In 2021, I lived and explored Portugal for around four weeks. When you are traveling, it is not unlikely that you might get surprised by some experiences. During those four weeks, I saw and experienced good things as well as some bad or negative things in Portugal. In this blog post, I am sharing some of those experiences.
My Worst Experiences in Portugal
These experiences are not deal-breaker for me. However, it doesn’t take away the truth that these are my real observations in Portugal and something that you might also face while in Portugal.
Everything is a Bit Slow in Portugal
Things move a tad bit slow in Portugal. I do not know how to explain it, but you will feel it when you interact with the environment and in some cases when you try to get a service.
A frustrating incident that still gets my blood boiling was inside a train station. The ticketing machines were not working properly and I was in a rush since my train was about to arrive. I approached the counter of the station for help and there was an old man inside the counter. He was attending another old person. The old staff was searching something on some book records in a frustratingly slow fashion – the way he moved his fingers through each line, the way he turned the pages – everything screamed of a comical situation like you would find in that Mr. Bean episode.
I had waited patiently for over 10 minutes, the train I wanted to board had arrived and left, and the old man was yet to look up or acknowledge my presence. I tried to grab his attention by speaking to him only to get ignored. I left the counter frustratingly cursing him in my mind.
I had a similar experience in a supermarket when I and my friend were trying to order some fish. Even though there were only two other people in front of us in the queue, there was no movement even after 10 minutes of waiting. The staff was working pretty slow and lazily. We eventually ran out of patience and left.
Apparently, according to discussions on Facebook groups, it is just me who felt so about Portugal.
Drivers are a Bit Aggressive Compared to Paris
If you are coming to Portugal directly from a country with poor driving habits, like India or Turkey, you might not really notice it. But since I have been to Paris and saw the patience of drivers in the heavy traffic there, it was easy to spot the lack of patience of drivers in Portugal. You will notice the aggressiveness of Portuguese drivers in pedestrian crossings without traffic lights.
Also, the autorickshaw drivers in Lisbon reminded me of autorickshaw drivers in India. They drive a bit carelessly and dangerously in Lisbon as well.
Limited Authentic Dishes
Portugal does not have much presence in the world’s cuisine. You would not hear about Portuguese restaurants or Portuguese dishes outside of Portugal. After visiting and trying out some local cuisines, it became obvious why that is the case.
There are not many authentic dishes from Portugal. The most famous ones that I heard of are the Francesinha and Bacalhau.
It is not easy to find good Francesinhas even in Portugal. I tried Francesinhas in a couple of restaurants. I only liked the Francesinha served in Taberna Londrina. The Francesinha that I tried in other restaurants were too hard to cut and chew and I could barely eat them properly.
The Bacalhau is basically lightly cooked fish and it smelled a bit! Unlike Indian seafood, the Portuguese do not use many spices or other flavors in their seafood. It was not easy for me to eat Bacalhau.
Apart from those, Pastel de nata is another famous Portuguese item. I liked Pastel de nata but it is not a dish, it is more of a pastry you find in bakeries.
You might find Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Turkish restaurants in some cities. However, they are not very common.
Public Transportation is not Easy or Cheap
Portugal has only two main cities – Lisbon and Porto. Outside of Lisbon or Porto, you will not find local metro or tram services.
The fare rules and zones for the metro in Porto are the worst I encountered anywhere so far. They are quite expensive and the fare zones are quite difficult to understand for a tourist who just wants the freedom to explore.
Porto does not offer a reasonable unlimited travel pass for tourists. It is also difficult to figure out the right bus number if you want to go somewhere. The information related to the bus in Google Maps is not accurate at all.
I also do not understand who came up with the confusing idea of running five parallel lines in Porto.
Overall, I felt that the public transport service in Porto is poorly implemented and does not have reach to all main parts. Porto ranks the worst in my list of all the public transport systems that I have tried so far.
The situation in Lisbon is slightly better than in Porto. Lisbon offers a 3-day unlimited travel pass which gives access to ferries, tram, local trains, and metro. However, the 3-day pass in Lisbon is more expensive than the Navigo weekly pass in Paris.
Neither Lisbon nor Porto provides an app to easily manage and track the balance in the tickets and passes. You have to use the machine at the station to check the balance. Also, the tickets are not integrated with different transportation networks. For example, you have to use a different card for the ferry, another card for the Comboios de Portugal train service, and yet another card for the metro. The tickets are rechargeable but they are made of cheap quality paper and you can easily misunderstand them for one-time use tickets. I threw away a few tickets not realizing they were rechargeable.
Public transportation in Portugal was a far cry from the seamlessly integrated public transport that I experienced in Paris.
My Best Experiences in Portugal
Though I complained about a couple of things in Portugal, ultimately, it is the following best experiences that come to my mind first when I think of Portugal.
Things are More Affordable
Europe is an expensive region. However, Portugal is one is the cheapest countries of all in Europe. The price of various items that I found in supermarkets was comparable to India.
My favorite affordable thing to eat in Portugal was the fried chicken sold in the supermarkets. It costs just over EUR 2 for a full fried chicken!
Portugal is a pretty relaxed country. There are only two major cities in Portugal – Lisbon, and Porto. Most places are still decorated with old Portuguese-style architecture buildings which add to their charm.
Overall, I felt that the cities and towns in Portugal are quite laid back.
The climate in Portugal is ideal in my opinion. The temperature ranges from 14° C to 20° C. It is cold enough to avoid sweating and hot enough to avoid the need for a sweater. A basic jacket should keep you warm.
Portugal might be the only country in Europe where it doesn’t snow during the winter months.
Stress Free Travel Experience
Traveling in Europe is mostly a stress-free experience because of the amazing standards for its highways, roads, and public transportation systems. Even though Portugal is far behind in the technologies used in public transportation compared to what I saw in Paris, I think the overall traveling experience in Portugal is a bit better because of its low population.
There is plenty of space on the highways of Portugal. I didn’t see any traffic jams in major cities like Lisbon or Porto.
When I made use of public transportation services such as the metro, trains, and even buses, there was always plenty of empty seats. In contrast to this, in Paris, you have to be lucky to find an empty seat in its public transportation systems.
Portugal might be the only country that still actively uses its old vintage-style trams for public transportation. They have been in operation since 1873. You can find tram services in Lisbon and Porto.
Unlike in Istanbul, the tram service in Portugal is not just a touristic piece of attraction. It is an active public transportation service used even by the locals there.
I highly recommend traveling in the trams of Lisbon at least once. It is a ride worth the experience and there is no other better place for it than Lisbon.
I think Portugal is an underrated country in Europe and has lots of potential for growth. Even though I spent four weeks in Portugal, I have not seen enough. There are a lot more places to discover in Portugal. One day, I will be exploring all the places by traveling around in a caravan.