Looking for some facts about Portugal? Portugal is a land of great food, great beaches, great surfing, and some of the most stunning old cities you’ve ever seen.
There is a lot of history in Portugal, and so many interesting Portugal facts to know. We’ve tried to narrow down some of the best. Let’s dig in!
33 Random Facts about Portugal
1. Portugal founded the first global empire
We’ll start off with one of the most interesting facts about Portugal. From the 15th century, Portugal really started upping their overseas colonies game. They did so well at it that it lasted for over 600 years and spread from Europe to Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, Southeast and South Asia. It was truly vast and powerful. When Macau was handed over to China in 1999, it marked the true end of the Portuguese Empire.
2. There are 250 million Portuguese speakers around the world
Okay, now this is one of my favorite fun facts about Portugal. This leftover of the empire means that there are a lot of different dialects – or creoles – of Portuguese spoken. From Angola, Mozambique, to Brazil, a lot of people across the globe speak this language. Fun fact about Portugal: a Portuguese speaker is called a Lusophone.
3. Portugal is one of the oldest nation-states in Europe
It’s been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times. Throughout the ages, it has been the home of Celts, Carthaginians, and Romans, to name just a few.
4. It’s also one of the most peaceful countries in Europe
With its low crime rates and high standards of living, it was ranked 3rd out of 163 countries analyzed on the Global Peace Index in 2019. A good diet also means that the average life expectancy is pretty high, too.
5. Rome invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 219 BC
That includes Portugal too, obviously. It took over 200 years, and the military brainpower of one of Rome’s greatest leaders – Julius Caesar – to properly consolidate their forces and annex “Iberia” once and for all.
6. Portugal’s oldest ally is… England!
Here’s a fun fact about Portugal for history fans. Dating back to centuries and centuries ago, England signed a treaty with Portugal back in 1386 (the Treaty of Windsor, if you must know). It’s also thought to be possibly the oldest and longest-running alliance between modern nations ever.
7. Lisbon was struck by one of the worst disasters in world history
Lisbon is one of the most amazing places to visit in Portugal, but did you know it has an interesting history as well? A super-violent earthquake, estimated at a magnitude of 8.5 to 9, brought utter destruction to Lisbon in 1755.
Not only was there the earthquake damage, but there was also widespread fire and even a huge tsunami that all but wiped out the city. Wow.
8. Then the city came up with an ingenious way of earthquake-proofing
Following the earthquake, Lisbon was rebuilt, naturally. But what was amazing was the way that they tested the strength of new buildings. Without the gizmos and gadgets of the modern-day, Portuguese authorities came up with an amazing solution: get soldiers to march around tiny models of buildings to simulate the ground shaking in an earthquake.
9. Lisbon’s Vasco de Gama bridge is really, really long
In fact, it’s Europe’s second-longest bridge at 10.7 miles. That’s pretty long for any bridge, let’s be honest. It crosses the Portuguese capital’s famous river, the Tagus, and is one of only two bridges spanning the Tagus in Lisbon.
10. The most famous dessert in Portugal is a custard tart
But it’s not just any old custard tart; this is the famous Pastéis de nata. These were created by a bunch of Catholic monks sometime before the 18th century.
At the monastery, they used egg whites for starch (laundry and all that), but what to do with the egg yolks? Bake ‘em into stuff, of course! Thus the tastiest custard tart in the world was born. You can enjoy it everywhere from Brazil to Japan, but Portugal is the best place for it.
11. Tempura is Portuguese
What? Tempura? That most Japanese of delicately fried goodness originates in Portugal. On their adventures around the world, the Portuguese came across Japan in the 16th century.
Before Japan decided to close its doors to trade, Portugal offloaded a number of gastronomic goodies onto the island nation – tempura being just one of them. The custard tart we just mentioned, castella cake, and even bread are loved by Japanese people today. This is definitely one of our favorite facts about Portugal (how couldn’t it be?).
12. The highest mountain in Portugal is Mount Pico
But it’s not on the Portuguese mainland. It’s actually situated on the island of Pico, in the far-flung Atlantic archipelago of the Azores. It’s super pretty, Fuji-level prominent, and towers an impressive 7,713 feet above sea level. It last erupted in 1720, and yes, it’s still active.
