors and visas are not required for US citizens. However, with the exception of children aged 12 and under, every person arriving in Portugal must provide a negative SARSCoV-2 test certificate of nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or rapid antigen test (TRAg). This certificate must be time stamped within 72 hours for NAAT or 48 hours for TRAg before boarding.
You can obtain the most up-to-date information directly from the Portuguese government immigration department website. During these relatively uncertain times, it is wise to also consult the US Department of State website for current travel advisories.
Airports & Entry
You can enter Portugal by ferry, road, railway, or air. Except for air, all the methods of travel involve traveling through or from Spain. By far the easiest and quickest way to travel to Portugal is by airplane.
Most visitors fly to Porto Airport in the north, Lisbon Airport in the middle, or Faro Airport in the south. To compare, in 2017 Porto saw 10.8 million passengers, Faro 8.7 million, and Lisbon 26.7 million, making the capital by far the most popular entry point into Portugal.
If you are interested in beautiful scenery and wildlife, you’ll likely want to be in the north. For history and culture, Lisbon. And for “Mediterranean” beach vacations, Faro.
Lisbon International Airport (LIS, or Humberto Delgado Airport) is located inside the city and only 4.3 miles northeast of the historic center. Before the pandemic, the airport saw annual increases in passenger traffic, handling 31.2 million visitors in 2019. Because it is a travel hub for Ryanair, TAP Air Portugal, and TAP Express, it is the 20th busiest European airport.
The airport’s 2 terminal buildings are dated and busy, but they do contain all the amenities you would expect from a major international airport. All arrivals and most international departures are handled by Terminal 1.
Note that passport control on departure is after the duty-free shops, and the queues for immigration control can be long. So, don’t get so excited in the stores hunting out last minute bargains that you miss your flight.
Just because you arrived in Terminal 1, it does not mean that you will depart from there. To avoid unnecessary complications on departure, check your ticket carefully and ensure you know which terminal you are flying from before heading for the airport.
By far the easiest way to transfer from the airport to any location around Lisbon is on the metro. The metro is affordable, safe, and efficient, with stations all around the city. To use the metro, you will need to purchase a reusable Viva Viagem card for €0.5 and then pay a €1.50 fare for your journey around Lisbon.
If you are in more of a hurry, or you have children to watch and luggage to carry, consider taking a taxi. The typical taxi fare for a 4-seat taxi to the historic center is between €10 and €15 during the day. In a larger vehicle or at night, fares increase by 20%.
Alternatively, you can hire a car at the airport. All the major international car rental companies are represented in the Terminal 1 arrivals hall. But be warned that the car rental car park exits immediately into a busy urban area, and accidents do happen.
Portugal is a beautiful country that boasts a rich history and culture, which is why it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe. Here are a few specific tips to help you get the most out of your vacation in Portugal.
If you have tips of your own about this beautiful country, please share them with other readers in the comments below.
Tip #1: Travel Off Season
In high summer (July and August) the streets of Lisbon and beaches in the Algarve are crowded. Not only is this when many local schools break for summer, but it is also the time when the Portuguese think the weather is best for sea swimming.
If you delay a little and travel to Portugal in the fall, you will benefit from fewer crowds while there is still plenty of sunshine and the average seawater temperature in the Algarve in October is 700F. You may also benefit from lower, off-season prices and tours are less likely to be fully booked.
Tip #2: Explore Beyond the Typical Tourist Traps
Most tourists head to Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve. However, there is much more to see in Portugal that’s off the beaten trail.
In the border regions between Portugal and Spain, historical tensions led to the construction of many picturesque fortified hill towns and castles, such as Estremoz and Marvão. And the north of Portugal around Porto is famous for its bountiful vineyards.
If you’re visiting off-season in the fall, the grape harvest typically occurs around September and October. At some vineyards, you can arrange to take part in the grape harvest and traditional foot stomping. Crush the grapes beneath your feet to assist the locals in their traditional wine manufacturing process.
Tip #3: Plan Ahead
Whenever you visit Portugal, the day trips are popular. Sometimes they become fully booked weeks in advance. To avoid disappointment, book before you travel.
If your main interest is history and culture, note many museums and art galleries that usually charge for admission typically have one free admission day each month, or sometimes each week. Do your research and decide which museums you wish to visit. You may then be able to organize your vacation around the free days and save a lot of money in entrance tickets.
