Portugal has long attracted expats from around the world, and it’s easy to see why – it’s a country of outstanding natural beauty thanks to its never-ending stretches of spectacular rugged coastline, luscious inland greenery, and its mountainous national parks. What’s more, you have the option of moving to an old historic village, a coastal town, or even a thriving city – the choice is yours.
It’s also an incredibly safe and welcoming country that’s particularly popular among Europeans thanks to its warm climate and low cost of living (compared to almost everywhere else in Europe).
But no matter where you’re from originally, with so much choice, deciding where to live when moving to Portugal is no easy task. Here, we’ve put together a list of the best places to live in Portugal. We’ve made sure to include quite a range so you can be sure to find you’re perfect home away from home – enjoy!
On the south coast of Portugal, in the Algarve region, lies the laid-back town of Lagos. Despite the influx of tourists in the summer months, Lagos has retained an authentic Portuguese vibe. The locals are used to tourists and, are typically more than happy to help you out if you get lost or can’t figure out where to take your trash for instance (this wasn’t obvious to us when we first moved there and we had to seek help from our friendly neighbors!). Plus, almost everyone there speaks English (and many speak several other European languages).
During the winter months, there are hardly any tourists around, and you’ll often find that you have the beach all to yourself… and, speaking of beaches, there are tonnes of great ones just a stone’s throw away from Lagos (see here for our article on the best beaches in Lagos – there really is one for everyone). In summer, however, locals and tourists alike come out to play and you’ll find that Lagos is a very sociable place to be and it’s super easy to make new friends.
The cobbled streets are full of quaint bars and restaurants, and people sit outside in the squares year-round to enjoy cups of coffee (with blankets and heaters in the cooler months). There’s also a marina and tonnes of water-based activities to get involved with (fishing, diving, surfing, kayaking… you name it). There’s definitely a bit of an alternative vibe going on here too, and you’ll be able to find great vegetarian food and plenty of wellness and yoga classes no problem.
Essentially, you get all the perks of a tourist town during summer (plenty to do, lots of friendly people around, etc) but you also get to hang out in a quiet coastal town over winter and witness the day to day life in Portugal when there aren’t many tourists around.
Best for: everyone! (except perhaps job-hunters)
You might not know this, but Coimbra was once the capital of Portugal until it was replaced by Lisbon in 1255. It makes sense, with its historic center, that its streets are teeming with history, and trust us when we say that the architecture of many of its buildings, including Portugal’s oldest university, will take your breath away. What’s more, this small city is located on the banks of the Mondego River, making the whole city that bit more magical.
Despite its age, the university is still functioning, and the city is held dear by its many students. This unique blend of old and new results in a city that’s peaceful yet lively, and it’s also a very affordable place to live. We recommend this city for anyone that’s big into their history or architecture – you’re definitely in for a treat. If you want to get more of a feel for living in Coimbra, check out our article on the best things to do there.
Best for: architects, historians, students
So we all knew Lisbon was going to make it onto the list didn’t we… but honestly, Lisbon has to be one of the easiest European capitals to get to grips with. After spending just a few days there, you really feel like you’re getting the hang of it – where things are, how things work, etc – and this just isn’t the case in many other European cities such as London, Madrid, or Amsterdam.
But just because Lisbon is relatively relaxed, don’t underestimate how much it has going for it – it’s the liveliest place in Portugal after all. It has a thriving university attended by both national and international students and is especially popular among young professionals, many of which base themselves in Lisbon and carry out remote work for companies based elsewhere.
This influx of young people means that Lisbon has great nightlife – there are three main areas that really take off after dark (Barrio Alto, Parque das Nacoes, and Santo Amaro Docks) and each has its own charm and selection of underground bars, nightclubs, and fancy cocktail establishments. It’s also surprisingly affordable for a capital city – another reason why it’s so popular among students and young people.
And don’t forget how easy it is to get around in places like Lisbon and Porto too. As the bigger cities in Portugal they both have great public transport systems, including those iconic yellow trams in Lisbon!
Despite the trendy young vibes, there are lots of historical sites to explore in and around Lisbon, so you can slowly get to know the real Portugal while you’re there and aren’t busy partying. For more details on what exactly Lisbon’s famous for, see our previous article.
One thing that does bug me about Lisbon of late tough, before the pandemic, is that the centre is overrun with tourists. Most of the historic center is rented out as AirBnBs and it has driven up the property prices quite a lot.
Best for: (young) professionals, students
It’s amazing how many people visit Lisbon yet never make it over the Cascais, just 20 km to the west of the capital. This seafront town is extremely elegant, and you can find some awesome villas there to rent long-term. There are tonnes of high-end restaurants to chose from, and boat owners can dock their boats at the local marina and make friends with the local skippers.
It’s a great place for water sports in general, and you can head down to the Club de Naval if you’re interested in brushing up on your sailing skills. They offer scuba diving courses too, and there are some excellent surf spots just a short drive to the north, making Cascais a great place for anyone who likes to head to the ocean in their spare time. It really offers a great quality of life for anyone looking at places to live in Portugal.
