What is Portugal Famous for?

Night street life in Portugal

Portugal is a country in southern Europe, located on the Iberian Peninsula on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, bordering Spain.

It is home to over 10 million people and is one of the oldest countries in Europe.

Portugal is famous for its typical seafood dishes, popular beach destinations, and 16th to 19th century architecture.

It’s also known for its beaches, cuisine, soccer legends, Fado music, historical cities, and port wine.

Beaches

Portugal is famous for its many charming, notorious beaches. Some beaches have a gigantic coastline, some are urban, very close to the towns, from where you can see the traffic in the streets and restaurants.

Some are more remote, making for breathtaking landscapes.

Algarve

Algarve is the most famous and most visited beach destination in Portugal with the warmest waters, rounding the 20ºC.

Its temperate Mediterranean climate, natural landscapes, and the healthy gastronomy attract millions of national and international tourists every year.

Algarve is home to the largest number of foreign residents, mainly from other European countries.

Costa Vicentina

Costa Vicentina is one of the most exciting stretches on the Portuguese coast.

It is a place favored by nature, where you can breathe ocean breeze scented mountain air.

The wind is constant, and is ideal for water sports enthusiasts attracted by the roar of the Atlantic.

Algarve beach

Nazaré

Nazaré Beach is closer to the waterfront and is packed with trendy restaurants and ice cream parlors, which stay open until late at night.

It plays host to winter surf competitions.

Lisbon city street, pedestrians and trains

Porto

Porto is the second of the two main cities of Portugal.

It is approximately 313 km from the capital, or a nice 3-hour road trip.

It is amongst the most visited by foreign tourists. Porto is the city after which Portugal was named, and the old capital.

The city is known worldwide for its port wine, bridges, contemporary and antique architecture, its historic center, the quality of its restaurants and its gastronomy, and soccer teams (particularly F.C. Porto).

It is also home to the University of Porto, ranked among the 200 best universities in the world, and among the 100 best universities in Europe.

Major Cities in Portugal

Lisbon

Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and is the most populated city in the country, home to over half a million people.

Also known as the “city of the seven hills“, it is the perfect balance between old and modern.

You will find colorful buildings, spots to enjoy the traditional Fado music, and many landmarks linked to the Portuguese Age of Discovery.

Sport

Soccer or Football

Soccer is the most popular sport in Portugal. ‘The Big Three’ is the name given to the three most successful football teams in Portugal. These are Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto.

The top division is known as the Primeira Liga. Famous Portuguese footballers include:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Luís Figo

  • Eusébio

  • Rui Costa

  • Ricardo Carvalho

It is also the birthplace of Jose Mourinho, one of the world’s most famous football managers.

Football fascinates all Portuguese people. Every town, maybe even every village, has its own home team.

When the national team plays, the people come together in one place to see the match – in a café in the smallest villages, in a stadium or in a central area in the big cities, where giant screens are installed.

Golf

Portugal is famous for its more than ninety courses in stunning settings throughout the country, with varied courses and great golf challenges, recognized by the most experienced professionals.

Sunny golf course in Portugal particularly the Algarve, is the most popular golfing destination in Europe.

According to Top 100 golf courses, the best five are:

  • The North course at Monte Rei Golf & Country Club in the eastern Algarve

  • The course at West Cliffs, north of Lisbon

  • The golf course at Oitavos Dunes, in Sintra-Cascais National Park

  • Troia Golf Resort, south of Lisbon

  • San Lorenzo in the Algarve

Situated between Portimao and Lagos, you’ll find ‘The Penina.’ This course dates back to 1966 making it the oldest in the Algarve.

It hosts professional tournaments including the Portuguese Open eight times.

The country has been elected by the World Golf Awards as the Best Golf Destination in Europe for six consecutive years and as the Best Golf Destination in the World.

soccer player

Surfing

Portugal is one of the top surfing destinations in Europe.

The country has a coastline that spans 497 miles (800 kilometers) and is known to have 364 days of surf per year.

You’ll find some of the biggest waves in the world here, which attracts surfers from across the globe.

Portugal has one of the World's Top Surf Spots.

This makes it a popular destination for surfers and beach-goers from all over the world.

The best surfing spots, include:

  • Lagos, Algarve

  • Peniche, Oeste

  • Matosinhos near Porto

  • Nazare

a chef preparing a meal

Pastel de nata the tasty Portuguese dessert pastel de nata is served with a cup of coffee.

