Portugal - tips for travellers

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Ornate, colourful, marinated in tradition – a taste of Portugal can be very filling. Here are some digestible insider tips:

Couvert: there’s one essential commandment regarding Portuguese dining etiquette: whatever you eat you must pay for, whether or not you ordered it. Waiters bring bread, olives and other goodies to your table the moment you sit down. This unordered appetiser is called couvert and can cost anywhere from €1 per person to over €12. If you don’t want it, you can send it away, no offence taken. There’s also no shame in asking the price – ‘quanto e isso?’

Breakfast: the Portuguese don’t really do breakfast. By mid-morning, when peckish, Portuguese nibble on one of a mountain of fresh pastries (including sinful conventual cakes) from one of the many pastelarias. But they won’t go past a bica (an espresso) standing at a bar.

Vegetarians: fish-eaters will get by, but serious vegetarians might have problems in Portugal. Even vegetable dishes usually include meat. Markets offer fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts. Vegetables are rarely served in restaurants, but end up in soups (however, these may be cooked with bones).

Opening hours: most museums are closed on Mondays, and Sundays are very quiet (many shops and restaurants close).

Tipping: service is usually not added to the bill. It’s customary to leave a few coins or 5% (or even 10%) in smarter places and/or if the service was exceptional. Always ask if they accept credit cards if you’re planning to use one.

Language courses: Lisbon is a great place to take a crash course in Portuguese, including the highly recommended Centro de Informação e Documentação Anti-Colonial (CIDAC).

Stay in a pousada: the government-run pousadas network, offers accommodation in castles, monasteries and palaces.

Stay in a Turihab property: part of another government scheme (Turismo de Habitação, Turismo Rural or Agroturismo), these properties provide some of the best value accommodation in Portugal. You can look them up online at Turihab's website.

Further information

Intent on learning Portuguese? Look here for our snazzy language guide. Our Portugal country guide is also hot off the press.

Been to Portugal? Think we have missed something essential? Feel free to add suggestions below.

Article updated in June 2012.