Portugal is a bit like the California of Europe, with a stunning coastline to the west and the south, where you can experience some of the best weather and sandy beaches on the continent. The orange cliffs of the Algarve make for a gorgeous backdrop to a family getaway or a romantic vacation. The country’s excellent seafood cuisine and wines are another big draw. You can tour the vineyards of the Douro Valley or enjoy a dish of grilled octopus with an ocean view.
Whether you like hiking or surfing or just relaxing on the deck of a small cruise ship, there are many ways to see and enjoy Portugal. There's a wide range of tour options in Portugal no matter your budget so you can enjoy the best of the country's nature and iconic sights. Though it doesn't typically require too much preparation, a bit of planning can help you get the most out of your tour.
When most people think of Portugal, they imagine the bright yellow trams of Lisbon and the blue-tiled churches of Porto. The country has some iconic and stunning architecture, which is certainly worth a visit. Naturally, many tours focus on taking you to the country’s most popular cities to visit the museums and cathedrals that symbolize Portugal. As part of your tour, you’ll likely see the ancient streets of Coimbra and the jaw-dropping coast of Lagos. A city-specific tour of Portugal is the best way to learn about the country’s history and culture, even regional differences.
Food & Wine Tours
As the center of the world’s port wine production, northern Portugal is a great destination if you like good food and drink. Popular tours around this region will take you all around the vast Douro Valley, where you can visit vineyards and wine cellars, as well as taste different kinds of wine. These tours also give you the opportunity to learn about Portugal’s typical cuisine, including bacalhau (codfish) and pastel de nata (custard tarts).
Given its natural beauty, you might want a tour that’s focused on the great outdoors. You can dive head first into a surf tour in the Algarve and Ericeira or take a hiking tour of the Azores. Many tours allow you the opportunity to cycle around Portugal’s countryside instead of seeing it while cooped up in a bus. Tours may include a visit to the country’s nature reserves like Arrabida National Park, where you can hike the magnificent green cliffs or go scuba diving.
A popular way to discover Portugal is to take a cruise around the country or along the Douro River through the Douro Valley Wine region. Since most of the country’s major cities sit along the water, you’ll be able to enjoy the highlights from the comfort of a relaxing cruise ship. Cruising is also a popular way to explore the islands off the coast of Portugal like Madeira and the Azores. You'll find that cruises tend to be more expensive than traditional tours, but offer a more luxurious and less exhausting experience.
Planning Your Trip
There are many important factors to consider when picking the perfect tour of Portugal. Budgeting well and planning ahead can make your vacation overseas go more smoothly.
Best Time to Visit Portugal
If you want to enjoy the beach and the vineyards, you’re best off traveling to Portugal when the weather is warm. During peak season in the summer months, the country’s popular destinations get very crowded, so visiting around the cusp of peak season will make for the best experience. If you’re taking a wine tour, the best time to visit the vineyards of the Douro Valley is during harvest season, which is around September. You might even get to participate in the harvest and pick grapes.
What to Look for in a Tour to Portugal
Since there is so much variety in what you can do around the country, it’s best to look for a tour that matches your interests and abilities. Some trekking tours might require a certain level of fitness. You should also always factor the cost of accommodation and transportation into your tour, taking into account the kind of accommodation you prefer. Tours with hostel accommodation included may be cheaper, but also less comfortable.
Typical Tour Cost
Tours around Portugal are generally quite affordable. You can find a week-long tour for just over $1,000, including the cost of accommodation, transportation, and activities. Hiking or cycling tours may be more expensive depending on the level of support or equipment provided by the tour company. Cruises are the most expensive option, ranging anywhere from $2,000-$4,000. The upside is that your meals on board will be covered.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Tour additions like equipment rental can not only change the cost of a tour, but also the experience and comfort. If you’re doing a tour that requires camping or equipment for cycling or surfing, you should check whether the gear rental is included in the cost of the tour.
The weather during the time of year you'll be visiting will strongly influence your packing list. Make sure you take beach essentials, like bathing suits and sunblock, if you'll be headed out to the coast in the summer. Even in the warmest months, it's not a bad idea to take a light sweater as it can get chilly at night.
Other Tips for Travel in Portugal
If your tour includes a rental car, make sure you bring the right identification. Travelers from outside the European Union need an International Driving Permit, so your home country's driver's license won't suffice. You might find that locals don't speak as much English as people from other Western European countries, so it's not a bad idea to learn a few basic Portuguese phrases in case you need them in a pinch.
Health & Safety
Like the U.S., Portugal's food and water standards make special precautions unnecessary. Aside from routine vaccines and travel insurance in case of an emergency, you don't have to do a lot of pre-trip preparation for a tour of Portugal. If you know you're prone to certain illnesses like seasickness, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor and obtain a preventative prescription.
Though Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world, it's always important to keep your wits about you when you travel overseas. Some dodgy city areas are best avoided, and you should follow the recommendations from your tour guide about the best places to wander on your own. Tourist scams like fake petitions and pickpocketing are common in popular tourist centers.