If you are travelling to Portugal and want to know what to pack, this list features all the things I have found useful on my own trips, as well as everything that it’s safe to leave behind
River Crossing © Terry Kearney
The Algarve has been a popular tourist resort for over 50 years, thanks to its sunny, sandy beaches. And, in the last couple of years, the excellent (and cheap) quality of life has made Lisbon a favourite for tech startups. But, despite the astonishing food and thriving pockets of culture, Portugal has remained the unknown jewel of Western Europe. Lisbon itself has a crumbling grandeur and is crammed with delightful visual detail. But the rest of the country is beautiful too.
Preparing For Your Trip To Portugal
Preparation will help you get the most from your time in Portugal. Be sure to sort these essentials out before you even think about packing.
- Flight Ticket – The cost of a flight will increase as you get closer to departure. The optimum time is about three months in advance. Skyscanner or a similar comparison flight will help you find the cheapest ticket that fits your itinerary. Print your tickets out and keep them somewhere safe. Be warned that customs officials sometimes ask to see a return ticket on arrival in Portugal.
- Bus and Train Tickets – If you’re planning to travel once you arrive, you can making savings by buying in advance. Whilst there’s an excellent overnight service from Madrid to Lisbon, the national rail network in Portugal itself is a little sparse. Research all journeys in advance rather than assuming you’ll be able to get from A to B. You may find the coach service a better fit.
- If you’re travelling in from Spain,Renfe’s Trenhotel is one of the best sleeper services in Europe and a real treat. There are full details of this Madrid-Lisbon route via The Man in Seat 61.
- The Trainline is a convenient one-stop-shop for booking both trains and coaches. This easy-to-use site and phone app, finds the cheapest tickets without any extra fees or unnecessary surcharges. You can print tickets or manage and display them on your mobile device.
- An Interrail pass is definitely worth investigation for EU nationals making regular use of Portugal’s network. Visitors from outside the EU should look at one of the Eurail Portugal Passes instead. Prices for both vary with the age of the traveller and number of days required.
- Check the Rede Expressos site for coach tickets and timetables across Portugal and into Spain.
- Accommodation – Accommodation will also be cheaper and more plentiful if booked around three months before the date of travel. As with buying a flight, comparison sites like Booking.com will find you the best deals and filter exactly what you’re looking for.
- Passport – Make sure your passport has at least six months left and plenty of empty pages. A nice, strong passport cover is a good way to keep transit documents in one place and will protect everything from getting damaged.
- Do I Need A Visa For Portugal? – Those with an EU passport enjoy free movement into and around Portugal under the Schengen Agreement. Americans, Australians, Canadians, and certain other nationals do NOT need a visa for visits of up to 90 days. Further details and application forms are available from the Schengen Visa Info site.
What Do You Need To Pack For Portugal?
The Portuguese shopping experience will depend very much on where you are. Lisbon has everything you’d expect to find in a European city and most urban areas will have a shopping centre. Lisbon has a number of huge shopping malls that stay open until 10pm or later. You’ll find 24-hour pharmacies and late night corner shops for anything you need at 2am. Sunday is actually a big shopping day for families.
However, there’s an enormous charm in visiting the incredible fresh food markets and specialist shops that are still the preferred option in many towns. It’s quite possible that everything you buy was caught or picked mere hours ago and everything you drink was bottled within 20 miles of where you are. Portugal is sheer heaven for those who like to eat. Market days depend on where you are – a dedicated ‘mercado municipal’ will often be open from Monday to Saturday, but are best visited in the morning. Smaller shops will often close for lunch.
- You Won’t Need Toiletries – You’ll find everything you need in the big supermarket chains like Pingo Doce and Continente, so there’s no need to bring anything more than the basic personal care and hygiene products.
- You Won’t Need Non-Prescription Medication – Like France and Spain, Portuguese ‘farmácias’ are easily recognised by a green, neon cross and offer a range of basic medical services. You’ll generally find these are cheaper than at home and their over-the-counter range includes items that would be prescription only where you live. You can find your nearest and check for opening hours and late nights with the SAPO farmácia search engine.
What Clothes To Pack For Portugal
Portugal’s temperate climate is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a fair bit of rain, particularly in the north. And, whilst it’s generally hot in the summer, temperatures can be mild to chilly out of season, with strong winds on the coast. Even if you travel in summer, you should still pack a light sweater or blanket and something to keep you dry.
- Lower Body – Good quality shorts, skirts, or trousers will stand up to daily use and regular washing. Lightweight options are appropriate throughout the year, but trousers or long skirts are also recommended out of season.
