Despite years of travelling in Portugal and further afield, I still hate packing. My husband Mike brags about his 5-minute packing process but it really is different for women. So many factors influence my decisions about shoes and clothes that it often takes me ages to work out what to pack, even though I’m far from fashion-conscious.
I have, however, learned which basics you are likely to need when you travel in Portugal. In a bid to help both sexes bring the right things for any time of year, here’s my guide to what to pack for Portugal.
Things you need to pack for a Portugal trip all-year-round
Unless you’re very unlucky with the weather, you should get some bright sunshine even in winter. I have quite sensitive eyes so I always carry sunglasses in my handbag.
Comfortable shoes with non-slip soles
I know I sound like your mum now but seriously, you’ll thank me when you see Portugal’s cobbled pavements. They may be pretty but they’re a nightmare to walk on with heels because the spikes get stuck in the cracks between the stones and before you know it, you’ve twisted your ankle or worse.
Even in flats, especially dress shoes, the smooth surface of the cobbles is uneven and very slippery when wet so aim for thick rubber soles for comfort and safety. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
A photocopy of your passport or ID
It’s a legal requirement to have ID on you at all times in Portugal, whether you live here or not. You won’t want to risk losing your passport on the beach or elsewhere so bring a photocopy to carry around with you and leave the original in a safe place.
You’ve got 6 hours to produce the original if the authorities insist on seeing it. If you have photo ID in card form, such as a driving licence, carry that with you in a concealed money belt.
Cash and bank cards
Most shops accept Visa if not the full range of credit cards. Some restaurants, smaller establishments and market stalls don’t take any cards so you will need to carry some cash (euros).
There are plenty of ATMs in Portugal so you should have no trouble withdrawing extra cash from your bank account but check with your bank regarding charges and inform them that you will be using your card abroad so they don’t block it! The best ATMs to use are the MultiBanco system run by all Portuguese banks.
I wouldn’t carry notes larger than 50 euros, simply because they aren’t used much in Portugal and will be treated with suspicion, and possibly contempt if you clear out someone’s supply of small change.
Concealed money belt
Of course it’s not wise to carry all of your valuable around when you’re walking around cities or on the beach but sometimes, it’s unavoidable. The trick is to make sure no one else knows you’re carrying it, which is why a hidden pouch or wallet is a great travel accessory.
Put everything you’re not likely to need during the day under your clothes but make sure you have enough cash/a card in an easily accessible place so you don’t need to reveal your stash.
Here are some other concealed travel wallet options:
Portugal uses standard European round two-pin plugs on electrical items which are 220-240V so bring electrical adapters with you if applicable. They will be harder to find away from major tourist destinations in Portugal so bring at least one with you.
You might want to save space with a worldwide adapter and charger so you can charge all your devices from one wall socket anywhere in the world.
Optional extras to bring when packing for Portugal
Ear plugs and eye masks for light sleepers
I always travel with foam noise-muffling ear plugs. I don’t always use them but they’ve saved my sanity when I’ve had rooms overlooking a noisy street. They aren’t always easy to find in Portugal so bring some with you if you’re a light sleeper.
Foam earplugs vary in quality and effectiveness so do check reviews before you buy.
You might find an eye mask helps to block out unwanted light, although blinds are usually quite effective.
If you’re used to having tea and coffee making facilities in your hotel room, you should double-check whether your accommodation in Portugal supplies them. It’s not standard practice so you might need to bring a travel kettle like a nifty collapsible one, a travel mug and some tea bags. You can buy tea bags in Portugal but Brits will be unimpressed by them.
Swimming cap and flip-flops
If you plan to use a hotel’s indoor pool or their spa facilities, they will probably insist you use a swimming cap and flip-flops (chinelos). You can usually buy them on site at an inflated price but you might want to pop a pair in your case if there’s room.
If you plan to visit any of Portugal’s river beaches, having a pair of swimming shoes or walking sandals that you’re willing to get wet may come in handy for getting in and out of the water. The river pebbles can be slippery and uneven. They are also useful for ocean beaches with lots of rock formations or pebbles.
Seasonal packing for Portugal
What you’ll need to bring obviously depends on where you’re going and when but don’t assume that just because Portugal is sunny for much of the year that it’s always hot and dry here. It’s not. The weather in Portugal is increasingly unpredictable and changeable. In spring and autumn, it can feel as though you’re getting all seasons in one day. Winters can get quite cold and wet and it’s often chilly enough for a light sweater on summer evenings.
The north of Portugal is green for a reason so if you’re going there, it’s best to be prepared for rain showers, even in summer. Except for perhaps July and August, I always carry a small, fold-up umbrella and sunglasses.