You will find bakeries and pastry shops throughout the country. Sweet treats are among the most popular food in Portugal.

Portugal's famous spicy piri piri chicken dish is served with chips.

The peppers, are imported from Angola and Mozambique, and are used throughout the country to make marinades and sauces

Cuisine

The starting point must be bacalhau, the salted cod that has been a focus of the country’s diet for centuries.

Other popular fish selections include sardines, lobster, shrimp, octopus, eel, dorado, and robalo.

Pork, especially roasted suckling pig, is hugely popular, as is goat, and depending on the region, certain game meats.

For the tamer taste, beef, turkey, and chicken are prevalent.

Complementing meat or fish in a meal are often both rice and potatoes plus a mixed salad of lettuce, tomato, and sliced onions.

Vegetables include cabbage, kale, escarole, and green beans.

You are likely to come across these puréed with carrots and potatoes resulting in the ubiquitous sopa de legumas that precedes most lunches and dinners.

There will always be a bowl of olives on the table to start, as well. Eggs are a staple as is cheese, whether from cows, goats, or sheep.

The national snack is the custard treat, pastel de nata, and rice pudding topped with cinnamon is a favorite dessert.

Café Culture

From early in the morning until late at night, the Portuguese can be found sipping coffee at their local café.

These establishments are magnets for communal watching of important sporting matches.

a cup of coffee
wine bottle, two glasses, and grapes

Port wine is created using a blend of grapes, including: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cao.

There are two styles:

Wood-aged Ports: This type of port is the most common and is aged in casks, usually filtered and then ready to drink instantly.

Bottle-aged Ports: This is the most expensive type of port and can be left for decades to age in the bottle and is quite rare.

Port Wine

Port Wine is a natural fortified wine, produced exclusively from grapes from the Douro Region in northern Portugal, about 100 km east of the city of Porto.

This popular dessert wine is the most famous drink in Portugal.

Port wine is aged in wooden barrels, which can be seen in the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Although produced with grapes from the Douro and stored in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, this alcoholic drink became known as “port wine” from the second half of the 17th century because it was exported to the whole world from this city.

Port is a naturally sweet wine and stronger than the other wines. Basically, three types of Port are considered: White, Ruby and Tawny.

Entertainment & Culture

Art

The Portuguese have a deep-seated appreciation of art. Cities like the capital of Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Guimarães, and the university town of Coimbra feature many museums.

Smaller municipalities have their own collections.

There is always an area designated for local art exhibitions. Looking for a trendy art gallery?

Look no further than Arte AFK, located north of Lisbon city center, which focuses on painting and photography.

The gallery showcases national and international artists, established and emerging.

Literature

Portuguese literature developed in the 12th century. Luís Vaz de Camões, a 16th-century poet, is considered Portugal’s greatest poet.

Fernando Pessoa is one of the most influential literary figures of the 20th century, and in 1998, José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

If you’re a reader, don’t miss Lello bookstore in Porto with its magnificent staircase (no photos permitted) and hit Parque Eduardo VI in June when the Lisbon Book Fair is held.

Theatre

Portugal never developed a great dramatic theatre tradition due to the fact that the Portuguese are more passionate about lyric or humorous works than dramatic art.

During the 20th century, theatre reached the middle class through Revista, a form of cartoonish theatre exposing social and political issues.

paint brush

Music

Portugal is famous for its own musical genre Fado.

It is typically sung by a single person (fadista) accompanied by a classical guitar (also called viola) and a Portuguese acoustic guitar.

The music is known for being expressive, with the singer often addressing the hard reality of everyday life.

Portuguese Fado music is an intangible cultural heritage and is a genre of music that originated in urban Lisbon sometime before 1820.

Fado is a mournful and heart-touching style of folk music usually sung by common people and passed down through generations orally.

The musical genre was added to the World's Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2011 by UNESCO.

Fado and folk music and dancing are Portugal’s most important forms of musical expression.

Lisbon’s style is more popular, and applauded by clapping, while Coimbra’s is more refined.

To show appreciation, only a discreet clearing of the throat is appropriate.

Even the smallest town in Portugal has a square, often by the church, for presentations of regional folklórico.

Participants in colorful dress sing traditional songs and perform time-honored dances accompanied by instruments such as guitar, mandolin, bagpipes, accordion, violin, and drums.