- Shorts with zipper pockets will keep you cool in summer and make valuables harder to lose or be stolen.
- Pack some light-weight trousers, especially if you’ll be spending time in the countryside, to protect against tick-borne diseases.
- Pairs of jeans are durable and should work for the cooler months.
- Upper body – Travel light but bring some warm and waterproof layers, so you can improvise around different conditions.
- You’ll manage with a few t-shirts, but take at least one long-sleeved top, for when things turn chilly. Under Armor t-shirts are lightweight and will keep you dry. Be careful with exposed skin in the sun and cover up when out in the country.
- A warm, waterproof jacket is a increasingly necessary as you travel north, especially out of the summer months. You can wear it on the plane to save space. I find a ‘cag in a bag’ is a useful to my day bag.
- Underwear – Under Armor underwear is a great way to stay cool and is especially recommended if you walk a lot. A lubricant like KY Jelly or BodyGlide will also help reduce chafing from walking in the heat.
- Footwear – Solid footwear is essential to stop little injuries spoiling your holiday. Check Amazon for men’s walking shoes and hiking footwear for women.
- Accessories – A summer hat is important to protect your head from the sun. A pair of decent sunglasses are essential to protect your eyes. Check for quality shades on Amazon.
- Swimwear – If you’re headed for one of Portugal’s glorious beaches, don’t forget to pack a quality bikini or pair of trunks.
- Winter Accessories – Pack a cosy scarf, and a pair of gloves and a warm hat if you’re travelling in winter.
Health And Grooming Items To Pack For Portugal
Although many of these items are available locally, it’s best to be prepared with the essentials. Some items will improve your journey and possibly even keep you out of harm once you arrive.
- Refillable Water Bottle – Summers can be brutally hot in Portugal, especially in the south, where it’s drier. A water bottle means you can stay hydrated throughout the day. The Nalgene OTF was especially designed with travel in mind.
- Sunscreen and Insect Repellent – It’s easy to get caught out when you’re not used to a Portuguese summer. Protect yourself thoroughly and frequently. Neutrogena SPF 45 Drytouch stays water resistant for about an hour. Insect repellent should also save you from irritations.
- Antihistamine Tablets – As well as combating a high pollen count, popping an antihistamine before a long flight can help with the sneezing caused by recycled cabin air.
- Ear Plugs – Essential for any long journey or a good night’s sleep, Moldex ear plugs are cheap but are definitely do the job.
- Moisturiser – A quick slather of face moisturiser is the secret weapon for travellers who need a quick pick-me-up. Upmarket brands like CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream really do seem to feel better than cheaper alternatives.
- Tissues – A pocket-sized pack of tissues are negligible to carry but are useful in so many situations. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitiser and a small pack of wet wipes in your day back as well.
- Quick Dry Towel – It’s a good idea to bring your own towel, even if they are supplied with your accommodation. Sunland towels are light and compact, so you don’t need to carry something bulky, damp, and smelly around with you.
Electronic Devices To Pack For Portugal
- Plug Adaptors – For charging USB devices, it’s useful to get a Koppla 3-port USB charger from IKEA. The Swedish company has 2 branches in Lisbon and 1 in Oporto.
- Portugal mainly uses the same 2-pin plug as many other European countries, including Spain and Germany. The ‘Type F’ (or ‘Schuko’ plug), it has round terminals and grounding pins on the side. The related ‘Type C’ and ‘Type E’ plugs also work in these sockets.
- If you’re coming from the US, you may need an adaptor with a build-in voltage converter for electrical items like hairdryers. The safest solution is to get a universal power adaptor. Check that any valuable electronics like laptops have surge protection.
- Cellphone – We have a section below on buying SIM cards and data in Portugal. Here are a few other things to think about:
- If your existing cellphone is locked to a contract, you can buy a cheap handset to take with you.
- Pack your charger! It’s very easy to leave it plugged into the wall at home. You can get a new one from electronics store MediaMarkt, which has city branches across the country.
- Cushion your device from travel damage with the Otterbox range of Defender cases.
- Keep a fully-charged power bank in your day pack, as your battery is bound to drain when you’re out and about. RAVPower’s clever FileHub Plus combines a battery, with a wifi booster and has plenty of ports for streaming media from SD cards and the like.
- Travel insurance often only pays a set limit for high-ticket items, so make sure yours has full coverage for smartphones. World Nomads let you insure specific items for their total value.
- Back up photos and data to Google or another cloud service. Also copy pictures to an SD card or USB stick and store this safely. Finally, back everything up to a laptop if you’re travelling with one.
