Portuguese wines and spirits on display

During an unanticipated trip to the UK, I couldn’t help making several comparisons between life in Portugal and in Britain.

As a Brit who’s lived abroad for more than 10 years, there are things I notice when I go back to see family and friends in my native country that are comforting, like a little treat for the spirit or the taste buds.

Other aspects of life in the UK serve as sharp reminders of why I choose to live in Portugal.

Three ways in which the UK trumps Portugal

1.  The sheer variety of food

Portuguese people are bred to be proud of their food, and in some instances, for example Polvo à Lagareiro (baked octopus with potatoes), their pride is understandable and justified.

See my favourite Portuguese food in this post.

Unfortunately, this passion for national food results in an almost identical menu in most restaurants, particularly in rural areas. I can pretty much guess what’s going to be available without looking and when I find a café that serves something other than cheese / ham / ham and cheese sandwiches I get quite excited.

Britain, however, has a bad international reputation for bland food. This may have been true years ago but we Brits have firmly embraced foreign cuisines and this is reflected in almost every café, bistro, restaurant and sandwich shop across the land.

I’m often overwhelmed by the options available but it’s a real treat to have such a choice. The last sandwich I had in the UK was crayfish and avocado on ciabatta. Try finding that in Portugal!

sandwich bar
sandwich bar photo by su-lin on flickr.com. Living in Portugal means limited choice for sandwich fillings and certain other foods.

2. Supermarkets

I’ve been reminded how limited the range of food in supermarkets can be in Portugal. Unless you’re in a major city, or perhaps the touristy parts of the Algarve, it’s almost impossible to track down anything that isn’t bog standard Portuguese fare, although things are gradually improving.

If, by some stroke of luck, you find something exotic, you should buy it immediately as it probably won’t be there next time you visit the same shop. By comparison, in Britain there are herbs, spices, sauces and ready-meals from around the world, even in small town supermarkets.

Food shopping also seems a lot cheaper in the UK than in Portugal these days. Except for wine, which is outrageously expensive in Britain. The cheapest drinkable red costs £5 whereas in Portugal, you can pick up a decent bottle for 3€.

If you do find yourself pining for Paxo stuffing or syrup, or any other quintessentially British fare, you can order packages online through British Store Online.

3. Opportunities and activities

Even in a backwater, fairly deprived area in the Midlands, there are interesting courses on offer at the local library and other community organisations. Drumming, languages, and photography to name but a few.

I admit that my language limitations, rural location and unsocial working hours in Portugal make it more difficult to attend courses but there just doesn’t seem to be a comparable offer either in my local town or a bigger city like Coimbra.

Or perhaps I’m just not looking in the right places.

Three ways in which Portugal beats the pants off the UK

1. The weather in Portugal

An obvious one, I know, but the warmer weather is one of the main reasons why I love living in Portugal. The difference that blue skies and sunshine make to my mood and motivation are indescribable and I couldn’t bear to return to the UK where almost every day is a grey day.

It’s not perfect; the summers can be overpowering and winters chilly and damp but the sun shines more often than not. There are often times when I’m enjoying the sunshine in the garden while my friends and family back in the UK are having to put the central heating on.

Weather patterns have become increasingly erratic so it’s hard to say what any given month will be like. Sometimes we have what feels like a month of solid rain in Portugal but it’s a small price to pay for great weather we get for the rest of the year.

2. Free things

The UK is a rip-off country. Everything costs a small fortune and if you want to go out for the day, you’ll be hard-pushed to manage it without putting your hands in your pocket.

Portugal, on the other hand, can still be refreshingly cheap. Parking at river beaches, and off-season at the seaside, is usually free. Most attractions haven’t been excessively commercialised and set up to extort as much money as possible from people.

Long may they stay that way.

3. Coffee

café cheio. Portuguese expresso topped up with hot water
café cheio / expresso topped up with hot water

For anyone who likes coffee and has been to Portugal, it will come as no surprise that I consider Portuguese coffee to be far superior to the muck served in the UK.

I will never understand the Brits’ obsession with drinking bucket-sized mugs of watery, tasteless stuff that costs over £3 a cup. Once you’ve had ‘proper coffee’ in Portugal, it’s best to avoid the rubbish they serve in the UK. I stick to tea these days.

Portuguese coffee, whether it’s a quick shot of expresso to keep you awake after a meal, or just to keep you going during the day, or a meia de leite (coffee with milk), is strong, freshly made and full of flavour. And cheap! In most cafés, a cup of coffee costs less than €1.

Should you consider living in Portugal?

If you’re thinking of moving to Portugal, or any other country for that matter, you’ll need to do your homework to make sure it’s the right place for you to be.

Take a look at the 3 books I recommend reading as part of your research into moving to Portugal.

And see the other resources for living in Portugal listed on this page, including a cost of living calculator.


  1. Hi Julie,

    Enjoyed reading this, especially the comments, because I put a similar post up ages ago mentioning the choice of food in the UK and sparked a very similar debate! People can get very defensive about the food of their country, but it’s only a subjective comparison, and it absolutely IS correct to say that there’s far more variety in the UK than in Portugal.

    When I had this discussion in person with a friend in Portugal the way I explained myself was to say that, basically, there’s not much in Portugal that I couldn’t get in England, but there’s a LOT in England that I’d struggle to get in Portugal.

    That said, I do really miss certain things being back in the UK:

    – Black pork (especially presa and secreto)
    – Decent ibérico ham (largely devoid of flavour in the UK)
    – Bacalhau a bras from a local pronto a comer
    – Clams
    – Wine just being “something you have” rather than “something you get a bottle of!”
    – Cheap and abundant ice tea (thanks to the UK sugar tax all but the most expensive soft drinks have been ruined with aspartame and other artificial sweeteners).
    – Some Portuguese cheeses (you are spoiled for choice in the UK, with local and international cheeses, but you don’t ever see Portuguese ones).

    There are also some items where I miss the quality of the Portuguese raw ingredients, such as chicken and (oddly) potatoes.

    But I have to say my list would be longer if it were the other way around. A lot of the things on it would involve “international” cuisines rather than British items. Even in the Algarve, where you could find Indian, Chinese, Thai, Greek etc. etc. finding decent quality and choice was a challenge.

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.