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Portugal’s fairly isolated location in the far south-western corner of Europe makes it the continent’s least visited and most underrated tourist destination. Fewer crowds make for a more relaxed, authentic experience. Pack your itinerary with visits to hilltop medieval castles, ornately decorated palaces, cobblestone villages and architecturally-stunning cities. The country abounds with fascinating culture, breathtaking natural beauty and a host of fun and varied activities. A single day can be spent hiking in lush green mountains, mingling with the friendly locals, and wandering through scenic vineyards sipping on famous, velvety port wine. Throw in plenty of fresh seafood, a coastline strewn with remote sandy beaches and an affordable price tag, and it makes for an ideal choice of holiday destination.
Banking and Currency
Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.
American Express, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, even outside cities, while petrol stations usually take credit cards and cash.
There are ATMs (Multibanco) at most of the larger supermarkets and shopping areas in most towns with instructions available in English if required. You can only take out a maximum of €200 and if you see six asterisks, not four, just put in your normal four numbers and hit continue. If you receive a ‘service unavailable’ message, it is most likely that the machine is out of cash - especially at weekends and on Monday mornings. The machine will have an icon with a cross through it.
You can also find Multibanco machines in every small town and even villages all around Portugal. You will be charged for an international transaction. Currency conversion booths spring up wherever there is a steady flow of tourists but, be warned, the closer they are to tourist attractions, the worse the rates they offer.
Generally, Mon-Fri 0830-1530 (certain banks in Lisbon are open until 1800). In smaller towns, a bank may close for lunch, while many branches no longer offer a foreign exchange service.
You can buy or exchange Euros very easily at cambios (bureaux de change), hotels and shops. Many banks no longer offer foreign exchange, while the best rates and commissions are normally found at the bureaux in larger towns. The worst rates by far are at the airports and hotels. The best thing is to keep an eye out while you’re shopping and always check the commission rates.
Portugal is within the European Union. If you are travelling from outside of the EU, you are entitled to buy fragrance, skincare, cosmetics, Champagne, wine, selected spirits, fashion accessories, gifts and souvenirs - all at tax-free equivalent prices.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
TAP Air Portugal (www.flytap.com) runs services between Lisbon, Faro, Madeira, Porto Santo, Porto and the Azores. Charter flights are also available. The airline for the Azores is SATA (Sociedade Acoriana de Transportes Aereos) (www.sata.pt), which operates its Air Açores service between the various islands.
Portugal is not a huge place, therefore it is probably wiser to drive between the mainland cities unless you want to fly between Porto and Faro at the opposite ends of the country.
The routes between the main cities and towns along the coast are of sufficient standard. Some of the smaller roads further into the countryside can be rough and ready at times however, though you’ll get there eventually. Portuguese drivers themselves can be erratic too, so be watchful at all times.
Petrol stations generally open 0700-2000, although some are open 24 hours.
Travel by motorway is subject to a Via Verde electronic toll system in your car or the usual cash and card payments, according to distance covered and type of vehicle.
Side of the road
Available from major and local providers in main towns and airports, with or without driver. You must be at least 21 to 25 to hire a car.
Taxi drivers are not generally tipped, but passengers commonly round up the fare.
You can take bikes to Portugal by plane and train, but not by coach. The European cycling boom is well catered for in Portugal, with several operators offering tours if you prefer to cycle in a group. Bikely (www.bikely.com) provides a handy list of routes. Local bike hire is commonplace if you just want to ride for a morning or afternoon.
You can travel internally by bus using operators InterCentro (tel: +351 707 200 512; www.intercentro.pt) and its affiliate InterNorte.
International Driving Permits or foreign driving licences are accepted. Third-party insurance is compulsory. Under the requirements of the Portuguese Road Code, those wishing to drive a car must possess a valid national/international driving licence, other official documentation with photograph, log book or rental contract and adequate car insurance. Failure to produce, on request to the authorities, any of the above will result in an on-the-spot cash fine. A Carnet de Passage is needed for a van.
Transportes de Lisboa operates Lisbon's public transport, including an extensive underground system, trams, buses, and ferries across the Tagus. The city's suburban rail lines, operated by Portuguese Railways, are useful for covering longer distances. Porto also has an underground (Metro de Porto), trams and buses. Taxis are readily available in both cities, much like the rest of the country.
Comboios de Portugal - CP (www.cp.pt) is the Portuguese national rail service provider. Alfa Pendular trains offer the fastest rail link from Lisbon to the Algarve and from the capital to the north (Porto, Braga or Guimarães, with stops in Coimbra and Aveiro); the Intercidades (Intercity) service covers Lisbon, Porto, Alentejo and Lisbon to Algarve routes.
