Portugal on a budget
Portugal is an amazing country to visit, with its Mediterranean climate and natural beauty there is something for everybody. Whether you are looking at a weekend Lisbon city break, a week long Algarve beach holiday or a month exploring the different regions.
One of the best aspects of Portugal is that it is still relevantly cheap to eat, travel and stay compared to some other European countries.
This article will provide your itinerary with tips and advice on how to make your budget go further and allow you to experience this amazing country without breaking the bank.
When should you visit Portugal
Portugal is a year round holiday destination. During the summer, the days are long and the beaches refreshing. But July and August tend to be the most expensive times to visit. Many holiday resorts will increase the prices for the busy summer season.
If you are able to, consider planning your trip during May, June, September or October the weather will still be generally hot and you can enjoy the resorts and cities for a fraction of the price.
Many hostels, resorts and accommodation owners will offer discounts to fill out of season places.
There are lots of last minute deals to snap up (but the air fares will generally be more expensive last minute).
If you book out of season, you may not get the very hot weather but you may get something very unexpected.
Throughout the year there are numerous festivals and events, such as the wine festival In Porto in February, Simplesmente Vinho
Or the Lisbon fish and flavours festival in April Peixe em Lisboa
Or the Sausage Fair of Serra de Monchique, Algarve in March.
These are just a few of the out of season attractions, but there are so many more, many of which have free entrance.
Photo credit: VisitLisboa.com
Top tips for when to visit Portugal on a budget
Book your flights in advance (very cheap) and then book your accommodation last minute, for the possibility of big discounts.
There is a downside to this method, if you have a set location in mind, it may be fully booked up.
Search the internet for special offers and look on Facebook, many private properties have Facebook pages that take direct bookings.
Search for festas, fiestas and festivals in Portugal, you will be amazed at the variety of what is on offer.
Weather in Portugal
As there is a Mediterranean climate the weather can be very nice from April through to October. It is quite normal to be able to lie on the beach in April and go home with that perfect sun tan (though not guaranteed).
If you are looking at a city break, be aware of the weather, do you really want to be exploring and walking around a city in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius? Maybe visiting a city is better in the out of peak summer season times, which in turns leads to far better prices on accommodation.
Although a small country, Portugal’s weather can vary in temperature. During the peak summer months, the inland regions can get very hot and temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius are not uncommon. The coastal regions are still very hot and sunny but have the benefit of the cooling Atlantic breeze (do not let this deceive you, sunscreen is still a necessity, even if the weather feels pleasant).
The same is for the winter months, the inland areas can be quite cool with temperatures reaching freezing point in the night, there is after all a ski resort in Portugal!
Photo credit and to check the average weather in other areas Holidayweather.com
Top tips for weather when planning your trip to Portugal
If you are not planning a week by the beach, look at other months to visit, not only is it much cheaper, the weather is far better for walking and exploring.
If visiting outside of summer, bring a sweater for the chillier evenings
Where to eat
There are many options for eating in Portugal from a small snack bar through to a high class restaurant, but if you want to eat on a budget it is not difficult.
The biggest tip is to eat where the locals eat, if you see a café or restaurant with lots of Portuguese cars parked out side at meal times, you can generally assume the food will be good (often traditional Portuguese in style, so a double bonus).
Out of the tourist areas you can get a ‘Prato do dia’ dish of the day or ‘Prato do Menu’ which will include the main dish, drink and a desert (often also the bread and olives starter). The menu can be for as little as 7€ and can include not just a drink but a carafe of wine. There will not be a lot of choice, it is usually just 3 dishes but can see you through the day!
You will still find the offers in the big tourist areas, but the price may be higher.
If you are looking for a cheap snack lunch, most cafes will sell ‘Bifanas’ these are pork steak, seasoned with garlic and spices in a bread roll and are often between 1.50€ and 2.50€ and are a very traditional Portuguese food, even if you are not on a budget you can’t visit Portugal without trying a Bifana.
If you are in a very touristic location you may need to go a few roads away to find the better value food, but you may loose out on the views. This is a compromise of looking at something pretty or having great value food.
You do not need to miss out on great food just because you are on a stricter budget, most cafes will sell the famous Pastel de Nata with a coffee from as little as 1.30€ and a glass of wine can be bought from as little as 40 cents and a bottled beer from 80 cents (you just have to move away from the tourist hotspots and city centres)
Most shopping centres will have food courts, here you will find a great selection of eateries, but you could be sat anywhere in the world inside a food court and miss out on the reason you are actually in Portugal.
If you are staying in accommodation where you can make your own food, the markets are fantastic places to shop with fresh vegetables and fruit. International food can be expensive though and most fruit and vegetables are seasonal.
Example of a prato do dia (did not include drinks or dessert)
Example of a prato do menu (included wine, bread, olives and followed by a dessert and coffee)
Top tips for eating on a budget in Portugal
Be aware of what you are buying, if the olives and bread are not included you will have to pay for them unless you say immediately that you do not want them and ask the waiter to return them.