In the northeastern region known as Trás-os-Montes, the dancers of Miranda, known as Pauliteiros, perform an ancient ritual weapon dance using sticks in a very civilized fashion.

azulejo

This was introduced when Portugal was under Moorish rule and were predominantly simple colours, especially blue and white.

Over time, newer tiles have started to depict a scene.

The most famous sites that include these tiles are: Sao Bento Railway Station in Porto and the Buçaco Palace.

Azulejo

The first azulejo tiles in Portugal were imported from workshops in Seville in 1498.

Azulejo is a piece of ceramics of little thickness, usually square, in which one of the faces is glazed, becoming waterproof and bright.

These tiles are used both internally and externally to decorate churches, monasteries, restaurants and bars, stations, palaces and even homes.

They are also used for street signs, public benches and walls.

This tile is used in large numbers as an element associated with the architecture of cladding interior or exterior surfaces or as an isolated decorative element.

You’ll find many of the buildings, particularly those in Lisbon, are decorated with the most beautiful ceramic tiles.

These are known as azulejos which means ‘small polished stone’ in Arabic.

Cork

Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world and produces 70% of the world's cork exports.

This makes sense, as the country also boasts the world's largest cork forest.

The primary importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.A.

The corks of wine bottles are the most known but there are many other cork items: fashion accessories, clothes, and shoes, furniture and coatings, floor or wall, among others.

Cork is one of the most characteristic natural products Portugal is famous for.

Portuguese cork is used by brands, including:

  • Moet Chandon

  • Rolls Royce

  • Airbus

  • NASA

cork

Did you know? Cork was first used during the Apollo 11 mission, which took man to the moon for the first time.

You’ll also find a lot of products that have been made from cork in Portugal such as handbags, wallets and shoes.

question mark

Portugal was the First Colonial Power to Abolish Slavery

Despite having been heavily involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade, Portugal abolished slavery all the way back in 1761.

That is half a century before Britain, France, Spain, or the United States.

Portugal is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with a close-knit family ethic.

Its rich culture results from many influences, including Celtic, Lusitanian, Phoenician, Germanic, Visigoth, Viking, Sephardic Jewish, and Moorish.

In recent decades, the country has undergone a renaissance in the arts, and the cities of Lisbon, Porto, and Guimarães have all been designated European Capitals of Culture.

Did you know?

Half of the "New World" once belonged to Portugal

The Portuguese Empire was actually the first global empire in history. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed.

This document essentially gave Portugal the eastern half of the "New World," including Brazil and parts of Africa and Asia.

Portuguese is the official language of nine countries

Over 236 million people worldwide are native Portuguese speakers.

Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Principe, Sao Tome, and Equatorial Guinea.

Portuguese is also spoken in Goa (India), Macao, and East Timor.

Portugal is the oldest country in Europe

Portugal has had the same defined borders since 1139, making it the oldest nation-state in Europe.

The oldest bookstore in the World is in Portugal's capital

Bertrand bookstore, or Livraria Bertrand, was established in 1732 and is located in Lisbon, Portugal's capital city.

This makes it the oldest still-operational bookstore in the world.

One of the oldest universities in Europe is in Portugal

The University of Coimbra was established in 1290, making it one of the oldest universities on the European continent.

The school now has over 20,000 students and has been named an official World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Portugal has the second-longest bridge in Europe

The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is 7.6 miles long. It was the longest in Europe for about 20 years until the Crimean Bridge was opened in Russia in 2018.

Portugal and England have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the World

The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was signed in 1373 and is still in force to this day. Both countries have entered wars to defend the other. Talk about having someone's back!

Festivals and Holidays

In towns and villages, year-round cultural activity often revolves around food.

There are festivals of bread, olive oil, garlic, cheese, and wine, among others, with groups performing traditional dance and song.

Some holidays mark political events in the country’s history, while a couple honor Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Carnaval is widely celebrated, not just on Fat Tuesday before the Roman Catholic period of Lent preceding Easter begins, but over several days.

Parades fill the streets and celebrants toss confetti, sing, and dance. It’s not unusual to find shopkeepers in costume, much like Halloween partygoers.

In June, festivities dedicated to Saints Anthony (12th-13th), John (23rd-24th), and Peter (28th-29th) take place.

Sardines are grilled in the streets, and revelers enjoy caldo verde, a traditional potato and collard greens soup topped with chouriço, a tasty spiced sausage.

Weddings are performed, fireworks fill the air, and plastic hammers are used to playfully hammer good luck into others.