- Noise-cancelling headphones – Some comfortable noise-cancelling headphones can bring an extra level of comfort during long journeys or when you want to unplug for a while.
- Camera – A standalone camera still has advantages over using your phone. You won’t drain your battery and you can get better results. The well-priced Canon Powershot is compact and easy to use.
- Kindle – Kindle readers are great for killing time in airports. They’re super light but hold hundreds of books. Don’t forget your charger!
Other Things To Pack For Portugal
- Portuguese Phrasebook – Outside the resorts, there will definitely be circumstances where a phrasebook is useful. Get familiar with pronunciation before you go , especially if you’re used to Spanish, and learn the basic greetings.
- Journal – I always keep a journal when I travel. They’re useful to stuff full of maps, drawings, and other bits of printed memorabilia you pick up on the road. I use Leuchtturm1917’s A5 dotted notebooks. They’re not cheap but they’re gorgeous and you’ll appreciate all the thoughtful details.
Other Documents To Prepare For A Visit To Portugal
- Document Scans – Take photos of your passport, cards, and any other important documents, then save them the JPEGs to an online account like Gmail or Dropbox. If you lose anything, you’ll have documentation on your phone and via an internet connection. Keep a contact list of banks and medical numbers, as well, so you know how to reach organisations in an emergency.
- Student Card – If you’re in education or under 30, apply for an International Student Identity Card which offers many discounts and travel savings.
- Driving Licence – The RAC website has a clear checklist of driving regulations – check this carefully as there are some specific requirements for driving in Portugal. You’ll need a valid licence with photograph or an International Driving Permit and be over 18. You should also be fully insured.
Luggage For A Visit To Portugal
- Backpack or Suitcase – You can get some very good bargain backpacks from Amazon, but try to try these out in a shop before you buy. Your backpack needs to feel comfortable, with the harness giving full support on your hips and not your shoulders. Look for a trusted brand like Osprey.
- If you’re going for a suitcase instead, choose something of durable quality. It should have room for all your packing and some extra space for items you pick up en route. Consider airline restrictions as you buy, especially if you intend to only take cabin luggage.
- A day bag is vital for a water bottle, battery pack, and other daily essentials.
- Travel Wallet – The Lewis N. Clark RFID Security Wallet will keep your passport, cards, cash, and other valuables safe, but still be comfy under your shirt.
- Travel Cubes – Grouping luggage into easy-to-identify travel cubes is a real time saver and will help you stay organised. Alternatively, use Ziploc bags or even carriers.
- Wash Bag – A leak-proof holder for bathroom items is essential. The Magictodoor travel kit is a reasonably-priced wash bag, designed with the traveller in mind.
- There is a 100 mL restriction on liquids for cabin bags, so pack any larger bottles securely with your hold luggage, or transfer liquids into small, clear bottles and keep together in a transparent holder.
- Luggage Locks – Luggage locks can help keep your packing safe from interference. Be sure to get TSA-approved locks when moving in or out of the United States.
Preparing Your Cellphone For Portugal
EU citizens should call their phone provider before leaving to check the device is properly set up for use overseas and to verify any limitations to their plan. All contracts issued within the EU should be valid in Portugal, with the same minutes and data available abroad as at home, at no extra cost.
Travellers from outside the European Union will need an unlocked device or to buy a cheap phone before leaving, and to buy a SIM on arrival. The process is less bureaucratic than in most other European countries, without the need for an address or even identification. You should be set up and ready to go within 10 minutes.
Portugal has three main providers of SIM cards: MEO, Vodafone, and NOS. Of these, MEO offers a good data plan at 30GB for €15 over 15 days, with a clear website aimed at English-speaking tourists.
However, Vodafone’s network coverage is so much better that it seems the obvious choice. Vodafone also has a friendly webpage aimed at travellers. €20 will buy you 5GB data, 500 minutes / SMS, and 30 minutes for overseas calls, spread over 30 days. Or you can buy a data-only SIM – €15 for 30GB over 15 days. These can be ordered before you arrive.
For more specific needs, Vodafone also offers a fully-customisable You package, built around core data and minutes with a number of top-up passes for specific uses like social or chat. You can build a package on the Vodafone website to get an idea of price.
There are Vodafone kiosks at all the main airports. Staff generally speak good English and can talk you through the various options, as well as setting everything up for you.
The wiman site and app lists over 260,000 free wifi hotspots in Portugal, but the simplest solution is to head for an Apple store or a branch of Starbucks or McDonald’s.