Boats, fine dining, high-end accommodation… as much as this all sounds lovely, we must warn you that Cascais is one of the most expensive places to live in Portugal. Having said that, it remains cheaper than high-end destinations elsewhere in Europe, and it certainly has a lot to offer those that can afford to be there.
Best for: Boat owners, fine diners
Vale de Telha
If you hate the hustle and bustle of city life and want to live a simple life right by the ocean, then you should definitely consider moving to Vale de Telha. Located on the southern end of Portugal’s west coast, in the Aljezure region, this small urban area is little more than a smattering of accommodation with just enough bars and restaurants to keep you entertained. Accommodation here is far cheaper than in any of Portugal’s major cities, although prices do rise considerably for the peak summer months.
The local beach, Praia do Arrifana, is one of Portugal’s finest and is much-loved by surfers thanks to the Atlantic swell it picks up. Although surfers flock here during the summer months, and some will be there year-round, it’s never exactly overcrowded, and many non-surfers love this area too thanks to the incredibly dramatic black cliffs lining the beach. There are also excellent clifftop walks around here, and you can walk to neighboring beaches and towns if you want to make a full day of it.
If you’re an expat that thrives on having a busy metropolitan social life, you might find yourself getting restless here rather quickly. However, if you’ve moved to Portugal to experience its raw natural beauty, and are content living an outdoorsy lifestyle, then this might be the place for you.
Best for: hikers, surfers, people who like to escape the crowds
Despite being Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, which is quite North of Lisbon, has an almost town-like feel about it, and it’s definitely managed to retain a rustic charm. It has its own international airport, which is great for any expats that might have to hop on a plane home or to a business meeting regularly, and it’s home to many restaurants and bars serving fine wine (and port, obviously) and food.
As one of the bigger cities in Portugal, it shares certain characteristics with Lisbon – for instance, they’ve both remained extremely friendly cities despite their size and host both historical and modern attractions – Porto tends to be the preferred choice among slightly older expats. It has a lower cost of living, and property prices than Lisbon too, yet it remains one of Portugal’s more expensive destinations (yet still very reasonable by European standards)
The smaller size means that it’s easy to get to grips with Porto than Lisbon, so it may start to feel at home quicker. Sure, it doesn’t have quite as much going on as the capital, but there are definitely advantages of opting to live in a slightly smaller city.
Best for: international business people
Similar to Vale de Telha, Sagres is a place to get away from the crowds and explore the rugged Portuguese landscape. We must admit that, as a town, it has slightly less charm than Vale de Telha – it’s very much purpose-built to attract tourist surfers and is lacking slightly in local touches – yet the surrounding scenery more than makes up for it.
It’s located in the southwest of Portugal (the point is actually the most western point of Europe), which means you can take your pick of beaches on the south or west coast. This is what’s made it so incredibly popular among surfers – if the swell is no good on one coast, then you might get lucky with the other. If you have your own transport, you’ll soon realize there are tonnes of beaches to discover, many of which are rarely visited, and there are some awesome clifftop walks too.
If you aren’t into surfing or walking, you’ll undoubtedly get bored here. However, for surfers and hikers, this is probably one of Europe’s top places to live – oh, and it’s pretty cheap too (just watch out for those peaks in accommodation prices during the summer months).
Best for: surfers
And now for Portugal’s third-largest city (after Lisbon and Porto), Braga. As you might expect, Braga has a lower cost of living than its larger siblings, yet it has plenty going on to keep you entertained. It has lots of school options too, so is a popular choice for these relocating with families in tow.
Located in the far north of Portugal, the summers here are a little cooler than down south, which can definitely be a good thing at times. Its proximity to the Spanish border also makes it a great spot for anyone who’s keen on taking cheeky trips to Spain every now and then. Located in the Minho region, which is famed for its wine (its vinho verde in particular), this is a great city for anyone that knows their grapes. It’s full of history too, and it plays host to various festivals throughout the year.
Best for: families, historians, wine lovers
So, there you have it, our list of the best place to live in Portugal. As you’ve seen, there’s a huge variety of living options in Portugal, ranging from sleepy coastal towns to bustling cities. It’s worth remembering that Portugal isn’t the largest country in the world, so even if you settle down in one location there’s nothing to say you can’t pack up sticks and try out somewhere else a few years down the line. In fact, we’d recommend doing this if possible, as it seems a shame not to explore as much of this magical country as possible!
No matter where you end up, Portugal is an incredibly friendly country that’s lucky enough to experience some of the best weather that Europe has to offer. Plus, even its largest cities are far more economical than similar cities elsewhere in Europe, making it a very budget-friendly option. For these reasons, and for so many more, we’re sure that once you set up camp in Portugal, you’re never going to want to leave again.
By: Roger Timbrook/expertworldtravel.com