There are certain relatives I can picture who would strike down nearly any country in The World’s Cheapest Destinations book as too poor, too dirty, too messy, or too backward. Often there’s an unspoken subtext of “too foreign.” What gets us frequent travelers jazzed up the most—the unusual, the unique, the exotic—is exactly what turns them off.
So when these people ask me for travel recommendations but they are also looking for a bargain, I have to tread carefully. My easy go-to answer these days is “visit Portugal.”
Apparently I’m not alone. Travel to the country is up by nearly a third this year for a lot of reasons, but there’s still plenty of supply. This means there are a lot of deals for travel to Portugal, especially if you’re coming from somewhere else in Europe.
Check out these two deals below, for a week in a hotel including flights from England. The first throws in a rental car, so you’re practically required to go exploring instead of sitting around the pool all day. The second one is half board, so the days are free to roam. The per-person prices are £451 and £592 ($595 and $781 currently).
Even if you’re coming from the U.S. or Canada though, you’ll find terrific deals for the after-landing part. The higher you go up the budget scale, the more impressive the savings will be. The gorgeous converted castles and country homes that make up the Pousadas de Portugal collection, for instance, are a real steal. The rate at this place we stayed in while I was doing my bike tour of the Alentejo region was $115 per night, including breakfast.
Most of the package deals head to the Algarve area. It’s one of those “go to the beach and then do nothing” resort regions that are scattered around nearly every continent. What makes Portugal interesting though is you don’t have to go very far to get off the beaten path. Just taking a cycling route inland will lead you to interesting villages and past farmers’ fields. The south of Portugal is near the bottom of Europe, so it’s sunny here much of May through October. The rest of the year it doesn’t dip below 10C/50F very often except in the North.
You’ll need a wetsuit to surf or kitesurf though unless you’re really hearty. The water temperatures rarely top 75F, so this is not the Caribbean–or even the Mediterranean. Most of Portugal is above the 38th parallel north. If that sounds familiar, it’s was the battleground between North and South Korea in the 1950s. In the USA that would be north of Virginia, Kansas, and Utah.
If you’re not coming to escape the cold and sit on a beach, I would highly advise coming in May or autumn. Temperatures are not as scorching and the flights are not as dear. When we rode through the countryside on bikes in early May, every day looked like this:
Western Europe’s Best Wine and Food Deals
Portugal is really enjoyable at meal time, when your stomach will be happy and so will your wallet. Apart from a few odd spots in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to find drinkable wine as cheap as it is here. As in a few euros for a decent bottle. When you move up to €10 you might find something truly great. They scoff at the U.S. habit of marking up a bottle of wine to four or five times the wholesale price too. You can order a glass of wine for about what you’d spend for a soda—and it’ll go better with your meal.
The food of Portugal doesn’t get a lot of recognition, especially compared to neighboring Spain, but that’s mainly because it’s not swinging for the fences so much. There’s a real emphasis on comfort food that won’t take eight hours in a molecular gastronomy kitchen to prepare and dishes that mix four ingredients, not 14. The meals I remember best were the nibbling ones anyway. When taking in a great view with a bottle of wine, good cheese, olives, and warm bread, what else do you really need? You can almost feel like you’re dining from the earth you see in front of you.
Flight prices to Portugal can be surprisingly reasonable from the USA when compared to London, Paris, or Madrid. In September they’re running dipping below $500 round trip from New York and less than $600 from Miami, Boston, and Puerto Rico. Notable under-$900 airports include Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal, Orlando, Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta. For whatever reason, prices are nearly universally below $1,000 from the Caribbean and Central America. (Not from Brazil though—so much for historic ties.)
If you want to stick around for a while, Portugal is also one of the best values in Europe as a cheap place to live.
Have you enjoyed some great travel bargains in Portugal? Leave a comment below. For ideas on other travel bargains, check out the Cheapest Destinations blog.