We entered Portugal with our Campervan Milli-VAN-illi along the Southern Coast from Spain on the 13th of March 2022. We know that the months of March and April can be a hit and miss with regards to good weather and for us, unfortunately, it was a bit of a miss with the long-awaited rains of the season finally arriving during this exact time. Despite the rainy weather, we spent a total of 5 weeks making our way slowly along the rugged coast of Portugal, all the way to the city of Porto, before returning to Spain on 17th April 2022. Other than the weather, Portugal impressed us in every way possible and we look forward to returning to experience slightly warmer beach weather in the very near future!
In this post we will discuss our experience of being on the road, overnighting with our motorhome, our experience of van life in general in Portugal, the cost of food and sightseeing, the best seasons to plan your visit and some practicalities for visiting Portugal by Motorhome or Campervan. Be sure to watch our YouTube video in which we go into even more detail!
Our route along the coast of Portugal shows all FREE overnight stops in green with the "trees" denoting ordinary parking areas not specifically for campervans and the "P"'s denoting official overnight parking areas for motorhomes (blue ones are paid and green ones are free). The yellow tents are the campsites that we stayed at along the way, predominantly in the Algarve.
Is wild camping allowed in Portugal?
No, Wild Camping is not allowed in Portugal, Spain or many other countries in Europe for that matter! However, overnighting in your Campervan outside of official campsites is once again legally allowed in Portugal! After a brief period of banning all unofficial overnighting in vehicles, an amendment to Portugal’s Highway Code articles came into effect in August 2021 which states that “in the absence of municipal regulations for the activity, motor caravans approved by the IMT - Institute for Mobility and Transport may stay overnight for a maximum period of 48 hours in the same municipality (except in places where overnight stays of motor caravans or similar are expressly authorised for a longer period)”. There are however a few exceptions to be aware of, most notably that "the overnight stay of motor caravans or similar is forbidden in areas of the Natura 2000 Network, protected areas and areas covered by the Coastal Zone Management Plans (except in places where it is expressly authorised)".
It is important to understand and adhere to these restrictions as the fine for those who violate the rules for the prohibition of overnight stays and the parking of motorhomes or similar outside places expressly authorized for that purpose, is between 60 to 300 euros, and in areas of the Natura 2000 network, protected areas and areas covered by the Coastal Waterfront Planning Plans, the fine can be between 120 to 600 euros!
We spent 16 of our 35 nights in ordinary parking areas not specifically for campervans and a further 3 nights in free official motorhome overnight parking areas. This means that 54% of our nights spent in Portugal were entirely FREE and legal!
How much do Campsites cost in Portugal?
There is no shortage of campsites throughout Portugal! In fact, we were really impressed with just how little we could spend on neat, comfortable and extremely well-located campsites. Most campsites give one the option of camping with or without electricity (electricity is typically an additional 3 EUR pn) which is great for people like us who have sufficient solar capacity and prefer to make a slight saving. We camped for as little as 6 EUR per night at the cutest Campsite in the Algarve (Algarve Camping Car Park). The most that we spent on a campsite was 13.22 EUR per night including electricity over the Easter weekend at the Salgueiros Campsite of Canidelo which is just outside of Porto and within walking distance to beautiful beaches. We spent a total of 12 of our 35 nights at campsites and only had electricity for 2 of these nights as it was included in the cost of 10 EUR per night at "Area de Servicio Autocaravanas VENTO NORTE" in Vila do Bispo near Sagres.
Of course, there are many more fancy and expensive campsites to suit every budget, however, we found that Portugal has by far got the most affordable and best value for money campsites when it comes to the budget range that we have come across so far within western Europe.
If you're looking for something a little less formal than a campsite, perhaps consider searching the following websites which allow people to offer their property in a similar manner to campsites:
Are there Motorhome Service Areas / AIRES in Portugal?
Portugal has a vast network of campervan overnight and motorhome service areas throughout the country. These vary between free and paid service points to both free and paid official motorhome overnight parking areas. We spent 7 of our 35 nights in official serviced overnight parking areas of which 3 nights were for FREE just outside of Lisbon at the "Area Serviço Autocaravana Corroios" (which was perfectly located for us to explore the city of Lisbon). The most we spent for a serviced motorhome area was 8.50 EUR per night in Tavira at Algarve Motorhome Park Tavira.
If you plan on predominantly parking without services in Portugal, there are plenty of FREE Motorhome Service Areas which are easiest to find using the popular Park4Night website or App. These can also often be found at Supermarkets or Fuel stations such as Intermarche (where we consistently found the cheapest fuel).
Overnight Parking vs Motorhome Camping in Portugal
In order to abide by the Motorhome regulations in Portugal, it is important to understand the difference between Parking and Camping when overnighting in your vehicle.