Travel Insurance For Portugal
Full health insurance is a vital part of your travel preparation. Check that surfing or any other activities are covered, both the equipment and the risks involved. Lonely Planet recommends World Nomads travel insurance, which can be bought online instantly.
Health Considerations For A Visit To Portugal
- Medical Insurance – Medical bills can end up being extremely costly, so make sure you are fully covered by your travel insurance.
- EU citizens should carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives the holder the same state-provided healthcare as any domestic citizen. The accompanying phone app will help you navigate the whole process.
- Non-EU travellers should be clear on what is required by their insurance provider (such as World Nomads) before departure. Keep all emergency numbers close to hand and get in touch as soon as any emergencies arise. Keep all receipts to claim against.
- Dial 112 for English-speaking emergency services.
- Vaccinations – Portugal is a safe country so it is generally enough to be up to date with routine vaccinations. Get advice from a doctor or nurse about 6 weeks before you leave. You may want to consider a Tetanus jab and, for high-risk individuals, Hepatitis A and B.
- There’s less risk than in more moderate climates but protect against tick-borne diseases if you’re spending time in the countryside. Cover exposed limbs and use insect repellent. Follow the advice on the CDC website on how to deal with a tick.
- Travellers to Madeira should protect against mosquitos, as there is a slight risk of dengue fever.
- Protect yourself from the sun by protecting skin and eyes, and drinking plenty of fluids, especially during the hottest parts of the day.
- The FitForTravel website has the most up-to-date advice for travel to Portugal.
- Prescription Medicines – Make sure you have enough prescription medicines to cover your entire visit. Keep these sealed with the prescription label attached. Alternatively, carry written documentation. See above for details of Portuguese ‘farmácias’.
- Allergy Card – Carry a statement in Portuguese with you to warn restaurants of any food preferences. Select Wisely has allergy cards for major allergies in a number of languages.
Money For Visiting Portugal
Portugal uses the Euro, the same currency of many other countries in the European Union. This is particularly helpful if you are also travelling to nearby countries like Spain and France. The currency will be freely available with a good exchange rate and low commission before you depart. Change about €100 in advance to start with and don’t carry much more than this amount on you. It’s worth noting that many places, including some supermarkets, still have a minimum transaction fee for cards, so it’s definitely worth having enough cash in your wallet to cover purchases.
On arrival, it will be cheaper to withdraw from ATMs instead of changing more money, especially with a no-fee debit card. Ask if your bank has a presence in Portugal – Barclays has branches, for example – or is partnered with a local equivalent. Use these for cheaper withdrawals. Otherwise, make sure of ATMs in major banks or post offices, which will exchange at the market rate. These are easy to use and will usually offer the option for English instructions. You can use this location map for Visa-friendly ATMs or this local ATM finder for MasterCard. Always choose all financial transactions at the EUR rate rather than in your native currency, as this is the cheaper option.
Inform your bank of your travel plans and never assume that your plastic will work abroad, even if it has in the past. Make sure you have either Visa or MasterCard debit and / or credit cards, with chip and four-digit PINs. Your bank may also offer a card designed specifically for overseas use. All banks have a break down of travel fees to clarify before you leave.
On arrival, you may find that your cards don’t work. Keep a record of card details, including the contact number on the back. You can safely keep photos of these in a cloud account and on a locked phone. You can call the number to get your card unfrozen. It’s also wise to carry a backup card from a different account with full access to online banking. This has gotten me out of some potentially serious scrapes.
Pre-paid top-up cards designed for travel are increasingly popular and a new breed of online banks and cards are focused on making money easier (and cheaper) across borders. ARevolut account comes with zero fees for travel and Western Union’s TravelWise card is worth looking at instead of your domestic bank account.
The Best Time To Visit Portugal
Although the spring and autumn months of March to May and September to November are the most comfortable time to visit Portugal, there are reasons to visit at other times of the year. The huge Atlantic coastline makes it particularly popular with surfers during the winter. And, in spite of wet weather, The Algarve remains a winter getaway for many Northern Europeans. Beware of holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, as the costs will spike. The beaches will also be expensive during the summer, particularly in August, but you may still find a bargain in the city.
Planning What To Do And Where To Go In Portugal
- Portugal Guidebook – A guidebook is an invaluable research tool for planning ahead and provides a convenient place to collect all your information and notes as you travel. I usually to go for ’Lonely Planet Portugal’ or an equivalent for a specific city or area.
- Portugal Maps – Download a Google Map for offline use when you have access to free wifi and pick up free maps from hotels and tourist information centres.