If you’ve got fair skin and are likely to be spending much time outdoors, you should use sun cream, even in winter. The UV rays can be quite strong so I wouldn’t go for anything less than a factor 30 unless you are already quite dark-skinned or tan easily.
Sun cream is relatively expensive in Portugal so unless you’re subject to hand luggage restrictions, it might be worth bringing some with you – stock up here.
Scarf or wrap
I always carry a lightweight scarfin my bag. They are handy for warming me up when faced with cold winds, icy air-conditioning, or on a summer evening outdoors. If it’s not too delicate, you can also use it to sit on in parks or at the beach.
Choose one in a fairly neutral colour that matches the majority of your outfits and doesn’t crease easily.
A seasonal guide to what to wear in Portugal
Always check the weather forecast before you pack, no matter what you’ve read about typical weather for the season in Portugal. There is no such thing as ‘normal’ weather any more so although these predictions are not completely reliable, they should at least inform you as to the need for rain protection and how hot or cold it’s likely to get during your trip.
Thin layers are the key to adapting your wardrobe for the changeable weather, whatever the season.
Summer clothes to pack for Portugal
Summers are usually sweltering on the Portuguese mainland so loose, natural fibre lightweight clothes are ideal. Sea mists can make coastal areas feel chilly in the mornings and temperatures do drop at night so it’s best to bring a light sweater or cardigan for the evening. Again, that scarf comes in handy as a light shawl.
The Azores and Madeira have more temperate, even sub-tropical climates and are therefore more humid but not as hot so you’ll want some light layers.Loose-fitting summer dresses, shorts and T-shirts with sandals are fine for most situations but out of respect, you should dress reasonably modestly if you want to visit churches. This means covering your shoulders (a light scarf is handy for this) and no short shorts or skirts.
While it’s okay to sit at beach bars in your swimsuit, you should cover up for restaurants, shops and walking around town. In the daytime, this can be as simple as donning a T-short or vest for men or a throwing a loose summer dress over your bikini for women.
You probably won’t need a jacket from June to September unless you’re in the north of Portugal, in the Azores or up a mountain. A lightweight waterproof jacket would come in handy then.
What to wear in winter in Portugal
Yes, it does get cold enough to warrant woolly hats, gloves, scarves and other warm clothes in Portugal in winter, especially up north or at altitude.
It might be slightly warmer in the Algarve or the islands but locals will still be wrapped up snugly in jeans, boots and jackets so you might feel a bit silly, not to mention chilly, wearing your shorts in January.
There may be some gorgeously sunny days but it’s unlikely to be warm enough for sandals, especially at night. Bring non-slip full shoes, trainers or boots.
Clothes for spring and autumn in Portugal
Apart from July and August, or during a heatwave, it can get quite nippy in the evenings or on the beach so bring a couple of cardigans, shawls or sweaters for spring and early autumn. You might get weather that’s warm enough for shorts and sandals during the day but I would definitely pack some comfortable closed-toe shoes or sneakers and socks.
Comfortable trousers that travel well tend to be more practical and versatile than skirts when the weather is changeable.
From March(ish) to October(ish) you probably don’t need heavy coats but late autumn and early spring, i.e. November through March/April, can be quite cold and wet so jeans and sweaters or fleeces are the way to go so you can layer up under a lightweight jacket. A warm scarf or shawl is also useful with or without a jacket.
My #1 tip when packing for Portugal: Bring a range of thin layers so you can adjust your outfit to suit the temperature.
This will also help you pack light. If you’re trying to fit everything into a carry-on bag, see these tips.
And for general pro packing tips, check out this article.
Portugal dress code – smart or casual?
If you’re travelling to Portugal for work, it’s best to check with your company about appropriate dress codes although in most cases, smart casual/casual chic is fine.
Generally speaking, I’ve found that although Portuguese people care about what they wear, their ‘look’ tends to be understated and leans towards the conservative.
You don’t need to dress up for a night out unless you want to or are going somewhere particularly swanky. This has worked out well for me as I don’t often make it back to my hotel to get changed for dinner and as long as I look respectable enough during the day, I feel comfortable in most restaurants.
That’s not to say you should stroll into restaurants in your beach gear (unless it is a beach bar) but smart casual will be fine for most situations.
Portugal travel books
If you like the security of travelling with a guidebook, order one of these:
Rough Guide’s Portugal travel guide
As for Portuguese phrasebooks, the Lonely Planet Portuguese Phrasebook & Dictionary has sections on eating and drinking as well as all the functional language you’ll need and help with pronunciation.
Need help planning your trip?
Check out my Portugal itinerary support services.
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