With its mild climate, beautiful beaches and inexpensive cuisine (including the wine!), Portugal is a paradise for budget travelers, especially when compared to other destinations in Western Europe.
That said, the savviest Cheapos are always looking for new ways to save a few extra euros. If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place!
Portugal budget travel guide
1. Embrace the off-season
For the best prices on flights, accommodations and pretty much everything else, try to plan your trip to Portugal any time other than peak travel dates. If you can, avoid June through September along with the Easter and Christmas holidays. Generally speaking, late January through mid-March (depending on when Holy Week and Easter fall) bring lower prices and fewer crowds.
2. Book last minute hotels
For the best prices on many aspects of travel, plan way ahead (months, not weeks) or wait until the last possible moment to book. In our experience, this works better with accommodations and package deals than with airfare. For the most extreme savings on hotels and hostels, the best prices are quite often found at the last minute, when rates tumble as push comes to shove. Search EuroCheapo to find a deal on Portugal hotels.
3. Keep flight costs down
Because Portugal is already a very budget-friendly destination when it comes to food and lodging, the best way to cut your expenses way back is to spend less on your airfare to Europe. While flying to Porto will usually save you some cash, TAP Portugal flies direct to Lisbon from the US, while Iberia makes one stop in Madrid.
Serious Cheapos should consider flying into another major European hub (think Paris, Dublin or London) and then hopping a low-cost flight to Lisbon, Porto or Faro. Since low-cost flights on carriers like Vueling and Ryanair are priced each way, to save time and money on ground transportation, consider flying into Porto in the north and back from Lisbon in the South or vice versa.
4. Sleep cheap in pensions
For a charming (and budget-friendly) local experience, stick to pensão, small, family-run inns. Some also offer inexpensive but authentic home-style meals, too. Hostels and apartments are also very reasonable, and if you plan to stay in one place for two or more nights, you may even be able to negotiate a discount.
Pack comfortable shoes and walk as much as you can. It’s free, and Portuguese towns and cities are wonderful for pedestrians. If you must, take the odd joy ride on one of the old-fashioned cable cars, but after that, stick to your own two feet whenever possible to keep your transportation costs down.
6. Skip the taxis
Good public transit options, rideshares and reasonably priced rental cars make splurging for a taxi seem silly. Take the trip from the Lisbon Airport to the city center, for example. Whereas a taxi fare will cost you around €10, public transit costs only €2, while a shuttle or rideshare option starts at about €5.
7. Spend less on dining out
For the best way to save on dining, go for the fixed price menus at lunchtime. Many restaurants offer a menu of the day, “prato do dia,” “menu do dia” or sometimes “menu fixo” in Portuguese. When dinner rolls around, opt for snacks on-the-go from bakeries or supermarkets.
In restaurants, just say no to the bread and olives the waiters bring out unless you really want them. They’re an added charge on the bill at most establishments.
And don’t over tip. In Portugal, as in many European destinations, tips are a bonus, not part of your server’s salary, so most of the time a few euros are more than enough. Generally, you shouldn’t even think about leaving more than 10% on top of the bill. Also, check to make sure a service charge hasn’t already been tacked on to your bill.
8. Pick up a fresh meal at a local market
While eating and drinking out is cheaper in Portugal than in other parts of Europe, it’ll still save you money to pick up fresh produce, bread, and snacks at outdoor markets and supermarkets. Grab a nice Vinho Verde, some local cheese and charcuterie, and a few pasteis de nata (traditional egg custard tartlets) for dessert, and you’re all set — no complicated cooking skills or formal kitchen required.
9. Some of the best sights are free
You’ll find that many popular activities that normally charge admission are free some of the time. Wherever you are in Portugal, it’s pretty likely that local museums have a free morning, afternoon or day, so asking around is well worth the effort. For example, the first Sunday of the month, you can take in major museums in Lisbon (like the Tile Museum and Jeronimos Monastery) without paying admission.
Porto’s sweetened the pot for tourists even further — every Sunday morning from 10 am to 1 pm museums and cathedrals are free — we recommend the Port Wine Museum or the Serralves Foundation’s modern art collection.
10. Slow down
Spending more time in one place is a sure-fire way to keep your budget in check and stay sane. Instead of rushing around on an organized bus tour, or driving from one city to the next, consider making a temporary home base in a small town, renting a nice room or apartment and exploring an area in a leisurely fashion.
Don’t overbook your time with activities. Instead, take your time and wander — it’s free. You’ll save money on transportation and have a much more relaxing trip besides.
This article originally appeared in Eurocheapo.
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