Portugal is a true delight with so many diverse and unique attractions that make for the perfect vacation. And lots of them are free! So take a look at our top 10 things to do for free (or almost free) in Portugal -
#1 Castles – we have a lot… and they are super cool! In fact we have more per capita than any other nation, and the vast majority are free. For example, the Castle of Guimarães in a dominant position, overlooking the Campo de São Mamede, this monument is connected to the foundation of the Country of Portugal and the struggles of the independence of Portugal, popularly known as the cradle of nationality. Among the many free castles are the fortifications of Palmela, Lousã, Evora, Marvão, Castelo Bom, Penela, Almeida plus many others. Portugal in the Middle Ages was a crossroads of cultures, with hostile Moors to the south and rival Spanish kingdoms to the east. Today, Portugal’s more than 150 forts and castles are persisting monuments to the nation’s will to be independent. While larger and mightier countries were absorbed by others, Portugal, with its proud castles and the soldiers who defended them, evolved. Portugal’s castles are unlike their European counterparts. The Portuguese learned the art of fortification from the master builders of the Romans and the Moors.
#2 Cathedrals – The house of God is free, so the hundreds of historic churches and cathedrals across Portugal are free (some may charge to see the cloisters or sacristy). Here you can see a 1,000 years of architecture with rich gold and silver, amazing woodwork and sculpture, and the tombs of priests, warriors, kings, and everyday people. Manuel I was crowned king of Portugal in 1495, during which his reign kicked Portugal’s economy and expansion into high gear. Just two years later – the same year that the explorer Vasco da Gama set sail for India – King Manuel sealed his legacy with the construction of a church in Setúbal. This project is seen as the birth of the Manueline architectural style for which Portugal has become famous.
#3 Festivals - Festivals in Portugal are a popular way to celebrate Portuguese religious and general holidays. From Lisbon’s Popular Marches, to Coimbra’s celebration of the Saint Queen Isabel in July, to the Sao Pedro Festival, late spring to fall, these ancient festivals and celebrations are free to all. Attending a traditional festival (festa) is a great way for any visitor to absorb some Portugese popular culture and get to know the locals better.
Coimbra holds one of the biggest student parties in Europe. The Queima da Fitas (burning of the ribbons) lasts for 8 days, one for each University of Coimbra's colleges. There are open-air concerts, parades, and many cultural events, for the public to enjoy. All this culminates with a massive burning of the ribbons, symbolizing the end of the student’s stay at the old university. The finale is held in a square in front of the Romanesque city cathedral, with hundreds of students signing and celebrating their entrance into the professional world. This ancient academic festival is held to celebrate graduation at the nation’s oldest university (founded in 1288). It takes place at the end of the second semester, in early May.
In June, Lisbon celebrates its popular saints. Fun parades and festivities liven the city’s nights in its historic center and neighborhoods such as Castelo, Mouraria, Graça , Alfama, Ajuda and Bairro Alto. Decorated with lanterns, colorful arches, and costumes, the streets are filled with singing and dancing. Grilled sardines are served on every street corner and basil pots are decorated with verses dedicated to Saint Anthony, the city’s patron saint (and unlikely matchmaker).
#4 City Parks – From the sweeping vistas of the Sao Pedro de Alcantara Park in Lisbon, to the charming and stylish paths of the ancient Mata de Santa Cruz in Coimbra, to the breathtaking Garden of the Episcopal Palace in Castelo Branco – Portugal’s hundreds of city parks rich in heritage and monuments, are free. The handsome Garden of the Episcopal Palace in Castelo Branco has a renaissance plan with baroque decorations. It is one of the most beautiful baroque gardens in Portugal and contains statues of allegories, kings and zodiacal signs, arranged around ponds, terraces and staircases.
