27 Fun Facts About Portugal That You Must Read Before Traveling

There are so many interesting and fun facts about Portugal.

As a rising tourist destination with many fascinating historical, cultural, and social landmarks and attractions to visit, Portugal is a gem in Europe.

Even though Portugal is a relatively small country, it has offered many unique and important contributions to the world. 

My personal favorite interesting thing about Portugal is the Portuguese language.

Even though it derives from Latin, it sounds quite different from other Latin-based languages like Spanish and Italian.

In fact, some even say they sound like a Slavic language or Arabic. 

Furthermore, the Portuguese have a peculiar way with their words, making them exceptional in storytelling.

Perhaps that is due to their ancestors’ thirst for wanderlust, which is the core of this small Iberian country’s impressive historical triumphs and modern-day achievements.

There are so many fun facts about Portugal that might surprise you.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating country, here are some of the best fun facts about its history, nature, culture, and food.

Table of Contents

General Fun Facts About Portugal

1. There are over 250 million Portuguese speakers around the world

Portugal’s official language is Portuguese, but even though Portugal’s population is only about 10 million, more than 250 million people have Portuguese as their native tongue.

This means it is among the ten most spoken languages in the world. 

The reason for this massive number of speakers is that Portuguese is the official language in many other countries apart from Portugal.

These countries include Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

So, actually, only 5% of Portuguese speakers actually live in Portugal.

2. It is one of the most peaceful countries in the world

Portugal has been one of the most peaceful countries in the world for a dozen years, according to the Global Peace Index (GPI).

In 2022, it ranked 6th, leaving behind notable peaceful countries such as Japan, Switzerland, and Canada. Portugal is one of the safest countries with very rare violent crimes. 

What do they speak in Portugal?
Views of Sintra Castle

3. Portugal is Europe’s most westernmost point

Located on the edge of the Iberian peninsula, Portugal is in southwestern Europe, but within Portugal, you will find Europe’s westernmost point.

The archipelago of the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean holds Europe’s westernmost point title (it’s located right between the European and American continents).

To experience this geographical Portugal fun fact, you can visit Cabo da Roca on the Sintra mountains. It is a narrow granite cliff that boasts magnificent Atlantic Ocean views.  

4. Portugal is one of the sunniest countries in Europe 

Generally, Mediterranean countries are famous for their sunny and warm weather.

That’s why they are also the most popular countries for summer holidays or relatively warm winter holidays. Similarly, Portugal is one of the sunniest countries in Europe. 

In fact, Portugal has the second sunniest capital in Europe: Lisbon. It is second only to Valletta, Malta’s capital, with 2799 hours of sun per year. So, if you love the sunshine, Portugal is definitely an ideal destination. 

Ponta de Piedade Lagos Algarve Portugal
Ponta de Piedade Lagos, one of the sunniest destinations in Portugal

Historical Fun Facts About Portugal

5. Portugal is one of the oldest nations in Europe

Portugal has been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times.

In terms of city-states, Lisbon is the second oldest capital in Europe.

Lisbon was first inhabited by the Phoenicians in 1200 BC, making it four centuries older than Rome.

Throughout the ages, many other tribes lived in Portugal, including Celts, Carthaginians, Romans, and Arabs.

Also, Portugal’s modern borders were defined in 1139, with Afonso Henriques as the king, making it the oldest nation-state in Europe.  

6. Portugal founded the first global empire

When thinking of global empires, most people immediately think of the British or the Spanish.

Interestingly, the first global empire was established by the Portuguese in the 15th century by Henry the Navigator.

Portugal’s empire lasted over 600 years, colonizing territories from Europe to Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, Southeast, and South Asia.

The last territory Portugal occupied was Macau, which was handed back to China in 1999. 

In total, the Portuguese colonized 50 countries, including Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, and parts of India such as Goa.

7. Portugal has had the shortest reigning monarch

The shortest reigning monarch in world history is Luis Felipe of Portugal.

He claimed the title of king only 20 minutes after the assassination of his father, King Carlos I. 

Luis Felipe, along with his parents and younger brother, was riding an open carriage that was attacked. His father was killed on the spot, and then the assassins went for Luis, who got severely injured.

