Is Portugal safe to visit? That’s what we’re here to answer. So, if you’re wondering what dangers await in this wave-lashed land of shimmering gold-sand beaches and olive-clad hills, this 101 should have the info you’re looking for.
We’ll break it down, to take a peek at several aspects of safety in Portugal. Starting with a general overview and then an in-depth look at what it’s like to travel as a solo female, what are the potential natural hazards in the oceans, what tourist scams exist in the country, and whether Portugal is safe at night.
We hope you’ll get all the details you need to click “book” on that hotel behind the Algarvian beaches and golf courses or amid the historic neighborhoods of Lisbon without worrying too much if you’ll come back home in one piece…
Table of Contents
Is Portugal safe for tourists?
Portugal is one of the most-visited countries in Europe. It sees a whopping 27.9 million travelers every year (and that’s rising). It’s also estimated that there’s over 900,000 expats currently residing in the home of salt cod and surf beaches. On the simplest level, those aren’t the sort of stats you see for a place that’s considered dangerous or unsafe.
But there are more numbers to back up that hunch. Portugal ranks fourth on Vision of Humanity’s 2021 Global Peace Index, a worldwide league table that lists countries based on factors such as political strife, organized conflicts, political terror, and the number of homicides per 100,000 head of population. Just to be clear: That’s fourth overall; fourth of 164 nations. That places Portugal below the uber-peaceful likes of Iceland, New Zealand, and Demark. That’s it, only those!
Of course, that’s not to say that Portugal is without any dangers. It isn’t. Travelers should pay special attention to petty theft stats. There were 6,904 recorded incidents of theft in 2020 alone, along with nearly 30,000 incidents of car theft. Racially motivated hate crimes are also rising (a 50% increase year on year from 2018 to 2019, in fact).
However, all of those numbers are still roughly in line with other countries that are considered relatively non-dangerous. What’s more, the vast majority of tourist trips to Portugal go off without a single hitch. The upshot? Portugal can be considered a generally safe country in line with the likes of France, the UK, Italy, and Germany.
Is Portugal safe at night?
Being out at night in Portugal presents unique dangers, just as it would in any other place around the globe. For example, there’s a much higher chance of being involved in an alcohol-related incident once the sun’s gone down. That’s especially true if you’re planning a trip to the 18-30s resort of Albufeira, where booze-fueled brawls are almost a nightly occurrence, or certain parts of the bigger cities of Porto and Lisbon.
While we’d stop short of saying that any areas of the capital are no-go districts, there are certain places that we’d say to avoid at night. They include Intendente, the station areas around Santa Apollonia and Rossio, and the airport district (though it’s unlikely you’ll be visiting that anyway). In Porto, the areas of Cerco do Porto and Maceda have a reputation for increased crime levels and might be dangerous after dark.
That said, everything from pickpocketing to muggings is more likely to occur at night in Portugal. They are still unlikely overall, but it can’t hurt to employ basic common sense. Never flash your valuables, always go around in groups of two or more, keep your mobile phone handy, and don’t get too drunk.
Is Portugal safe for solo female travelers?
Recent surveys have revealed that almost a quarter of Portuguese women report having experienced violence in some shape or form since turning 15. That’s high, but actually not as high as the EU as a whole – the rate is 9% worse across the continent. In total, there were an estimated 23,439 domestic violence incidents in the country in 2020, too, the vast majority of which tend to be perpetrated against females.
The point here is that Portugal is certainly not without dangers to women. However, it’s worth keeping things in perspective if you’re considering traveling here solo. The stats paint a picture, once again, of somewhere where it’s important to be aware of the risks, but certainly not somewhere particularly hazardous for female travelers. At least not any more hazardous than other travel hotspots on the continent.
One thing that is worth noting is that some parts of Portugal – particularly rural areas away from the coast – still have very strong prescribed gender roles and links to tradition. Women are often confined to household roles and it can be normal for men to stare. It’s best to be aware of these archaic nuances if you’re going to be venturing to places like the Schist Villages and the mountains of Alentejo, for example.
Is the tap water safe in Portugal?
