We’re heading off to Portugal in just one month.
In preparation for our trip, we sorted through several travel guides and an endless amount of information and Portugal facts on the internet to get to know our destination a little better.
It’s always more fun when you have at least some background about the destinations that you’re visiting.
Here is a compilation of what we learned. A combination of interesting, educational, and sometimes funny Portugal facts. So definitely keep reading.
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Official facts about Portugal
Official name and history
Portugal is the westernmost country of the European mainland and it is officially called the Portuguese Republic. It’s the oldest sovereign state in Europe. It has had the same borders since 1139. It is one of the cheapest countries to visit in Europe.
The country is named after the country’s second-largest city of Porto. Portugal is an oral evolution from the Latin name for Porto, “Portus Cale”.
Portugal became the first global maritime power during the 15th & 16th centuries. Pioneering Portuguese explorers such as Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Álvares Cabral discovered new lands and founded new colonies making Portugal a major economic, political, and military power.
At some point in history, it divided the world with Spain.
Over the years Portugal’s empire has slowly been broken up.
Brazil gained independence after the revolution of 1910 and the African colonies of Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Timor-Leste, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in 1974 and 75.
Macau was handed over to China in 1999 and East Timor was granted sovereignty in 2002.
Portugal is a founding member of NATO and an EU member.
The Portuguese flag has a green and a red stripe and the national coat of arms. The current design was adopted in 1911, one year after the Monarchy officially ended.
The green color symbolizes the hope of the nation and the red stands for those who died for defending it during the Portuguese revolution in 1910.
The coat of arms consists of the armillary sphere and the Portuguese shield.
The first is symbolized in the flag as it was an important navigational instrument, an indispensable tool for the Portuguese explorers who used it to navigate the unmapped oceans.
Without this tool, Portugal wouldn’t have been able to build a world empire.
The five blue shields at the center of the coat of arms have a Christian meaning. They represent the wounds Christ and are associated with the Miracle of Orique.
This miracle tells the story of a divine messenger who appeared before Alfonso Henrique during the battle of Orique.
The messenger gave the count the confidence to continue the battle against his enemy although he was largely outnumbered, and as you can guess already, he won the battle in the end.
The seven yellow castles around the blue shields are traditionally explained as being the 7 castles that Alfonso II conquered from the Moorish enemies in the Algarve.
This may not be the correct explanation as the king is believed to have had eleven castles or even more.
Although the number cannot be explained with a 100% certainty one is sure that it is somehow related to Alfonso II as his arms consisted of a golden castle on a red field.
The capital of Portugal is Lisbon. It is also the largest city of Portugal.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and perhaps it may be the oldest city in Western Europe.
Although there seems to be evidence of older cities in Western Europe, Lisbon is certainly older than the more iconic capitals of London, Paris, and Rome.
For a short period of time, from 1808 to 1821, the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. This was because the Royals had fled the country after the invasion by Napoleon.
The official currency is the euro (€).
Portugal was one of the original member states of the eurozone and replaced the Portuguese Escudo for the euro in 1999.
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese.
English is the second most widely spoken language in Portugal. About 10% of the Portuguese population speak Spanish.
Except for Portugal, Portuguese is the official language of seven other countries: Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe.
In Brazil and São Tomé and Principe, the language is still the native language of the majority of the people. In other countries, the language is gradually becoming a second language for most inhabitants.
Portugal has a population of over 10 million people ( 10.262.048 in April 2019). 500,000 of them live in the capital, 2.8 million in the greater Lisbon Metropolitan area.
Portugal’s mainland is subdivided in 18 districts ( Lisbon, Leira, Santarém, Setúbal, Beja, Faro, Évora, Portalegre, Castelo Branco, Guarda, Coimbra, Aveiro, Viseu, Bragança, Vila Real, Porto, Braga and Viana do Castelo).
The Azores and Madeira form 2 autonomous regions.
If you are looking for a complete Azores itinerary, take a look here.
Due to their distance, geographic context and isolation they have their own organic laws, regional governments, and administration.
Portugal has only 1 land border and this is with Spain. The border was defined in 1927 making it one of the oldest borders in the world.
It has not changed since it was first mapped, but for over 200 years there has been a continuing dispute between Spain and Portugal over part of the border.