If you plan on seeing the incredible Fatima. It is one of the most holy sites for the Christianity. To really appreciate it, be sure to take a tour of the Fatima.
Tip #4: Consider Surfing While you’re in Portugal
When you think about taking a surfing vacation, Portugal isn’t a country that immediately springs to mind. It should be.
You don’t have to be a genius to recognize that it offers an identical situation to southern California. It is the westernmost country in Europe, and its entire shoreline is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.
Portuguese beaches boast rolling Atlantic waves perfect for surfing. Experienced surfers looking for a challenge should head to Nazaré on the central Portuguese coast. Beginners and intermediate surfers will be more comfortable surfing in the Algarve where the beaches are slightly more sheltered.
Tip #5: Buy Local Crafts
In Portugal, you’re spoiled for choice when selecting suitable souvenirs as gifts for your family and friends back home or as a memento of your vacation. Portugal is noted for its fine ceramics. For the finest traditional glazed pottery, visit the historic town of Caldas da Rainha on the central Portuguese coast north of Lisbon.
The town of Arraiolos in south-eastern Portugal is famous for both its picturesque castle and its fine hand-stitched rugs. However, you don’t need to take a special trip to buy Portuguese textiles. Throughout the country, you will discover unique textile products that make a wonderful keepsake to remind you of Portugal when you return home.
Restaurants & Eating Out
Given Portugal’s extensive coastline, it is no surprise to discover that seafood is an important food source. However, red meat and poultry are also important in many traditional dishes. In common with nearby Mediterranean countries, olive oil is typically used to fry and to flavor dishes.
Like France to the north, bread is important in Portuguese meals, and there are several traditional varieties found across the country.
Where Portuguese cuisine differs from neighboring countries is in its extensive use of exotic herbs and spices. Due to Portugal’s long-lasting colonial empire, cooking techniques and flavorings from its former colonies have become an important element of many popular dishes.
Dried and salted cold known as bacalhau is a staple part of many Portuguese diets. Historically, the drying procedure was a means of preserving the fish for consumption over the winter months. However, now it is done to create a revered taste and texture. This can be grilled, fried, boiled, or baked. You’ll see it served as a snack in paper pouches.
A thick seafood stew called cataplana is popular in the Algarve. It is cooked in a special, clam-shaped cooking pot and traditionally features the fish of the day.
A francesinha is a popular variety of sandwich. Multiple kinds of meat are piled between two slabs of bread. This provides a hearty meal that is often flavored with surprisingly spicy sauces using ingredients such as paprika, saffron, piri-piri, and black pepper.
Watch out for alheiras on menus across Portugal. These traditional sausages were originally made by members of secret Jewish communities using only kosher meats. Instead of pork fat, bread was used as a main ingredient. These bready sausages can be served grilled or baked and with a fried egg and a side of rice.
In bygone days, not everyone could afford large quantities of meat. Hence a cabbage and potato-based soup called caldo verde is popular in rural communities. However, vegetarians should beware. These soups are flavored using a small amount of chorizo spicy sausage. It is rare to find caldo verde without at least a little spicy sausage flavoring.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be happy to hear that sweet and flaky pastries are important in Portuguese cuisine. Popular varieties include bolos de São Gonçalo and pastel de Nata, both involve generous amounts of custard as a filling or topping.
Nightlife & Entertainment
In northern and central Portugal, the nightlight is focused around the main cities of Porto and Lisbon. However, in the south, the Algarve region is noted for its lively nightclub scene, live music venues, and popular beach bars.
As with any city with a large student population, Porto is a wonderful destination for nightclubbing and music venues year-round. Portugal’s second largest city is also host to some wonderful cultural festivals that amaze visitors.
The university students traditionally celebrate the end of their exams in style during the first half of May. During this time, expect to find 50,000 students flooding the bars and nightclubs in search of fun. And in the Queimódromo square adjacent to City Park, you can attend live concerts every evening.
During the midsummer solstice, the São João Festival involves some quirky local traditions, such as displaying a vase decorated with a poem and eating sardines and potatoes alongside locally produced red wine.
As the cultural capital of the nation, you’ll find a broader range of options in Lisbon. It is twice the size of Porto and houses a more diverse, international population. The nightclubs are less aimed at students and more toward younger tourists.
You’ll find that the nightlife starts late but goes on until after dawn. The narrow labyrinth of streets in the Old Town contains many popular bars that fill with the younger crowd nightly, especially around the Avenida da Liberdade and Rossio.