Saint Martin’s Day is celebrated on November 11. Traditionally this is the first day when new wine is tasted.

Locals also enjoy jeropiga, a sweet liquor with the stronger, brandy-like, aguardente added. Christmas, Natal, is a family affair.

Midnight Mass is celebrated, and traditional foods include codfish with boiled potatoes and cabbage, and treats of fried pumpkin dough, or cakes of chick peas, sugar, and orange peel.

festival fireworks

On January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated by some.

Families gather to sing traditional carols, as Janeiras, and to eat Bolo Rei, literally, King Cake.

handcuffed man

Is gay marriage legal in Portugal?

Yes, it is, although it wasn’t for a time.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2010, granting all same-sex couples the same rights as other couples, except for adoption.

In 2016, Portuguese law amended the adoption law, allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

Can you fly a drone in Portugal?

Yes. Flying a drone is legal according to the National Civil Aviation Authority.

However, if you are planning to fly a drone in Portugal, we recommend being aware of international drone regulations before doing so.

Is prostitution legal in Portugal?

Yes. The act of prostitution is legal in Portugal, but organized prostitution is not.

This means that it is illegal for a third party to profit from, promote, encourage or facilitate the prostitution of another.

Can you gamble in Portugal?

Yes. Gambling is legal in Portugal. The largest gambling city in Portugal is Póvoa de Varzim with one casino.

Online gambling was only legalized in Portugal as recently as 2015.

The new law meant that all online gambling operators must obtain a license and pay taxes to the Portuguese state.

What’s Legal and illegal in Portugal?

It is always exciting to visit a new country. Less exciting when you find yourself in a jail cell one night because you’ve been caught smoking hash on the street.

It is worth knowing what the laws are when visiting this country.

Can you take drugs in Portugal?

Basically, yes. In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to decriminalize the possession of drugs.

Since then, anyone can carry up to 10 doses of any drug on their person.

These substances are still prohibited but the consumption is not.

The law was introduced in response to a series of deaths caused by overdoses in the 80s and 90s.

Do you have the right to bear arms in Portugal?

Yes. Portuguese citizens can own firearms for hunting, target shooting, pest control and collecting. Self-defense is not considered a legal reason for owning a firearm.

Legally, only licensed gun owners can lawfully acquire, possess or transfer a firearm or ammunition.

To gain a gun license in Portugal, one must be over 18 years old and pass a background check, which considers criminal and mental health records.

Lisbon is the region with the most gun licenses, followed by Faro, Santarém, Setúbal, and Porto.

Can you hunt animals in Portugal?

Sometimes. It is legal to hunt some species in Portugal such as red deer, fallow deer, roe deer, mouflon, wild boar and quail but, you need to have a license.

The most popular regions in Portugal for hunting are Alentejo and Ribatejo where a “Monteria” takes place each year with dogs and horses.

Monteria is a drive hunt that takes place in fenced hunting grounds.

It is a traditional style of hunt where hunters have their stand while beaters and dogs push the animals towards the hunters.

Can you camp in the wild in Portugal?

Kind of. Portugal is considered one of the best countries in western Europe for free camping.

Free camping is when you camp somewhere that is not a registered campsite.

There are lots of places in Portugal where it is possible to free camp either by the beach or further inland.

The Portuguese have officially banned free camping in the Algarve but, outside of the summer months, the police do tolerate it.

You should respect private property and places that are clearly signposted to indicate that camping is not allowed.

Can women legally get an abortion in Portugal?

Yes. Abortion laws in Portugal were liberalized on 10 April 2007 allowing the procedure to be completed on-demand if a woman’s pregnancy had not exceeded its tenth week.

Abortions at later stages are allowed for certain reasons, such as risk to a woman’s health, rape and other sexual crimes or a foetal malformation.

The restrictions become stricter at 12, 16, and 24 weeks.

Many doctors, however, still refuse to perform abortions as Portugal’s Catholic traditions still have a significant influence. In 2016, the Portuguese parliament reversed a law that instituted mandatory counselling and medical payments for women seeking an abortion through the public health service.

What is the legal age of consent in Portugal?

The age of consent or the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to sexual participation in Portugal is 14 years old.

Portugal’s statutory rape law is violated when an individual has consensual sexual contact with a person under the age of 14.

It is also illegal to perform sexual acts with a minor between 14 and 16 when taking advantage of their inexperience. Portugal does not have a ‘close-in-age’ exemption to the age of consent laws.