Portugal may have lost the World Cup semi-finals, but when it comes to your next trip for 2023, this picturesque European nation should take first place. I recently took my first solo trip to Lisbon’s dynamic capital city and Algarve’s stunning beaches in southern Portugal. After my experience, I can tell you that there is a myriad to love about a place that boasts beauty and substance, and why it’s a perfect destination for your first solo international trip. Here are six reasons why Portugal is a solo traveler’s dream:
It’s accessible to English speakers.
You don’t speak Portuguese? Don’t worry. It is estimated that about one-third of the country’s population speaks English. Restaurants had English menus and signs catering to American travelers, and most of my Uber drivers spoke English. Think again if you’re a Spanish speaker and plan to communicate that way; think again. The Portuguese favor an attempt at their language.
It is relatively safe.
When traveling, I enjoy exploring a new city on foot. Lisbon, the coastal capital city, is walkable and presented little risk during my stay. The only warning I received from locals was to beware of pickpockets on the famous Tram 28. Travel safety experts cite Lisbon’s low crime rates in finding that the city is safe for female solo travelers. While in the Algarve, I also felt comfortable exploring the cobblestone streets of Old Town Albufeira.
The Portuguese people are warm and welcoming.
A very patient Uber driver gave me an impromptu Portuguese lesson. My concierge at the Corinthia Lisbon Hotel made me a personalized map every day of my stay, which he created based on my points of interest. And while waiting to catch the high-speed train from Lisbon to the Algarve, a fellow traveler walked to the end of the platform (I thought he might fall off!) to confirm that I was catching the right train. These are only a few examples, but trust me, the people of Portugal will welcome you with open arms.
It is incredibly affordable.
Compared to France and other more popular European destinations, Portugal is one of the most affordable countries in Western Europe. To save additional coins, I recommend traveling during off-peak months (i.e., October to April). According to Lonely Planet, “[Hotel] prices are typically around 25% off high season rates” during those months. When I visited the Algarve in October, my 4-star hotel (including complimentary breakfast) near the beach was less than $100 a night. Transportation is significantly less expensive there: a 45-minute Uber ride in Lisbon was just under €10. And the USD exchange rate is almost equivalent to the Euro, meaning that your dollar will stretch farther than usual!
Portugal has an experience for every kind of traveler.
Despite being a small country, Portugal offers a wealth and diversity of backgrounds. For the cosmopolitan traveler, enjoy the tiled buildings, museums, fado music, and rooftop bars of Lisbon. Close to the capital city are day trips to Sintra, for fairytale-like castles that you can’t see elsewhere, and Cascais, a popular beach town with small-town charm. Porto, another popular city, boasts cruises along the Douro River Valley and port wine tastings. And speaking of wine, you can visit vineyards and taste the Portuguese countryside in the Alentejo region. For stunning beaches and caves and a renowned water park, you’ll find paradise in the Algarve. The Azores, an archipelago composed of 9 volcanic islands, has increasingly been referred to as the “Hawaii of Europe.” And Portugal attracts other solo travelers, so you’re likely to meet like-minded tourists regardless of which adventure you choose.
It is a place of cultural significance for people of the African diaspora.
In the 1500s, Portugal launched the Atlantic slave trade in Europe when the first slave ships arrived on the shores of Lagos in the Algarve region. The Portuguese were prolific slave traders, as evidenced by the sizeable Black population that still exists today in Brazil, one of Portugal’s former colonies. Curious about Portugal’s role in the slave trade and its history relevant to the people of the African diaspora? I highly recommend the Africa in Lisbon tour, a walking tour created by a local activist that traverses the streets of Lisbon and seeks to inform its participants with every eye-opening and thought-provoking step.
Karen J. Francis is a culture and travel writer. For more adventures and travel tips, follow her on Instagram at @culturebykaren.