What is it about dog-unfriendly Portugal?
“In Portugal, dogs are not allowed on the beach! In restaurants, dogs are not allowed! Shopping with dogs is not allowed in Portugal! Dogs are not allowed in hotels in Portugal!”
I could replace the exclamation points at the end of sentences with question marks. Either people are absolutely convinced by these statements or they ask us if this is the case. In this blog post I report about our three-week holiday in Portugal and how dog-friendly we were able to get to know Portugal.
The journey to Portugal with three dogs
What is the best way to travel to Portugal with three dogs?
That’s right. By car.
From Solingen it is between 18 and 24 hours drive – depending on where you want to go in Portugal. We wanted to start our trip in the south of Portugal (Torres Vedras). So we would leave the longest journey behind right at the beginning, that was the plan. Of course, at that time we could not foresee that a car accident would put a damper on our plans. But more about that later.
We started at 6 pm.
We played a bit Tetris with our suitcases in the trunk until everything fit. The dogs took a seat in the back seat with the car cover and seat belts. In the footwell I squeezed the dogs’ things. Definitely I had packed more for the dogs than for me. Nevertheless I could not get rid of the feeling to have forgotten something for the dogs. To spare you the feeling, we have made a travel checklist with important things for the dog holiday. In my footwell our provisions took place: a few sandwiches, energy drinks, water and snacks. Once again briefly everything in the house checked and then it went off. 2200 kilometres were waiting for us – Yay.
At 7 pm the engine started. There’s a special reason why we left so late: It’s five hours from our home to Paris. According to plan we were in the city with the Eiffel Tower around 1 am. After all, it is much more pleasant to drive on empty streets, isn’t it? That’s why Rafael and I specifically decided to cross the metropolis of Paris at night. During the day, you always run into traffic jams and with such a long journey you want to avoid that.
Paris is not exactly safe in traffic jams and there are things you should keep in mind when driving through the big city. You can find out exactly what I mean in our list with 10 tips for driving to Portugal. Here you can also find out which country offers the cheapest fuel prices!
After 24 hours of driving we have reached our destination tired but safe. It was already dark, but that was also part of our plan: to arrive in Portugal in the evening to start the holiday with fresh energy.
Car accident on dog holiday
The first day of holiday was unforgettable, unfortunately in a negative sense.
Rafael was already on his way in the morning. Before he would leave with the dogs and me to the beach, he wanted to visit his deceased grandfather at the cemetery. Still on the way there, a ghost driver came towards him and drove into the front of his car. Rafael told me that he tried to swerve as best he could, that he had braked and thus prevented worse. The way the car looked, I was very happy that nothing had happened to him. Luckily the dogs were not in the car – they would have flown through the windshield or got away with a very big shock.
Today we know that the ghost driver was drunk at the wheel.
What does that tell us? Don’t drink and drive, dear children!
The first week of holiday: beach with dog
I’ll address the question right away: Are dogs prohibited on the beach? Jain.
In Portugal there are guarded beach sections and unguarded beach sections.
At the guarded beach sections, lifeguards watch out for drowning and watch over the beach and its visitors. Here you can rent beach huts or umbrellas and there are toilets, restaurants and bars. Dogs are not allowed on guarded beach sections during the summer season from July to September. In the early morning and late evening you can visit the guarded beach with your dog without any problems, because: Where no plaintiff, there no judge.
Early in the morning and late in the evening, when it is too cold for swimming and sunbathing anyway, the lifeguards and guards of the beach sections are not yet on duty. That means: Cast off and open fire for furry noses!
Nice and crowded here!
If you want to visit Portugal with a dog in summer, I can’t recommend the guarded beach sections anyway. It seems that you are missing nothing here – but! But you feel like an unloved cucumber in a hamburger. Everyone is pushing her like sardines to get into the water. Feeling everyone lies on top of everyone, that’s how full it is. I always take a look at the spectacle from the unguarded beach sections: the people look like a herd of ants in colourful bikinis and swimming trunks.
By the way, the unguarded beach sections are not so far away from the popular beach sections. Most of the times, it is a walk of 15-20 minutes.
