Facts and useful tips about Portugal
The Portuguese are said to be warm and hospitable, which is fair enough. They are instinctively kind and welcoming, inviting visitors in with open arms. They are proud of their country, its customs and traditions, and they love to show their homeland to foreigners.
In daily life, one of the most deeply rooted habits is going out for a coffee. Virtually no Portuguese person goes without an espresso coffee after a meal, and they normally don't drink it at home. It is rather a chance to go out, even if it's just round the corner, and have a chat with neighbours of friends.
During the week, especially in the city, life is quite busy, between home, work and traffic. But that doesn't prevent the Portuguese from enjoying a night out, particularly from Thursday onwards. Restaurants, cinemas, theatres, bars and clubs become crowded, mostly by young people in search of fun. In the weekends, whenever the sun is out, people like to go out, and the gardens, parks and outdoor cafés don't seem to be enough. However, and because shopping is another passion of the Portuguese, they also head for the nearest shopping mall.
Away from the urban rat-race, we find typical rural villages, where life flows at a quieter and slower pace. Many of those places maintain their own characteristic way of life, in which people dedicate themselves to agriculture, handicrafts and small industries. Having plenty of time for everything, those folk have a stronger community sense and like to get together for a chat outside the church or in the main square of the village. A typical sight can be seen in late afternoons, when the men sit down on benches outside the market to talk or to play cards, allowing time to roll by.
History and Economy
Portugal is one of the oldest nations in Europe, having been visited throughout the centuries by several peoples who left their mark upon the land. The nation was formed originally from the Condado Portucalense, an area that corresponds to the present-day provinces of Minho and, partially, Trás-os-Montes, in the north of the country. It was from this area that D. Afonso Henriques, who was proclaimed the first King of Portugal in 1143, started fighting the Moors and pushed them south, managing to conquer Lisbon before he died. The conquest of the Alentejo and the Algarve would take another century, at which time the country's borders were finally defined.
One of the most important periods of Portuguese History was the era of the Discoveries. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal was one of the richest and most influential countries in Europe. The maritime discoveries allowed for unprecedented and magnificent wealth (which the Convent of Mafra, the Monastery of Jerónimos, and the Convent of Tomar, among other buildings, are evidence of) and generated an original style of architecture known as Manueline.
Portugal was a monarchy until 1910, when the republic was proclaimed. In the 1930's, António Salazar formed the New State (Estado Novo), which corresponded to a period of dictatorship. Only on April 25, in 1974, was a democratic republic restored. Although Portugal has been a member of the European Union since 1986, it has managed to maintain its traditional culture.
With regard to the economy, Portugal used to be one of the least developed countries in Europe until very recently. However, shortly after it joined the European Union, and with the aid of European Community funding, the country was greatly modernized on all levels, and is now a fully developed nation. Along with the cosmopolitan side of the big cities, such as Lisbon and Porto, the country still possesses a charming rural side, in its well kept small towns and villages.
Climate and Geography
With a mild climate, Portugal has pleasant temperatures even in winter. Situated by the sea on the Iberian Peninsula it is the most western country in Europe. With a relatively small area its territory is nonetheless rather diverse: most of it consists of coastline with a great many sandy beaches, but there are also the mountainous regions of the north and the vast plains of the Alentejo, to the south.
Up to 2002, the official currency in Portugal was the Escudo, which has now been replaced by the Euro, the single currency having been adopted by 12 countries in the European Union. Portuguese banks and currency exchanges will exchange foreign coins and notes for euros. You may also use automatic exchange machines, available 24 hours a day. Visa, Acess/Mastercard, American Express and similar cards are a good alternative, as they are accepted in most shops and restaurants. ATM cash dispensers are widely spread and are very reliable.
Transport and Communications
Portugal has a good system of public transport, consisting of buses, trains and internal flights. Alternatively, you can easily rent a car and choose your own itinerary and timetable.
With regards to communications, it is possible to send and receive letters, postcards and packages, or even money, through CTT-Correios de Portugal (the National Post), through normal or priority mail.
There are many public telephone booths in the streets, and it is also possible to use the phone at several public houses, namely cafés. To make a phone call, you can either use cash or buy a phone card, which is normally cheaper.
Internet access points are available in various places (hotels, cafes, public access terminals). In some cities free public access s available via the wireless network in gardens, malls and other recreational areas.