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The Complete Guide to Cycling Portugal

By Daniele Fasoli

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Understanding Portugal

-Cycling Portugal is a sensorial experience that takes you through sandy beaches, gorgeous vineyards, forests of cork and groves of olives, medieval castles, a surprisingly well-preserved culture, and some of Europe's most impressive natural marvels.

In this guide, you will find all you need to know to plan your Portugal cycling tour and get the absolute best out of your experience. Let’s dive right in!

Topography

Located on the Iberian peninsula between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is the Southwestern most country in Europe, spanning 92,152 km² (35, 610 sq mi).

Also called the "Jardim à beira-mar plantado" by locals (the "Garden planted by the sea" in English), Portugal is located in the Northern Hemisphere between the latitudes 37° and 42° N (approximately halfway between the North Pole and the Equator), and a longitude of 6° to 9° W, when we only consider the Portuguese mainland.

However, Portugal’s territory also comprises several islands including the scenic Azores and the Madeira archipelago that are located further into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Madeira archipelago is located roughly at 32°20' N latitude and 16°10' W longitude in the Atlantic Ocean, some 520 kms (310 mi) west of Morocco.

Azores is located between 36.5° to 40° N latitudes and 24.5° to 31.5° W longitudes in the Atlantic Ocean, some 1,400 km (870 mi) west of Lisbon, and roughly midway between the European and North American continents.

About 60% of Portugal’s borders are fronted by water, which amounts to 1794 km (1115 mi) of maritime borders, while just 40% are land frontiers, all 1,274km (754 mi).of it shared with neighboring Spain.

Portugal's topography is a blend of rugged mountain regions in the north and the east, drop-dead gorgeous coastline marked by dramatic cliffs in the south and the west, and rolling plains in the Alentejo and Ribatejo regions.

Flora

Kissed by the Atlantic winds, and located just at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea, Portugal's flora is a mix of Atlantic, European, Mediterranean, and even some African species.

The most iconic plants you might witness on your cycling through Portugal are the lavender flowers, which are also Portugal’s national flower, unending forests of cork oak (roughly half of the whole global cork production comes from Portugal!), and the Portuguese maritime pine.

Fun fact: The caravels (Spanish or Portuguese sailing ships used in the 15th century) used in 1492 by Christopher Columbus to navigate from Palos de la Frontera (southern Portugal) to America for the first time, were made with the two national representative trees - cork-oak for the frames, and maritime pine for the planking.

Fauna

The most common animals you might see while cycling in Portugal are wild goats, pigs, and deer. In the more remote areas, such as the Serra de Estrela (north), there are still wild wolves, while lynxes can be found in the Alentejo region (mid-south).

Other ubiquitous species are the fox, rabbits, and the overly-cute Iberian hare ( also known as the Granada hare).

The Algarve region (the southernmost region of Portugal), is a mix of wetlands and spectacular cliffs and beaches, where countless central and northern European birds migrate and spend the winter.

Last but not least, we need to talk about fish. Although you’re probably not going to see many alive fish while cycling in Portugal, you might find them plenty of times on your plate as the Portuguese love fish!.

The most common fishes you can find are sea bass, gilded sea bream, and the most loved European sardines.

Fun fact: Portugal is one of the largest producers and exporters of sardines in the world, and in most cities it is common to come across museum-like shops that sell visually incredible sardine cans of all shapes and colors.

Climate

Due to its geographical position of being surrounded on two sides by the Atlantic, being located Southern Europe, and at the door of the Mediterranean, Portugal’s climate changes dramatically through the year, but also from day to day.

On the whole, however, it has a warm Mediterranean climate.

The Algarve region in Southern Portugal is the warmest region of Portugal and is a favorite destination for European travelers and cyclists almost year-round.

With an average of 300+ days of sun a year, it’s also considered the sunniest region in the whole of Europe. Temperatures here range from mild in winter (5 - 10°C / 41 – 50°F), to being pleasantly hot in summer (20 - 31°C / 68-88°F).