Portugal doesn’t recognize the part of the border between the Caia river and Ribeira de Cuncos. Due to this dispute, the border has a length of 754 miles according to Portugal, while Spain says the border has a length of 765 miles.
Regardless whether it is 754 miles or 765 miles, this border remains the longest uninterrupted border within the European Union.
Portugal has a Mediterranean climate and the country is the ideal destination for sun lovers.
It has the largest number of sunny days, in the Southern part of the country you get to enjoy 3,000 sunny hours per year on average.
No other country in Europe does better, not even Spain, Italy or Greece.
Although the entire country is said to have a Mediterranean climate, there are still major differences between the regions.
The Douro valley and the inland region in the Southern part of the country, including the Algarve, have very hot and dry summers.
If you are looking for a good hotel in The Algarve, take a look here.
The West Coast of the country and the Northern part with exception of the Douro valley have much milder temperatures during summer.
Spring starts early in Portugal. Nature already awakens late February and as early as March pleasant temperatures around 18-20°C can be enjoyed. As spring progresses the temperatures rise gradually.
You should bring some warm clothing because the temperatures drop sharply once the sun sets. Occasionally you might also get some rain.
This is one of the best times to visit Portugal for an active vacation.
Summers in Portugal are hot. The climate along the west coast is milder but the inland region and the south coast have average daytime temperatures around 30-35°C.
The days are long with about 10 hours of sunshine per day.
Once the sun sets the temperatures drop so you better bring a sweater if you fancy terracing until the wee hours.
This is the best time for a beach vacation. The beaches in the Algarve can get crowded.
If you prefer a more peaceful beach holiday you can consider the shoulder season which has equally good weather but fewer tourists.
Autumn brings cooler temperatures.
The difference in seasons is not really noticeable in September but towards the end of the month precipitation increases and the temperatures lower to around 17-20°C.
Winter in Portugal is mild. The coaster regions have the best temperatures. We visited the Algarve in January and loved it. The Northern part of the country is colder. At nighttime temperatures can drop below 0°C.
85% of the Portuguese are Roman Catholics. However, it’s not an official religion since church and state are separated since the first Portuguese republic ( 1910-1926).
The North tends to be more religious than the South.
Portugal is divided into 2 time zones. The mainland and Madeira are in the UTC+1 zone at the time of writing in May. This is the same time zone as the UK and one hour behind Spain.
The Azores islands are in the UTC+0 zone.
Portugal observes daylight savings time so from November to March the mainland and Madeira are in the UTC time zone and the Azores will be in UTC-1.
Interesting facts about Portugal
Let’s start with some Lisbon facts.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe
As we mentioned, Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world. It was founded by the Phoenicians in 1200 BC. This was a people of seafarers and merchants.
The location on the Tagus river near the Atlantic coast was ideal for their flourishing trade. The goods came in via the river and the sea and were sold to the tribes that lived further inland.
The cities origins can be traced back to the São Jorge castle at the Castelo Hill.
Lisbon wasn’t always the capital of Portugal
Lisbon has not always been the capital of Portugal. We have already mentioned how the capital was temporarily moved to Rio de Janeiro during the Napoleonic wars.
The royals fled the country to stay out of the hands of Napoleon and together with them the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro.
However, there were also 2 cities that preceded Lisbon as the capital. Guimarães was the first capital of the country. It was so for a period of 32 years, from 1096 when the country was founded until 1128 when Coimbra was made the capital because of the Reconquista.
Lisbon became the capital of Portugal in 1255.
In 1755 Lisbon was almost completely destroyed by a major earthquake
This earthquake is also known as the Great Lisbon earthquake or the All Saints day earthquake since it occurred on November first. The earthquake caused a tsunami and heavy fires that almost lasted for a week.
Almost the entire city and surroundings were destroyed.
The disaster killed 40,000 to 50,000 people, which is almost 20% of the population that lived in the city at that time.
Before the earthquake, Portugal was a flowering kingdom but after the earthquake, the Portuguese economy struggled to recover. The government was quick to launch plans to reconstruct the city but could not prevent the country from losing much of its wealth and status.
The fact that the earthquake took place on a religious day, destroying many churches altogether, also had an impact on the deeply devout Roman Catholic devotees from whom some lost their faith.
Today the remains of the convent of Carmo can be visited as a reminder to this day.
