hand-painted ceramics by Sr. Melho

You’re enjoying a fantastic vacation when you suddenly ponder “What to buy in Portugal?” for family and friends back home.

Portugal is proud of its unique crafts, food and drink so you’ll find plenty of options when you’re looking for your Portuguese souvenirs.

You don’t have to look hard to find souvenirs of Portugal that please all tastes and personalities, from your coworker to your mother-in-law there’s no excuse for playing it safe with bog standard souvenirs like fridge magnets or mugs. That said, I confess to owning a number of fridge magnets – there are some lovely ceramic ones around. 

Let’s take a look at some great Portuguese souvenirs that make lovely gifts, for yourself or your friends and family. Find out which of these Portuguese gifts you can take home with you and what you can order online.

Tip: Did you know that if you’re a non-EU resident you can claim back a big chunk of the tax you pay on shopping? For more details check out my Tax free shopping in Portugal for Non-EU Residents post.

1. Filigree jewellery – a glamorous gift from Portugal

Detail, gold filigree Viana Heart, Ourivesaria Freitas
Detail, gold filigree Viana Heart, Ourivesaria Freitas

You’ve probably seen some Portuguese filigree dangling from the ears and necks of Fado singers. This traditional kind of jewellery can be fashioned from either gold or silver and I for one adore its intricate and delicate lace-like patterns.

The wonky Viana Heart is a popular design for filigree (filigrana, in Portuguese) earrings and pendants but you can also get gold beads decorated with fine filigree ropes and other, more modern designs.

Filigree workshops are mostly in the north of Portugal but good souvenir and jewellery (Ourivesaria) shops across the country will have some examples for sale and you can also buy online.

Besides the Viana Hearts filigree earings are also popular.

2. Cork products – the most sustainable of Portuguese souvenirs

Cork fashion at the Pelcor shop
Cork fashion at the Pelcor shop

If you want to impress your friends or everyone in the office by looking cool, eco-friendly and just a tad hipster (optional, of course) then go for cork products. This super versatile and sustainable material is the natural bark of a type of oak tree.

Cork is lightweight and waterproof and can be fashioned into a variety of items. Purses, belts, kitchen utensils, phone cases, yoga mats and shoes are just a few of the things that can be made with this material. You’ll find plenty of cork products in quality souvenir and specialist shops, such as Pelcor, although you can also buy them online, e.g. from Cultura Portuguesa.

3. Portuguese ceramics – beautiful pottery as gifts or home decor

Venture into almost any picturesque Portuguese village and sooner or later you’ll encounter a small shop with what looks like a waterfall of ceramics piled up everywhere. You’ll find all manner of dishes, mugs, bowls in a variety of colours painted over glazed terracotta.

The traditional ceramics from Alentejo and Algarve regions are famous but look out for other unique kinds of pottery, like the black, wood-fired earthenware which can be found in north and central Portugal or the detailed Coimbra ceramics.

If you have something fancier in mind you may want to consider centuries-old companies like Vista Alegre or Bordallo Pinheiro. Both brands of traditional and high end ceramics can be bought either in stores or online.

Portuguese ceramics go beyond the kitchen. The small city of Barcelos in the north of Portugal, and Estremoz in the Alentejo are just two examples of Portuguese towns with a long tradition of creating ceramic figurines. These include the famous Barcelos cockerel, one of the most traditional Portuguese gifts, and bushy-browed ladies.

4. Portuguese azulejos (wall tiles) – beware if buying these

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Tiles, tiles everywhere! It’s virtually impossible to travel to Portugal and not stumble across azulejos at least once. For over 400 years, these tin-glazed ceramic tiles have been decorating the inside and outside of Portuguese homes, palaces, churches and metro stations.

The oldest in Portugal date back to the early 16th century and copy the neo-Islamic style that was popular in Spain at the time. Over the centuries, designs and production techniques have evolved, leaving a colourful legacy. Some employ a repeated geometric or floral pattern while other hand-painted panels depict allegorical, religious or historical scenes.