For 20 minutes, he was fighting for his life but didn’t manage to survive. Still, according to Portuguese law, during those 20 minutes, he was considered the king of Portugal.

Islands of Madeira, Portugal
Views of Maderia, an island of Portugal

8. Portugal’s Independence Day varies

Technically, Portugal’s borders were defined in 1139, and the country was established in 1143.

With that said, the Portuguese celebrate their country’s foundation on October 5th.

However, Portugal’s official independence day is December 1st. This date celebrates Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1668.

Specifically, it commemorates the reinstatement of sovereignty after Spanish rule between 1580 and 1640. 

9. A fascist dictatorship ruled Portugal for over 40 years

It may come as a surprise, but Portugal was under a fascist dictatorship rule for over 40 years.

Specifically, in 1933 after a coup d’etat against the first republic, the Estado Novo was established by Antonio Salazar.

On the 25 of April 1974, a peaceful military coup called Carnation Revolution overthrew the regime, and since then, that day signifies the end of oppression, torture, and suffering, as well as Portuguese colonization.

Thus, it’s a Day of Freedom, or in Portuguese, “Liberdade.”

Nature Fun Facts About Nature in Portugal

10. The national flower of Portugal is lavender

Portugal’s national flower is lavender.

Even though France’s lavender fields are more popular, Portugal also has a few of its own.

The Alentejo fields have dozens of various lavender species, including the “Portuguese Giant,” which has the most vibrant color.

Portugal’s national flower is not just a flower. It is a hidden gem that leads you to stunning views of vast, vibrant, and colorful fields with a fragrant and mesmerizing aroma. 

Moreover, Portugal uses lavender in various ways.

Firstly, lavender is used as an aromatic product or a fragrant ingredient in cosmetics and perfumes. 

In fact, during the ancient Roman empire, lavender was used as a medicinal herb and for bathing.

Lavender derives actually from the Latin word “lavare,” which means “to wash”. The equivalent Portuguese word is “lavar.”

11. Portugal’s national bird is the rooster

Have you ever visited Portugal and wondered why souvenir shops were selling rooster figurines?

Well, that is because the rooster is Portugal’s national bird! Even though that may sound random, there is more to this fun fact about Portugal.

The iconic colored Barcelos Rooster derives from a legend passed from generation to generation.

Legend has it that during the 12th century, in Barcelos in the Minho Province, a robbery left the residents restless because they couldn’t find the culprit. 

Wanting to solve this mystery, the residents unjustifiably blamed a Galician pilgrim who stayed overnight in a local hostel.

Even though the pilgrim insisted on his innocence, no one believed him. Thus, out of frustration, he pointed at a rooster and said, “It is as certain I am innocent as that rooster crows when they hang me!” 

Surprisingly, the rooster stood and crowed while the rope knot prevented the strangulation and, so, the residents finally left the pilgrim free.

Later, the pilgrim returned to Barcelos and erected a monument in honor of Santiago and the Virgin Mary, while the rooster became a significant symbol to Portuguese people.

12. Portugal’s national tree is the cork oak tree

The cork oak tree, also known as Sobteiro in Portuguese, is the country’s national tree.

Portugal is home to the largest cork forest in the world. In fact, it makes up 34% of the world’s cork forest area, so it is not a surprise for this tree to be one of Portugal’s most significant symbols. 

Also, the cork oak tree is an essential “ingredient” for Portugal’s economy and played a huge role in Portuguese heritage and history.

In fact, Portugal produces more than 50% of the world’s cork supply. 

For instance, because the tree’s bark is resistant to water and elastic, it is suitable for use in items such as wine bottles, insulation, and flooring.

If you visit any street market, you will find cork coasters and even beautiful cork handbags. 

13. The highest mountain in Portugal is Mount Pico

The highest mountain in Portugal is Mount Pico, but it is not on the country’s mainland.

It is on the island of Pico in the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Pizo de Azores is actually an active volcano that last erupted in 1720.

The mountain has a height of approximately 2350 meters above sea level, but even though it isn’t among the highest in the world, it is one of the hardest to climb.

This is because, unlike other mountains, Mount Pico doesn’t have a clear and slowly steady trail. In fact, it is rather steep, so some parts can be a bit dangerous.