The entire western coast, which extends from Sagres in the South to Lisbon in central Portugal, to Viana do Castelo in the north is widely affected by the Atlantic Ocean currents, which moderate the humidity and contribute to cooler temperatures ideal for cycling Portugal, especially in spring and autumn.

Moving further north in the hinterland, we find the regions of Braganca and Vila Real, which are both lush and green while also being rainy.

Overall, Portugal’s diverse climate can accommodate the preferences of most bicycle enthusiasts, but as we will see further in the article, it’s extremely important to plan your route and time of the year!

Economy

With a GDP of US $ 299 billion as of 2024, Portugal is the 19th largest economy in Europe and the 47th worldwide.

Its GDP per capita, however, is only US $28,969, which is roughly 20% lower than the European average, and comparable to middle-income countries of central and eastern Europe such as Poland, Hungary or Croatia.

As has been the case with several other European countries in recent years, Portugal’s economy shifted towards the service sector (66%), with tourism contributing an impressive 15% of the total national income. In 2022, Portugal welcomed over 28 million international travelers!.

Apart from services, the most important industries of Portugal are:

  • Cork Production: Portugal is the largest producer and exporter of cork in the world with over 50% of the global production while employing 13.000 people.
  • Renewable Energy: Over 54% of the country runs on renewables, mostly wind turbines.
  • Fisheries: Portugal is one of the largest exporters of sardines, tuna, cod
  • Port Wine: Port wine is Portugal's national drink and Portugal leads the world in the production and export of the sweet and fortified port wine, produced mostly around the Douro Valley.

According to Numbeo.com, the cost of living in Lisbon (the capital of Portugal and its most expensive city), is roughly 40% less than that in London, which is an important fact to keep in mind when budgeting your trip!

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Which Are the Best Regions for Cycling in Portugal?

While every corner of Portugal is special in its way, when you have limited time on your hands it’s always important to prioritize and choose the best locations for your itinerary.

Here's a lowdown on the best regions for cycling in Portugal:

1. Algarve

The southernmost region of Portugal is also its most popular when it comes to cycling. Algarve is best known for its sandy beaches, golf resorts, white-washed fishing villages. Faro and Lagos are the largest cities in Algarve, with Faro also being home to an international airport.

Must-see destinations in Algarve include

  • Praia da Falésia: Considered the most beautiful beach in Portugal, thanks to its red rock formations of varying colors topped by green pines.
  • Lagos: A coastal town famous for its breath-taking rock formations and panoramas
  • Salgados and Albufeira: Coastal villages famous for their lively atmosphere
  • Sagres: The south-westernmost point in Europe, famous for its iconic lighthouse!.

2. Alentejo

Just north of Algarve, Alentejo is the region where most of Portugal’s, and the world’s, cork oaks grow. It also has several charming medieval castles and picturesque villages, all adding up to a unique cycling experience.

When cycling through Alentejo, a few typical experiences cyclists can look forward to include

  1. Watching craftsmen working the cork to produce finished products including wine stoppers and cork balls.
  2. Eat “cataplanas” (local casserole prepared with seafood)
  3. See the megalithic sites (there are more than 800 dolmens and 450 megalithic settlements in Alentejo!)
  4. Cycle around Alqueva Lake, the largest man-made lake in Europe!

Alentejo is also known for its several natural parks and forest reserves. The most popular ones include:

  1. Parque Natural da Serra de Sao Mamede, PN.
  2. Do Vale do Guadiana
  3. Reserva do Estuario do Sado

3. Lisbon Region

Conveniently served by the Airport of Lisbon-Portela, the Lisbon region is the most lively and buzzing area of Portugal. While traffic here is more intense, as soon as one leaves the city center the scenery is replaced by natural beauty and soothing greenery.

Among the many sites that the Lisbon region has to offer, we recommend the following:

  1. Visit to Sintra and the Palacio da Pena, one of the few castles in Europe built just in the 19th century, by King Ferdinand II “the artist”
  2. The Atlantic Road or Estrada Atlantica that runs through a 60-km stretch along Portugal’s Atlantic coast, covering beaches and pine forests.
  3. Nazarè, a destination loved by surfers and the curious alike that is world-famous for some of the highest waves in the world!.