13. Portugal was occupied by Napoleon
Yep, the big man of Europe himself found his way to Portugal. He wanted everything, after all! So in 1807, French troops invaded Portugal, the royal family fled to Brazil (still a Portuguese colony at the time), but Portuguese forces and the British fought Napoleon off, eventually.
14. Algarve was once the name of a big slice of Portugal
The Algarve, a region in Portugal that’s now known for its beaches, package vacations for Europeans, and a myriad of resorts, was once the name of the entire country. The Moors occupied Portugal for centuries and called it ‘Algarve’ – literally, ‘the West.’
15. And there are a lot of Arab-origin words in Portuguese
Yep, all those years of Moorish conquest certainly left their mark on Portugal. Today, the language is littered with examples of Arab influence. There’s arrecife – coming from Arabic for “the platform” (ar-raṣīf), meaning “reef” – there’s saloia, meaning “rustic,” which came from the Arabic meaning the same thing… We mean, there’s tons. We can’t list them all here. Google it.
16. Portugal is home to a whole lot of birds
Because of its placement as a popular avian stopover on their migrations from Africa to Europe, Portugal plays host to a fantastic number of bird species. To be more precise, there are around 600 species of birds here. The Azores and Madeira are popular stop-off points for migrating African birds.
17. No one’s been executed for a crime since 1846
Capital punishment wasn’t carried out at all from 1846 and was finally outlawed in 1867. In fact, Portugal was the first country to abolish life imprisonment, too (1884). Today, the maximum number of years anyone can spend in prison is 25 years. Progressive or what?
18. Another thing Portugal is laid back about? Drugs
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the recreational use of all “common drugs” – these include cannabis, cocaine, LSD, and heroin. Possession of these is not illegal. However, if you’re found to be in possession of more than ten days’ worth, then you might get some jail time. You’ll also get offered rehab.
19. Millions of pilgrims journey to Fatima in Portugal each year
This is one of the most interesting facts about Portugal on this list! This Catholic pilgrimage is big news in Portugal. The numbers of pilgrims run from around six to eight million every year. The story goes that three shepherds (already fits the bill) allegedly spotted the Virgin Mary in their fields in 1917. A church was built on the site she was seen and hey presto, pilgrimage destination. Today, it’s one of the most significant Catholic shrines in existence.
20. The rooster is a symbol of Portugal
It’s a funny story actually. It’s a long one, but the general gist is that a dead rooster helped an alleged criminal prove his innocence. The rooster, called Barcelos, is celebrated to this day. It’s a popular souvenir item and comes in many forms – as a statuette, on a plate, a stuffed toy, etc. Fun fact about Portugal, right?
21. Lisbon is older than Rome
Sorry, Rome, we love you, but maybe you’re not the Eternal City after all. Archaeological evidence points back to an indigenous population, with a settlement at Lisbon dating back to at least the 8th and 6th centuries BC. These people traded with the Carthaginians, apparently.
22. Portugal was the first country to abolish slavery
Britain might have been the most publicized and famous slavery abolishment, in 1833, but Portugal did it far sooner. In 1819, Portugal, which admittedly (like Britain) played a big part in the slave trade, then abolished it. Makes the British Empire look more and more like copycats compared to progressive Portugal.
23. Porto wine comes from the world’s third-oldest protected wine-producing region
The most famous product of Porto, its eponymous wine known as port, is a big deal. It’s been popular for a long, long time. The Douro wine-producing region, named after the Douro River, is the third-oldest protected one of its kind. That’s after Hungary’s Tokaj-Hegyalja (1730) and Italy’s Chianti (1716).
24. Romans used to associate Portugal with Bacchus
Because of all the wine, the Ancient Romans actually used to associate the country with Bacchus. In fact, it went further than just an association. The Roman name for Portugal was “Lusitania,” which is derived from Lusus, the alleged son of Bacchus – Roman god of wine and merrymaking.
25. Portugal has its own martial art
Forget East Asia with its kung-fu, taekwondo, and karate. Portugal has its own mode of hand-to-hand combat. It’s called Jogo do pau, meaning “game of the stick.” Based on more knightly medieval techniques, it originated in the mountains of the north and was originally used by farmers as a form of self-defense. And it’s still practiced to this day!