#5 Beaches – with more than 500 miles of clean Atlantic coast, Portuguese beaches are great, and beyond the swimming, surfing, and sun – they’re free to the public. The Blue Flag is a symbol of environmental quality and is awarded annually to beaches and marinas that present themselves to be assessed against a strict criteria that includes water quality; environmental information and education; environmental management; and equipment, safety and services. Of course, Portugal has more than 300 miles of sandy beaches, and some of the best weather in Europe to enjoy them by. From the warm water of the Algarve, to the healing sands at Porto Santo, Portuguese beaches are welcoming.
#6 The Cacilheiro (95 cents) - These orange boats that go from Lisbon to Cacilhas cost a mere 95 cents, and offer some of the most breathtaking views of Lisbon from the river – they may not be free, but for that kind of money, they might as well be.
To quote an old song: Sailing on a trail of foam,... there, the cacilheiro goes by on the Tejo in freedom... and the Lisbon's streets, without a hurry,... took a round-trip ticket to it.
Alfama, Madragoa, Bairro Alto, here and there, sailing in a toy-like boat Half of Lisbon waits on the margin's asphalt,... but the longing, in advance, drifts away.
#7 Museums on Sunday and Holidays until 2 p.m. – Many public museums are open at no charge on Sundays and Holidays – here are just a few, but check out this site for a full list. Plus children under 14 years old free and there is a 50% discount for seniors.
Museum Abade de Baçal - Bragança
Museum Alberto Sampaio - Guimarães
Museum de Aveiro
Museum dos Biscainhos- Braga
Museum of Ceramics- Caldas da Rainha
Museum de D. Diogo de Sousa- Braga
Museum Ethnographic Dr. Joaquim Manso - Évora
Museum de Évora
Museum de Francisco Tavares Proença Júnior - Castelo Branco
Museum Grão Vasco -Viseu
Museum of Guarda
Museum of Lamego
Museum Monográfico de Conímbriga - Condeixa- a-Velha
Museum da Terra de Miranda - Miranda do Corvo
#8 Lisbon’s historic trolley #28 - Trolley 28 runs its way through historic Lisbon beginning in Graça then diving to the river. Cost is a mere 2.50 Euros (or buy a one day Carris/metro ticket for 3.95 Euros) and you pay the fare directly to the driver. Lisbon’s #28 trolley crosses the city from east to west, climbing away from the center through the narrow cobbled streets and steep gradients of the Bairro Alto, Baixa, and Alfama districts. The small vintage trolley navigate tight turns past markets, restaurants, and churches and the like. You can get off in the Graça neighborhood and catch a #37 bus to the Castelo de São Jorge, where you can enjoy views of the whole city.
#9 Running of the bulls on Terceira, where the popular “touradas à corda” that are held in the streets. Part of life on this Atlantic isle since the 16th Century, the “touradas à corda” (literally “bullfights by rope”) are held by local Terceira villagers from April/May to late September. In these events, similar to the “Running of the Bulls”, a bull is let loose from the town’s square (or other open space) with a very long rope around its neck. Courageous people then attempt to provoke the animal and get close to it while avoiding being gored (resulting in many examples of humorous provocations, fearless attempts and the occasional injury or mayhem). Some “touradas à corda” also do away with the rope entirely or become semi-aquatic (when the bulls chase the participants off a dock). Following these “games” the animal is eventually retrieved and a festival will begin.
#10 Levadas on Madeira - The Levada "Walks" are walking trails along the maintenance paths beside the Levadas. Although the Levadas were constructed primarily for agricultural/industrial use they are just as important for tourists and local people who want to enjoy outdoor adventure activities inaccessible by car. Madeira levadas are famous worldwide and are one of the main reasons why people go there. And, they offer some fantastic scenery through the Laurisilva forests - indigenous to the island.
Madeira being a volcanic island is mountainous. This combination of tropical climate and mountainous terrain makes it a perfect location for all types of walks, hikes and trekking. Some easy, some more challenging and sometimes thrilling walks & Madeira hikes can be found all over the island.