The motorhome is generally considered to be PARKED when: It has contact with the ground only by the wheels, without stabilizer legs. You can use levelling blocks, although the law is not very clear. There are two types: chocks, which are used to prevent the car from rolling, and levelling blocks, which, as the name suggests, are used to level the vehicle. If we use levelling, it may be considered camping, if you use the chocks it's parking. When parked, you may not have any additional elements, “protruding” beyond the campervan (e.g. awning, windows, doors or tables, chairs).
A motorhome may be considered not parked but CAMPED when: It has stabilizer legs deployed; There are elements that go beyond the perimeter of the vehicle, such as awnings, tables, chairs or outward-opening windows; It emits annoying and loud noises, for example, a generator – not necessarily at night; Dumping of any liquids – grey or clean water.
Please consider that not abiding by the regulations only makes it more likely for unofficial overnighting to once again be banned in the future.
Roads of Portugal - Do I need to travel Toll Roads?
We found the main roads in Portugal to generally be good and comfortable to travel by campervan. Some of the towns have very narrow streets and we would not have wanted to drive any vehicle longer than ours (6.5m)! It is possible to reach most places without using paid toll roads if you are prepared to travel fairly slowly as we do. There are, however, a few toll roads which ONLY accept electronic payment - for this reason, we recommend registering for this on the Infraestruturas de Portugal website (for a cost of only 0.70 EUR) just in case you accidentally end up on one of these! We travelled a total of 1250km and only made use of a single toll road in order to cross over the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon, which cost 4.15 EUR.
Driving in Portugal
Fuel costs in Portugal are slightly more expensive (about 6 %) than in neighbouring Spain. We recommend using a "fuel finder" App in order to search for the cheaper fuel stations. When we were there Intermarche was consistently the cheapest. We experienced the Portuguese drivers to be a little erratic in their driving style, yet not at all aggressive! I don't think we heard a single hooter in all our time there, but we sure saw many close calls for collision.
We thoroughly enjoyed the 5 weeks that we spent travelling by Motorhome along the coast of Portugal. Despite the many complaints about Portugal not welcoming "wild camping", we found Portugal to be very campervan friendly. There are plenty of free camper service stations throughout Portugal. These are often not at overnight locations but rather located at supermarkets and fuel stations. We were surprised to see that the demographic of campers and 'vanlifers' in Portugal was MUCH younger than most other countries in Europe! Vanlife is indeed very popular in Portugal and there seems to be a great surfer / vanlife community all along the coast of Portugal even in the shoulder season.
Food in Portugal
We found supermarkets very similarly priced to neighbouring Spain. Fresh seasonal produce is abundant and affordable. We spent a total of 20 EUR per day for all food and drink for the two of us. This included far too many Pastei de Nata's and sampling of the local craft beers along the way.
Keep in mind that we do not eat out very often as this would greatly increase our food budget! Speaking of Pastei de Nata - be sure to try one freshly baked and still warm!
Portugal has such stunning nature, with what feels like a never-ending coastline and beautiful inland countryside, that you could easily visit Portugal without spending anything on actual sightseeing. That being said, we found that entrance fees to most tourist sights are very affordable, at only a few euros per person. The only expensive activity that we did, was the Port Bridge Climb (17.50 EUR pp) and it was well worth it - you can see for yourself in our Porto video. Even though we are not particularly 'city people', we absolutely loved both cities of Lisbon and Porto as they have so much character and are so beautiful and picturesque.
Best Season to Visit Portugal
If you want to enjoy warm and dry weather in Portugal, you should visit anytime from May until September. Outside of these months, it can be a bit of a hit and miss and we experienced lots of rain over the months of March and April. Another thing to keep in mind is that even on sunny days during the winter season, the seas are usually rather rough and thus not ideal for water sports such as learning to surf.
The summer holidays, school holidays and other times of festivities can get very busy, particularly along the coast, so if you prefer to escape the crowds then you should avoid these times! We also found that even in winter, WEEKENDS are really popular for the locals to travel and overnight with their motorhomes. No matter where we were, we felt this sudden weekend business! Of course, many areas are more tolerant to overnighting in a campervan out of season.
Practicalities of Travelling Portugal
Portugal is a really easy country to travel to. English is fairly widely spoken or at least understood and the people are very friendly. We found Portugal to be welcoming to the concept of vanlife and we found it a pleasure to travel the country with our motorhome. We look forward to returning to Portugal and hope to spend even more time with better weather next time!
Fresh drinking water is freely available throughout the country. Public toilets are generally easy to find and are either free or very cheap (20 - 50 euro cents).
Every now and then we were surprised at city markets when credit cards were not accepted. We thus suggest always carrying some cash with you just in case.
Best Mobile Data in Portugal
We found it really easy to purchase a prepaid SIM card from MEO as a foreigner and we were able to get unlimited data for just 1 EUR per day with their "Enjoy" data service.