The Tower the Belém was originally on an island in the Tagus
This tower was built in the 16th century as a tribute to Vasco da Gama. Originally, the tower was on an island in the Tagus, but due to an earthquake the course of the Tagus changed and the tower now borders the quay.
Over the course of the years, this tower has proven to be really multi-functional. He served simultaneously as a defense tower and as a ceremonial gateway. It also served as a prison and customs office, but now it is primarily a tourist attraction.
The Lisbon Aquarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe
The Lisbon Aquarium, called Oceanarium, is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. It is a legacy of the expo of 1998 that at the time was dedicated to oceans to celebrate the 500-year jubilee of the discovery of the sea route to India. The aquarium was expanded in 2011 and now houses more than 15,000 different animals.
The highlight is the gigantic central tank where 4 ecosystems are mimicked: the three oceans and the Southern Polar Sea.
Definitely worth a visit during your Lisbon trip.
Lisbon is home to the world’s oldest bookshop and also to one of the smallest bookshops in the world
The Livraria Bertrand is the oldest bookstore chain in the world. The first store opened in 1732, so it has been open for more than 250 years.
In 2016 it was declared the world’s oldest operating bookstore by the Guinness book of world records. You can find the bookshop in Rua Garret.
The smallest bookshop can be found at the stairs that lead up to the castle, the Escadinhas de São Cristóvão. The bookshop is called Livraria Simão but is also often referred to as Livraria São Cristovão because of its location at the stairs.
The property used to be a tobacco shop and measures only 4 square meters. It can only fit one person but holds an impressive collection of more than 4.000 books, mostly second-hand books related to the heritage and history of Lisbon.
Lisbon is also home to one of the world’s most top secret recipes
If you are visiting Lisbon you must definitely try the famous Pasteis de Nata, also called Pastéis de Belém.
These small stuffed pies with pudding are one of the most famous sweets in Portuguese cuisine.
Traditionally the Portuguese will enjoy their pie with a cup of coffee.
They are sold in many cafés and confectioneries in Portugal but the original recipe is a well-kept secret that is only known by a small group of people.
The tarts were originally baked in a monastery and one of the monks sold the original recipe to a bakery in Belém when the monasteries were closed by the state.
That bakery, the Confeiteira Pastéis de Belém, has since then become famous.
They still use the original recipe to create these delicacies and according to them only the owners and 3 people working in the bakery know the exact ingredients.
One of the symbols of Lisbon is the raven
The coat of arms of Lisbon is a golden shield that has a black and silver lined ship on it. At both ends of the ship, you will find ravens that are facing each other.
According to the legend, the 2 ravens protected the body of São Vicente, the patron saint of Lisbon, after he was martyred and until his followers could bury him.
Flocks of raven even continued to guard his shrine in Sagres in the Algarve and accompanied the ship when his remains were transported to Lisbon in 1173.
This legend caused a cult for ravens in the city. The city even had a large cage with ravens in the São Jorge Castle.
Over the years the birds gradually started to disappear in Lisbon and today they can only be found in the coat of arms of the city.
People from Lisbon are nicknamed Alfacinhas
The origin of the term Alfacinha has a few different theories.
The first reference to the term reaches back into history to a 19th-century book called “Viagens na Minha Terra” by famous Portuguese author and playwright Almeida Garrett, who called Lisboans Alfacinhas.
A popular theory is that the term was introduced by the Muslims in the 8th century. Lettuce was growing abundantly in the Lisbon area around that time and the Portuguese word for lettuce is “alface”.
Lettuce remained plentiful even during lean times, and the people of Lisbon would gather in the outskirts of the city to consume great quantities of it with fish.
It is not certain whether this is the real origin of the name, but it certainly sounds very credible.
One of the most popular attractions in Lisbon is a tram ride
I cannot think of many places where a tram ride is on every tourist’s bucket list.
However, that is the case in Lisbon where the iconic yellow old ‘Remodelado’ trams still run. Some of these trams date back to 1930 but they continue to serve valiantly and will probably have to keep doing this in the coming years.
The most popular route for tourists is tram 28 which takes you in about 50 minutes along all famous sights in Lisbon.
This route is so popular with tourists that the trams are usually completely filled by tourists at their starting point and nobody manages to board the tram at the stops along the route.
