Last Easter, I took a solo trip to Portugal. My 10 day adventure split between Lisbon and Porto – with a few small stops thrown into the mix – was one of my favorite trips to date. Sure, I got massively sunburned (whoops) and ate way too much lamb and fish and PASTRIES, and barely avoided a train strike, but oh my god, did I have a most incredible time. I experienced true kindness over lunch in Nazare and explored a literary gem in Porto.
Seriously, you guys, I miss Portugal so much. I was sorting through my photos last weekend when I should’ve been grading essays instead. I have a lot more I need to see and do in this magnificent country. Évora in the west, the spectacular beaches in the south, nifty university city Coimbra… The list goes on and on and on!
Full disclosure: Portugal was my 5th solo adventure so I was no stranger to having just me, myself, and I for company. I was confident in my abilities to navigate the trains, find local restaurants, and meet new people.
However, I still think this small European country – often overlooked by tourists – is an excellent choice for someone’s first time traveling alone.
So why should your first solo trip be Portugal when there are plenty of other destinations to choose from?
1. The hostels are the best in the world.
Do a quick google search of Portugal’s hostels and look at the reviews. Even if you don’t like hostels or (if you’re like me) feel like you’re too old for dorms, Portugal’s hostels are legendary and high quality.
My favorite hostel of all time is Home Lisbon Hostel. Home-cooked meals, a close-knit social atmosphere, walking tours, an excellent day trip to Sintra and Cascais, super comfy beds, top-notch facilities. I could rave about this place for hours. It truly felt like my “home away from home” to use a cliche phrase.
The country’s highly ranked hostels are so backpacker friendly, so you’re bound to meet plenty of other people on your journey.
2. The weather is gorgeous most of the year.
In April, the weather was sunny almost every single day meaning no awkward fumbling for my umbrella. I think it may have rained for twenty minutes, maximum, on my trip and at the time, I was cozy on a local train en route to Porto. The temperature was never higher than 80 (~27 C*) degrees either.
I’ll be totally honest here: I’m a diva when it comes to weather conditions. I don’t do well in the freezing cold or sticky humidity. I complain. Portugal’s weather was perfection.
Now, while I haven’t experienced this fact for myself, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Portugal remains comparatively mild in winter and summer months – thanks to its coastal position.
3. Most people speak English.
I don’t brag about it, especially since it feeds into the “ignorant American” stereotype, but with the exception of English, I don’t fluently speak any other languages. My French is shaky, at best, and let’s not even talk about my Italian.
It’s understandable for new solo travelers – particularly from the States – to feel daunted visiting a country that doesn’t have English as its “main” language.
Trust me, you don’t need to worry about no one understanding you here. The Portuguese speak fantastic English.
Now I’m not saying demand English at all times. You still wanna be polite and learn a few phrases of Portuguese to show respect for the culture and country. But if you’re hopelessly lost and scared out of your mind (try not to be), it’s very easy to find a fellow English speaker for assistance.
4. You aren’t in “Europe Disneyland.”
Yikes, time to admit something controversial.
A lot of places in Europe feel like Disneyland to me. Very touristy and commercial and Too Much.
Now I’m not writing off entire cities or countries as tourist traps like some elitists do. That’s total nonsense, right? For example, Paris receives tons of tourists every year, but I still felt certain neighborhoods were authentic and great to explore without crowds pressing me into the pavement.
However, around many major European sites like the Eiffel Tower or Spanish Steps or Westminster Abbey, I feel overwhelmed because I’m trying to avoid too many selfie sticks, cheap souvenirs, irritating “I found a golden ring!” scammers, and umbrella-wielding tour guides.
Luckily for all you new solo travelers, Portugal didn’t feel too commercialized to me. Sure, the trolleys going to Belem on Easter Weekend were a bit … hectic and Lisbon has its touristy sections, but the crowds didn’t even begin to compare to others you can encounter in Europe.
Not sure what to eat? Check out this food guide before your trip to Portugal.
5. Portugal is safe and easy to navigate.
I won’t talk about safety too much here. As a whole, Europe – West/Central/East – is a remarkably safe travel destination suited for travelers of all levels. Portugal is no exception.
Lisbon and Porto have some petty pick-pocketing problems, but nothing extreme and hardly anything violent. I’m cautious as a solo female traveler, and I can tell you that I felt both very safe and welcome in Portugal. If you’re from the USA (like me!), use the same street smarts you do at home.
As for navigation, I’d highly recommend the public transportation system in Portugal. My high-speed train from Lisbon to Porto was clean, efficient, and comfortable. Both cities had clearly marked subways and trolleys that were a piece of cake to use.
Being a new solo traveler, you don’t want to freak out at unreliable or expensive public transportation.
6. The price is very right.
Worried about the cost of a European trip? You can’t go wrong here. Overall, Portugal is an affordable country compared to destinations such as Germany, France, and especially Iceland.
For example, you can book a bed at a boutique hostel for roughly $15 and eat delicious Pastel de Nata for less than a $1 a piece.
How about free attractions? No problem. Go to any of Portugal’s fantastic beaches and soak up some rays!
7. There’s something for every type of traveler.
You wanna go to the beach? Visit the Algarve.
Do you love castles? Check out Obidos or Guimarães. Sintra. Definitely Sintra.
Wines? If you wanna give Porto tasting a shot, go to Porto in the north.
Want museums and old neighborhoods? Stay in Lisbon.
Find religion a fascinating subject? Go to Fatima.
As a solo traveler, you’ll never feel bored! 10 days wasn’t nearly enough for me to see everything this country has to offer.
8. You can easily build Portugal into a trip to Spain or Morocco.
If you gain confidence in Portugal, you can extend your trip into Spain or Morocco. I would’ve loved to head over to Spain, but alas, spring break is only a week and a half. I’m making up for it this year, though.
In addition, Portugal is a fantastic springboard if you have time to spare and wanna fly to the rest of the continent.
Are you planning a trip to Portugal? Even just Lisbon? Is Portugal on your bucket list? What towns and cities would you recommend for travelers? For more information about this amazing country, check out Lonely Planet’s most recent guide book.
Note: Some of the links are affiliate links and therefore I make a small commission on any purchases at no additional cost to you.
Other Portugal Resources
Here are some more posts to help you plan your solo trip to Portugal! Enjoy!