A vast network of regional, inter-regional and suburban trains covers the country. The tourist areas of Cascais and Sintra are connected to Lisbon by frequent express trains. High-speed Alfa trains run between Lisbon and Porto via Coimbra and Aveiro.
Several tour operators run cruises along the spectacular River Douro. There is no longer a ferry from mainland Portugal to Madeira.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Portuguese cooking is not too well known in other parts of Europe, or the world for that matter; nevertheless it is definitely worth exploring properly. Seafood is a regular staple, especially the salt cod that is very much a love it or hate it thing. It forms the base of hundreds of recipes and you should try it at least once. Anchovy, bass, clams, mussels, salmon, sea bream, sole and swordfish are easier on the palate and also popular.
The spice peri-peri is widely used to flavour chicken and shrimp, while Goan curry spices also add extra flavour to a variety of dishes and broths eaten widely. Meat lovers can gorge on espetada (grilled skewers of beef with garlic), leitão (suckling pig) and cozido à portuguesa, which mixes beef, pork, sausage and vegetables in a delicious dish. Another traditional delicacy is porco à alentejana (pork and clams Alentejo-style).
Sweets such as chocolate mousse and arroz doce (lemon and cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding), together with classic egg-yolk and sugar-based cakes, can be seen on tables up and down the country to finish off a superb meal. As you would in many other smaller European countries, take the time to seek out local shops, bars and restaurants to ask what the locals eat and drink.
More often than not, a service charge is not added to hotel and restaurant bills, so tip around 10 to 15% if you are satisfied with your experience. A couple of Euros for hotel maids and porters is considered appropriate. Round up your taxi fare to the nearest five Euros should you not wish to hand over 10%. Service charge is more casual in the less touristy north than the busy south.
Climate and Weather
Portugal is mainly characterized by a warm temperate, mediterranean climate with a distinct wet season in winter. During winter, Portugal experiences a similar temperature pattern to the Spanish coastal towns, i.e. average daytime maxima of about 16°C (61°F). However, the Portuguese resorts are much wetter, with only about 14 dry days on average. On average 5-6 hours of sunshine can be expected per day. A gradual warming-up process takes place during the spring months, daytime average maximum temperatures reaching up to 22°C (72°F) by May. The Atlantic-facing coast remains wetter than the Mediterranean-facing Spanish coast, with about 18 dry days per month
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Light- to medium weights and rainwear are advised (Portugal has one of the highest rainfalls in Europe). In summer, wear very light fabrics, preferably linen, as temperatures can soar and prove very uncomfortable if you have packed wrongly. Should you travel in spring or autumn, pack a combination of both.
Wi-Fi access is available in various hotels, restaurants and public buildings. There are internet cafés in most urban areas, and some rural ones, while post offices offer web facilities.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets in Portugal are one of two electrical socket types Type C (CEE 7/16 Europlug) and Type F (CEE 7/4 Schuko). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all types.
Electrical sockets in Portugal usually supply electricity at 220-240 volts AC. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 220-240 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.
Set on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula between the Atlantic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, Spain typically conjures up images of matadors, sangria, flamenco dancers and paella. While it offers all of these traditional cliches in abundance, the country's real attraction is to be found in its passionate, laid back people and its unbeatable natural beauty. Even along the well-beaten tourist tracks, there are authentic Spanish experiences to be had, traditional local dishes to sample and idyllic villages of timeless charm to explore. Like the country’s famous tapas, Spain itself is a veritable smorgasbord of thriving cities, bizarre festivals, panoramic views and breathtaking beaches - rendering it a beautiful and beguiling country unlike any other. Weird, enthralling architecture, incredible nightlife and its diversity of art and culture add to the country’s unique allure.
Banking and Currency
The currency of Spain is the Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents (<em>céntimos</em>). Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.
Banking hours: Monday-Friday 08h30-14h00 and some branches are open Saturdays from 09h00 - 12h00
American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted throughout the country, although cash is your safest bet.
Traveller's cheques are disappearing from use fast so it's far more convenient to travel with credit cards. Nevertheless, you can still change them in main bank branches and exchange bureaux, and they are also accepted in major hotels. It is advisable to bring them in sterling or dollars as there have been increasing reports of Euro cheques being refused.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Most of Spain is well covered by public transport. The rail network reaches all the provincial capitals and the main towns along the inter-city lines, and there’s an expanding high-speed network that has slashed journey times on major cross-country routes from Madrid. Inter-city bus services are often more frequent and cheaper than the regular trains, and will usually take you closer to your destination, as some train stations are a few kilometres from the town or village they serve. Driving a car, meanwhile, will give you the freedom to head away from the major tourist routes and take in some of the spectacular scenery at your own pace.