Lisbon is built on 8 hills instead of 7
Old writings about Lisbon always refer to 7 hills. Therefor Lisbon has become known as the “city of seven hills”. However, the truth is that Lisbon is built on 8 hills ( São Jorge, São Vicente, São Roque, Santo André, Santa Catarina, Chagas, Sant’Ana, and Graça).
The first reference to the 7 hills dates back to the 17th century.
One thinks that leaving out the 8th hill was not as much a mistake and was rather done on purpose.
The number 7 was much more symbolic to the deeply roman-catholic inhabitants. There’re 7 deadly sins, 7 wonders in the world and the 7 mountains would make the city more like Rome that was built on just as many hills.
You will no doubt encounter the 8 hills during your visit to the capital.
Thanks to the many hills the city has some splendid vistas but oftentimes you will need to climb quite a bit to get there.
Comfortable footwear is therefore recommended for your visit to this city.
Sport Lisboa e Benfica is one of the world’s most widely supported football clubs
Sport Lisboa e Benfica is the pride of Lisbon. In 2006 the popularity of the football club was rewarded by the Guinness Book of World Records.
It was recognized as the “most widely supported football club” for it’s 160.398 paying members.
Since then the number of members has only continued to grow, in 2017 the club had 206.437 members.
Now that you know everything about Lisbon, let’s take a look at interesting facts about Porto.
Porto is also known as Oporto
Porto is the correct Portuguese word for Porto but the city is also known as Oporto.
This is because in Portuguese the name of the city includes a definite article: “o Porto”.
When the English arrived in the city, they had difficulties to pronounce the name correctly and added the ‘O’ to Porto.
This created the anglicized version ‘Oporto.’ Both names are in circulation.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon
Porto is the second city of Portugal. The city has 249.633 inhabitants, compared with 517.802 in Lisbon.
Porto’s historical center is a Unesco World heritage site
It was declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1996. The decision was made based on the outstanding universal value of Porto’s cityscape, which is a testament to the development of a European city over the past 1000 years.
The name Portugal comes from Porto
In Ancient Roman times, before Porto was a city, the portside area the city now occupies had the Latin name Portus Cale (or ‘Port of Cale’).
The name Portugal probably originated from this Latin name.
Porto’s most famous drink is Port
Port is actually produced in the Douro valley which is about 1h30 minutes’ drive outside of Porto, but lovers of this drink will be happy to hear that there’re numerous wine cellars in the city where you can taste and buy port wines.
People from Porto are nicknamed Tripeiros or Trip Eaters
People living in Porto are nicknamed “Tripeiros” or “Tripe Eaters”. This nickname comes from the city’s signature dish ” tripas à moda do Porto” which is a stew with pig’s ear, cow’s stomach etc.
The prospect of eating tripe isn’t really appetizing and the dish doesn’t look so delicious either. It makes one wonder how this could become a signature dish.
The legend says that during the time of the discoveries in the 15th century the ships that later gained the victory over Ceuta in North Africa were built on the banks of the Douro river. The inhabitants of Porto supplied the shipbuilders with meat and they put themselves in second position eating what was left such as the tripe.
Once they heard the news that the fleet was successful in conquering the Ceuta they took enormous pride in this and the tripe dish was promoted to a signature dish.
Porto is the home one of the biggest football teams in Portugal, Futebol Clube do Porto (FCP)
The most popular sport in Portugal is football (soccer), the national team finished 3rd in the 1966 World Cup, 2nd in Euro 2004, and 4th in 2006 World Cup.
Porto is also called the city of bridges
Porto is often called the “City of Bridges”. The city has 6 iconic bridges. They’re very popular on Instagram and they’re extensively described in all the travel guides about Porto.
One of them is even designed by Gustave Eiffel which we all know from the Eiffel tower in Paris.
Each of the bridges has its own story. They were at their time of construction record holders for their span width and arch. Although they lost their titles they remain very popular with both locals and tourists, even to the point that one of them is no longer used but remains in place as an icon of the city.
If you want to discover more about the history of these 6 bridges, this Porto 6 bridges tour is something for you. You will board the original boats that used to transport the Port Wine barrels from the Douro valley to Porto and learn more about the history of these 6 iconic bridges as you sail beneath them.