Porto, Douro Valley and the Norte

Enjoying a cooler climate in summer, the Porto region and the Norte region in the north of Portugal are ideal destinations for those who are planning to cycle Portugal in the summer months. The temperature in August, the hottest month, remains in the range of 16-25°C / 60-77°F..

Porto, considered by many to be the most romantic city in Europe, is a good base to start cycling in this part of Portugal.

From here, options are endless. However, the three most popular routes in this part are:

  1. Coastal road to Vila do Conde and Viana do Castelo, skirting the Atlantic Ocean.
  2. Braga, Vila Real, and the hills and mountains near Braganza.
  3. From the Norte region, there’s also a popular mountainous route that stretches into Spain and reaches the world-famous city of Santiago.

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Which Are the Best Cycling Routes in Portugal?

Here are three of the most panoramic, yet off-beat routes you can take when cycling Portugal:

1. The Algarve Coastal Bike Route

This is a coastal route that begins at Faro, then follows the Atlantic coast through Odeciexe, Sagres, Lagos, and Tavira before ending at Vila Real de Santo Antonio.

Highlights:

  1. The lighthouse of Sagres
  2. The lively town of Lagos
  3. Algarve’s capital Faro
  4. The lagoons of Ria Formosa

2. Alentejo Castle and Beaches Route

This is a thrilling journey into a land that seems frozen in time. Alentejo’s natural beauty is no less stunning than its history.

Highlights:

  1. Alluring medieval castles such as the stronghold of Monsaraz, and the historic Castle of Aljezur.
  2. The medieval village of Evora. A UNESCO world heritage site
  3. Forests of cork-oaks, wineries, and olive groves.

3. The Porto and Douro Valley Wine and Around Route

If you are passionate about wines, pedaling the Porto region, especially the Douro Valley is a no-brainer! This corner of Portugal is world-famous for its dark-colored port wines. The countryside around the Douro river is scattered with small farms and authentic wineries,and only the wine coming from the Douro Valley in Portugal can be classified as port wine.

Highlights:

  1. Visit Braga, famous for the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus, UNESCO World Heritage Site
  2. Braganca (Braganza), the northernmost town in Portugal, famous for its medieval architecture, and for providing the Portuguese crown with its emperors from 1640 to 1910 and the emperors of Brazil from 1822 to 1889.
  3. Cycle along the Douro river, visit the vineyards of the Douro valley, and sample some of the finest port wine in the world.

When Is the Best Time for Cycling Portugal?

Best Season

The best time for cycling Portugal is generally spring and autumn. However, there are certain regional variations in climate which we discuss below.

For pedaling through the mid-Southern regions of Lisbon, Alentejo, and Algarve, the best seasons are spring (Feb – May) and autumn (Sep-Oct), when temperatures are enjoyable and the tourist influx a lot more manageable.

Avoid the summers (June-July-august) as temperatures can scratch the 40°C (104°F).

However, for cycling the Atlantic Road (Estrada Atlantica ) and the northern regions of Portugal and the Douro Valley, the summer is fine, as the oceanic current ensures an enjoyable climate with bearable temperatures: (16-25°C / 60-77°F in the warmest month of August).

Winters (Nov-Feb) here are generally a time to avoid as rainfalls are frequent and temperatures might get well below 10°C (50°F).

Peak Season

Summer is Portugal’s peak season. From June to August, European tourists come to the peninsula looking for sun, beaches, and fun. Algarve is an increasingly popular destination and the most favorite of all! However, Lisbon and Porto also get pretty lively and crowded in the summer months.

The strong inflow of tourists makes hotel prices shoot up in summer, while roads become filled with cars and countless campervans and caravans alike.

The Alentejo region however remains more relaxed as there are not many mass tourism facilities in the region.

Off Season

The winter months from December to January are the low season almost all over Portugal with the sole exception of Lisbon, which attracts tourists year round.

