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Return to Portugal after many decades?

A brief query about Lisbon or Prague on the General Europe forum stirred my long-ago memories of visiting Portugal in about 1970. I had the good fortune to travel with someone who spoke a fair amount of Portuguese, having been a student there for a while. We drove there all the way from the UK across France and Spain and worked our way from the north down to Lisbon staying mainly at pousadas, and to then on somewhere on the coast south of Lisbon, maybe Sintra?

Despite having fallen in love with France and spending nearly all my holidays in France since then, I feel I would like to revisit Portugal. This time I'd would be alone and not with a car, but I have found an InnTravel tour that would take me by train from Porto, up the Douro valley, and on to Coimbra, Lisbon and Sintra, with accommodation pre-booked at places with character, but not pousadas (which would probably be beyond my budget these days, anyway).

My concerns are two-fold: how would I manage speaking no Portuguese (except "sardinas assadas"), and will I now feel crowded out by other tourists, especially those in buses and large groups? Is it still possible to find quiet places in those cities and walk and dine alone without being overly concerned about safety, as I do in France.

Posted by
922 posts

Regarding your concern about not speaking Português - no worries at all, especially in the places you mention. Many, many Portuguese people speak English. I’ve lived here for over two years and have had no problems. In fact, so many people speak English, I don’t have enough opportunity to practice the Português I’ve been learning!
Regarding other tourists - it will depend on when you come and where you are when you get here. In the summer, there are a significant number of big tour buses, but between October and April, it is pretty quiet.. And, even in summer, if you stay away from the more touristy areas of Lisbon, you can still find quiet places to stroll.
And the safety issue - no concerns there either. In the big cities, there are areas where pickpockets are a problem but that’s about it. I live here alone and walk around late at night sometimes. I’ve never felt concerned for my safety. Portugal is listed as the third safest country in the world..
If you don’t want to do a tour, it’s easy to travel by train and public transport in the cities and I wouldn’t hesitate to travel alone anywhere in Portugal.

Posted by
2235 posts

No problem getting along without speaking Portuguese, although it always helps to master a few key greetings and phrases, and smile a lot. Certainly you can find quiet neighborhoods and restaurants away from the tourists, as long as go beyond the main avenues, squares and crowds. You can easily eat alone. Lots to do and see in all the places you mention. Use a good, practical guide book, of which I think Rick Steves Portugal book is probably the best. Has a lot of really specific logistical information about getting around, excellent information about major sites, and flood restaurant recommendations.

Posted by
396 posts

Many thanks to both of you for the reassurances. I'd probably be going in June, so not optimal, but not till 2019 so plenty of time to read up about it, work out the details, and learn just a little Poruguese.

Posted by
11182 posts

I was there in September 2002, so I can't comment on current crowds. But as for language, there was definitely more English in Portugal than in Spain. However, I also used a fair amount of French in Portugal; it's the only place I've used a "third language" (neither my primary language nor theirs) extensively.

I can also say that, while you can certainly take a tour if you want to, and the Douro valley would be easier with one, I visited Lisbon, Coimbra, Sintra, and Porto (as well as Santarem and Tomar) by train by myself, with absolutely no difficulty. Buses fill in gaps in the train service.

Posted by
17165 posts

I was able to visit a lot of smaller cities by bus and train: Viseu, Guimaraes, Viana do Castelo, etc. I did take one bus tour as a means of efficiently seeing three or four small towns in one day. I know Batalha was one of the stops; probably also Obidos--I know I got there somehow. (In my defense, this was about 25-30 years ago.)

Posted by
31076 posts

I spent some time in Portugal last year, and had no problems with the language at all. Many of the people working in the tourist industry have at least some English-speaking abilities. Of course, it's always a good idea to learn the usual pleasantries such as Please, Thankyou, etc. A phrase book or smartphone app. will help with that.

Posted by
80 posts

Hello @cgichard,

As a Portuguese citizen, I can tell you that you won't have any safety and language issues here in Portugal: almost everyone speaks either English (most) or French (some) ;)
Sintra is indeed a must go place, even though it is a very touristy town, especially in late spring, summer and autumn; Lisbon has the same "problem" with many tourists all year round...
The countryside is a great place to explore and not as touristy as the big cities (Lisbon and Porto) in the coastline... Tomar, Viseu, Évora, Elvas, Chaves, Óbidos, Guimarães and Braga are just some of the places you should consider for your holidays ;)

Enjoy your visit ;)