Travel Guide to Portugal

Catavino’s Top 10 Tips for Traveling in Portugal: Ditch the High Heels!

By Gabriella Opaz

I adore a stunning pair of high heels. I’m not talking about the mammoth spikes that can alternatively be used as an assault weapon, or block heels that make you walk like un-oiled stick figure; I’m referring to the elegant sensible heels that sculpt your legs into sumptuous, sleek delectables. That said, Portugal is not for the heel obsessed. Frankly, Portugal hates pumps, because no matter where you travel, you’ll inevitably hit slick cobblestone.

These intricately designed death traps are stunning to look at but torturous to traverse. Either the heel will get caught in the spaces between the cobblestone, twisting your ankle into oblivion, or you’ll perpetually find yourself on your ass. Either way, your vacation will end short of fabulous, with you in a cast and your 600 euro laser cut Jimmy Choo’s abandoned in some roadside bin. My suggestion, let the natives climb medieval castles in 8 inch heels, while you lace up your hiking boots. (photo via Sharon Durthaler)


Now, let’s tackle a few other handy, yet tongue and cheek, tips for your trip to Portugal!

Toilet Seat

Half the population will be unperturbed by a bare bowl, but for those of you who enjoy a “sit down” experience, note this key travel tip when visiting Portugal – bring a seat! From hospitals to dive bars, get prepared for cold porcelain, because this is going to be your new reality. To date, I’m still unclear if toilet seats are considered an unnecessary extravagance in public spaces, or whether they’re swiped and resold on an the black market, but I can tell you that they’ve become my “Big Foot” of Portugal.

Suggestion: You can either tote an inflatable seat around, or use your visit to strengthen those quads as you hover precariously over the throne.


Allow me to set the record straight, you’ve never tasted soup until you’ve visited Portugal! Portuguese soup is not just a convenient starter, it’s the cornerstone of Portuguese cuisine. From rich and chunky Sopa Alentejana made with garlic, cilantro, eggs and bread to the ubiquitous Caldo Verde containing pureed potato with shredded kale and chunks of chouriço (chorizo) sausage, there’s a soup for everyone. Soup is so ingrained in Portuguese gastronomy that when I told friends that my toddler never encountered a bowl of soup in the USA over the holidays, their response was consistently, “Wait, what!? Then what did he possibly eat?”

Suggestion: Don’t let a meal pass in Portugal without ordering soup! Every region boasts of their own creation, so get out there and start tasting!

The Dark

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the Portuguese must have strong ties to the bat family, because I’ve yet to enter a building that’s fully lit. No, even that’s generous. There’s simply no light. It’s not like they don’t have electricity, because they do. And it’s not as if they don’t appreciate a warm, cozy environment. They love a good fireplace. But after several decades of poverty and recession, light has been deemed an unnecessary expense reserved only for special occasions. It’s so challenging that after having my son in the local hospital, I had to call for help after getting stuck inside the bathroom because I couldn’t locate the handle for the door. 

Suggestion: Channel your inner bat. Turn off the lights in your house, don a pair sunglasses, and practice maneuvering the space without killing yourself. For the practical among you, simply download a flashlight app to your phone and attach a small torch to your keychain. When in bind, these will save your life.


To me, European Portuguese sounds like a drunk Russian hooked up with a Spaniard. The easiest way to understand the sound is to place a large dollop of peanut butter in your mouth and say “shhh” intermittently, and voila, you’re a native speaker! When we first moved to Porto a few years ago, I naively believed that my Spanish would carry me through without a hitch. I was clearly ignorant and smoking crack because it’s not only one of the most difficult latin languages to master, but one of least sensual for me. The one redeeming characteristic is the people themselves. Because of who they are, the language transforms into a sound that ebbs and flows with the ocean. Not my favorite of all languages, but it has its redeeming aspects. Not only that, the majority of the country speaks several languages (including English), so you’re in good hands.

Suggestion: Just about every language tool in existence is geared toward Brazilian Portuguese, which is by no means the same language. Consequently, I suggest you find a sexy Portuguese lover who can’t speak a lick of English. I’m not promising that the rest of your life will be drama free, but I guarantee that your Portuguese will go from zero to a novel’s worth of vocabulary in no time! Either that or check out this website for several language tools. 


Unlike Spain, where the zebra crossing is taken with the utmost seriousness, you might as well sign your will prior to leaving your home country, because the Portuguese have zero idea what a crosswalk is. Why we haven’t substituted the Italians for Portuguese as the most insane and ill equipped to be behind the wheel is beyond me, but I do know that there are ways to survive your trip unscathed. First, never cross the street until the car has come to a full stop. If you go all New York bravado on them, you’ll wind up in a full body cast. Don’t do it unless your 8 feet tall and built like a rugby player. Second, always be on the defensive. Assume that you’re completely invisible, because you are! Whether you’re in a car, or simply walking down the street, this is a mindset that will save your life. 