14. Lisbon suffered one of the world’s largest natural disasters in world history

In 1755, Lisbon experienced one of the worst natural hazards in the world.

A tremendous and violent earthquake estimated to be of 8.5 to 9 magnitude brought utter destruction.

The earthquake caused strong tremors and widespread fire that destroyed most of Lisbon’s buildings, as well as a 6-meter-high tsunami that caused many to drown.

The death toll was up to 60,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

Mosaraz in Alentejo region, Portugal
Mosaraz in Alentejo at sunset

Cultural Fun Facts About Portugal

15. The most visited pilgrimage site is the Caminhos de Fátima

The sanctuary of Fatima is the second most visited Christian religious site by pilgrims in Europe. It is second only after Rome.

In fact, around 8 million pilgrims travel to the sanctuary to visit the sites of the apparitions and the Miracle of the Sun. 

The sanctuary is at the location where three shepherd children witnessed the apparition of Mary in 1917 six times over six months.

These apparitions culminated after the Miracle of the Sun. Records indicate that after a period of rain, the skies cleared, and the sun appeared as a spinning disc in the sky with luminous colors.

interesting and fun facts about portugal
Views of Caminos de Fatima

16. Fado is a Portuguese style of singing

Fado is a distinctive Portuguese music genre dating back to the 1820s. It started in Lisbon’s local bars and gradually became a national music genre.

Fado derives from the Latin word “fatum,” which means fate as well as death. That is because Fado’s distinctive characteristics are its mournful tunes and lyrics.

Usually, the songs were inspired by the sea, the sailors’ life, poverty, and sentiments such as resignation, fate, and melancholy.

Still, Fado is also known for its unmatched power and energy. 

17. Portugal and Japan have a lot of similarities

Another fun fact about Portugal is that it shares a lot of similarities with Japan.

Portugal was the first to create a global empire due to their ambitious navigators and trade routes, which means the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Japan.

During their visit, the Portuguese left their linguistic mark as well as cultural traits such as culinary techniques behind.

For instance, the Japanese word for bread is pan from the Portuguese pão, and the word for Saturday is Sabato from the word Sabado.

Another example of the Portuguese influence in Japan is the famous fried dish tempura. 

18. Portugal has its own martial art

When talking about martial arts, people immediately think of East Asia and their mighty fighting styles like kung-fu, taekwondo, and karate.

With that said, Portugal has its own martial arts, called Jogo do pau, which means “game of the stick.”

Jogo do pau may remind you of the Japanese martial art Kendo.

While Kendo is derived from swordsmanship, Jogo was a technique introduced by farmers in medieval times who practiced it for self-defense.

Culinary Fun Facts About Portugal

19. Portugal’s national dish is Bacalhau

Frankly, one of the top reasons one should visit Portugal is the food!

It is a country with rich flavored dishes that can satisfy everyone’s taste palate. Still, the country’s national dish is the must-try Bacalhau, a dried and salted cod. 

Bacalhau is not just one recipe. In fact, there might be more than a thousand different ways to cook Bacalhau.

Some of the most popular and favorite recipes are Bacalhau com natas (cod with cream and potatoes), Bacalhau à lagareiro (cod with olive oil), and Bacalhau com broa, cod with cornbread.

Another recipe that is mostly found in cafes and snack bars is pastéis de bacalhau, a savory snack.

20. Portugal’s national drink is Licor Beirão

Licor Beirão is Portugal’s national drink and is one you shouldn’t miss. Often it is also known as Portuguese liqueur, but its name derives from its origin, the Beiras region.

The drink has hints of vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, and lavender, creating a unique flavor and making it perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

However, rather than drinking it by itself, it is best to use it as a boost for other drinks such as the Portuguese cocktail Caipirão and Sangria.

21. There’s a secret recipe for Pastéis de Nata

As mentioned already, Portugal is a heavenly country for foodies.

In fact, one of the top things on every bucket list for Portugal is to try the delicious pastéis de nata, a typical custard tart.

These delicious tarts originate from Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon’s Belém district. Specifically, the recipe was created by the monastery’s monks in the 18th century. 