You can buy azulejos (from single tiles to whole panels) either at local shops or online. There are modern designs and replicas of traditional pieces.

WARNING!!! Azulejos make ideal Portuguese souvenirs but do not buy antique or used tiles from unauthorised sellers. Many beautiful buildings have been stripped of their precious tiles by unscrupulous opportunists. Do not encourage them.

You’ll find all manner of objects made using images of Portuguese tiles including mugs, T-shorts, bags, photographic prints and stationery. I too have a selection of these available through my online gift store on Redbubble.

If you want to gift yourself a hands-on Portuguese tiles experience, there are now also workshops where you can learn a bit about making these special ceramic tiles.

Book a full day azulejo workshop with a visit to the Azulejo Museum in Lisbon

Or there are several places where you can watch the experts at work, for example in a factory in Azeitão near Lisbon.

Artesan at work, Azulejos de Azeitão
Artesan at work, Azulejos de Azeitão

There are also some gorgeous books full of images of Portuguese tiles. If they’re too heavy to fit in your suitcase, you could order this one online.

5. Portuguese linens, lace and embroidery

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One way to take a piece of Portugal with you (or gift it to a loved one) is buying linens or hand-embroidered items. Most small towns and villages will have a local co-op of sorts selling their traditional embroideries or, at the very least, a couple of old ladies sitting outside busy embellishing tea towels.

Some styles of Portuguese embroidery are well known, like the distinctive ones from Madeira or the handkerchiefs of love from Viana do Castelo. If possible, buy from a certified artisan – the piece will come with its certificate of origin if you buy at a national craft fair or quality store. Less formal craft stalls and street markets abound where you can pick up simpler hand sewn and embroidered items like lavender sachets or baby blankies.

Bobbin lace-making is another traditional Portuguese craft. The coastal towns of Peniche and Vila do Conde are famous for this and there are some beautiful pieces to be found. 

Portugal is also known for its high quality bedding, which while it may be hard to carry back home with you can easily be bought online.

6. Buy local artwork-or make your own!

As you wander around you’ll see lots of examples of local artists’ work either on the side of the road, on buildings and in galleries. Why not take home an original watercolour to remember your holiday?

Or, better still, maybe you can create your OWN masterpiece. You can spend a little time under the watchful eye of a professional who will guide you in your artistic endeavours.

If you’re based in Porto you can create your own memorable watercolour with a local artist on this workshop (all materials provided). As Portuguese souvenirs go this would certainly be the chance to express how you feel about your visit.

Or try this women’s only creative workshop in Aviero.

Group of women drawing at a table on on a painting holiday in the Algarve, Portugal
Painting holiday in the Algarve

Tasty gifts from Portugal

You will no doubt be tasting some delicious Portuguese food and drinks during your trip to Portugal so why not take some home with you to extend the experience or tempt your loved ones.

7. Portuguese wines, liqueurs and spirits – fond memories of Portugal, in a bottle

Wine shop, Casa da Baia
Wine shop, Casa da Baia

Maybe you learned to love port wine when visiting Portugal. Perhaps you also had a glass of the fiery medronho spirit, then decided to try ginjinha (cherry brandy), then went on to Moscatel wine and, since you were here anyway, you sampled all-time favourite herby liqueur, Licor Beirão.

Whether you want to keep a few bottles all to yourself or just want to put a smile on your father-in-law’s face, most big supermarkets and good souvenir or wine shops will sell these typical Portuguese drinks. You can also buy at the airport, which may be your best option if you’re travelling with hand luggage only. 

If you visit any wineries while you’re in Portugal and find a wine you love, you can probably arrange for a few cases to be shipped to your home address.

If you’d like to learn more about Portuguese wines you could read up about them here.

