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How to: Portugal - Travel Hacks for a Great Trip

Travel can be stressful! But the more you know, the more you can do — so here are our travel tips for getting the most out of Portugal:


Many North Americans struggle with what to tip in Portugal. Tipping in Portugal is voluntary, but welcome. Most Portuguese will leave a few euros in a restaurant, or just leave the change. For foreigners, it can be somewhere between 5% and 10% of the total bill in restaurants and bars. Or just round the bill amount up. Tips are not anywhere as common (or high) as in North America, but it is ok to give a euro or two to service people who do useful things in taxis, cafés and hotels. But, be aware that 15% is pretty uncommon, and part of travel is respecting the local culture.


What you see in Portugal is what you pay. Prices have a VAT (Value Added Tax) already added in, which is 23%. If you live outside the European Union you are entitled to a refund of the VAT paid on most purchases: Just request the tax-free receipt at stores and, on your day of departure, get a refund at the airport. When you leave the European Union, you must be able to show that you are taking the goods with you. 


Tolls are common, and many roads have overhead tolling. If you can get a ViaVerde toll pass you will never have to worry about tolls on Portuguese highways. If you don’t have a toll pass then the toll will be billed to your car's license plate. Tolls can be paid in person at any CTT post office — but you won't be able to pay for them until 48 hours have passed, and you then have five days to pay. Tolls and gas can be more expensive in Europe, and rail tickets are a lot less than in the US.


Portugal has excellent rail service and the trains are fast, clean and affordable. The Alfa trains are faster than cars, doing Porto-Lisbon in 2.5 hours. IC trains stop in just major cities, and are a tad slower than the Alfa. Yet, the rail network does not reach tiny fortified mountain villages, small fishing villages, and many small cities. CP Portuguese Rail offers a rail and rent program with Avis, so you can take the train to a city and have a rental car waiting when you arrive at certain stations.  And, there is great rail service to many cities, such as Aveiro, Coimbra., Beja, Santarém, Tomar, Evora and Braga.

Dining Out

Looking for a good meal? Just skip any place that has a guy with a menu in front.  Some great eateries have been in business for years, are very well priced, and attract lots of locals. Today, many modern chefs are reinventing Portuguese classics and are inspired by the past — and that speaks to the power of regional cuisine. Head to Evora, for example, for bread stews and sheep’s cheese. Always look for the ementa do dia -the menu of the day.  This is what is in season and fresh. Lastly, those appetizers are not free — you will be charged. So if you don’t want bread, cheese, sausage just say "Não obrigado,” and it won’t be on the bill.


Food in Portugal is very local. There are many kinds of Portuguese cheeses; made from goat, cow or sheep milk. In Portugal it is quite uncommon to eat cheese without eating bread, and we have to mention bread from the Alentejo. Try the rustic wheat bread with a thin crust. It has a round shape and is used to make one of Alentejo’s bread stews called açorda. Another Alentejo specialty is the cured hams. This cured ham is similar to the Iberian Pata Negra and has a distinctive flavor, not too salty and sometimes a little spicy.


For more than 2,000 years, Portuguese wineries have harvested local grape varieties and turned them into amazing wines. Local growers today have invested in state-of-the-art equipment to modernize every aspect of the production. Many of Portugal's centuries-old estates have now opened their own inns and eateries to welcome travelers. When fall and harvest time arrive, the world is invited to share the traditions, tastes and colors of this ancient industry with modern overtones. Visitors can enjoy overnight stays or just a tour at vineyards throughout the 20 designated wine regions Portugal has to offer. Come see how wine is harvested, participate in the harvest, learn about how the grape becomes wine, partake in tasting dinners and enjoy sweeping views over the river valleys and fields of Portugal's wine country. And they all come with distinctly Portuguese grapes include Louriero, Alvarinho, Bical, Arinto, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Baga.

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