View of Pinhao Beach in Lagos, Algarve, Portugal with blue sea

You’ve made up your mind and chosen delightful Portugal for your next vacation. How exciting! However, you may be wondering when is the best time to book such a holiday? In other words, how far in advance should you be planning your trip and making reservations?

Before the pandemic, travellers tended to book their trips 6-9 months in advance. However, the uncertainties of Covid led to many more last-minute bookings and I see that this trend has persisted. 

Unfortunately, leaving it too late, i.e. within 2-3 months of your trip dates, to secure hotels and tours means that you are less likely to get the services you want, if at all. Many of my partner tour operators were sold out months in advance last year.

Boats in harbour at Alvor town, Algarve
Alvor town, Algarve

If you’re looking for a fully managed trip to Portugal, i.e. leaving the planning and booking to a local expert, my local partner travel agent and I advise that booking 7-9 months ahead is ideal in terms of flexibility and prices

If you leave it until 6 months before your travel dates, you should still be okay but availability will be limited for peak times and popular destinations. Planning a trip 3 months out is possible but tricky and any time after that is going to involve very high prices.

If you’d like me to help with your travel plans, take a look at the options to find the best way to work with me.

Travel costs in Portugal have increased considerably over the last few years so it’s more important than ever to plan ahead to get the best value for money. Accommodation in particular is subject to scarcity pricing when availability is limited, which can come as a shock to people who still think that Portugal is a cheap travel destination. It’s not!

Whether you are using a travel agent or booking your own hotels and tours, etc., time is of the essence if you want to get the best deals and avoid disappointment. 

How far in advance should you book accommodation in Portugal?

A bedroom with lovely sea and pool views at Atlantida Mar hotel
A bedroom with lovely sea views at Atlantida Mar hotel, Terceira, Açores

As a general rule, the earlier the better. You’ll be able to choose your preferred accommodation and room type and usually get better rates.

However, the season will play an important role. During peak season (May to September) it’s advisable to book your hotel room well in advance, ideally 6-9 months ahead, to secure the best options and prices. If you’re travelling in June, for example, try to make your reservations in December, if not earlier.

Even in December of 2023, availability for popular destinations like the Douro Valley in May 2024 was becoming challenging. As I write this in February 2024, lots of the most popular wine hotels and tours are already sold out for certain dates in May.

If you plan to visit Portugal during major events or holidays, hotel rooms through to apartments can be as scarce as hen’s teeth, so again, book well in advance.

If you’re happy to risk a little rain, you’ll find discounted hotel rates for the low season (November to March) and perhaps good last-minute deals.

Bottom line:

  • Aim to book your hotels 7-9 months out if you are coming to Portugal between May and September.
  • For April and October, 4-6 months is usually enough time.
  • For November to March (except Easter, Christmas and New Year), you can be much more flexible.     

Cost vs flexibility

If you need to retain a degree of flexibility, e.g. because you’re waiting for the best flight deals (see below), or waiting on other factors that could affect your dates, try to book accommodation with free cancellation. 

This will inevitably cost more than the non-refundable deals so you may need to weigh up the potential savings of waiting to book a flight against getting the best price for accommodation. 

If you take out travel insurance, your non-refundable bookings would usually be covered if you have to cancel the trip due to illness or family emergency (read the small print before purchasing insurance so you know what you’re covered for).

It’s always a good idea to check out my Travel Deals page where you’ll find great savings from accommodation to tours.

When’s the best time to book a flight to Portugal?

Although with hotel bookings it’s usually the earliest worm that catches the juiciest grub, it’s not necessarily the same when it comes to flights. 

According to Investopedia and a 2023 study, unsurprisingly plane tickets don’t usually get cheaper closer to the departure date. What did surprise me is that booking more than 5 months in advance can cost more. 

Flights are generally the least expensive when you book between 5.5 and 1.5 months (164 and 46 days) in advance of your departure date. Either side of that window, those same tickets will probably cost more but bear in mind factors such as seasons and specific events.

As mentioned above, if you’re comfortable booking non-refundable accommodation, the cost-savings in this area could more than compensate for paying a slightly higher fare for flights and locking in your dates.