One important point to remember is that all public transport, and the bus service especially, is drastically reduced on Sundays and public holidays, don’t even consider travelling to out-of-the-way places on these days. The words to look out for on timetables are diario (daily), laborables (workdays, including Sat), and domingos y festivos (Sun and public hols).
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Standards of hygiene in relation to food health and safety in Spain are generally high in hotels, restaurants, pubs and nightspots.
Food is more than a form of sustenance in Spain, it is literally a way of life. Friendships are formed, families unite, and the working week can be set around every day's very important meals. The country's distinctive cuisine brings together unique regional dishes, special ingredients and long standing influences from Moorish and Arab settlers.
Tourists travelling to Spain are often given a useful piece of advice - the Spanish eat late. Don't expect many restaurants to be open before 9pm. Book a restaurant table for between 11pm and midnight and you'll see the place hopping. Dinner is often light after a large lunch..
Breakfast in Spain is a pretty simple and traditionally European affair. The continental meal can include fresh rolls, bread and jam with coffee, hot chocolate or tea.
Tapas are probably the concept of Spanish cuisine most admired and imitated around the world, inspiring thousands of bars and restaurants. The idea is simple, straightforward, and a visit to a tapas bar is possibly the best way to sample a wide variety of Spanish food. Tapas can constitute something as simple as a piece of toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and dipped in olive oil, or a dish of olives. Slices of ham or salami, cheese, pieces of Spanish tortilla and marinated anchovies are popular. Dishes like meatballs in tomato sauce, garlic mushrooms, shrimp or cooked chorizo in wine are all offered to tickle the tastebuds at tapas bars around the country. So is paella, the saffron infused rice dish with meat, seafood and vegetables which is a Spanish institution.
Tap water is generally safe to drink in Spain. Do not drink water from rivers or lakes as it may contain bacteria or viruses that can cause diarrhoea or vomiting.
Climate and Weather
Spain's climate varies from temperate in the north to dry and hot in the south. As it is a big country with varying terrain and altitudes, climate can be extremely distinctive from one corner to another. Overall, the coastal regions in the South and Eastern parts of Spain are excellent to visit all year round thanks to the Mediterranean climate (mild temperatures and long days). Northern Spain generally experiences colder temperatures than the South, while Central Spain stays hot and dry due to its location on a plateau.
The best time to visit depends on the region and type of travel experience you’re seeking. For a beach vacation, the best months for guaranteed sunshine are June to August. Naturally, these are also the busiest months for tourism along the coast and on the Spanish islands, so be prepared for high prices and crowds. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, head inland to cities like Seville, Madrid and Granada where temperatures are sizzling but streets are empty.
The shoulder season for travel in Spain is usually late spring and autumn: from April to end of May and October to November. These are when tourist destinations are least crowded and weather is still pleasant. January to February is the best time to ski, as snow is ample and the sun is shining. Especially in the Sierra Nevada, the sun can be quite overwhelming even in the snow – come prepared with snow goggles and sunscreen.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Spain is a modern country, but with many traditions of dress. Traditional/region dresses are usually worn at fiestas, but not by everyone. Try and attend a fiesta or two to see just how diverse the traditional clothing was.
Away from the beach men can wear shorts and T shirts, with flip flops, if they want to. The same would also be ideal for women too. Men and women should not wear swimming clothes at any restaurant, unless it is at a beach side restaurant. A tip to women who want to go topless on the beach. The law permits topless attire at every beach. Some beaches are designated nudist beaches.
Spain does get all of the seasons of the year, meaning spring, summer, autumn/fall, and winter, so pack with layers in mind. Buildings can be hot and stuffy whilst the outside temperatures are low. Remember that some, but not all, places of worship have enforced dress rules. For chilly days or nights, and for going out to restaurants, jersey/cardigan or lightweight jackets would be ideal attire. Bring some sort of waterproof clothing, especially during spring, autumn/fall, and winter periods. It should be noted that at a few hotels restaurants and clubs, if you are dressed inappropriately, will not let you in.
Most types of accommodation offer Wifi (free or paid) in their business centres, rooms or restaurants.
WiFi Hotspots can typically be found in coffee shops and various other public establishments. Some will offer free WiFi (a password may be required), while other wireless hotspots require a credit card payment through a browser before allowing access to the Internet.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets in Spain are one of two electrical socket types: Type C (CEE 7/16 Europlug) and Type F (CEE 7/4 Schuko). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all types.
Electrical sockets in Spain usually supply electricity at 230 volts AC / 50 Hz frequency. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 230 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 230 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.