The Francesinha sandwich is their iconic dish
The Francesinha sandwich, often simply called the “Frenchy”, is a Portuguese national sandwich that originated in Porto.
The croque monsieur like sandwich was created by returning Portuguese emigrants who had been to France and Belgium.
It’s made from white bread and it has ham, roast beef, and linguiça sausage on it. It’s covered with melted cheese and a special tomato beef sauce.
It’s usually served with a fried egg on top and french fries on the side.
Did you ever try it?
Speaking of pleasure food…
Porto has one of the most beautiful Mc Donald’s
This Mc Donald’s is located in the building of the former Café Imperial, a famous old coffee shop in art deco style.
When Mc Donald’s opened this branch in 1995, they restored the complete building and kept all the details as they were original.
This is without any doubt the most beautiful Mc Donald’s in the world.
The famous writer J.K Rowling used to live in Porto
J.K Rowling lived in Porto from 1991-1993. During these 2 years has taught English.
It is said that Porto provided her much inspiration for her Harry Potter series.
If you are a Harry Potter fan and you visit Porto, you must definitely visit Cafe Majestic, that she frequently visited to work on the Philosopher’s Stone.
Another place you should visit is the Lello bookstore. Its incredible twisted staircase is believed to have inspired her for the grand staircase at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Other inspiration may have come from the long black gowns worn by University of Porto students, the brush and broom store Escovaria de Belomonte, and the lion fountain outside the university, which is rumored to be the inspiration behind the ‘Griffin’.
So when you head to Porto, take a Harry Potter’s inspiration Tour and judge for yourself if J.K Rowling was inspired by these places to write her Harry Potter series.
More interesting facts about Portugal
Portugal has 15 UNESCO world heritage sites
14 of them are cultural sites and one of them is Natural.
- Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995)
- Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
- Monastery of Batalha (1983)
- Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
- Historic Centre of Évora (1986)
- Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996)
- University of Coimbra – Alta, and Sofia (2013)
- Historic Centre of Guimarães (2001)
- Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
- Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (2012)
- The landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture (2004)
- Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde (1998,2010)
- Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores (1983)
- Laurisilva of Madeira (1999)
How many did you already visit?
Portuguese Fado was classified as world cultural heritage by UNESCO
The word Fado comes from the Latin word for destiny.
This often melancholic sounding music occupies a special place in the lives of many Portuguese.
It is so interwoven with the Portuguese culture that it is often seen as national music.
In 2011 Fado was added to the list of intangible cultural heritage assets of Portugal by UNESCO.
The unofficial symbol of Portugal is a rooster
The Barcelos rooster can be found in many forms in local and gift shops.
The origin of this symbol takes us back to Barcelo, a city in the Braga district, in the 15th century. According to the legend, a pilgrim was suspected of stealing silver from a farmer as he made his passage.
After being declared guilty, he proclaimed his innocence and said to the judge that had condemned him that his innocence would be proven by a dead rooster that would crow when he was hanged.
As the pilgrim had predicted, a roasted rooster in the judge’s house stood up and crowed at the moment that the pilgrim’s sentence was executed. The judge rushed to the place where the sentence was executed and noticed that the man luckily survived his sentence thanks to a poorly made knot in the rope.
The pilgrim was, naturally, released immediately after these facts.
There are different stories about what happened exactly but the rooster plays a crucial role in all of them and that is the reason why the Barcelos rooster is a common sight when you visit Portugal.
Football icon Cristiano Ronaldo is Portuguese
Cristiano Ronaldo, who is often considered to be the best football player in the world, is originally from Madeira.
One of the oldest universities in Europe is in Portugal
The University of Coimbra was established in 1290 in Lisbon and moved to Coimbra in 1537.
It’s the oldest university in Portugal and one of the oldest universities in Europe.
The university is located in some beautiful historic buildings such as the Royal Palace of Alcáçova and the Joanine Library.
In 2013 it was added to the World Heritage List by the UNESCO.
Portugal has the biggest artificial reef in Europe
The reef was created at the request of the Portimão City Council with the intention of promoting underwater tourism in the region.
They called the project “Ocean Project Revival” and created an artificial reef by sinking 4 naval warships near Portimão in The Algarve.
Here is the list of the most beautiful towns in the Algarve.
The project’s name is based on the idea that the recycling of the ships as artificial reefs means that rather than disappearing, they are instead given a second life.