But why are the unguarded beaches so empty anyway?
Because there’s nothing here.
No lifeguard, no restaurants and bars, no toilets. Just sun, sand and sea. A real natural beach.
The advantage: The dogs can come along, nobody bothers with their four-legged friends and there is plenty of room to romp and play. There is free choice of place and you have pure peace and quiet. We always take our own food for the day at the beach. Why else are there cooler bags? A parasol weighs nothing and can be set up and taken down in seconds.
But sometimes we feel like having a hot lunch or have to go to the toilet. Then we go over to the guarded beach section – it’s not just around the corner, but on the beach you lie around lazily all day anyway, so we don’t mind a little walking.
And how do I find a beach like this?
It’s not that hard.
In Portugal, one beach follows another. Where there is a guarded beach section, the unguarded beach is (not) far away. Sometimes you have to walk or drive a good distance, but this is rarely the case. Most of the time you can see the end of the guarded beach already by looking to the left or to the right. A guarded beach is characterized by its flags, which are either green, yellow or red in the wind.
Short excursus: In Portugal, lifeguards must not only keep an eye on the bathers but also on the sea. The whim of nature can be dangerous. Is it low tide or high tide? Is the sea today peaceful or rough? The lifeguard makes sure whether bathers are allowed in the water or not. The flags mentioned above serve as orientation here, which are either green, yellow or red, like the traffic light system. If the flag is green, you may swim, if it is yellow, you may go into the water, but swimming is not allowed. When the light is red, no one is allowed in the water.
We spent our first week on the beach in Santa Cruz sucking vitamin B into our bodies, taking lots of naps and eating lots of food. We really enjoyed ourselves. In the evening the dogs were totally flat, so we left them in the shelter. Rafael and I strolled leisurely along the beach promenade and visited the next restaurant.
Where we are right at the next question: are dogs allowed in the restaurant?
No. Dogs were prohibited by law in restaurants until 2017. Since 2 years every restaurant in Portugal is allowed to decide for itself if dogs are allowed or not. However, we have not yet seen a restaurant where we were allowed to take the dogs. But I don’t think that’s so bad. The summer is perfect for feasting outside. Nearly every restaurant in Portugal offers seating in a nice ambience in the nature. Here, dogs are not an issue at all and are often even offered water. A good compromise, right?
The second week of holiday: Let the adventures begin
The asses were flat on the beach soaking up the sun.
The dogs had bumblebees in their butts. So on a day with “mild” temperatures of around 25 degrees we didn’t go to the beach but into the car and off we went.
By the way: For our adventurous explorations we always chose the colder and even rainy days. With 30 degrees on exploration I can only conditionally recommend 😉
► The most western point of Europe, Cabo da Roca & Praia da Ursa
Portugal makes it really easy to visit in terms of sightseeings. There are always parking places directly at the destination. I have never experienced that one needs more than 10 minutes to get to the crowd. Especially for Mateo this was an advantage, as he was still growing at the time of our holiday and we always make sure that he does not have to walk too much, especially as a three-legged friend.
Cabo da Roca really took the words right out of my mouth. Great landscapes as far as the eye can see, a beautiful view of the sea and if you want, you can walk here for hours. We took some pictures at one of the many rocks. Soon the dogs became the real attraction. A Russian couple even asked for a selfie with Mateo and also if we had an Instagram profile. I had to laugh – Is it that obvious? 😀
From Cabo da Roca the beach Praia da Ursa is not far away.
We made the mistake to leave our parking lot to drive the few kilometers to the beach. In any case, I can’t recommend you to do that, because once you leave a parking place at Cabo da Roca, you won’t get another one so quickly! Especially as there is no parking place near the beach, as it was assumed in the beginning. So Rafael had to park at the roadside. From here we walked. In total we saved 2 minutes. Wow! That was really worth it. *¶ Irony off ¶
The walk took about 15 minutes. But nobody told me: That it’s really steep. Who knows that and equips himself with appropriate footwear, for him the way is absolutely feasible. But I was stupid enough to walk with my GIZEH Birkenstocks and had a hard time.
