27 Things You Would Discover While Visiting Portugal, If I Had Not Told Them to You Already

Hello friends! I haven't been blogging much lately, because as you may have guessed from the title, I've been in Portugal for two weeks! I had a wonderful time and I would even say that Lisbon is my new favorite European city. If everything goes to hell here in America, that's where I'm moving! Or maybe some 500 year old house in Sintra? I did learn a little bit on my trip, so I thought I might share some tips (and some pictures):

1. Portugal is actually in Europe- shocking, I know! So the Zika virus isn't really an issue there. (But thank you everyone who told me to watch out for it, because now I know you care.)

2. In Portugal, they speak Portuguese- not Spanish. Portuguese is a Latin based language, like Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian, but it is actually different from Spanish, so don't speak Spanish in Portugal!

3. The Portuguese they speak in Portugal is a bit different from Brazilian Portuguese, so if you are going to learn the language before you go, be careful that you are learning Portuguese from Portugal. I learned Brazilian Portuguese, and it was a bit frustrating. The pronunciation was very different, as were many of the words. 

Unrelated: I want these tiles.

4. Portugal's currency is the Euro! Which works out well for Americans, at this point. Portugal is cheap.

5. People in Portugal eat dinner at 9 PM. The restaurants don't open until seven, so you might be pretty hangry by the time you get your food, if you are on the American schedule of dinner at six. So, the one way to get around this is to take advantage of the pastries.

6. They have great pastries in Portugal, and the Portuguese traditionally eat pastries at around five PM. So, avail yourself of pastries! Each town usually has a specialty pastry, and a little cafe that makes them. So. Yum.

7. At restaurants in Portugal, they charge you for that bread they serve before your meal. But, because Portugal is cheap, they usually charge about one Euro, which at this point is $1.20. They also charge for water, but it isn't too expensive. And don't tip the waiter! He makes a living wage.

8. The public transportation in Lisbon is cheap and good. For six euros, you can buy a 24 hour pass for the subway, the bus, the ferries, and even (just to make it even more like San Francisco) the streetcars.

9. When driving in Portugal, note that it is illegal to make a left turn, except in rural areas. Instead of turning left, you must proceed to the nearest round-about, make a u-turn by driving all the way around it, come back, and turn right.

10. Graffiti does not mean you are in a bad neighborhood. For whatever reason, Portuguese people don't seem to clean up the graffiti on the walls. Everywhere you go, there are the names of football teams tagged onto walls. (I didn't take pictures of the graffiti.) 

11. Street signs in Portugal are on the wall of the nearest building. This is a little inconvenient if you are driving, but completely charming if you are walking. They are elaborately tiled and really quite pretty.

12. Most places in Portugal have little or no air conditioning. Surprisingly, however, the oldest bookstore in the world, Bertrand's, is in Lisbon, and it has excellent air conditioning. The best spot is if you stand in the arch sort of by the cash register and the post cards. Here I am in that spot:

13. Portugal has what you call a "Mediterranean Climate," meaning it's mild. There are several microclimates around Portugal, due to the mountains meeting the sea and all that. Generally, however, it's nice most of the time, with frequent rain in the winter. It's so warm, they play chess outside! 

14. Portugal has a really interesting history of a dictator and then going Communist in 1974. Though the Communist party is not currently in power, they still have their influence. The place has that "we kind of don't give a care" air that I imagine many Communist countries have. And people smoke a lot.

15. Portugal has all of the charms of the great European countries: castles, cathedrals, cobblestone streets, Roman aqueducts, and on and on. It's really beautiful (except for the graffiti). This is me in front of the place where the royalty used to bless the giant wooden ships before sending the conquistadors across the ocean:

16. Portugal has great beaches.

17. Proper beach attire in Portugal is anything you damn well please. I saw three hundred pound people wearing bikinis and 88 pound people wearing scuba diving suits.

18. Everyone I encountered was super laid back and chill. And yet- it's hard to explain this- Portuguese people seem to like to argue a lot! But it's like they don't take it personally. It's just a thing they do. (I hate to generalize, but you notice these things when you go to another culture.)

19. There are lots of stray dogs roaming about. The stray dogs don't do much. They are unusually well behaved stray dogs. This picture of a mama dog and puppies is by my friend Heather Lawnicki, who feeds the strays:

20. Due to a huge "luxury tax" on smart phones and the like, few people own them and therefore the Google Maps app doesn't work nearly as well in Portugal as it does in the United States.

21. Also due to the luxury tax, one often encounters people - even young people! looking at each other and conversing. They're all over the place! It's so weird!

22. I saw two police officers during the two weeks I was in Portugal, and I spent most of the time in big cities.

23. Most waiters speak English, and the ones who don't do well pointing.

24. You have to ask for the check. They will never give it to you if you don't. People in Portugal spend hours dining, so it is considered rude to just give you the bill in the middle of your evening.

25. Take your kids out with you at night. Everyone does.

26. Fish is a big deal. They eat tons of fish. The entire grocery store reeks of it, and it's just stacked in these huge piles:

27. Lisbon is the safest capital city in Europe, tied with Helsinki. It has virtually no violent crime. Watch your phones and computers, though, as the most common crime is theft. 

Bonus Fact: They have a bridge exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in Lisbon, except that their model has a huge statue of Jesus Christ on the other side! 

All in all, Portugal is a great place to visit. For Californians, especially, I think you will get a kick out of Lisbon! And beautiful little Sintra, with the castle on the hill.


  1. I would go just for the pastries.

  2. You could visit each town and each their respective specialty pastries! My favorite was Belem's.

  3. I had never considered a trip to Portugal. I love your observations.
    If ever I get the opportunity now I would seriously consider it.