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Rick Steves Portugal
By Rick Steves
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- Trade Paperback $23.99 $29.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 31, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Portugal
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from the bone chapel of Évora and the palaces of Sintra to seaside street food and lush vineyards
- How to connect with culture: Chat with friendly locals over a glass of vinho verde, enjoy a dinner of fresh seafood stew, or spend an evening at a bluesy fado bar
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a glass of local port
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and historic museums
- Detailed maps for exploring on the go
- Useful resources including a packing list, a Portuguese phrase book, a historical overview, and recommended reading
- Over 400 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
- Complete, up-to-date information on Lisbon, Sintra, Salema, Cape Sagres, Lagos, Tavira, Évora, Nazaré, Batalha, Fátima, Alcobaça, Óbidos, Coimbra, Porto, Peso de Régua, Pinhão, and more
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
This book offers a balanced mix of Portugal’s big-city sights and small-town and rural destinations. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of Algarve beach towns, I recommend only the best ones: Salema, Lagos, and Tavira. And it’s in-depth: My self-guided sight tours and neighborhood walks provide insight into the country’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.
I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Portugal to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging by the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Boa viagem! Happy travels!
Portugal’s Top Destinations
Map: PLACES COVERED IN THIS BOOK
Planning Your Trip
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
Portugal’s Best Two-Week Trip by Car
Trip Costs Per Person
BEFORE YOU GO
Stick This Guidebook in Your Ear!
The Atlantic was the source of Portugal’s seafaring wealth long ago, and remains the draw for tourists today. Buoyed by fresh seafood, hardworking fisherfolk, and miles of sunny coastline, the country’s maritime spirit lives on.
Perched on the Atlantic on the far edge of Europe, Portugal preserves a salty, traditional culture. Gnarled fishermen still mend their nets, and rustically clad women sell fish and produce in markets. Wherever you go, you’re never far from the sea.
But you’ll also experience modern, urban Portugal—with rejuvenated cityscapes, upscale boutiques, and a surging cuisine culture—especially in the culturally rich capital of Lisbon and the second city of Porto. The cities have a worldly buzz: You can munch barnacles bought from a street vendor on a breezy tiled square, or sit down with gastronomic pilgrims for a feast in foodie heaven.
Portugal seems somewhere just beyond Europe—and the pace of life is noticeably slower. While membership in the European Union has brought sweeping changes here, the traditional economy is still based on fishing, cork, wine, textiles, and tourism.
From a traveler’s perspective, Portugal is greater than the sum of its parts. The country has few blockbuster sights. Its cities—while increasingly revitalized—still come with rough edges. Even its ritziest coastal towns are humble, lacking major attractions. And yet the country offers a heady mix—of warmhearted people, vivid culture, dramatic viewpoints, terraced vineyards, and (of course) sun-drenched beaches—that makes traveling here a delight.
Celebrating history: Monument to the Discoveries (Lisbon) and Monastery of Santa Maria (Batalha)
Portugal is one of Europe’s first modern nation-states. Long before Spain famously expelled its North African Muslim rulers in 1492, Portugal bucked the Moors, establishing its present-day borders (unchanged now for 800 years). Alonso Henriques, who helped chase out the Moors, was officially recognized as the country’s first king in 1179.
Several centuries later, Portugal became one of the world’s richest nations during its Age of Discovery (1400-1600). Explorers such as Vasco da Gama discovered new trade routes and lands to colonize. To this day, Portugal is ethnically diverse, inhabited by many people from its former colonies in Brazil, Africa, and Asia.
The wealth from Portugal’s colonies financed an explosion of the arts back home. The finest architecture from the country’s Golden Age is in Lisbon, represented by Belém’s tower and monastery (in a style called “Manueline,” after King Manuel I). Other great monasteries—with grand tombs and restful tiled cloisters—are north of Lisbon, in Batalha and Alcobaça. Portugal peaked with the wealth harvested from its colonies. As its empire faded, so did the country’s power and affluence.
Saudade—a deep, yearning nostalgia for something you love but that’s forever gone—is a characteristic emotion of the Portuguese people. These days, Portugal is small...“just us and the Atlantic Ocean,” they say. Poets and artists see saudade in melancholy people, well-worn yet still ornate buildings, lampposts, fado songs, and even in port wine.
