Portugal is part of Western Europe and uses the euro, so it’s never going to be dirt cheap, but compared to any country to the north of it, this destination is a real bargain for travelers. It makes a great value alternative to Spain, France, or Italy.
I just spent 11 gorgeous days in Portugal, first in Lisbon and then biking around the Alentejo region in the central south of the country. This is a rural farming region (think olive groves, vineyards, and cork trees) dotted with small cities often defined by glorious castles on a hill. It’s a fantastic area for cycling because there’s very little traffic and plenty of farm roads where you may go an hour or two without seeing a vehicle. The scenery is stupendous and the picture-perfect towns are inviting, nearly everything painted white with blue accents. Burial sites from a few thousand years ago lead to Roman ruins and castles built by a variety of invaders and reclaimers.
There’s not the huge gulf in prices though from Lisbon to the countryside as you find in some countries. Sure, it’s cheaper when you get out of the city, but for lodging anyway you have fewer choices so there’s not as much competition. It’s also harder to find cheap eats like street food in the countryside. Plan on doing a lot of self-catering if you’re on a budget because the locals don’t really seem to eat out that much. They may hang out at a cafe all day nursing an espresso or a tiny beer (25 CL), but restaurant choices get pretty slim outside of tourist towns like Evora.
Bring a phrase book or good language app! English is not widespread outside of the cities and resort areas on the coast. If you speak Spanish it helps when reading a menu and some people can speak Spanish. While many words are the same, however, the pronunciation of Portuguese is completely different. I was lost trying to comprehend much of anything.
Usually I do these prices in dollars, but this time I’m putting them in euros as that’s what all my notes are in. The exchange rate has long been in a range between $1.29 and $1.35 dollars to the euro. As in if something in here is €10, that’s around $13.50.
Food & Drink Prices in Portugal
I was thrilled when it was time to order a drink in Portugal. I found the proverbial $1 beer in one cafe, a 2-euro large carafe of house wine, and many places where your drink order with a set meal was “water, soda, or wine.” Nice, especially since what you get in Portugal is uniformly good.
One oddity here is that nothing placed on your table is complimentary. If you don’t want to be charged for bread, butter, soft cheese, or olives, you have to ask the waiter to take them back or push them over to the side so you won’t get charged. We rarely did that though as it was generally €0.50 to €1 for local olives or a big basket of freshly made bread.
Restaurant/cafe set meal prices: €5 – 10 with several courses and a drink
Typical main dishes, basic restaurant: €2.50 – 10
Typical main dishes, nice restaurant: €5 – 18
Pastry and an espresso: €1.50 – 3
Coffee: €0.50 – 1.50
House wine: €1 – 2.50 per glass
Better wine: €2 – 5 per glass, €5 – 15 per bottle in a restaurant
Wine in a store: €1 (really!) – 12 for most, “Reserve” brands €12 and up
Beer in a store/restaurant: o.50-0.75 each in store, .75 – €2 in restaurants (liter draft €3-4)
200 grams of cheese: 0.79 – €3
200 grams of dry sausage/pepperoni: €0.89 – 3.50
Baguettes: €0.30 – 0.60
Can of tuna or pate: €0.59 – 1.50
Seasonal fruit and vegetables: €1 – 2 per kilo for most, €3 berries
Oranges in season: €0.50 – 0.80 per kilo
Hotel and Hostel Prices in Portugal
Outside of the capital, in this country you’re often better off getting a hotel room than staying in a hostel if you’re traveling with someone else. Prices for hotels are a deal and the higher up you go, the better value they are compared to the rest of Western Europe. We stayed in two palaces—literally—that were included in our package but would be €108 and €145 respectively with breakfast if you booked direct. See the Pousadas of Portugal site to check out these interesting historic lodging options.
Hostel bed in small city: €14 – 25
Hostel bed Lisbon: €10 – 21
Pension (Pensão) in Lisbon: €20 – 50
3-star hotel: €22 – 60
4-star hotel: €59 – 99
Transportation Costs in Portugal
I saw all of three inter-city buses in a week’s time when I got into the countryside and two of those were parked, without a soul around. I only saw one person ever waiting at a bus stop. I get the impression that people without cars don’t move around very much except between major junctions.
Fuel is expensive and highways have heavy tolls, so transportation will be one of the biggest expenses. Don’t try to do it all!
Tram in Lisbon: €2.85 one ride, €6 all day unlimited
Subway in Lisbon: €1.40 one ride, €6 all day unlimited
1.5 hour bus ride (Lisbon-Evora): €12.50 one-way
2.5 hour bus ride (Lisbon-Western Algarve towns): €20 one-way
3-hour train (Porto-Lisbon): €35 – 42 1st class, €24 – 30 2nd class
Taxi in Lisbon, 2 people: €2.25 start, €1.60 per km
Taxi in Evora, 2 people: €3.25 start, €0.80 per km
Rental car booked from home: 210 to 350 dollars per week
Museum and Attraction Prices in Portugal
We didn’t actually spend very much on sightseeing. Many small museums are free, as are nearly all of the castles and churches dotted throughout the country. Popular Lisbon is a different story, however. We paid €7.50 to visit the castle there and €4 to go up into the dome and walk on the roof of the Basilica.
In general, you can figure on paying somewhere between one and eight euros for most attractions and museums. By European standards or even compared to Turkey, that’s quite reasonable.
Other Prices for Travelers
You can see the listing here for the Bike Tours direct tour I did (with Turaventur handling the local logistics). It’s 750 euros per person including nice hotels with breakfast and luggage transfers each day to the next hotel. That’s quite a deal no matter how you look at it, but especially if you compare it to similar tours they run in Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Tuscany.
Souvenirs to bring back home are affordable, the best being cork items, nice pottery (visit the town of São Pedro de Corval if you’re in Alentejo), jewelry, olive oil, and wine. At a local market in Estremoz we bought a wheel of cheese (enough for two) for €2 and a bottle of olive oil for €3 – both from local farmers.