The Portuguese feel genuine pleasure in helping tourists, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help. If you make the effort to speak a little Portuguese with locals, it can help you a lot. A large percentage of the young population speaks English and many Portuguese understand basic Spanish.
Although Portuguese people understand some basic Spanish vocabulary, you should only use it in emergencies, as it is generally considered disrespectful if you are not a native Spanish speaker. If you do speak Spanish, be prepared to hear something like “In Portugal, people speak Portuguese, not Spanish”, or they may simply tell you they don’t understand you even if they do. Chances are they won’t say anything and will still help you, but they won’t appreciate it because of the historical rivalry between Spain and Portugal. It is best to speak in English or your mother tongue with hand signals or at least start a conversation in Portuguese.
Morality and social issues
It is not uncommon for women to sunbathe topless on Portugal’s beaches, and there are also some naturist beaches. Thong bikinis are allowed on all beaches in the country.
There are no serious political or social problems to avoid.
Although it is theoretically a Catholic country, as almost 90% of Portuguese consider themselves Roman Catholics, only about 19% actively practice this faith. So if you are discussing religion with a Portuguese person, do not expect them to be familiar with church practices or to support some of their beliefs and opinions (e.g. the use of condoms, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, etc.). In Portugal, religion is not considered a valid argument for discussing politics. In Portugal, abortion was legalised in 2007 and same-sex marriage in 2010.
Although there are no strict rules, you should try to wear appropriate clothing when visiting churches or other religious monuments. This means that shoulders and knees should be covered.
Portugal is generally a gay-friendly country, but do not expect the same openness in rural areas and small towns as in big cities like Lisbon or Porto. Public displays of affection between gay couples can be considered curious and in some cases inappropriate, depending on the location and type of display. In Lisbon, gays and lesbians are respected as the city itself has a large gay scene with many bars, nightclubs, restaurants, cafés, saunas and beaches. Most “gay-friendly” places are located in the Bairro Alto, Chiado and Princípe Real neighbourhoods.
Since September 2007, the legal age of consent in Portugal is 14, regardless of sexual behaviour, gender and/or sexual orientation. Although the age of consent is set at 14, the legality of a sexual act with a minor between 14 and 16 is subject to interpretation, as the law states that it is illegal for an adult to engage in a sexual act with a young person between 14 and 16 “by taking advantage of their inexperience”.
Smoking in enclosed public places (taxis and transport, shops and shopping centres, cafés and hotels, etc.) is prohibited and punishable by a fine, except in places with an appropriate blue sign.
Bullfights are still held in some towns in Portugal. In Portugal, unlike in Spain, it is illegal to kill the bull during the bullfight. However, it is completely wrong to assume that all Portuguese support or even reject bullfighting. Many Portuguese are indifferent to bullfighting or are offended by the cruelty. You might also offend someone if you make generalisations or insist that bullfighting is part of contemporary Portuguese culture. The community of Barrancos (a town on the border with Spain) actively defies the law and the law enforcers and kills the bull in the bullring.