Want to know what to pack for a vacation to Portugal? This list includes everything I’ve found useful on my own trips, with some tips on what you can leave at home.
River Crossing © Terry Kearney
Over the last few years, the excellent, affordable quality of life has made Lisbon a favorite for tech startups and the sunny, sandy beaches of The Algarve have been a popular tourist resort for over 50 years. Despite astonishing food, beautiful, rugged countryside, and faded, urban grandeur, Portugal has remained the unknown jewel of Western Europe.
Preparing For Your Trip To Portugal
Be sure to organise these essentials out well in advance to get the most out of your vacation to Portugal.
- Flights – The cost of flights increases nearer to the departure, so book your tickets well in advance. Roughly three months in advance is best. Skyscanner will help you find the cheapest option that fits your itinerary. Print them out and keep somewhere safe, as customs officials sometimes ask to see a return ticket on arrival in Portugal.
- Bus and Train Tickets – If you want to travel around once you arrive, you’ll save money if you buy in advance. The overnight sleeper train from Madrid to Lisbon is excellent. But the train network in Portugal is sparse. Research all journeys in advance and don’t you’ll be able to get from A to B. The bus might be faster and more direct.
- Renfe’s Trenhotel from Spain is one of the best sleeper services in Europe. There are full details of this Madrid-Lisbon route via The Man in Seat 61.
- The Trainline is a convenient one-stop-store for booking both trains and busses. 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 cell phone.
- Check the Rede Expressos site for bus tickets and schedules across Portugal.
- Considering Portugal’s more limited rail network, a train pass may not be as useful here as in other European countries. The options are an Interrail pass for EU nationals Eurail Portugal Pass instead for travelers from non-EU countries. Prices for both vary with the age of the traveler and number of days required.
- Accommodation – Accommodation is generally also cheaper around three months before departure date. You’ll also have a greater choice. 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 will keep all your transit documents safe in one place and protect them from damage.
- Do I Need A Visa For Portugal? – EU citizens have 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.
- Face mask – COVID is still very active in many countries and you may be required to wear an SFP2 facemask on the plane and in some indoor spaces. It’s also a good idea to carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser when you travel.
Travel Insurance For Portugal
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Other Documents To Prepare For A Visit To Portugal
- Document Scans – Use your phone to take photos or scans of your passport, cards, and any other important documents, then save the copies to an online account. The Dropbox app has a scanning function, so you can grab a copy of everything. You’ll always have an emergency record if you lose anything. Also put together a list of banks and medical contact numbers, so you know how to reach organizations if a card gets lost or stolen, for example.
- Student Card – Anybody under 30 (and teaching professionals) can apply for an International Student Identity Card which gives many travel savings and discounts overseas.
- Driving License – If you’re driving in Portugal, check the RAC’s checklist of specific regulations. You’ll need to be over 18, fully insured, and to hold a current license with photograph or an International Driving Permit.
What Do You Need To Pack For Portugal?
Shopping in Portugal will depend where you are. Big cities like Lisbon have everything you’d expect from a European city and larger urban areas will have enough shops for most things you need. You’ll even find a number of late-night shopping malls in Lisbon and 24-hour pharmacies and corner stores. Sunday is actually a big shopping day for families here. Smaller stores will often close for lunch.
However, one of the greatest things about being in the country are the incredible markets and specialist stores in even the smaller towns. You can pick up the freshest food that was picked or fish that was caught mere hours ago, or a bottle of wine that was bottled within miles of where you are. Portugal is perfect for those who like to eat and, believe me, the olive oil and tomatoes are amongst the best here. Market days depend on where you are, a dedicated ‘mercado municipal’ will often be open every day except Sunday and are best visited in the morning. You may be surprised by how limited local supermarkets are in comparison.
- You Don’t Need To Bring Toiletries – You can cut down on the amount of toiletries and hygiene product you pack, as you’ll find everything you need in the big supermarket chains like Pingo Doce and Continente.
- You Don’t Need To Bring Non-Prescription Medication – Portuguese ‘farmácias’ are easily recognized 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, so it makes sense to get anything you need when you arrive, rather than taking up room in your luggage. You can find your nearest and check for opening hours and late nights with the SAPO farmácia search engine.
Luggage For A Visit To Portugal
- Backpack or Suitcase – Have a look for bargain backpacks on Amazon. It needs to feel comfortable, with the harness giving full support on your hips and not your shoulders. A trusted brand like Osprey will be your best bet.
- If a suitcase is more your style, make sure it’s durable, with a little extra space for souvenirs, in addition to everything you need to pack. Check airline restrictions before you buy, especially when it comes to cabin luggage.
- Travel Cubes – It saves a lot of time to group luggage into easy-to-identify travel cubes and helps you stay organized.
- Wash Bag – A leak-proof wash bag is essential for protecting the rest of your luggage from exploding shower gel or toothpaste. The Magictodoor travel kit is a reasonably-priced option.
- There is a 100 mL restriction on liquids for cabin bags, so pack larger bottles 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 possessions safe in transit. But make sure you get TSA-approved locks when moving in or out of the United States.
- Travel Billfold – Theft can be a problem, so it pays to think ahead. The Lewis N. Clark RFID Security Wallet keeps passports, cards, cash, and other valuables safe, but is still comfortable to wear.
- You’ll need some kind of comfortable day bag for water and other essentials.
