Portugal once enjoyed a reputation as one of Europe’s most affordable destinations.
While prices have been on the rise in recent years (thanks in part to the nation’s growing popularity), you can still travel inexpensively. Portugal’s parks and nature reserves are all free to visit, as is the wide array of trails and greenways.
Starting the day with a bica (espresso) and a creamy pastel de nata (custard tart) will only set you back a few euros. The country also has many free museums and inexpensive attractions, from medieval architecture to cutting-edge contemporary art. If you’re thrifty, you can get by on as little as €50 a day. Here are some other key ways to cut costs while traveling in Portugal.
Hostel room: €22-35
Basic room for two: €50-80
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from €80
Lisbon metro ticket: €1.50
Meia de leite (café latte): €2-3
Bifana (pork cutlet sandwich): €3-5
Dinner for two: from €30
Beer at the bar: €2-4.50
Average daily cost: €50-75
Figure out the cheapest way to reach Portugal
Portugal has international airports in Lisbon, Porto, and Faro. Be sure to check prices at each before booking, as you may find better deals arriving in one or the other. If you’re considering combining a trip to Portugal with Spain, you may find cheaper rates flying into Madrid or even Sevilla, which is a two-hour train ride away from Tavira in southern Portugal.
Take public transportation from the airport
Save some cash as soon as you land by foregoing a pricey taxi ride and taking a bus or the metro to your destination. Handy metro service runs to city centers from Lisbon (red line) or Porto (violet line E). Faro’s airport has a quality bus service operated by Vamus Algarve. The Aerobus runs into Faro and also to Albufeira, Portimão, and Lagos.
Ditch the car and get around by train or bus
The high cost of rental cars coupled with soaring fuel prices can make for a pricey trip to Portugal. Save money (and lower your carbon footprint) by traveling around by train and bus. Portugal’s rail line connects major cities from Valença in the north down to Faro in the south, running through Porto, Coimbra and Lisbon. Portugal’s bus network helps fill in the gaps and connects smaller towns.
Ticket prices are reasonable. For instance, the second-class train fare from Lisbon to Lagos (a 4.5-hour journey) is around €25, which is not much more than the price you’d pay on tolls alone by taking the A2 to get there.
Visit from October to April to save on lodging
In spring and autumn, you’ll generally find pleasant weather in Portugal, with blooming wildflowers in March and April and changing leaves in October in some parts of the country. You’ll also notice thinner crowds and lower rates when it comes to accommodation. Prices are typically around 25% off high season rates.
Save even more by visiting from November to February. This is the cheapest time of the year to visit Portugal, and many hotels slash their rates by 50% or more. Just be sure to pack for the weather. Bring a rain jacket, scarf and warm layers for Porto and other destinations in the north. In the south, you’ll still find plenty of sunshine in the Algarve, with mild temperatures for outdoor activities like hiking and biking.
Make lunch your biggest meal
Many restaurants in Portugal offer good-value lunch specials. Always ask if there’s a menu do dia (fixed menu) or prato do dia (daily special). Even high-end restaurants typically have lower-priced lunch menus.
In the evening, why not forego conventional dining for a picnic in the park, at a viewpoint or by the sea. A loaf of fresh bread, cheese, olives and a bottle of wine makes the perfect accompaniment to the sunset.
Consider staying in a hostel
Portugal has many of Europe’s most stylish hostels, some of which are set in historic buildings and feature upscale amenities like roof terraces, art-filled lounges or swimming pools. Rates start at around €22 per night – big savings over a traditional hotel. Many hostels also offer budget-friendly activities, like free walking tours or pub crawls, and free or low-cost rentals of bikes, surfboards and other gear. Some even host communal dinners, which are a great way to meet others.
Plan your itinerary around less expensive destinations
Don’t rule out visiting Portugal’s most appealing cities. Places like Lisbon and Porto have a wide range of accommodations, and you can find excellent prices if you’re willing to stay outside the center (or in a more centrally located hostel). You can also find inexpensive activities (free museums, neighborhood exploring), and you don’t need to spend much on transportation.
The Algarve also has good deals if you know where to look. If you don’t want to stay in a hostel, you’ll find some decent room prices in Faro and Portimão. The Algarve is also among the best places for budget-friendly activities: scenic walks along headland trails above the beach and frolicking in the waves don’t cost a thing.
Dine in a tasca, adega and other local haunts
No matter where you roam, you can eat well in Portugal without breaking the bank if you know where to look. Among the key places to seek out is the tasca, an old-fashioned eatery (often with a loyal local following) that serves up excellent daily specials (which are not always listed on the menu) as well as classic staples like bacalhau (codfish) served in a variety of ways. Slightly more convivial are adegas, usually decorated with wine casks and serving up hearty, inexpensive meals along with carafes of very affordable wine.
Become a picnic expert
Sprinkled throughout Portugal, you’ll find mercados (markets), where you can browse for cheeses, charcuterie, baked goods and other fare. When no market is near, head to the nearest supermarket, where you can also score Portuguese produce at rock-bottom prices. With a bit of strategic planning, you can make a fun day out of your food shopping and sightseeing, stopping at a scenic spot for a picnic along the way.
Plan your days around free and low-cost activities
Some of the best things to do in Portugal won’t set you back much. A tram trip around Lisbon or Porto offers a great view of dynamic neighborhoods without the cost or hassle of taking a guided tour. Many churches are free to visit, as are parks and miradouros (viewpoints).
In the Algarve, indulge in a day of beach hopping, followed by sunset viewing at one of the region’s fabled overlooks (like the Cabo de São Vicente). You can also explore the islands of the eastern Algarve via inexpensive ferries from Faro, Olhão and Tavira.
Order the house wine
Portugal has some excellent, affordable wines you can enjoy over dinner by ordering the vinho da casa (house wine). Order by the glass or jarro (carafe) ranging in size from 0.25 liters (around two glasses) to 0.75 liters. At many family-run eateries, a glass of house wine costs about the same as a bottle of water.
Take a hike
Mountains and rugged coastlines make a memorable backdrop to one of Portugal’s greatest free outings: hitting the trail. You can plan a whole trip around a famous multi-day walk – like the Rota Vicentina, which passes along sea cliffs and over deserted beaches on Portugal’s southwest coast. Another option is to base yourself in easy reach of one of Portugal’s nature reserves, such as Parque Nacional Peneda-Gerês in Portugal’s northeast.