Going to a fast food restaurant can cost more than a 3 course meal with drinks.
A great tip is to stay in a B&B or accommodation that offers breakfast, you can fill up until lunchtime (or even have a late breakfast, if this is an option, and an early evening meal making your budget go further)
How to travel to and in Portugal
Travelling to Portugal is getting easier and easier with 3 international airports in Portugal. There are many low cost airlines that can make your holiday very inexpensive but do always compare flights with all the add on costs. Many low price airlines now charge for hand luggage and seats, double check that the slightly more expensive flight, is still more expensive when you have included all the add ons, including the free meal that you get with TAP air.
If you book your flights in advance you can get some very special offers, leaving it till the last minute no longer means discounts.
Once you are in Portugal there are many options for travelling. In the cities there are Ubers, normal taxis, metros or buses. There are also a number of transfer share vehicles available on line (though these seem to be more from faro to the main Algarve resorts)
To travel out of the city, public transport is reliable and inexpensive with train tickets available on line or from the ticket offices. Seats are allocated with the ticket so if the train is full, you will have to wait for the next one (not the case for the metros).
You can check prices on the site here Comboios de Portugal (The site is in Portuguese and English)
Car hire is available from all over Portugal, but again book in advance and online for the best prices and ensure that you have cash or a credit/debit card that will work in Portugal.
Top tips for travel to and in Portugal
If using a debit/credit card inform your bank and check that it will work in Portugal.
Book car hire in advance
Try to book train tickets in advance
Check the total price of a flight and then compare prices
Where to stay on your budget holiday to Portugal
So you are definitely visiting Portugal, the big question is where to stay? This really depends on the trip you are looking for. If you are looking for a beach holiday there are many options from the Algarve all the way up to the North of Portugal past Porto.
The main decision is what you would like to do on your holiday.
Look at all the different areas of Portugal, Lisbon and Porto are not the only cities, Coimbra has many of the same attractions and is a university city so has a young and vibrant feel (amongst the many historical buildings) there are trains from most cities to Coimbra.
The Algarve does not have the only beautiful beaches, there is the Silver Coast, the coast line of Alentejo and the coast in the North. Many of these are just as stunning as the Algarve beaches but many are not as commercialised, so you will find less tourists, but that often equates to lower prices. There are many websites that will highlight the lesser known areas of Portugal. This website has a section called Discover Portugal that will give you ideas of where to visit.
The beach at Nazaré. Photo credit Tipping Point North Tipping Point North Beach Nazaré (B&B)
Top tips on where to stay
Explore all the destinations in Portugal to find what you are looking for.
Remember the country you are from, will only highlight certain areas of Portugal, every region is beautiful.
Instead of using travel brochures have a look on social media, if you use Instagram just search #Portugal and any other word you want i.e. beach, Algarve etc. and then you will see real photos to help you choose.
Budget holiday accommodation in Portugal
Your final question now is what sort of accommodation do you want to stay in? this will depend on your personal preference and taste, there are some very inexpensive hostels where you can stay in a shared dorm, fantastic if you are travelling alone or with friends, but maybe not for a family with children?
There are the large resorts where you can book via the travel agent, but you will usually get a better deal booking direct with the owner (if you are concerned about booking direct take a look at this article A private Holiday apartment in Portugal).
Or how about staying at a B&B? these are located all over Portugal and will usually give you a breakfast that will keep you going well in to the day, many also have outdoor kitchens and pools, making it possible to eat at the accommodation.
The other option is to book a private villa (if you are concerned about booking direct take a look at this article, Holiday villas in Portugal). This will give you the opportunity to have all the space you need and be able to cook for yourself, a great option for the larger group.
Top tips on accommodation in Portugal
Always compare the prices, especially if you are using a big booking site, there may be additional fees, if possible go direct to the property or if you would like to use a site then try a commission free one such as Portugalholidays4u.com
Cheap isn’t always budget
Something to remember is that cheap isn’t always budget, sometimes it just gives the impression of cheap but quickly becomes expensive.
If your flights are hundreds of Euros cheaper the day before your accommodation is available, look at booking one night in a low cost accommodation nearby, it will be far cheaper than booking the more expensive flights.
If you are booking very cheap hostel accommodation, will you be happy sharing with strangers? It may be better to holiday with friends and share the cost of the trip.
Be aware of what is included in a restaurant, the bill can quickly add up, remember the olives and bread may not be included in the price.
Check the final cost of every thing e.g. flights, accommodation etc. it may actually be more budget friendly to choose the one that seems slightly more expensive on first look, but has no add on costs.
Self catering is a fantastic option but if you have a number of children that will want ice creams and drinks all days, maybe all inclusive may actually be cheaper.
If you can try to travel outside of the peak holiday season, you will see so much more and the weather will usually still be better than what you have left behind.
Enjoy your trip to Portugal, what ever your budget.