The Bairro Alto is the heart of the Lisbon night scene. You’ll find traditional Portuguese folk music played in tiny tavernas neighboring live rock and jazz music venues. The bars don’t close until 2 am and the clubs remain open until around 7 am. The night spots in this area are always crowded and typically reach capacity soon after 11 pm.
In the Algarve, the city of Albufeira is renowned for its nightlife. In fact, although it is a small city when compared with Porto or Lisbon, it is reputed to contain the best nightclubs and bars in Portugal.
Young tourists from around Europe and the rest of the world flock to Albufeira to spend their days playing on the beaches and nights playing in the clubs. During the summer months, The Strip is a prime destination for hen and stag parties and students looking to get drunk and maybe get lucky, too.
The big name clubs that attract the famous DJs and crowds are Kadoc outside of town, Kiss on Rua Vasco da Gama, and Club Heaven, Club Vida, and Liberto’s Lounge Club on The Strip.
If you seek something quieter and more sophisticated, head for the pedestrianized old town center where the restaurants and cocktail bars cater for an older crowd with more refined tastes.
The strange thing about Portugal when compared to many other countries is that it’s often quicker to travel by bus than by train. My wife recently needed to travel from Lisbon to Porto, which is 195 miles. The time quoted for both long-distance coach and high-speed train was 3 hours 15 minutes, but the coach cost €5.00 and the train €23.31.
Hiring a car is a great option if you want to visit those remote fortified hilltop towns or vineyards around Porto. However, you must be a confident driver. The number of car accidents in Portugal is higher than average in Europe, though, to be fair, there are fewer road fatalities in Portugal than in the US. Note that driving while intoxicated is a problem in the evenings, so take special care if driving after dark.
Despite their lack of speed, Portuguese trains are modern. Some rail services pass through scenic areas and provide excellent views, such as the service from Porto to Pochinho. However, you should be aware that train stations are often a long distance from the town center or village they serve.
The services are divided into Intercidades (IC), Interregionais (IR), Regionais (R), and Urbanos. IC services are the fastest linking Lisbon to the major cities, but they are also more expensive. Urbanos services are aimed at commuters around Lisbon and Porto, which also both have underground metro systems.
Tickets are purchased from the station on the day of travel, but be aware that long queues form so you must arrive early to ensure you don’t miss your train. The tickets are affordable compared with other nations and you can choose between primeira classe (first class) and conforto (economy).
The bus services across Portugal reach more places than the railway, deliver you to the center of the towns, are cheaper than the train, and often faster. If you want to travel from one large city to another, you need a Rede Expressos coach.
Unlike with the trains, it’s a good idea to book bus tickets online in advance. You can also buy them at ticket desks in cafés near the bus stop or at central bus stations. You can get travel information from bus stations. However, note that many assistants outside of the Algarve speak poor English or none.
Portugal has surprisingly good main roads that have been improved and extended in recent years. That’s why the buses are as quick as the trains. These major routes are called Estrada Nacional (EN or N).
However, when visiting remote rural areas, you can expect poorly maintained and narrow roads. And you may need to share them with loose animals, so drive carefully.
There is a freeway network between major cities — Auto-Estrada (A). These are 4 or 6 lane roads, but they have toll gates, and you must pay to use them. DO NOT use the lane labelled Via Verde because this is for prearranged automatic payment.
Unlike most countries, the Portuguese police will accept foreign driving licenses, so you won’t require an international license to drive here. The Portuguese police are empowered to enforce on-the-spot fines for poor parking, speeding, and other misdemeanors.
Parking at cities is at a premium, so you may struggle to park near popular attractions. Consider using park-and-ride schemes where they are available.
Within cities, the taxis are relatively affordable. This is a good thing since railway stations are often a long way from the town center, so you may need a taxi.
If you plan to explore the Portuguese countryside, you’re in luck. Outside of Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve, accommodation is very affordable. In towns and villages, you can find twin rooms in small hotels and guesthouses for around €40 per night. And if money is no object, there are many upscale hotels, historic manor houses, and even castles, such as the Pousada Castelo de Óbidos just 53 miles north of Lisbon.
Pousadas, such as the one in the castle above, are a class of comfortable hotels typically either located in beautiful historic buildings or situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty. No matter where you want to stay in Portugal, locating affordable and comfortable accommodation is not a problem.