Along with Spain in the 20th century, Portugal suffered through fascist-style rule longer than the rest of Europe: From 1932 to 1974, Portugal endured the repressive regime of António de Oliveira Salazar and his successor Marcelo Caetano—the longest dictatorship in Western European history. This put the country in an economic hole that it’s still struggling to emerge from. When Portugal became part of the European Union (just 12 years after the end of the dictatorship), it was Western Europe’s poorest country.
The EU spurred great investment in Portugal, helping to bring its economy up to speed. But that money came with strings attached, and—especially following the Great Recession—Portugal found itself struggling to repay EU loans. It’s proved challenging to maintain generous social services, keep taxes reasonable, and reduce unemployment. Poverty still exists, particularly in rural areas, but overall, the country is more prosperous than a generation ago. Prices remain low—Portugal is one of the most affordable places to travel in Western Europe.
For a small country, Portugal has many iconic symbols. Azulejos, the colorful, typically blue-hued tiles that seem to decorate every surface, are a Portuguese art form you’ll never tire of seeing. They are as practical in this hot climate (for their cooling properties) as they are beautiful. Only Portugal offers haunting fado music, capturing the sorrowful feeling of saudade in song. The country’s heartland—the arid Alentejo—cultivates cork trees to produce that famously versatile material.
Enjoying a café stop (framed by azulejo tilework); a Nazaré sunset
A trolley ride in Lisbon; a cork harvest in the Alentejo heartland
To make good use of all those corks, northern Portugal produces the fortified, aged wine called port. And lovably rickety old trolleys trundle footsore commuters and visitors up and down the hills of Lisbon and Porto. While seemingly clichéd, these are all authentic slices of Portuguese life—each with its own backstory, which proud locals love to tell.
All over Portugal, you’ll see the country’s mascot: the Rooster of Barcelos, with colorful designs on his black body and a proud red pompadour. Inspired by the legend of a rooster who came back from the dead to prove the innocence of an unjustly accused man, it symbolizes justice and good luck—and is a souvenir-stand staple.
If your idea of good travel includes friendly locals (who generally speak English), a rich culture, affordable prices, a thriving urban scene, seaside resort towns, and fresh seafood with chilled white wine on a beach at sunset...you’ve chosen the right destination.
Portugal’s Top Destinations
There’s so much to see in Portugal and so little time. This overview breaks the country’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.
With limited time, prioritize Portugal’s biggest city and its southern coast. If you have just a week for Portugal, these destinations will fill your time wonderfully.
▲▲▲Lisbon (allow 2-3 days)
Portugal’s lively, hilly port and capital city has fascinating, distinctive neighborhoods: the flat downtown Baixa, flanked by the hill-topping Bairro Alto (with lots of cafés) and the castle-capping Alfama (the old sailors’ quarter, with Mediterranean views). The city’s neighborhoods—dotted with museums, inviting eateries, and squares grand and small—are connected by historic trolleys and mosaic sidewalks. The soundtrack of the night is a mix of happy eaters and soulful fado.
The nearby suburb of Belém, just a trolley ride away, is home to the 16th-century Monastery of Jerónimos, maritime and coach museums, the Monument to the Discoveries, and the namesake, custard tarts—pastel de Belém.
▲▲▲The Algarve (2 days)
The country’s southern coast is strung with villages, historic sights, and sandy beaches with seascapes.
My favorite destination on the coast is the fishing village of Salema, with the region’s best beach and easygoing restaurant scene. Nearby is the historic “end of the road”—Cape Sagres—where Henry the Navigator founded his school and organized far-ranging expeditions.
The party town of Lagos is the transit hub of the coast, with beaches and boat tours. The river-straddling village of Tavira, with a fun beach island a boat ride away, makes a pleasant stop between Lagos and Spain.
Opposite: Monastery of Jerónimos
This page: Lunch in Lisbon’s Alfama, Algarve beach, world map at Monument to the Discoveries, seafront dining in Salema
You can weave any of these destinations—rated ▲ or ▲▲—into your itinerary. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to Lisbon, Sintra is next door), but some out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.
Formerly an aristocratic retreat, the town is famous for its fairy-tale castles dotting the hilly terrain. Sintra makes a great day trip by train from Lisbon.
▲▲Évora (1 day)
Encircled by medieval walls, this college town is riddled with history, from a prehistoric stone circle (nearby), ancient Roman temple, 12th-century cathedral, medieval chapel of bones, and 16th-century university, to a lively market street dating from Roman times.
