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These are the 5 best places to live in Portugal — and 2 to avoid

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 6/2/2021 Terry Coles
a close up of a street in front of a building © Getty Images
INTERNATIONAL LIVING
a tall building in a city: Ornate architecture on Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon at twilight. © Getty Images Ornate architecture on Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon at twilight.

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Portugal has become one of the most popular destinations in Europe for retirees from North America, and for good reason. Boasting over 300 days of sunshine each year, affordable living and heath care, a large expat network, stunning scenery and beaches, an easy visa process and English is widely spoken.

But where is the best place to live in Portugal? Well, that depends on you and what you prefer.

Do you long for big city living with plenty of nightlife and culture or does the sound of the ocean call out your name? Want to awaken to the chime of the village church bells or to the cackle of hens on your neighbours’ farm? Let’s have a look at some suggested places that you might like to live in Portugal along with two to avoid.

Lisbon a group of people walking down a street in front of a building

Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon has much to offer with its impressive, city center, sunny yellow cable cars that climb the narrow streets, over 60 museums, an English-speaking theatre, family friendly beaches, varied cuisine and plenty of expats from around the world to hang out with. Lisbon combines old world charm with all the modern conveniences needed to feel at home with some of the best weather in Europe. You will never be bored living here with the nearby beaches of Cascais, the fairy-tale village of Sintra, along with an international airport for easy access to the rest of the world.

Healthcare in Portugal is some of the best in the world and with so many expats in Lisbon, it’s easy to find English-speaking doctors.

Porto a bridge over a river in a city

Portugal’s second largest city, three-hours north of Lisbon is Porto. Situated on the Douro River, this is the port wine making region of the country. Rich in culture and history this is another part of Portugal where English is common making it easy to fit in. From great shopping along Rua Santa Catarina to local cuisine, excellent healthcare, a large expat community, and cooler climate this could be the perfect place to call home. Plus, Porto has one of the countries three international airports making it easy to visit friends and family back home.

Silver Coast the roof of a building © iStock.com/AtlanticoPress

One hour north of Lisbon is the town of Caldas da Rainha, built around a thermal hospital, one of the oldest in the world. The lively old town features a daily fruit and vegetable market, nearby fish market and weekly flea market just up the hill. This compact city has plenty of shopping from large grocery stores, a modern multi-level shopping center, a variety of cuisine, and a handful of museums. Dom Carlos park is where locals and expats go to enjoy the walking trails, grab a bite to eat at the restaurant or paddle a boat across the man-made lake. Caldas has a large expat community along with a public and private hospital plus clinics for all your healthcare needs.

The nearby beaches of Foz do Arelho and Nadadouro provide a welcome break on a hot summer day. The lagoon offers a safe place for those of all ages to enjoy tranquil waters or relax with friends at a waterfront cafe. Summer temperatures here are springlike while winters are cold and rainy.

Lagos a small boat in a large body of water

A few hours south of Lisbon is the Algarve region with some of the warmest weather in the country. The town of Lagos has retained much of its charm with a tiled plaza in the old town and remnants of a fort perched along the waterfront. The coastline offers spectacular vistas of grottoes, rock formations and caves that can be explored by hiring a boat. No need to stress about learning Portuguese in Lagos, British holiday makers have long visited the Algarve so English is spoken by almost everyone. Summers here are hot and dry while winters are mild with some rain. Local shops and restaurants dot the old town while larger grocery stores can be found nearby. Excellent healthcare is never far away and with plenty of expats, you will never be lonely.

Tavira a small boat in a body of water

Another popular Algarve hotspot is Tavira. Located close to the Spanish border, Tavira has retained much of its old town with whitewashed houses decorated with colorful Portuguese tile.

A handful of restaurants line the cobbled lanes along with grocery stores. Life here is as slow as the Gilão river that runs through it. Stroll along the old Roman bridge to admire the village or relax on nearby sun-drenched beaches. Many expats from North American and Europe have long called Tavira home, making it easy to fit in and get by speaking only English. Like the rest of the Algarve here you will find some of the best weather in the country. Local shops tend to cater to the British population, but Americans need only drive a few hours into Seville, Spain to stock up on American goods at a Cosco warehouse.

Now, let’s have a look at a few places where settling in as an expat may not be so easy and perhaps, should be avoided.

Monsanto a large brick building with a mountain in the background © iStock.com/Ceilli07

Considered by many to be the most Portuguese village in the country, this quaint little village is a delight to visit, but not a place I would recommend living. Granite homes are squeezed in, on and around giant boulders that look as though they fell from the sky. The steep, rustic lanes are wide enough only for a donkey, and climb some 400 feet up to the pinnacle of the village where the remains of a castle still stand. A few local shops exist inside the cave-like structures where no English is uttered, and time seems to have stopped long ago. While locals here are used to seeing tourists, I doubt that there are any expats living among them.

The Alentejo a view of a rocky mountain © iStock.com/brytta

The Alentejo in southern Portugal, is the largest region in the country with vast plains that extend as far as the eye can see. Extreme temperatures are the norm here, with summer highs reaching well over 100 F and winters bring freezing, bone chilling rains. This vast region makes up 30% of Portugal but its rural countryside is sparsely populated, with less than 5% of the population.

Home to walled cities, forts, a few sleepy villages and cities like Beja and Évora, this is the heartland of Portugal. Few expats call the Alentejo home so to integrate here would require full immersion into the Portuguese lifestyle with a good understanding of the Portuguese language. For a holiday the Alentejo is the ideal spot to escape the tourist crowds, and step back in time to experience the rich culture. However, the vastness of this region would make it challenging for expats to meet, get adequate healthcare or find the necessities needed for everyday life.

This story originally ran in International Living.

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