Suggestion: Either wrap yourself in blinking Christmas lights during your visit or simply remain attentive and alert when near traffic.

Children Welcome!


How many times have you gone to a restaurant and either experienced, or watched, a server glance sideways at a child in a judgmental, critical manner? Unless your child is demon’s spawn, prone to fits of passionate fury, tantrums, theft or assault, you’ll never ever find that here. Portugal absolutely adores children of all ages. To give an example of how insanely obsessed they are with tiny humans, I’ve had my son welcomed in michelin starred restaurants, adopted by every grandmother in the country, entertained by medical staff during my routine check-ups, given priority in government offices and totally showered in hugs and kisses at school. When I say that Portugal is filled with some of the nicest people on Earth, I mean it, but this applies 1,000 fold to children. (photo by pedrosimoes7)

Suggestion: If your kid is needing some serious tender loving care, get your family to Portugal!

The Atlantic

Despite Portugal’s snuggly relationship alongside Spain, and its ridiculously hot summers, do not expect a Mediterranean climate throughout the country! The famed warmth can be found on the interior of Portugal, far from the touristy areas, or south near the Straits of Gibraltar. If you’re north of Lisbon, along the 8,000 sq. plus miles of sandy beaches where Mother Nature is both schizophrenic and manic depressive, get prepared. Within a 24 hour period, you may experience gail force winds, gorgeous blue skies, torrential rain and freezing cold temperatures. On a good day, you’ll get two out of four…not bad!

Suggestion: Follow the lead of a Portuguese grandmother and always dress in layers…lots and lots of layers. Zip off pants, t-shirt, wool sweater, rain jacket, hat, etc, you get the idea. Prepare for the worst and expect the best!


Much like Spain, coffee is an integral part of the Portuguese culture. But if you’re envisioning a gargantuan bucket of half skim mocha layered in pixie dust, think again. The Portuguese are straight-shooters and want nothing more than a shot of espresso…period. At their most complicated, it’s an espresso with milk and sugar. Anything beyond this is not only considered blasphemous, but worthy of having your visa revoked. Seriously, don’t do it! Learn to love espresso, because you’ll be injecting it several times a day, alongside a stupidly delicious pastry! 

Suggestion: Keep your coffee simple. Here are a few tips. Otherwise, order fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s absolutely heavenly and won’t instigate caffeine induced seizures. 


“Hello juicy orbs of love! How nice that you’ve graced my table alongside a heap of freshly baked bread and a small terrine of pate. Did they know I adore enormous black olives marinated in rosemary olive oil? Did they have a premonition that I adore grilled chouriço? Does Portugal love me this much that they’re willing to give this away for free?!” Take a breath my friend, because that’s a big, fat NO! Granted, they’re cheap, but not free. Tasting those mouthwatering nibbles is equivalent to a stunning woman wearing Gucci; to ignore her is impossible, but to engage will surely cost you!

Suggestion: First ask yourself, am I really so hungry that I want to sacrifice my appetite for fillers? If the answer is yes, be sure to choose wisely because you should only pay for what you eat; and if that consists of freshly grilled chouriço or juicy canned sardines, rest assured you made a wise choice!

Unaldultered  Kindness

Looking for a country emanating in goodwill and kindness? Welcome to Portugal, a place where even the downtrodden go out of their way to shower you in kindness. Over the course of two years, I’ve been hugged by the homeless, given chocolate cakes by neighbours, blessed by addicts, offered free rides by taxi drivers, had my wallet returned to me intact…twice and have consistently been received with a smiley hello! I’ve even had a dapper man in his 70’s tip his beret, gently wink and say, “Lovely day Miss. I trust it will remain as beautiful as you.” It’s the one country where I’ve adopted the entire elderly population as my own grandparents. It’s that ridiculously loving!! But after decades of building a strong, thick wall of defense, I’ve had to let go of suspicion, ease my way into openness and generally take on a “shower me in love!” approach to life where strangers are simply friends I haven’t met.

Suggestion: Lap it up while you have it, because there aren’t many countries that will treat you so well!

Travel to Portugal

So there you have it! From my short two years living in Portugal, and a decade of visits, this list is a compilation of the nitty gritty as I see it. However, life is subjective, and I am always open to feedback, suggestions, comments as you’ve experienced it. So please, share your story of traveling Portugal!!! And if you want to visit with people who know how to see the real Portugal, give us a ring!

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Since 2005, Catavino has been exploring the Iberian Peninsula
looking for the very best food and wine experiences.

Since 2005, Catavino has been exploring the Iberian Peninsula looking for the very best food and wine experiences.

Catavino is the best place to learn about travel, food
and wine in Portugal and Spain.

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