Yep. Generally speaking, the tap water in Portugal is safe to drink. All mains H2O is regularly tested and complies to EU-wide standards of safety and potability, which tend to be quite high. That’s especially true in built-up areas like Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve; places that have the more modern utility systems in the country.
The main reason you might choose not to drink the tap water in Portugal is because it may taste slightly different to what you’re used to. That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe, just that it’s got a slightly different makeup of minerals and metals than the stuff that comes from the tap back at home.
When you order water in a restaurant or bar, you’ll almost certainly be served bottled water. That doesn’t have to be the case. Simply ask for tap water and most waiters or waitresses will oblige. The only places where we’d recommend not routinely drinking the tap water is in the most rural parts of the country, when staying in campsites or farm stays that might not be hooked up to the national grid.
Is Portugal safe for surfing?
Surfing has to be up there with the top bucket-list draws of Portugal. There are miles and miles of top-quality surf territory running the whole length of the country, along with some particularly epic breaks that offer reliability all year round. And there’s more good news, Portugal is one of the safest places to surf in the world. It’s got oodles of beaches that are suited to complete beginners, along with some top-notch surf schools with qualified instructors who know how to keep you protected in the water.
Of course, it’s very important you know your ability and respect the ocean. If you’re not an experienced surfer, there are a number of spots to consider aiming for, including Baleal Beach in Peniche, Arrifana beach down in the Algarve, and Azurara closer to Porto. Those are all considered to be relatively easy waves without too stronger rip currents or dangers, though always do your homework before paddling out.
Sharks aren’t an issue here because they don’t tend to come very close to the shore in Portugal. They do exist in the Atlantic Ocean, and in great numbers. However, there have been virtually zero reported shark attacks in mainland Portugal since records began, and only two out in the Atlantic territory of Madeira.
Perhaps the greatest danger when it comes to surfing in Portugal is localism. AKA – annoying the locals just by surfing “their” breaks. It’s not typically a threat in most places, and nothing as bad as it is in the Canaries or over in some parts of California. However, certain urban spots like Carcavelos (the closest break to Lisbon) do sometimes see problems with traveling surfers and the native crews.
What are the main dangers in Portugal?
There aren’t that many dangers in Portugal. However, petty theft probably comes top of the list for travelers. It’s relatively commonplace in downtown areas of Lisbon and Porto. You’ll need to watch out for pickpockets and muggers, especially at night. Key areas to be aware of are the main tourist districts in both cities, particularly Baixa in Lisbon and the Ribeira in Porto. We’d also be extra wary around the main train stations.
We’d say that driving hazards are another of the main dangers of PT. The country has a noted cavalier attitude towards being on the road. More than 62% of drivers have reported taking unnecessary risks behind the wheel at least once in their life, while 72% say they’ve exceeded designated speed limits. That’s well above the EU average.
Third, natural dangers could be a potential risk factor. From rip tides in the Atlantic Ocean while surfing to weather changes in the Portuguese mountains and unkept hiking trails in Madeira, there’s plenty to be wary of if you’re venturing to the wilder parts of this stunning corner of Europe.
What about scams in Portugal?
There are some scams aimed specifically at travelers. These range from the usual taxi scam (where a driver refuses to put the meter on and ends up charging way above the usual rate) to fully blown property scams (want to invest in a timeshare that doesn’t exist, anyone?). One of the most common is the restaurant scam that’s reported to happen in a few restaurants around central Lisbon, where menus don’t include drinks prices and patrons get charged over €100 for their beverages.
Again, the best way around these is to stay cautious and employ the same level of common sense as you would while traveling anywhere around the globe. If you do happen to fall victim to any sort of scam or theft while in Portugal, be sure to get in touch with the Esquadras do Turismo (Tourism Police) right away.
Is Portugal safe? The verdict
Portugal is one of the safest countries in Europe to visit. It’s a major destination for travelers of all types, from families to solo surfers. Crime rates are roughly in line or even lower than European averages in most sectors, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary to make you worry. Of course, it’s important to have common sense and travel with caution, just as you should anywhere else on the planet. Otherwise, get looking forward to those wild surf breaks in Ericeira and mist-gathering mountains in Sintra, folks!