In Nazaré you can find some of the biggest waves in the world
Nazaré an old fishing village situated about 1h30 minutes drive from Lisbon. The giant waves naturally attract many surfers but the waves are so spectacular that they have even become a tourist attraction in themselves.
The waves are produced by the presence of an underwater canyon, the Nazaré North Canyon.
This canyon adjusts the direction and the speed of the waves but most importantly increases their size.
In 2017 Rodrigo Koxa set a new world record for the “Biggest Wave ever surfed” in Nazaré by riding a wave of 24 meters (80 feet).
To see these big waves yourself you will have to go to Nazaré in the winter, somewhere in between October and March.
Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world
Portugal produces more than 50% of the world’s cork supply. It has about 1.6 million acres of cork forests. That makes it the biggest producer followed by Spain, Algeria, and Morocco.
It is a very sustainable business since you don’t kill the tree, you just take off the bark. This can be done every 9 years.
Everybody knows the wine cork but you can also find handbags, clothes, shoes or umbrellas made from cork. Cork is also more and more used in construction for floors or insulation purposes.
The Portuguese company Amorim produces more than 4 billion corks every year. That makes it the world’s largest producer of cork stoppers.
Codfish is considered the national dish in Portugal
Codfish, sometimes also known as bacalhau, is considered to be the Portuguese national food.
It’s prepared in many different ways. You can enjoy it fried, grilled, baked and caned.
It is said that in Portugal alone more than 1000 recipes exist.
In some Portuguese regions, the turkey had to give way to the codfish as the traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
Portugal was the world’s first maritime power
They achieved this thanks to their guts and innovation.
Besides that, they didn’t believe that the earth was flat and they also had the best navigational tools in the 14th and 15th century.
This resulted in many discoveries and made Portugal extremely rich during this time. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias made it around Cape of Good Hope.
The Portuguese were the first European people to arrive in Japan
But it didn’t stop in Brazil, in 1543 the Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in Japan.
They started trading and from that point onward both countries started influencing each other.
The Portuguese, for example, introduced Christianity in Japan and also influenced the Japanese gastronomy by introducing the Japanese to Tempura and refined sugar.
The Japanese were also very interested in Portuguese weapons. Conversely, Japan could export many products to Portugal like swords, silk, silver etc.
Portugal also purchased Japanese as slaves until slavery was abolished in 1761.
The Portuguese pirate Bartholomew drew up the first Pirate code
The Pirate code was a code of conduct for pirates and contained rules for behavior, discipline, the distribution of stolen goods, etc.
One of the earliest sets of rules was drawn up by the Portuguese pirate Bartholomew.
Between 1926 and 1974 Portugal was governed by a military dictatorship
The Portuguese dictatorship is considered as one of the longest in Europe.
It was heavily criticized after World War II and the peaceful Carnation revolution finally ended the dictatorship on April 25, 1974.
Since then April 25 is a national holiday.
Portugal was the 8th country in the world to allow same-sex marriage
In 2010 Portugal legalized same-sex marriage and since 2016 same-sex couples can also adopt children.
Ian Fleming got the inspiration for his book, Casino Royale in Estoril
His book Casino Royale was inspired by certain events that took place during his wartime career as a personal assistant of Admiral Godfrey the Director of Naval intelligence.
During a trip to Portugal, they visited the Casino in Estoril. Portugal had maintained a neutral status during the war and had attracted many spies as a result.
According to Fleming he had been playing to German spies that night but his Admiral has always denied this story.
His version of the facts is that he had made this story up to make it sound more spectacular and to cover up the huge losses he suffered that night.
He says that Fleming was playing with regular Portuguese businessmen.
Portugal has Europe’s oldest tea plantation
Gorreana tea operates since 1883 and can be found in São Miguel on the Azores.
Aristides de Sousa Mendes issued more than 10.000 visas during the Holocaust
Aristides was working as the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux during the second world war. By granting these visas he allowed the Jews safe passage to Portugal.
By doing so he ignored the orders of his superiors who were unofficially supporting the Hitler regime.
Therefore he was honored by Israel with “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Portugal had a huge influence on world cuisine
Portugal’s cuisine may not be seen as refined today but the cuisine was at the origin of several famous dishes.
