- 1 Visas
- 2 Advantages
- 3 Disadvantages
- 4 Food & Drink
- 5 Accommodation
- 6 Weather
- 7 Transport & Hitch-hiking
- 8 Sightseeing
- 9 Language
- 10 Safety
- 11 Types of roads
- 12 Map of Motorways and Main Roads
- 13 Speed limit on Portuguese roads
- 14 Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook
- 15 Main Border Crossings
- 16 Most Beautiful Nature Spot
- 17 Best City / Town
- 18 Best area for hitch-hiking
- 19 Tourist trap
- 20 Our Experience
As a member of the European Union and a member of the Schengen treaty, the same visa rights apply as in other EU countries. EU nationals are not required to get a visa and can stay as long as they like.
Stays of 90 days or less, also do not require a visa for nationals from the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Other nationalities should check with the appropriate embassy in their own countries.
Let us be frank from the beginning, hitch-hiking in Portugal isn’t easy, but looking beyond the hours you will spend staring down an empty roads or alternatively watching hundreds of potential lifts whizzing by, there are some positives to be found.
At least the concept of hitch-hiking is understood, a small but crucial element which can take hours of a journey.
In summer, Portugal is an extremely popular tourist destination, and these foreign visitors will be your best bet of getting a ride, especially if you are heading to a popular tourist spot on the south coast or the major cities of Lisbon and Porto.
For those looking to hitch-hiking to or from Spain the A-25, which connects the centre of Spain and Madrid to both Lisbon and Porto, is very popular with foreign truck drivers, who are normally more than willing to help out.
Although the scale of the Portuguese motorway system can be very damaging for the hitch-hiker’s ambitions, there is an upside. The motorway service stations are very usefully positioned directly on the motorway. So once you do manage to get on the motorway, it is very possible to make good time, if you are travelling long distances.
Honestly, where to begin? Hitch-hiking in Portugal demands the patience of a saint. One unlucky drop off and the house of cards comes crashing down and the unenviable hellish trek in the blistering sun begins.
As a rule, the Portuguese rarely pick up hitch-hikers, of course there are exceptions but during our time there we mainly relied on foreign tourists to get around.
In the summer and especially in the hinterland, the heat is oppressive and the sun unrelenting. You will need more water than you can carry and an umbrella with which to shelter underneath.
If you do have the unfortunate experience of getting dropped off in a village or on a road where the traffic is light then be prepared for a long and most probably fruitless wait. More than once in our time in Portugal could we be found begging people to drive us to the nearest train station, defeated and exhausted.
Food & Drink
1) Typical food and what not to buy
Typical food in Portugal consists of soup and as a main course grilled fish or grilled meat with rice or chips. The cheapest and most popular snack are bifanas, which are pork steaks inside a breadroll. Luxury items include cheese, fruit juice, sweets and chocolate and are relatively expensive.
2) Avoid extra chargers
In restaurants you will always get bread, cheese, butter and olives without being asked. This will cost extra. In order to avoid this unwanted charge, as soon as they put in on the table ask them to take it away.
3) Water is free
The water in Portugal is perfectly safe, so avoid spending money on bottled water and top up at local fountains.
4) Southern-European meal times
Be warned that Portugal is a typical Southern-European country, also when it comes to meal times. If you are hitch-hiking or backpacking in Portugal we recommend:
a. having a solid early breakfast (before 10.00 am)
b. eating a snack/lunch around 1.00 – 4.00 pm – most shops and institutions close between these times and everyone is on lunch break.
c. having dinner around 7.30-11.00 pm – You should be aware of that, as most restaurants will be shut before dinner time.
5) Stay in a fire station for free
It is possible to stay in a fire station in Portugal as each has a room where they can host passing travellers, and it is free. However, you will have to ask early enough, as the station commander has to verify that you can stay, and be particularly charming.
6) Rely on CouchSurfing or camp
CouchSurfing is possible in Portugal especially in larger cities; in more rural places it is, however, not. In these times rely on camping as camp-sites are very reasonably priced at less than 10 € per person. If you do decide to camp wild, be warned that forest fires occur frequently in Portugal during the summer months, especially in central and northern areas of the country.
7) Scorching summers so be prepared
In general the weather in Portugal is, especially in summer, extremely hot. You will need to be adequately prepared for this before heading out on the road. Lots of water, sun cream and an umbrella to shield against the sun are all advisable.