Enjoying Portuguese Cuisine

Portugal has a culinary tradition that stands out on its own even by the high standards of a region choc-a-bloc with countries recognized as having some of the finest cuisines in the world such as Italy and Spain.

Some of the specialties you need to try when cycling in Portugal are:

1. Pastel de Nata

A world-famous Portuguese egg custard tart with a crispy, flaky pastry crust and a creamy filling. Believe me, you’ll see this yummy dessert everywhere you go, and it’s impossible to just “try” it and stop after the first one! However, for the finest Pastel de Nata, you will need to visit the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon. Established in 1837 and still being run by the descendants of the original founders, the Pasteis de Nata of the Fabrica were listed as among the ‘50 Best Things to Eat in the World’ The Guardian in 2009.

2. Cataplana do Marisco

A specialty of the Algarve, the Cataplana is a seafood stew cooked in a traditional Portuguese copper pot called “Cataplana. The dish usually contains a mix of shellfish, clams, prawns, and fish, cooked with seasonings such as onion, garlic, herbs, and tomatoes.

3. Bacalhau à Bras

A traditional recipe from Lisbon, Bacalhau a Bras consists of shredded salt cod, onions, and thinly chopped fried potatoes, all bound together with scrambled egg. In short, an explosion of flavors!

4. Sardinhas Assadas

For the Portuguese, sardines are sacred and come in hundreds of different seasonings! The Sardinhas Assadas are sardines grilled on an open flame, typically served with potatoes, salad, and a drizzle of olive oil. Incredibly yummy!

Portugal Visa Requirements

Portugal is a member state of the EU and part of the Schengen Area.

If you’re not a citizen of a member state, you can apply for a Uniform Schengen Visa which will allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days.

As of May 2024, there is no provision to apply for a Schengen visa online. Applicants must visit the Portuguese consulate in their country of residence and apply for a visa.

Applicants would need to the following documents when applying for a Schengen visa to travel to Portugal:

  1. A valid passport
  2. Two passport size photographs
  3. A printout of the duly filled out visa application form
  4. A cover letter explaining the purpose of visit to Portugal. This should include the proposed travel itinerary
  5. Schengen travel insurance
  6. Proof of sufficient funds to cover your duration of stay in Portugal

Citizens of Schengen Area countries do not need a visa to travel to Portugal for tourism purposes.

You can find more information on the EU Page for the Schengen application.

Handy Info

Currency

The official currency in Portugal is the Euro, which as of 2024 1 Euro = 1.10 US Dollar. All major credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express are accepted at most places in Portugal, and all merchants are obliged by European law to offer the possibility of paying by card.

This makes carrying liquid cash quite optional in Portugal, although having a small amount of cash on you is always a good idea as sometimes you might find vendors that won’t leave you a receipt for their services.

Transport

Portugal has 3 international airports where international travelers might land:

· Lisbon Airport (LIS) which serves the central region of Portugal and is connected to its capital city by an underground metro · Faro Airport (FAO) which is the best option to reach the southern part of Portugal · Porto Airport (OPO) which connects Porto City to the northern part of the country

As for the level of public transport in Portugal, we can say it’s pretty fair: more efficient and organized in main cities, and slower and more sporadic as you get further away from urban centers.

While any place is almost always reachable by public transport, private cars, bicycles, bikes, and also campervans, are the most common ways to explore Portugal.

From a cyclist's perspective, it’s useful to know that most buses and trains accept foldable bikes. However, they may not be properly suited to welcome standard ones.

Luckily, distances in Portugal are not enormous. The country is just 160 km ( 100 mi) wide on average, and 500 km (310 mi) from North-to-South. This means that with proper itinerary planning you probably won’t ever need to use public transport to go around.

Language

The official language of Portugal is Portuguese.

Compared to the Portuguese spoken around the world, such as Brazilian Portuguese or African Portuguese (spoken in Macau, Mozambique, and Angola), the Portuguese from Portugal sounds much more harsh and guttural, which is not always easy to pick up even for people knowing other Latin-languages such as Italian, French or Spanish.

That said, despite being located in Southern Europe (a region known for the low levels of English proficiency), in Portugal it’s common to meet locals who speak English fluently.