The Best Time To Visit Portugal
Southern Portugal can be extremely hot during the summer and winters can be pretty wet in the north. March to May and September to November are the most comfortable times to visit, but there are reasons to visit at other times of the year. The huge Atlantic coastline makes it popular with surfers during the winter. And, The Algarve remains a winter getaway for many Northern Europeans. Travel will be more expensive at Easter and Christmas. The beaches will also be expensive during the summer, particularly in August, but you may still find a bargain in the city.
What Clothes To Pack For Portugal
Portugal’s temperate climate sees a fair bit of rain, particularly in the north. And, whilst it’s hot during the summer, temperatures can be mild to chilly out of season, with strong winds on the coast. You should pack a light sweater or blanket and something to keep you dry, even if you’re traveling during the hotter months.
- Lower Body – Good quality shorts, skirts, or pants will stand up to daily use and regular washing. Lightweight options are appropriate thru the entire year, but pairs of jeans should work for the cooler months.
- Shorts with zipper pockets will keep you cool in summer and make valuables harder to lose or be stolen.
- Upper body – Travel light but bring a warm and waterproof layer, 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 will be valuable if you travel north, especially out of the summer months. You can wear it on the airplane to save space.
- 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 – Check Amazon for men’s walking shoes and hiking footwear for women.
- Keen CNX hiking shoes are lightweight and breathable and perfect for hot weather.
- Make sure your socks provide plenty of padding for your toes and that sneakers have plenty of ventilation to avoid smelly feet and blisters.
- Accessories – A shady summer hat and a decent pair of sunglasses are essential to protect you from the sun. Check Amazon for quality shades.
- Swimwear – If you’re headed for one of Portugal’s glorious beaches, don’t forget to pack at least two quality bikinis or pairs of trunks.
- Winter Accessories – Include a cozy scarf, pair of gloves, and a warm hat if you’re traveling in winter.
Health And Grooming Items To Pack For Portugal
Although toiletries and hygiene products are available locally, there are a few things worth packing to make a long journey more comfortable and protect you when you first arrive.
- Sunscreen – It’s easy to get caught out if you’re not used to a Portuguese summer. Protect yourself thoroughly and frequently with a sunscreen like Neutrogena SPF 45 Drytouch. It stays water resistant for about an hour.
- Refillable Water Bottle – Summers can be brutally hot and arid in parts of Portugal. A good water bottle, like the Nalgene OTF, will help you can stay hydrated during the day.
- Antihistamine Tablets – As well as combating certain allergies, popping an antihistamine before a long flight can help with the sneezing caused by recycled cabin air.
- Ear Plugs – Essential for getting to sleep during any long journey, Moldex ear plugs are cheap but are definitely do the job.
- Moisturizer – The secret weapon for travelers who need a quick pick-me-up, a quality moisturizer like CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion or Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, really do feel better to me than cheaper alternatives.
- Tissues – A pocket-sized pack of tissues are useful in so many situations. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a small pack of wet wipes in your day back as well.
- Quick Dry Towel – Even if you get towels with your accommodation, it’s can be useful to bring your own. 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 – If you’re just charging USB devices, a Koppla 3-port USB charger from IKEA is very handy. The Swedish company has 2 branches in Lisbon and 1 in Oporto.
- 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.
- Cell phone – 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 cell phone is locked to a contract, you can buy a cheap handset to take with you.
- It’s very easy to forget to pack your charger! You can get a new one from electronics store MediaMarkt, which has city branches across the country.
- Protect your device from travel damage with the Otterbox range of Defender cases.
- Keep at least one fully-charged power bank in your day bag, as your battery is bound to drain when you’re out and about.
- Noise-canceling headphones – Some good noise-canceling headphones will bring an extra level of comfort and distraction 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.
- The trusty GoPro is still a great alternative. They’re waterproof, so you can take them places no smartphone should go.
- Pack a bunch of memory cards to back up you images. These have a high-failure rate, so swap them out regularly.
- Kindle – Kindle readers are perfect for waiting around in airports. Don’t forget your charger!
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.
Preparing Your Cell Phone For Portugal
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. Travelers 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 travelers. €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 thru 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.
Planning What To Do And Where To Go In Portugal
- Portugal Guidebook – A guidebook remains a valuable research tool for planning ahead, providing a convenient place to collect 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 centers.
- Portuguese Phrasebook – Outside the resorts, there will definitely be circumstances where a phrasebook is useful. Get familiar with pronunciation before you go and learn the basics, especially if you’re used to Spanish.
- Journal – I always keep a journal when I travel. Leuchtturm1917’s A5 dotted notebooks are not cheap but they’re gorgeous and you’ll appreciate all the thoughtful details.
Money For Visiting Portugal
Portugal uses the Euro, which is freely available with a good exchange rate and can be bought with low commission fees. This is particularly helpful if you are also traveling to nearby countries like Spain and France. Change about €100 in advance and try not to carry more. Many places, including some supermarkets, still have a minimum transaction fee for cards, so it’s worth having enough cash to cover purchases.
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.
Generally, it will be cheaper to withdraw from ATMs when you arrive instead of changing more money, especially if you have 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, many ATMs in major banks or post offices exchange at the market rate. These are easy to use and the interface will usually have an English option. Always choose the EUR rate rather than in your native currency, as this is the cheaper option.
If you find that your cards don’t work, call the number to get it 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.
Health Considerations For A Visit To Portugal
- Non-EU travelers with a travel insurance policy should be clear on what is required by their provider 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Travelers to Madeira should protect against mosquitos, as there is a slight risk
- 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.