26. Fado is a distinctly Portuguese style of singing
Dating back to the 1820s, Fado sprung up in Lisbon’s bars, cafes, and restaurants, and became an instant hit. Fado comes from the Latin fatum, which literally means “fate” but can also mean “death.” As you might expect, the music is loud and mournful, but ultimately zapped with unmatched power and energy all of its own. Which brings us to…
27. Portuguese are famous fatalists
Believing in their fate, whether it’s good or bad, is part of Portuguese culture. That’s what Fado is all about. Another good example is the amazing word, “saudade.” This is one of those allegedly “untranslatable” words that means an intense and sorrowful longing or nostalgia over someone – or something – that you miss and can’t get back. Missingness, maybe?
28. Portugal introduced all the best food to India
We mean, Indian cuisine wouldn’t be what it is without Portuguese trade. Its colonies and trading posts in the subcontinent (notably Goa) brought in a variety of foods from the New World. Notably the chili pepper, the tomato, and the humble potato.
29. Lisbon is home to the oldest bookstore in the world
It’s called Bertrand, and it’s beautiful. This incredible bookstore has been in operation since 1732 and is well worth a visit – even if you don’t feel like buying any books. Just going in here, soaking up the ambiance, and marveling at the ornate interiors is enough.
30. Portugal is mainly water
This may sound like one crazy fact about Portugal, but stay with us. The borders of Portugal actually stretch super far out into the Atlantic Ocean, capturing a lot of watery area around the Azores and Madeira, meaning that Portugal is basically about 95% water. Let’s do some more numbers: Portugal’s sea territory accounts for more than 18 times its land area.
31. Portuguese people eat a lot of fish
With all that water comes a lot of fish. There’s a lot of coastline for fishermen to use as their base, and a lot of sea to ply their trade in. This adds up to Portuguese people eating a lot of fish. No, really – Portugal is the third-highest consumer of fish on the planet. That’s after Iceland and Japan, of course.
32. You can find Europe’s westernmost point in Portugal
A geography-based fact about Portugal for you now, and yes, it’s true: you can find Europe’s westernmost point on mainland Portugal. No wonder they ended up setting sail and founding a colossal empire – they’re right out in the Atlantic Ocean! The westernmost point is called Cabo da Roca. The Romans called it Promontorium Magnum.
33. Portugal is home to the world’s most beautiful McDonald’s
Beauty may be subjective, but honestly, there’s a McDonald’s in Porto that is stunning beyond belief. It’s set in an amazing Art Nouveau building from the 1930s that formerly housed the once famous and iconic Imperial Cafe. Today, the McDonald’s here has taken the legendary and iconic title, complete with eagle statue and gold lettering above the door, ornate ceilings, and actual chandeliers hanging inside the “restaurant.” Amazing.
Quick Portugal Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Greek: “Yasou” and “Efharisto”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: Schengen visa. Which is 90 days in the European Union out of 180. Many nationalities are granted this on arrival for free. Check with your embassy to see if that is you.
- Weather: The weather in Portugal is a Mediterranean climate. This means winters are mild and rainy, while summers are warm and dry with plenty of sunshine throughout the year.
- What to Pack: Warm weather clothes and a swimsuit, don’t forget a good pair of clothes to go and a jacket for cool nights. Read about what to wear in Portugal.
Plan and Pack for Portugal
Portugal is a long and narrow country, and the weather in the North of the country is often different to the South. The Algarve, in the South of Portugal, gets around 300 days of sunshine per year. Porto and the North of Portugal, on the other hand, has a very different climate.
During winter, the weather can be damp, gray, and wet. If you’re planning on visiting both the North and South of Portugal, especially during winter, keep this in mind as you’ll need to pack appropriately for both types of weather.
You will definitely need an adaptor for your electronics on your packing list for Europe. We always keep one handy in our carry-on bags, that way we can charge electronics on arrival or at the airport.
Portugal outlets use the Europlug and I would recommend getting one before you land online. The price may be doubled if you show up to Portugal in an outlet emergency.
As Lonely Planet Pathfinders who regularly go on assignment for the guidebook company we love to have a physical guidebook when traveling. We spend enough time attached to our phones in everyday life and planning our trips.
Once we reach a destination like Portugal we put the phone away and pick up a guidebook to help with our trip.
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