Portugal is the Mecca for all campervan or van dwellers with its deserted sandy beaches and very relaxed view on wild camping. If it isn’t already, make sure you add it to your list. After living in and exploring this stunning country, we have put together some details on travelling in Portugal that we wish we’d known before we went. Hopefully this will make your experience as easy as possible so you can get to enjoying your time in Portugal right away.
There are essentially two road networks in Portugal. Pay to play (toll roads) and the standard road network. The roads are certainly a tale of two halves.
The pay to play is not cheap but has been voted the best road network in Europe and if you want to get somewhere quick it is your best option. If you are inclined to utilise the best motorway network in Europe head to this page for more information on them https://gotoportugal.eu/en/toll-roads-in-portugal/.
It’s a requirement that toll roads have a free road that roughly follows beside, so if you are avoiding Toll roads, they begin with A and have an adjoining number. While they are free, the road surface is often very poor, also speed limits and the layout of roads mean journeys will be longer.
Free Camping or Campsites?
As mentioned above, Portugal is a vanlife haven and that is in part due to its stunning wild camp sites. You will not struggle to find places to camp. If you don’t already have it, get the Park4Night app which lists a huge number of places people have stayed, often with photos. Camping along the west coast appears to be-problem free but there have been an increasing number of incidents along the Algarve coast which means you just need to be a little more vigilant when choosing where to stay.
Wild camping, like almost everywhere, is a grey area. It is largely accepted, provided you keep it clean, tidy and move on regularly enough. The police are particularly active in the south during peak season June-August so be aware you might get moved on (we have heard of people getting hefty fines) but we wild camped the entire time we were there (March to April) without issue.
Aires are still very sparse in Portugal but the number is increasing weekly, as such many of the places you’ll stay will take a bit of off roading to get to but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Not just that, most of them for max 15€ will have pools/ washing machines/ toilets and showers so don't rule them out.
Like much of Europe, water isn’t hard to come by. There are often filling points along beach fronts. However, Intermarche embraces the camper lifestyle with the supermarket chain normally catering for black and grey water and fresh water. Most are free, but if you’re in the Algarve expect to pay a few euros for fresh water.
Not the cheapest but not the most expensive country we visited.
Unlike Spain and France, supermarkets are open 7 days a week. Lidl is kinda a big deal in Portugal, offering a pretty good selection of fruit veg and staples, And as always very cheap it was our go to.
Intermarche, Continente and Pingo Doce supermarket offer a wider selection of food but they are not quiet as cheap we found at Lidl for most things.
Portugal also has some amazing food markets that pop up in almost all towns and cities
that offer amazing local produce. You can find homemade hummus, breads, jams and conserves, olive oil and a huge array of locally produced fruit and veg that will have be far fresher that store bought but also normally organic. Some markets will also have fresh fish on offer too! While not always cheap, it’s is far tastier and healthier than store bought and you’ll be helping support local communities.
Petrol and diesel prices are not cheap almost matching that of France in places, they will also vary wildly with two stations close to each other varying as much as 15 cents a litre.
Intermarche filling points offered the cheapest diesel by region for us so if you spot one, fill up.
Diesel Cost per litre at writing 1.35 to 1.59
Portugal isn’t particularly touristy along much of its coast and that’s what makes it so incredibly vanlife friendly, but unlike Spain and France finding a toilet along the beach is not as easy. So expect to become closer to nature or be prepared to head to the supermarkets that all (including Lidl) offer facilities.
As always, if you’re going out in nature, be respectful.
Passadaicos Do Paiva
Peneda-Geres National Park
Hello = Ola
Good morning = Bom Dia
Good afternoon = Boa tarde
Good bye = Adeus
Thank you = Obrigado (m) / Obrigada (f)
Please = Por favor
Sorry = Desculpa
Excuse me = Com licenca
Yes = Sim
No = Nao