8. Portuguese olive oil

Olive oil tasting, Quinta do Panascal, Douro Valley, Portugal
Olive oil tasting, Douro Valley, Portugal

There’s no escaping Portugal’s love for olive oil, not that you’d want to. In most restaurants salads will be seasoned with a simple mix of salt, olive oil and a dash of vinegar; if you go for any dish lagareiro style (like my favourite octopus dish) you can expect it to be soaked in olive oil – the word lagareiro refers to the person working in the lagar, i.e., the olive oil processing plant. Even desserts, like some traditional cakes, make use of it.

The fact that Portugal produces superb quality olive oil helps, as does the myriad health benefits associated with its consumption.

If you come across a good gourmet shop it’s worth taking some time to sample different brands and get to know more about olive oil’s flavour subtleties, varying degrees of acidity, best uses and the various Protected Designations of Origin.

It’s also possible to buy good quality olive oil online, even from Amazon:

9. Portuguese honey and jams – the sweetest of souvenirs

In Portugal there’s a saying: “that which is sweet never got bitter”, which might explain the predominant sweet tooth in this country. Aside from the abundance of Portuguese cakes, you will inevitably encounter a selection of locally produced honey or jams at some point during your travels.

The most traditional jams, called doces in Portuguese, and still made in many Portuguese homes, are marmelada (quince paste, often eaten with cheese), fig jam, tomato jam and pumpkin jam, also popular with cheese, especially the soft, fresh requeijão. Get yourself a jar of one of these delicious treats if you want to know what a hug from a Portuguese grandmother tastes like. 

As for the honeys, you’ll find varying shades and intensities. I tend to prefer the darker, slightly less sweet, mel de urze (heather honey) but if you get the chance, taste a few to find one you like.

Note that mel de cana, which translates as cane honey, from Madeira Island is not honey, it’s treacle or molasses, depending on what you call it in your country.

You can buy pure Portuguese honey online here.

10. Portuguese cheese and smoked meat products 

Legs of cured ham and a selection of Portuguese cheeses
Legs of cured ham and a selection of Portuguese cheeses

Although Portuguese cheese and smoked meats don’t usually get a lot of press there are many to choose from – and almost all of them are tasty. I say almost because I’m a bit funny about fatty meat so some of the smoked sausages don’t work for me.

Most common options range from the simple chouriço (smoked sausage), with its regional varieties, to the unique alheira (a smoked sausage traditionally made with poultry or game) or a good quality presunto (smoked ham). Try a variety and see what you like best.

From the most famous types of cheese, like the creamy Serra da Estrela, the spicy Ilha de São Jorge or the strong Queijo Amarelo da Beira Baixa to the lesser-known queijo de Nisa or the humble goat cheese there’s bound to be something to match your taste.

You can buy many of these products online, when visiting local fairs and festivals or at gourmet and traditional grocery stores. They’re great Portuguese souvenirs but, if you’re taking them back home, check with the authorities if they’re alowed into the country.

11. Sardines and canned fish – a pretty and tasty take-home gift

Canned sardines and garfish
Canned sardines and garfish

Portugal’s fish canning industry was once an incredibly important part of the local economy in cities like Setúbal, Matosinhos and Portimão. Canned fish is experiencing a certain revival with the influx of tourism and many more people are realising that there are various qualities and types of fish and seafood products to be tasted.

Major Portuguese cities now have entire shops and restaurants dedicated to canned fish – you can arrange tastings in store, and learn a little about the industry.

Aside from the contents of the cans, the appeal is largely in the colourful and artistic packaging.

12. Gourmet salt from Portugal

Gourmet salt for sale at Despensa da Praça, Viseu
Gourmet salt 

Originally consumed primarily by salt workers (and therefore looked upon as inferior) flor de sal is now considered a gourmet product. Flor de sal (salt flower) describes the very fine, pure salt crystals that form on the surface of the salt pans and can only be harvested by hand.