Portuguese Jesuit missionaries invented tempura (dish of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood) in Japan.
African’s popular spicy Piri-Piri sauce is not invented on that continent, the origins can be traced back to the Algarve, it is an invention from the Portuguese.
Portuguese also introduced chili pepper potatoes and tomatoes to India and Thailand, without which curry wouldn’t exist! Not to mention, they also brought coffee to Brazil and the ukulele to Hawaii.
Lastly, there’re the delicious “pastel de nata” or “pastel de Belém”, the famous Portuguese custard tarts which have conquered the world.
Variants on these tarts can be found worldwide.
Most notably are the green tea variants, a recipe created by Japanese chefs after they were introduced to the original pastel de nata. You can find these all over Asia.
Drugs were ‘decriminalized’ in Portugal in 2001
Today it is still illegal but as long as the amount of drugs you possess is no more than a personal 10 day supply it will be seen as an administrative offense and no longer a criminal offense.
Portugal has one of the highest emigration rates in the EU
In 2017 more than 2.3 million Portuguese lived outside of Portugal.
This means that 1 in 5 Portuguese lives outside of Portugal.
Portugal is also known as the “country of tiles”
When foreigners refer to azulejos they’re taling about the glazed and nicely painted tiles that are used to decorate houses, palaces and these days even metro stations. But In Portuguese, azulejo really just means tile.
When you are traveling in Portugal you will see these azulejos everywhere.
These tiles were first brought to Portugal by the Moorish invaders. Nowadays, they are a part of Portugal’s history and culture.
Keep your eyes open when you’re traveling through the country. Both modern and classic versions of the tiles can be found.
We list many beautiful spots in our Lisbon article, in Porto there’s a beautiful piece in the São Bento train Station.
If you cannot get enough of these tiles you can pay a visit to the Azulejos museum in Lisbon.
Fun facts about Portugal
Now that we covered the basics, let’s continue with some fun facts about Portugal.
Lisbon is home to the world’s only public tie mirror
Do you sometimes find it so difficult to tie your tie? This mirror will help you. You can find it on D. Pedro IV Square, also called Rossio square because it’s in the heart of the Rossio district.
When your tie is not correctly knotted the mirror will even give you a message to “Correct your tie’s knot”.
Make sure to pass by this square before you head to that fancy party.😏
The world’s largest omelet was made in Portugal
In 2012 55 people worked for more than 6 hours to make this gigantic omelet.
More than 145.000 eggs were used.
The omelet weighed more than 6.466 kilograms and was made in Santarém during the Immigrant Festival.
The first cross border zip line goes from Spain to Portugal
Do you feel like crossing the border in an original way? This zip line might be what you’re looking for. It is called Limitzero and can be found in The Algarve.
You will zip across the Guadiana river, you leave in Spain and arrive in Portugal.
Even better, once you arrive in Portugal you will have gained one hour, kind of a time-travel experience 😀
The zip line crosses a distance of 720 meters and you can reach speeds between 70-80 km per hour.
The Museu dos Fosforos has the largest collection of matchbox designs on display in the world
We’re not talking about the popular car toys but the boxes that were used to sell matches. (Did you know that the car toy brand decided on the name matchbox because their original packaging was very similar to these boxes?)
The collection displays more than 43,000 matchboxes spread across 7 rooms and another 16.000 matchbox covers can be found assembled in scores of books.
You can find the museum in Tomar.
Weird facts about Portugal
Portugal holds the records for the shortest reigning monarchs in the world
Crown Prince Luís Filipe of Portugal was with 20 minutes technically the shortest reigning monarch in the world.
His father Dom Carlos was assassinated in 1908 which made him entitled to the throne but, unfortunately, he was also fatally wounded during the same attack and died only 20 minutes later.
He shares this record with Louis-Antoine de France who only sat 20 minutes on the throne before he abdicated.
Portugal has a few bone chapels
A Capela dos Ossos is a small chapel made out of human bones. Portugal has several of such chapels. The biggest one can be found in Évora.
Often you can find an inscription at the entrance such as “We, the bones that are here await yours.” reminding you of your humanity.
It sounds kind of creepy to us.
Portugal once had a dead Queen
In the 14th century Pedro, the son of King Alfonso IV, had a relationship with Inès De Castro, a lady-in-waiting.