Transport & Hitch-hiking
8) Buses not Trains
If you need a break from hitch-hiking, use the buses from Rede Expresso for overland travels. Rail travel in Portugal is usually slightly faster but the services are less frequent and cost more. Furthermore, be prepared that nothing in Portugal happens fast and there are often delays on long distance buses.
9) Hitchhiking: difficult but not impossible
Generally speaking, Portugal is not a good country for hitch-hiking. Drivers tend to be suspicious at first, so make sure you look clean and tidy in order to start that initial conversation. There are a couple of saving grace, however. The Autopista Castilla (E80) is an extremely useful connection between Portugal and Spain with lots of long distance lorries which are often more than happy to stop. There are also plenty of tourists in the summer, who are more likely to stop than the locals, something that helped us numerous times.
10) Free museum entry
Museums all over the country are generally free on Sundays, take advantage of this in order to save some pennies.
11) English in the cities, Phrasebook in the sticks
In Porto and Lisbon, English is widely spoken and the city dwelling locals would have you believe that everybody in the country speaks the language. Unfortunately they have overestimated their compatriots English language abilities. In more rural areas, a phrasebook or a romance language is essential. However, many drivers who we met spoke very good French, this is true for two reasons, one because Portugal is famous among French tourists and two, many Portuguese emigrated to France and are back in their homeland for the summer holidays.
12) Crime in the big cities
On the whole, Portugal is a safe place to be. There are, however, some areas of Lisbon and Porto that you might want to avoid, like in any big city, especially at night. Also, you might want to have in mind that pickpockets do tend to target tourists and tourist-hotspots more frequently. Be especially vigilant on public transport (particularly the popular numbers 16 and 28 trams in Lisbon).
Types of roads
Knowing what roads to hitch-hike on is easy with our Portugal hitch-hikers essentials guide:
1. Auto estradas (A) – motorways with the speed limit of 120 km/h. A number of auto estradas are linked with the Spanish motorway system and are normally toll roads. Rather confusingly each auto estrada forms part or all of an IP or an IC road, and are labelled with an “A” code as well as an IP or an IC code. Hitch-hiking on them is illegal.
3. Itinerários Complementares (IC) – dual carriageways supplementing the Auto estradas and Itinerários Principais network with a speed limit of 100 km/h. There are 37 in total. Hitch-hiking on them is a grey area.
4. Estradas Nacionais (N) (National Routes) / Estradas Regionais (E) (Regional Routes) / Estradas Municipais (M) (Municipal Routes) – lesser roads that span the country. The speed limit is 50 km/h in built up places and 90 km/h out of town. Hitch-hiking on them is legal but be warned traffic is extremely light on these roads.
Map of Motorways and Main Roads
Speed limit on Portuguese roads
Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook
– hello – Olá (oh-LAH)
– thank you – Obrigado (oh-bree-GAH-doo) (said by male) Obrigada (oh-bree-GAH-dah) (said by female)
– yes – Sim (seem)
– no – Não (now)
– please – Por favor (poor fah-VOHR)
– goodbye – Adeus (ah-DEH-oosh)
– hitch-hiking – Carona (ca-RUA-na)
– I don’t have money – Não tenho dinheiro (now TE-nyo di-NYE-ro)
– We don’t have money – Não temos dinheiro (now TE-mus di-NYE-ro)
– money – Dinheiro ( di-NYE-ro)
– I’m going to … – Vou a.. (voo a…)
– We are going to … – Vamos (VA-mush)
– I am… – Sou.. (soh..)
– I am from… – Sou de… (soh de..)
– Nice to meet you! – Prazer em conhecer (prah-ZEHR ehn koh-NYEH-sehr)
– I don’t understand – Não compreendo (now kohn-pree-EHN-doo)
– now – Agora (a-GOR-ra)
– today – Hoje (OH-dzoo)
– yesterday – Ontem (OM-tem)
– tomorrow – Amanhã (AH-man-ya)
– friend – Amigo (ah-MI-goo)
→ Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.
– Can you stop? – Pode parar? (PO-dze per-RA)
– I want to get out – Quero sair (KER-ro sigh-ERR)
– turn left – Vire à esquerda (VEER-eeh ah eh-SSKEHR -dah)
– turn right – Vire à direita (VEER-eeh ah dee – ray – tah)
– straight ahead – Em frente (eng –FRENG- te)
– here – Aqui (a-KEY)
– over there – Lá (la)
– beer – Cerveja (sir-VE-dzya)
→ You should know this word, you will be often invited for some.