At that time, monasteries suffered financial issues due to the dissolution of religious orders, so the monks decided to sell cakes, tarts, and other sweets to make money.

However, a fun fact about the recipe is that the original recipe for pastéis de nata has been kept a secret since 1837.

But you can still try the original tarts, known as pastéis de Belém, at the bakery Fabrica Pastéis de Belém near the monastery.

Pastel de nata
Traditional pastéis de nata

22. Piri-piri sauce originates from Portugal

If you love spicy flavors, then you might be familiar with the South African sauce Piri Piri Sauce, but did you know that the sauce is originally Portuguese?

To be more precise, the sauce was the creation of Portuguese settlers in South Africa.

Portuguese explorers brought chili from South America, and with the melange of chili, garlic, and lemon, they invented the famous sauce in South Africa.

To taste this delectable sauce in Portugal, try the popular dish churrasco chicken.

23. Port Wine is Portugal’s most famous export 

Originating from Porto’s Douro Valley, Port Wine is Portugal’s most famous export.

Portugal has some of the best wines in the world, but Port Wine is a red, fortified wine widely known for its unique sweet flavor. 

Furthermore, Port Wine is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley, which is the third oldest protected wine-producing region in the world.

In fact, during the Roman empire, this area was famously known for its wine, while the English imported red wine from Douro in the 18th century. 

Douro Valley winery overview
Duoro Valley is Portugal’s main wine region

Other Interesting and Fun Facts About Portugal

24. The oldest operating bookstore in the world is in Portugal

One reason Lisbon is worth visiting for book lovers is the fantastic Bertrand Bookstore.

Opened by Perte Faure in 1732, the bookstore is officially the world’s oldest still in operation. Once, it was also a hotspot for Portuguese intellectuals.

Today, it is part of the Porto Editora group, but Bertrand Bookstore is still considered a historical and cultural landmark for book enthusiasts.

Undoubtedly the bookstore itself exhibits a spectacular exterior façade with beautiful mosaic tiles.

25. Portugal is home to the world’s most beautiful McDonald’s

It’s no secret that Portugal is famous worldwide for its unique architectural style and colorful buildings.

Of course, one would say beauty is subjective, but Portugal’s distinctive character is undoubtedly stunning.

That’s why you will feel mesmerized by the beautiful architecture and interior, even when visiting a popular chain restaurant such as McDonald’s.

At Porto, you will find a McDonald’s bistro set in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building from the 1930s that formerly housed the once-famous and iconic Imperial Cafe.

The McDonald’s iconic logo features an eagle statue and gold lettering above the door, ornate ceilings, and chandeliers, making it the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world.

26. Portugal’s waves were the biggest ever surfed 

Perhaps, surfing is not as popular in Europe as in North America or Australia, but interestingly, Portugal holds the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed.

It was surfed by Brazil’s Rodrigo Koxa surfer, who caught an almost 25-meter wave at Praia do Norte, Nazare, in Portugal in 2027.

Generally, Nazare is the go-to place in Portugal for surfing massive waves.

In fact, in 2013, surfer Garrett McNamara broke his own world record by surfing an estimated 30-meter wave off the coast of Nazare. 

Nazare Giant Wave
A giant wave in Nazaré

27. Portugal is mainly water

As surprising as it may sound, Portugal is indeed mainly water.

Portugal’s borders stretch out quite far in the Atlantic Ocean due to the Azores and Madeira island regions.

Portugal is about 95% water, meaning the country’s sea territory is 18 times more than its land mass.

28. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001

Portugal was the first country to decriminalize drugs.

The law made legal the recreational usage of all “common drugs,” including meth and heroin.

However, drug trafficking remains a criminal offense, and if you are found to possess drugs of more than ten days’ worth, you might get jail time.

The decriminalization of drugs was a measure against the heightened drug epidemic of the 90s and the rise of HIV cases.

Today, Portugal has some of the lowest rates among the European Union countries.

Final Thoughts on Fun Facts About Portugal

After looking through all these fun facts about Portugal, surely now you are even more fascinated by this beautiful country.

These facts cover only a few of Portugal’s intriguing historical and cultural events.

Nonetheless, with this list, you can understand the rich cultural diversity of Portugal and its importance to the world’s development in terms of globalization.