The relationship made the king uneasy because Inès was not seen as qualified to become a queen.
Pedro’s lawful wife died in 1345 and this brought the two lovebirds even closer to each other, much against the will of the King.
He banished Inès from the court but when his son would not concede he ordered the assassination of Inès.
Pedro ascended the throne in 1357. According to a legend, he had Inès body exhumed at this point and she was crowned as the queen after her death.
They are both buried in the Alcobaça monastery. More about this monastery further in this article.
Portugal has a church shaped like a UFO
The Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Fatima is a very large modern church in a UFO shape.
It can accommodate up to 8.600 worshippers.
It’s illegal to urinate in the ocean
In Portugal, according to local law, it’s illegal to pee in the ocean. Although it’s not clear how you can get caught.
Portugal has one of the most efficient ATM systems in the world
You cannot only use them for withdrawing cash, but you can also pay your income tax and social security, pay utility bills and buy concert tickets.
It’s one of the most efficient ATM systems in the world.
In Portugal, some first names are forbidden
The government has an 80-page guide on which baby names are allowed and which are forbidden.
Aiden, Ashley, Bruce, Charlotte, Dylan, and Jenny are all banned because foreign names are not permitted to be given to Portuguese babies.
Another rule is that babies must be given full names, nicknames or abbreviations are not allowed. Thomas or Catherine are fine but don’t think about calling your children Tom or Kate.
Other banned names include references to pop culture, so there’s no chance you’d get away with naming a baby Rihanna.
Let’s finish our list with the most famous Portugal landmarks
The Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon
The Portuguese king has built this monumental and richly decorated building to show the country’s wealth to the world.
After all, the money flowed smoothly after Vasco da Gama set foot in the Dutch East Indies.
The associated church, which you can visit free of charge, is also dedicated to Vasco da Gama and is decorated as lavishly as the Monastery.
Vasco da Gama was also buried in this church.
The Belém tower
The Belém tower was built in the 16th century as a tribute to Vasco da Gama. Originally, the tower was on an island in the Tagus, but due to an earthquake the course of the Tagus changed and the tower now borders the quay.
Over the course of the years, this tower has proven to be really multi-functional.
He served simultaneously as a defense tower and as a ceremonial gateway.
In the following years, the tower also served as a prison and customs office, but now it is primarily a tourist attraction.
São Jorge castle
The Castle of São Jorge is the most famous castle in Lisbon.
The castle sits on a 110-meter-high hill, the highest in the city, and towers high above the city.
The castle started as a small fort in the 5th century but over the years it was regularly expanded and the castle now counts 11 towers.
The Benagil Sea Cave in the Algarve
This cave is one of the most famous and beautiful sea caves in the Algarve. It can only be reached by boat.
Here you will find more info about visiting the Algarve and why this is also nice during winter.
Dom Luis I Bridge in Porto
The (Dom) Luis I bridge is the icon of Porto. It was built between 1881 and 1886 and spans the river Douro between Porto and Gaia.
Locals have dropped the Dom from the name because King Luis I, after whom the bridge is named, never showed up for the inauguration.
The Luis I bridge is a double-deck bridge. The lower level is reserved for cars and the upper level for trams. Pedestrians can use both levels.
Although you will enjoy beautiful views of Porto from here it’s not for the faint at heart since it’s about 85 meters from the ground and when it’s windy, it might wobble a bit.
Obidos castle in Obidos
The medieval castle of Obidos can be found in the Medieval city of Obidos about 1h drive from Lisbon.
You can walk the castle walls from where you have amazing views on the surrounding vineyards.
The Alcobaca Monastery
The Alcobaca Monastery is about 1h30 minutes drive from Lisbon. It is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Portugal and since 1999 it’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The church and monastery were the first Gothic buildings in Portugal.
The beautifully decorated royal tombs of King Pedro I and his alleged queen, Inès de Castro can be seen in the church of the monastery.
I came across some very interesting facts when making this article. I always enjoy learning about the places I visit so I hope you these interesting and funny facts about Portugal will also make you understand the country better.
Portugal’s rich past was a common thread through many points. This is also what makes a visit to this country so worthwhile. Many of the monuments that date back to this period are very well preserved. They are just as impressive as they must have been in the past.
Do you know some other facts about Portugal? Feel free to share them in the comments!
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