– bus station – Estação de ônibus ( shta –SOWNG de ON-nye-boos)
→ You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station.
– train station – Estação de caminhos de ferro (shta –SOWNG de ka–MEE–nyoosh de FE-rroo)
– help me! – Socorro! (soo-KO-rroo)
– look out! – Ter cuidado! (ter kwi-DA-do)
– street – Rua (WHO-a)
– road – Estrada (e-SHTRA-da)
– roundabout – Rotunda (ho-TUN-da)
– crossroads – Encruzilhada (en-CRU-si-li-ar-da)
Main Border Crossings
Portugal is a member of the EU and the Schengen Agreement and so the border crossings between Portugal and Spain are no longer manned and thus should not present any problems for travellers.
Portugal – Spain
- Northern borders:
– A3 : Valença do Minho (Portugal) – Tuy (Spain);
– IP3: Chaves (Portugal) – Verín (Spain);
- Central border:
– A25: Vilar Formoso (Portugal) – Fuentes de Oñoro (Spain);
- Southern borders:
– A6: Elvas (Portugal) – Badajoz (Spain);
– A22: Vila Real de Santo António (Portugal) – Ayamonte (Spain);
However do remember that if you are travelling to Portugal by car, you must bring a 20 € bill to pay for the toll on all the above motorways.
Most Beautiful Nature Spot
Whilst it would be obvious to choose of the many beaches that are so popular with families and two week holidaymakers, for us rock always trumps sand and we feel that Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in Continental Portugal, is the most beautiful nature spot and well worthy of a place in our Portugal’s Absolute Musts list. Its highest point 1,993 m (6,539 ft) is distinctive in the fact that it is a plateau rather than a peak but the views it affords and the walks through the surrounding valleys make this one of Portugal’s most scenic places.
The most central town in the range is Manteigas, a town with just over 3000 inhabitants and there is a campsite a few kilometres west of the town. Do not fear, however, as there are other campsites in Santa Ovaia, Colviha and Valhelhas, in which we ourselves stayed.
The tourist information centre is in Manteigas (Rua 1.º de Maio) and has a useful selection of maps offering a variety of different walks with degrees of difficulty, although even the most challenging is not so difficult. At the time of our visit, the staff didn’t speak English, though.
Best City / Town
Portugal is not lacking for wonderful cities. Coimbra, with its student heavy population, Evora for its wonderful winding streets and white stone houses or Braga, and its nice balance of liveability and subtlety are all potential outsiders. But like most arguments in and about Portugal is always come to one thing. Lisbon or Porto? The coastal giants: Porto with its sophisticated cool and Lisbon with its alternative vibe.
At this point I think that by now most of our readers, and certainly our friends, would expect us to choose Lisbon, but they would be wrong. We fell in love with Porto and its spectacular Ribeira that looks like something straight out of a film. The whole waterfront area is stunning with its houses stacked up on the rising hill and it isn’t hard to see why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the fantastic elements about the city is its diversity. The juxtaposition of the stunning old town with the Port Wine factories sprawled across the opposing side of the river is a sight to behold. The food is wonderful especially the fish and seafood, although a bit pricey and there are countless bars dotted all around its winding alleys.
Best area for hitch-hiking
Hitchhiking in Portugal isn’t easy and as a general rule Portuguese don’t stop. This is especially true in the inland areas that are more sparsely populated. Generally speaking we had more luck in the south of the country, possibly because there are more tourists heading towards the Algarve beaches on the south coast.
On our hitch-hike from Lisbon to Evora, we were quite successful once we had taken a train to get out of the orbit of the capital. We also managed to hitch-hike from Evora all the way to Seville in Spain. In the north we failed on our attempt to get to Braga from the mountains of Serra de Estrela after we got trapped in the Porto ring road system. We would love to hear other people’s experience to see if they differ.
We have racked our brains to try an think of a place that disappointed us in Portugal but we have come up with nothing. All the places we visited didn’t let us down, so we are turning it over to you good readers if you can think of any place that you felt was over-hyped in Portugal then contact us with your ideas.
We hitch-hiked in Portugal as part of our ‘A dedo por La Península Ibérica‘ (The Iberian Peninsula by Thumb) trip in 2012.
When hitch-hiking in Portugal we covered 672.1 km and got picked up by around 20 drivers from 6 different countries! This was our route:
Read about our experience of crossing the Spanish-Portuguese border and watch a video here.
written by: Jon