▲▲Nazaré & Central Portugal (2 days)
Nazaré, a traditional fishing village turned small-town Atlantic resort, makes an ideal beach break. It’s also a jumping-off point for day trips to the monastery at Batalha, the Fátima pilgrimage site, Portugal’s largest church in Alcobaça, the Knights Templar complex in Tomar, and the cute, touristy walled town of Óbidos.
▲▲Coimbra (1 day)
Portugal’s Oxford bustles with students from its prestigious university; the historic section is open to visit. The Arab-flavored old town is fun to explore by day and the place to go at night, especially for fado, sung here by young men.
Opposite: Sintra’s Pena Palace
This page: Évora evening scene, pilgrim at Fátima, Nazaré beach fun, and fado performance in Coimbra
▲▲Porto (1-2 days)
Portugal’s gritty but up-and-coming second city hosts steep and picturesque neighborhoods, a scenic riverfront, lively shopping streets, port-wine tastings, and boat tours of the Douro Valley.
▲Douro Valley (1 day)
The pretty terraced valley—the birthplace of port wine—is lined with ample countryside quintas (farms with vineyards), offering tastings and accommodations.
Port wine tasting tour in Porto, riverfront perch in Porto, and the origin of port wine—terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley
Planning Your Trip
To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and transportation, see the Practicalities chapter.
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
As you read this book and learn your options...
Choose your top destinations.
My recommended itinerary (see the sidebar on the next page) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in two weeks, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame.
If you love what big cities have to offer—great sights and museums, lively neighborhoods, an enticing array of eateries, and ample nightlife—you could easily linger for a week in Lisbon. And several sights are within easy day-tripping distance of Lisbon: Sintra, Évora, and Óbidos.
Historians will find much to study in Portugal: ancient Roman ruins (Évora), medieval monasteries (Batalha and Alcobaça), knight sights (Tomar), castles and palaces (Sintra is tops), and sights from the country’s Age of Discovery and Golden Age (in Belém and Cape Sagres). To witness a pilgrimage, visit Fátima when the pilgrims do (every 12th and 13th, May-Oct).
Art lovers are drawn to Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Museum. Connoisseurs of port savor Porto, the Douro Valley’s quintas, and Lisbon. For a youthful university vibe, visit Coimbra. Beach baskers happily unroll their towels in Salema or Nazaré—some never want to leave. Photographers want to go everywhere.
Decide when to go.
Spring and fall offer the best combination of good weather, light crowds, long days, and plenty of tourist and cultural activities.
Summer months are the most crowded and expensive in the coastal areas. Beach towns (such as Nazaré or along the Algarve) are packed with vacationers in July and especially in August—when rates go sky-high and it can be tough to find a room. Those same towns are a delight in shoulder season (mid-May-June and Sept-mid-Oct), when the weather is nearly as good and the crowds subside—but they can be dreary and pretty lifeless in the winter.
In the off-season (roughly Nov-March), expect shorter hours, more lunchtime breaks at sights, and fewer activities; confirm your sightseeing plans locally.
For weather specifics, see the climate chart in the appendix.
Connect the dots.
Link your destinations into a logical route. For a Portugal-only trip, you’d likely fly into and out of Lisbon (although Porto has growing service from its international airport). For an Iberian trip, you could, say, fly into Barcelona and out of Lisbon. Begin your search for transatlantic flights at Kayak.com.
Decide if you’ll travel by car or public transportation. A car gives you the freedom to stop whenever you want, but is useless in big cities (pick up the car after visiting Lisbon). Portugal is compact and well-connected by good roads; you’ll pay tolls to use the superhighways, but it’s worth it for the time saved.
If relying on public transportation, buses are usually your best bet, though some train routes are useful, particularly the Lisbon-Coimbra-Porto line. With more time, everything is doable without a car.
To determine approximate drive times between your destinations, consult the driving chart in the Practicalities chapter. The durations of bus and train journeys are given in this book (in the “Connections” sections per chapter); as for schedules, confirm bus departures locally and see Bahn.com for trains. For travel beyond Portugal, check budget intra-European flights at Skycanner.com.
- "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
- "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
- “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
- "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
- "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
- "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
- "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
- “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
- "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
- "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
- "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News
- On Sale
- Jan 31, 2023
- Page Count
- 480 pages
- Rick Steves