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The Truth About Portugal

The Truth About Portugal

I’ll never forget the moment. It was a couple days into my first Portugal trip in many years, and I’d arrived at stunning Marinha Beach in the Algarve to watch the sunset. So had the hundreds of other revelers I saw there—or so I thought.

No, they were looking at him, the dude-bro drone photographer—no, excuse me, “pilot”—for whom the only thing braver than sporting a top-knot in late 2023 was standing several feet beyond a sign warning about the cliff’s dangerous instability. What a rebel—what a stud!

When I ask myself the question “is Portugal worth visiting?”—and spoiler alert, it mostly still is—this is the scene that plays it my mind over and over again. 

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Portugal is Having a Moment…er, a Decade

Back in 2011, when I took my first of many trips to the country, it doesn’t seem that a lot of people found Portugal worth visiting. Granted, there were some tourists, but I was surprised by how empty cities like Lisbon and Porto seemed, even compared to nearby Madrid. The prices, of course, reflected this. Overall, there was nothing not to love: An uncrowded, cheap country with astonishing architecture, delectable food and breathtaking nature.

During the interceding decade, of course, a lot of people—to my dismay, a lot of people like the chode I describe in the intro to this piece—got the memo about Portugal. Just before and especially after covid-19, this has resulted not only in a significant increase to the cost of travel in Portugal, but the character of the country changing in certain areas, namely in the central districts of Lisbon, as well as in the Algarve as mentioned above.


The Most Frustrating Things About Visiting Portugal Today

The bros

I wish I could tell you that the drone photog…I mean, pilot I saw at Praia da Marinha was the only bro (or yoga babe) I encountered while in Portugal. Unfortunately, the only thing worse than the infestation of tuk-tuks (yes, those tuk-tuks) on the streets of Lisbon is the inane words of the American-accented voices blaring from them.

The prices

Considering the magic on offer within the country’s borders, I’d probably argue that Portugal is worth visiting even if the price of doing so doubled (as it has arguably done over the past decade) or tripled. However, just because Portugal’s soaring costs don’t completely negate its worth as a destination doesn’t mean they aren’t annoying.

The tuk-tuks

I mentioned tuk-tuks earlier, in the specific context of bros. The bad news? These Asian vehicles, most of which are new/electric and lack the charm of ones in Bangkok or Delhi, look completely out of place on the streets of Lisbon. The worse news? Their introduction means it’s even harder to get a picture of Lisbon’s iconic americano streetcars.

The expectations

Of course you’ll find Portugal worth visiting—right? The problem with this conclusion, true as it may be, is that if you’re expecting paradise and arrive to find that it’s just good or even just great, you’ll wind up disappointed. My advice, in Portugal and everywhere else for that matter, is to approach all places with a certain amount of cynicism.

The memories of how it was

Although I wish I was as smooth-faced and slim as I was in 2011, you couldn’t pay me to go back to that level of awareness, even if I do miss being more hopeful and less jaded. Indeed, while I don’t doubt that some of the nostalgia I feel has been distorted by the passage of time, recollections of yesteryear’s Portugal do haunt me.


Why Portugal is Still Worth Visiting

I can’t lie: I felt bothered enough by the quantity of bros in Portugal to start this article with an anecdote about one. On the other hand, I ended my last trip to Portugal wishing it could last weeks or even months longer. This is a testament to the strength of Portugal as a destination. Regardless of the various complicating factors that have sprung up, it’s still an unforgettable place, and one I don’t think I could ever not love.

With this being said, while there are few circumstances that could make me not believe that Portugal is worth visiting, I do think you need to read this article carefully. If you’re aware, for example, of the sorts of tourists who will be enjoying Portugal with you, you’ll be able to anticipate their presence and not be annoyed with it. Ditto for the prices: Portugal will seem less expensive if you’re not expecting it to be super cheap.


Other FAQ About Visiting Portugal

Is it worth it to go to Portugal?

It’s definitely worth it to go to Portugal—there’s nowhere else in Europe where you can enjoy the diversity of culture, cuisine and landscape at such an amazing price point, with good weather most of the year and the profound friendliness of the people. Portugal has become more crowded (and expensive) over the years, but you’ll realize why within moments of touching down.

Why do Americans visit Portugal?

Americans are flocking to Portugal for all sorts of reasons. In some cases, it’s because of word-of-mouth—every traveler in America is talking about Portugal. Other aspects are practical: There are more flights than ever from the US to Portugal, especially from the East Coast, from which it can require as few as six hours to reach Lisbon, depending upon tailwinds. 

Do they speak English in Portugal?

Because of decades of tourism from the UK and Northern Europe, the vast majority of people in Portugal (and certainly, the people you are likely to encounter a tourist) can speak some English. With this being said, it might not hurt to learn a few basic Portuguese words and phrases, if only to gain yourself some goodwill. 

The Bottom Line

Is Portugal still worth visiting? In some sense, the answer is yes, absolutely. None of the factors that turned Portugal into a tourism powerhouse—timeless history and architecture; drop-dead gorgeous beauty; relatively low prices; incredible food—have disappeared or even dissipated. What has changed, however, is both the number of tourists visiting, as well as the sort of people who are coming. I can say from personal experience that the breed of brofluencer that now prefers Portugal can be more than a little off-putting. At the same time, if you play your cards right—frankly, if you hire me as your Travel Coach—a trip to Portugal can still be extremely satisfying.


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