However, if you plan to stay in Porto, Lisbon, or the Algarve, you need to plan ahead. All the best and most affordable accommodations in these areas are typically booked up days, if not weeks in advance. Reservations are essential to ensure you don’t end up staying in a crumbling dump and paying through the nose.
For travelers on a budget, Portugal has a great range of youth hostels and campgrounds to choose from. RVers are especially welcome. There are also many one-star hotels that offer the minimum of facilities but at a low, low price. Be aware that youth hostels and one-star hotels may not have air conditioning, which may become a problem in high summer.
Self-catering villas are an option for larger groups of family and friends. When the bill is shared between many, a large villa can prove more comfortable than a hotel but for a lower price. Note that for villas and hotels alike, it is a good idea to book ahead in high season to avoid disappointment.
Portugal’s weather is dependent upon two factors — its latitude and its position at the south-westernmost point of Europe sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean moderates Portugal’s temperatures, resulting in relatively mild winters and warm summers.
There is a significant variance between the north and the south of the nation. Around Porto in the north, the annual average temperature is 550F. In the Algarve in the far south, this rises to 640F. While the mountains in northern Portugal do see snow, with a ski resort at Serra da Estrela, the rest of the country misses out completely.
The mild winters provide average temperatures of 490F in Porto, 52.50F in Lisbon, and 53.50F in the Algarve. There are spells of poor weather with high winds and heavy rainfall. Occasionally, the winds grow to gale force. But overall, the weather is mild from December to February.
The warm summers are sunny with average temperatures of 700F in Porto and 74.50F in Lisbon and the Algarve. Some coastal areas in the west experience relatively cool weather because of the ocean breezes. Due to its more sheltered location, the Algarve avoids those breezes and maintains high summer temperatures.
Though Portugal is a small country, it is packed with many wonderful natural and historic attractions. These are separated into three distinctive regions: the north, the central region, and the Algarve in the far south.
The most famous natural attraction in Portugal is found in the far north, and it is Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês. The rocky landscape of this beautiful mountainous area is noted for its lush vegetation, picturesque waterfalls, clear blue lakes, and breathtaking valleys.
This national park is popular with hikers and other outdoor pursuits enthusiasts. Watch out for golden eagles soaring over the tree tops while wild boar and wolves wander through the foliage. There are marked trails, designated campsites, and quaint villages with unique guesthouses.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and the main tourist destination in the north. Some tourists come to view the unique architecture featuring fine Neoclassical and Baroque churches. Look out for the granite walls and pretty blue and white ceramic tiles used to decorate buildings such as the beautiful main railway station.
Other visitors come to visit the surrounding vineyards and take part in the harvests or sample the wines. River cruises are also popular and provide access to the beautiful Douro Valley where you can see traditional terraced hillsides and pretty hamlets.
Midway between Porto and Lisbon you can find Coimbra and its famous hilltop university. Founded in 1290, Velha Universidade is one of the world’s oldest educational establishments. The Baroque library is a particularly popular attraction containing over 250,000 books, some dating to the 12th century. The whole university campus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lisbon is the cultural capital of Portugal. The best way to explore the old city is by jumping on the historic tram #28 that takes you up the steep streets. This vibrant city is home to many world-class museums and fascinating historic buildings.
The most iconic building in the city is the ancient Torre de Belém fortress guarding the entrance to the city from an island close to the northern bank of the Tagus River. But if you are especially interested in history and architecture, it is worth taking a day trip to nearby Sintra.
Sintra is a renowned hilltop retreat containing palaces and other historic buildings. Its most popular attractions are the Palácio da Pena, the Castelo dos Mouros, and Palácio Nacional. Sintra is especially popular for walking tours because of its hills and the many breathtaking vistas they offer.
Most people who head down south are more interested in sunbathing on the beaches and partying at night than any historic or cultural attractions. But they are missing out on some amazing sights.
Faro’s old town is built on Roman foundations and is filled with a selection of medieval buildings gathered inside a 16th-century city wall. The 13th-century cathedral is noted for its tall tower providing panoramic views across the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
You may also enjoy the Museu Municipal de Faro, a fascinating museum inside a medieval convent. Those who love the macabre will be drawn to the infamous Igreja do Carmo, noted for its Bone Chapel decorated with the bones of over 1,000 monks who prayed here over the years.
If you want to explore beyond Faro, Tavira is a popular destination. This picturesque town in the Algarve contains a well-preserved castle, a grand medieval church filled with knights’ tombs, and a captivating riverside walk featuring a surviving Roman footbridge.