The Douro Valley, vineyards on hillside, Portugal
The Douro Valley. Perfect to visit any time

The quietest times of the year and, therefore the cheapest flights, are January and February. In Portugal, the weather’s cooler at that time of year and you can enjoy the off-season thanks to fewer tourists. The weather’s still pleasant from October to November and March to April so these are also great times to benefit from cheaper flights and prices overall.

Best time to book a rental car for your Portugal trip

Again, if you have decided that having a car is the way you want to get around Portugal, book early to get the best prices. Ideally 6-9 months out or as soon as possible after that. 

Even if you are still unsure as to whether or not driving in Portugal is for you, you can book a vehicle with free cancellation to lock in a good deal.

I always use Discovercars or car rentals to find good value car hire.

When you plan to travel will also affect prices. Discovercars, for example, offers up to 30% discounts during the winter period on car hire.

You might find my Portugal Road Trip Essentials Guide helpful if you’re thinking of renting a car.

When to book train tickets in Portugal

View of the amazing Orient train station at night located in Lisbon, Portugal.
View of the amazing Oriente train station, Lisbon, Portugal.

For long-distance trains, especially high-speed or overnight trains, I recommend booking your tickets a few weeks in advance, particularly during peak travel periods. This includes the summer months, holidays, and weekends when demand is higher. 

This is because you must have an allocated seat to travel on the Alfa Pendular and Intercidade trains. If the train is full and you’re buying a ticket on the day of travel, you’ll have to wait for the next train with available seats, which could be a few hours later or even the next day!

Booking online a few weeks ahead can help secure your preferred train and seating options, besides often being considerably cheaper! There are usually promotional fares available when you book at least 5 days in advance – look for the yellow star next to the price and don’t forget to apply this promo price before you progress to the payment stage of the purchase. It also saves you queuing at the ticket office in train stations when you could be having more fun! 

Note that you can’t purchase tickets more than 60 days in advance so if you’re planning a trip and trying to get all the logistics sorted out in advance, make a diary note to buy your train tickets about a month before your travel dates.

I always recommend using the official website of the train operator, in this case Comboios de Portugal (CP), to purchase tickets. This way you know that your ticket is bone fide and, if there is a cancellation, you can more easily claim a refund. 

Regional and local urban trains in Portugal typically have more frequent departures and you can simply purchase a ticket at the station shortly before departure. You can’t purchase these online, or reserve a seat, and there is no first class option.  

Best time to book tours in Portugal

A toast to the Douro Valley with wine glasses
A toast to the Douro Valley

I notice that people often leave booking tours until closer to their travel dates, e.g. 1 to 2 months before. Although this may not be a problem if you are happy with group tours in places where there are plenty of operators to choose from, this won’t work for private tours in popular destinations like the Douro Valley or off the beaten track destinations where there are fewer guides.

Such tours get booked up months in advance for peak periods, i.e. May to September/October. Ideally you’ll be booking yours 4-6 months in advance, or asap if you’ve left it later than that!

The same applies to self-guided walking holidays such as the Portuguese Camino de Santiago or other multi-day hiking experiences. These are not dependent on guide availability but when the limited supply of hotels on the route is exhausted, you will have missed your chance. The tour operator I work with for such walking tours was booked out several months in advance last year. Again, try to secure your spot at least 6 months in advance.

Some tour booking platforms, such as Viator, have free cancellation and ‘Reserve now, pay later’ options so you have considerable flexibility if your plans change.

Limited availability requires careful planning

During off-peak periods you may find there’s a considerable reduction in available tours and those that are still running may be cut down to once a day/week. This requires careful itinerary planning to work around tour times; you may need to swap days or destinations to fit things in.

However, you’ll often find some massive reductions in prices during low season, sometimes up to 40%. To find out more, see my Best Travel Deals for Portugal page.

Be aware that most small group tours require a minimum number of participants in order to go ahead. Quite often it’s only two people so if you’re a couple that’s no problem. If you’re on your own then the tour may be cancelled at short notice. You’ll be refunded or given a different tour option but if you are on a tight schedule, you may not be able to fit a new date in.

Private tours are more expensive but they often give you the opportunity to tailor your itinerary more to your interests and your tour will go ahead, barring unforeseen emergency situations.

So, if you’ve been asking yourself “When is the best time to book a holiday to Portugal?” I hope your questions have now been answered!

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