It is used as a finishing salt, mostly for seasoning, and has a more complex flavour that lingers for longer than that of normal table salt. I use it almost every day – try sprinkling some on sliced tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and I bet you’ll be hooked, too.

In Portugal it is mostly produced in Aveiro, where it’s also possible to tour some salt pans and buy salt-related beauty products, and in the Algarve, but you can find it in any good souvenir shop or online.

13. Tea from the Azores

While it’s true that Portugal apparently can’t live without coffee it is also true that the only tea plantations in Europe are located in the Portuguese island of São Miguel, in the Azores. Tea production began in the late 19th century and is still going strong. My favourite is Orange Pekoe from Gorreana. If you’d like to have a taste of Portuguese tea you can buy it in good souvenir and gourmet shops or online.

14. Bring Portugal into your own kitchen with a Portuguese cookbook

If your taste of Portuguese food leaves you wanting more, there’s no need to wait until your next trip to Portugal to enjoy it again.

See this selection of Portuguese cookbooks and find one that suits your style.

15. Fill your home with the sound of Portuguese music

Fado is the most well known musical genre associated with Portugal, with Amália being the quintessential fadista, but there are others like Mariza, Ana Moura or Cuca Roseta. You’ll easily find their albums, or compilations of fado music in stores within Portugal and online.

If you feel like exploring other genres you might want to check Madredeus for their crowd-pleasing soothing melodies, Gaiteiros de Lisboa for their mix of traditional and contemporary, Jorge Palma for a piano-with-a-touch-of-rock vibe or Capitão Fausto for pop/rock with a dash of hipster.

If you’ve been to a Fado show then you would have noticed the particular guitar used for accompaniment-the guitarra portuguesa. This unique guitar would be an ideal Portuguese souvenir for any friends who enjoy strumming 6 strings (or in this case 12). There are many musical instrument shops in the cities with assistants who would be more than willing to pass on their recommendations.

The guitarra portuguesa (left)-photo by jlastras on Flickr

16. Delve into Portuguese literature

In terms of literature there are quite a few names worth looking into, including Fernando Pessoa (absolutely adored in Portugal), José Saramago (Nobel laureate in 1998 and my preference), António Lobo Antunes, José Luís Peixoto, Eça de Queirós (the greatest name in the first wave of Portuguese realism but a bit heavy-going, I found) and Mia Couto.

All of these authors have books translated into English and available for online buying. Take your pick from this selection if you can’t buy a copy in Portugal.

Pin this for later!

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  1. Wonderful! Makes me want to go back for a visit! Since that isn’t possible right now, I’m grateful that many of these items and goods are available online. 🙂

    1. Happy to help, Andrea

  2. I know this is very touristy, but it was quite unique… the “birthday” sardine cans in the The Fantastic World Of Portuguese Sardines in or near the Rossio district of Lisbon. It was a very colorful shop with a Disney-like atmosphere. One could purchase a can of sardines with the birth year of the recipient. There is a YouTube Video here –> https://youtu.be/ZUokV2VAcDo

    1. It’s the Disney-esque atmosphere that turns me right off these stores. There are more traditional/less garish canned fish stores in most cities.

  3. So I just returned from Lisbon and was really disappointed in the offerings for sale in the Tile Museum and the Coach Museum. I was looking for tile or coach notecards, coasters, and placemats, Maybe a tile or coach keychain or a phone cover. Coach inspired Hermes style scarves or hankerchiefs. Tile printed umbrellas. Nada. I left empty handed. Csn you sell your products to these stores? It seems like such a shame to lose an opportunity to sell something.
    Sorry to vent but somehow you got my email and I needed an outlet.
    Westport, CT (USA)

    1. Hi Ariane. Sorry you had a disappointing shopping experience at the museum shops. It’s something I’d like to consider for the future but at them moment, I don’t have the resources to expand beyond the online store.

  4. what a smart business move, Julie.
    congratulations and best of luck.

  5. Very interesting wares Julie. Good luck with the online shop.

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