33 FUN & Interesting Facts About Portugal

Looking for some fun 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!

Fun Facts about Portugal

1. Portugal founded the first global empire

Fun facts about Portugal

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

Carvoeiro Beach - Best Beaches in the Algarve to visit

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 and 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

Facts about Portugal

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

Praia do Zavial 2 - Best Beaches in Algarve

With its low crime rates and high living standards, it was ranked 4th out of 163 countries analyzed on the Global Peace Index in 2021. A good diet also means the average life expectancy is pretty high.

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 the oldest and longest-running alliance between modern nations. 

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 also has an interesting history?

A super-violent earthquake, estimated at a magnitude of 8.5 to 9, brought utter destruction to Lisbon in 1755. There was not only earthquake damage but also widespread fire and even a huge tsunami that 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 how 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

Facts about Portugal

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 many 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 several 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

Facts about Portugal

Yep, the big man of Europe himself found his way to Portugal. He wanted everything, after all! So in 1807, French troops invaded Portugal, and the royal family fled to Brazil (still a Portuguese colony then), but Portuguese forces and the British fought Napoleon off eventually.

14. Algarve was once the name of a big slice of Portugal

Praia do Camilo - Best Beaches in the Algarve

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 many 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

Okay not one of the most fun facts about Portugal, but an interesting one nonetheless. 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, ” including cannabis, cocaine, LSD, and heroin. Possession of these is not illegal. However, if you’re found to possess more than ten days’ worth, you might get 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

Facts about Portugal

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. 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 – the 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

Portugal Packing List

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. This 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 mean 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

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 operating 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

Praia de Benagil - Best Beaches in the Algarve

This may sound like one crazy Portugal facts but stay with us. The borders of Portugal stretch super far out into the Atlantic Ocean, capturing a lot of watery areas around the Azores and Madeira, meaning that Portugal is 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

All that water means a lot of fishing grounds. There are a lot of coastlines for fishermen to use as their base and waters for the fisherman to access. This adds up to Portuguese people eating a lot of fish.

No, Portugal is the third-highest consumer of fish on the planet. That’s after Iceland and Japan.

32. You can find Europe’s westernmost point in Portugal

Best Beaches in the Algarve

A geography-based fact about Portugal for you now is 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, McDonald’s here has taken the legendary and iconic title, complete with an eagle statue and gold lettering above the door, ornate ceilings, and actual chandeliers hanging inside the “restaurant.” Amazing. 

Quick Portugal Travel Tips

Best Time to Visit Portugal
  • ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Portuguese: “Olá” and “Obrigado”
  • 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 For Your Trip

About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

1 thought on “33 FUN & Interesting Facts About Portugal”

  1. Natasha,
    You make it easy for someone [like me] to consider international traveling! I get excited about the idea of experiencing something so big, so beautiful and so magnificent that it takes my breath away! The images and info found on “theworldpursuit.com” offer just a glimpse of the beauty, fun and interesting facts, history and before-you-go suggestions of some places around the world! Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Comment