Escorted tours to Portugal
Time Zone: As per the UK
Tipping: A 5% to 10% tip is usual for restaurants if you're happy with the service, but check the bill to see if service charge has already been included. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip but a small one (about 10%) is appreciated.
It might be joined at the hip with Spain, but Portugal has it own identity thank you very much. From walled towns with dungeons and houses embedded into perilously steep cliffs to a village in the crater of a volcano, wherever you are on a Portugal escorted tour, you'll be almost guaranteed a good view. What's more, Portugal is relatively undiscovered in comparison to it's better-known neighbour, with its modest beauty all the more reason why coach holidays here are alluring.
Wherever your tour of Portugal takes you, you'll find more than port and pousadas. Travel to Oporto and North Portugal, the oldest region of the country, to sip Port in the place where it originated and set sail through the stunning Douro Valley, or visit Braga (dubbed the 'Portuguese Rome'), once home to many sanctuaries in the hillsides. Bom Jesus is fascinating, with well-kept gardens and as-far-as-the-eye-can-see views. A funicular driven by water pressure can be taken for another experience.
Explore charming Lisbon along the banks of the Tagus, where sounds of traditional Fado songs drift through the cobbled lanes, or head to the Algarve, another popular destination as the most South Western point of Europe, renowned for its mildly warm winters.
The islands are another opportunity to explore. The Azores appear to be far away tropical islands but are much closer to the UK than you may think with an average flying time of only four hours. The volcanic isles make for a peaceful retreat and if you travel at the right time, there's a unique opportunity to go whale watching. Madeira and its capital Funchal offer traditional sights, with alleyways, delicious food and cosmopolitan twist. Thanks to its popularity a few tours run to the island, allowing visitors to lust over this supermodel of the flora world with its tropical fruits, exotic flowers, gleaming parks and gardens fit for the Chelsea Flower Show.
All escorted tours to Portugal will include return flights or cruise travel, bed and breakfast accommodation at a good quality hotel, a full touring itinerary, tour and local guides to help you get the most from your trip and internal travel using an array of traditional methods. Some tours also incorporate neighbouring Spain.
Things to do
From history to hiking, there's plenty to do on an escorted tour of Portugal that isn't all linked to the Algarve. Here's our pick of the top few things to do:
Lisbon was once a springboard for explorers to discover the world, but now people come to explore the city itself with its Manueline architecture, mosaic pavements and colourful tiles adorning the front of almost every building. Tram Number 28 is a popular way of seeing the city and take visitors round the key attractions, but keep your eye on your belongings at its equally popular with pickpockets. Stop off at Lisbon's downtown on the to see the complex carvings of Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower, enjoy some trademark Portuguese Port or vinho verde or wander around the old quarters of Alfama, Castelo and Mouraria. Book a table at a restaurant around Bairro Alto to hear traditional Fado song waft through the balmy air.
As the world famous home to port wine you'd be hard pushed to find a tour that visits Oporto without swinging by a port lodge to sample the region's finest produce. As well as having time at leisure to explore this attractively weathered city that nestling on a bank beside the River Duoro, visitors can set sail to see the town from another angle and the beautiful Duoro Valley.
Madeira is an aesthetically pleasing paradise of flora and fauna, bursting with gardens and flowers. For that reason walking is big here and a number of footpaths and levadas (aqueducts) make it a great way to explore the picturesque island. Funchal is the island's focal point; Winston Churchill used to stay here, immortalising the city in some of his paintings.
Home to around 35 churches, one of which is the oldest cathedral in country, it's easy to see why Braga is known as the 'Portuguese Rome'. Manueline architecture and flower-lined walkways give it a certain charm and the main draw is Bom Jesus, a picturesque sanctuary at the top of hill affording amazing views. There are 170 Baroque steps to climb which are stunning in themselves. For a really magical view try to coincide your visit with sunset.
Thinking of travelling to Portugal? Check out the average temperatures for when you plan to visit courtesy of BBC Weather
Tips and Advice
One of the benefits of taking an escorted tour is that you'll be in safe hands throughout your trip. However, to help you have an enjoyable holiday take a look at these useful tips and advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO):
Walking in Madeira
If you're out walking in Madeira without a guide, research your route first. Some routes like the levadas can be particularly challenging, with uneven and narrow paths. If unsure, take a mobile phone with you.
Health and Travel Insurance
As with any holiday, it's advisable to check with your GP at least 8 weeks before departure to see whether any vaccinations or preventative measures are required.
Ensure that you have a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before travelling. The EHIC isn't a substitute for travel and medical insurance, however it does entitle you to state provided medical treatment should it become necessary during your trip. The EHIC does not cover medical repatriation, on-going treatment or non-urgent medical treatment, so you should always make sure you have adequate travel insurance in addition to the EHIC and also access to funds which can cover the cost of any medical treatments and also repatriation. Most operators offer the chance to purchase travel insurance at the time of booking.
Some cases of Dengue Fever have been reported in Portugal, so avoid being bitten by mosquitos by taking insect repellent and consult with your GP before travelling.
If you do need to dial an ambulance while away call 112 and don't forget to advise your insurance company if you are referred to a medical facility.
Around 1.9million Brits visit the country each year and most of them leave having had a trouble-free experience. Crime rates are low but tourists should take precautions against pickpocketing and bag snatching in busy tourist areas. Don't be fooled by thieves using distraction techniques and stay vigilant in crowded areas, particularly on public transport. If you're heading to Lisbon note that tourist frequented tram numbers 16 and 28 are particularly popular amongst thieves. Protect yourself by leaving valuables such as passports and large volumes of money back at the hotel and investing in a discrete money wallet which you can wear underneath your clothes.
Should your passport get stolen, report immediately to the police and obtain a police report; you'll need this in order to get a replacement travel document from the British Consulate and to claim from your insurance on your return.
If you are out drinking away from your group, keep an eye on your drinks at all times and remember that drinks overseas are often much stronger than those back in the UK.
When out at the coast pay attention to the flags on the beaches. A red flag indicates danger and you should not enter the sea if this flag is visible. A yellow flag means it is safe to paddle, green is ok to swim and chequered means that the beach is temporarily unmanned. Never swim in waters or rivers where there is no lifeguard at hand, and be cautious of wave heights at unmanned beaches – never stand too close to the water's edge.
Local Laws and Customs
As with most countries, drugs are not tolerated and taking or possessing drugs carries severe consequences. If asked by police, you must show identification. A photocopy of the data page of your passport is usually fine, although you may be asked to show the original.
Your passport must be valid throughout the duration of your stay and you can visit Portugal as a tourist for up to 3 months. Minors under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult, be met at the airport by a parent or guardian or carry a letter of consent from the parent or guardian.
Any other nationality looking to visit Portugal should contact the local embassy to check visa requirements.
To find out more about Portugal visit the official tourism website at visitportugal.com.