Fun facts: In Portugal, there are countless regional dialects such as Mirandese, Portuguese Sign Language, Leonese, and Caló. Even for locals, it’s hard to understand one another when speaking their respective regional languages!

Culture and Religion

Approximately 81% of Portugal’s population identifies as Roman catholic.

That said, people regularly attending mass and practicing are estimated to be around 19% and most churches are usually pretty empty (better for visiting though!).

The culture of Portugal is pretty unique, and during the centuries of colonialism, it has been exported to many parts of the world such as Brazil, India, and Africa.

Music in Portugal is ever-present and varies from pop to the expressive, calm, and profoundly melancholic “Fado”, the most renowned type of music from Portugal often played in pubs and cafès.

Tip: Sipping port wine on a beach bar while staring at the sea and listening to Fado, is probably one of the most “Portuguese” experiences you can try in Portugal.

A unique Portuguese festival that takes place every year in June, is the Festas de Sao Joao in Porto, where people follow the local custom of hitting each other with plastic hammers (really!).

Last but not least, it’s important to underline how the national cuisine is renowned for its delicacies: with over 1,000 different recipes you can never get bored of.

Seafood is a prominent ingredient of most local specialties such as the “bacalhau” (salted cod), the “caldeirada” (fish stew), and the “sardinhas assadas” (grilled sardines).

Appliances and Devices

Electricity in Portugal, as in most of the European continent, is supplied at 220-240 volts, and a frequency of 50 Hz.

If your device is not designed to operate at these voltages,you may need to use a voltage converter.

The electrical sockets in Portugal are Type F plugs (also called “Shuko”), which are the most common sockets found throughout Europe (same as Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Turkey, and all of Eastern Europe).

The shako socket is circular with two circular pins.

Mobile Coverage

While the southern coast of the Algarve and the Oceanic coast from Lisbon to northern Portugal all enjoy extensive coverage of both 4G and 5G, there are still some regions where the signal is not widely available. For this reason, if you plan to venture in the Alentejo region or to the Northeastern mountains of Portugal, it is always a good idea to download some offline maps in advance, or get yourself an old-school physical map.

Vodafone, MEO Mobile, and NOS Mobile are the main three mobile service providers.

Time Zone

Portugal is in the Western European Time (WET) zone, which is UTC+0. However, during daylight saving time, it switches to Western Europe Summer Time (WEST), which is UTC+1.

Through the Notes

Read: The novels of Jose Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the writings of Fernando Pessoa, considered the greatest poet in the Portuguese language.

Listen: Ana Moura (fado Singer), HMB (Portuguese Funky Soul), Amalia Rodrigues (historical fado Singer)

Watch : Amalia (2008 – the story about a beloved Fado singer that rose to fame), *Capitals de Abril *(history of the 1974 coup that overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship)

Eat: Grilled Sardines (in Lisbon), Baccalhau (in Algarve), Caldeirada (fish stew)

Drink: Porto Wine (in Porto), Sagres Beer (everywhere)

Learn: Learn to cook a Pastel de Nata in Lisbon or Porto, the art of Azulejos (tile painting), play a Portuguese guitar, learn surfing near Nazarè or in Algarve

Experience: Listen to Fado music, visit the romantic city of Porto, walk the stairs of the sanctuary of Bom Jesus in Braga, witness the tallest waves in the world in Nazarè, visit Lisbon, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra and its eclectic castle, cycle through Alentejo and the cork forests, party until the morning in Albufeira

Come Join Us in Exploring Portugal by Bike

Our Portugal bike tours are designed for cyclists who want to not only observe Portugal but also experience it. Each guided bike tour we offer is organized by a passionate local leader, who will provide you with all the support you need, world-class bikes and equipment, and plenty of tips and information on what to visit, where to eat local, and what to try.

Electric bikes are also available.

Get ready to discover the jaw-dropping kaleidoscope of Portuguese culture, history, and nature, and come to enjoy its roads with us!

For more information on cycling the best of Europe, refer to guides to cycling in Italy and cycling in Croatia.

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