When I arrived at the beach all the sweat on my body and the anger in my head was forgotten. The view was so beautiful – I would have loved to spend more than just one afternoon at this place.
I’m telling you right now, I’m never coming back to this town.
Not that Sintra isn’t worth seeing. But that’s the problem.
Sintra is such a beautiful city that it’s a real tourist magnet. In addition, the city consists exclusively of very narrow streets and there are hardly any sidewalks. Fortunately we already knew that, so we looked for a parking place at the edge of Sintra. From there, it was a 15 minutes walk up to the city. I can’t recommend anyone to try to drive closer than to the edge of town. Parking in the city is almost impossible. There are no turning possibilities due to the narrow streets.
You notice: You really shouldn’t drive to Sintra. But you don’t have to: there is plenty of public transport that will get you and your pelt-nose from A to B very well.
My personal highlight: The TukTuks.
They are small and super fast moving projectiles.
Dogs are very welcome and pay nothing. Our chauffeur was very enthusiastic about the trio! She took photos what the hell, when we arrived at the desired destination. “I’ll show them to my boss”, she said laughing and wished for a Selfie.
Our main destination in Sintra: The pacle Palacio da Pena.
A beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site that is difficult to reach (like everything in this city). Originally we planned a walk up to the castle. But we soon realized that this was not a good idea. So we used the services of the TukTuks. Arriving at the top of the mountain Sintras and at the Palacio da Pena we had to realize sobering that A.) Dogs are not allowed in the castle and B.) Dogs are not even allowed in the garden of the castle. That was really shitty, because it was really difficult to get here at all.
Since the castle is located in a huge nature reserve – the Parque Natural da Sintra – we explored this one and not the castle. After all, we saved a lot of money, as the entrance to the Palacio da Pena is expensive. Only the entrance into the garden costs 12,- Euro per person. Although we did not see a castle, we were allowed to discover a beautiful national park.
Afterwards we went back to the city with the TukTuk for some sightseeing. We discovered a park where the dogs are allowed in: The Park Parque Liberdado. The entrance is free and there is a small but nice botanical garden to explore. This is the perfect place to relax from the crowded city and all the bustle. All in all, the day was successful, although very stressful.
► Dinopark in Lourinha & Castro do Zambujal
A very windy day. The hair whipped in my face while the dogs’ own ears flew around the food. Windy days are not very suitable for beach days. The sand just blows around and especially into the ears and into all imaginable orifices.
Therefore we searched for a destination near Torres Vedras and found it quickly: The Dino Parque de Lourinha – The biggest dino park in Europe. Dogs are allowed and the entrance for them is free. At the cash desk you only have to show that enough excrement bags have been packed.
The park is beautifully decorated, but it is easy to see everything. After one hour we left the park again. So we took out our smartphone again and googled. Our next destination was the Castro do Zambujal. Zambujal is a 5000 years old city. Also here dogs are allowed on a leash! Many hiking trails lead around and through the city. For a cooler or windy day a worth seeing attraction.
► Lagoa de Albufeira & Lisbon
We divided the next day into two stages.
First we visited the lagoon Lagoa de Albufeira in Sesimbra.
The special thing about this lagoon is that it slowly flows from the river into the sea, thus providing a great basis for swimming in seawater without being confronted with wild waves. A great bathing fun for dogs! After a cooling off during the hot midday hours, the pack continued its journey.
Lisbon was to be the last destination before we left for the Algarve. As we already visited the capital of Portugal last year with the dogs, this time we focused on the other side of the city to see the Tower of Belem and the bridge Ponte 25 de Abril.
The day was only enough for these two sights – spending a day in Lisbon is really not enough! Even for someone like me who’s been there twice. Lisbon is so huge that I still do not know all the attractions of the city. In retrospect, I would have liked to spend 3 or 4 days in Lisbon.
► The Algarve
From Torres Vedras we drive 3 hours to the famous Algarve. The first time for Rafael and me. None of our family members ever wanted to go there with us, so we planned a side trip there this year. My dad always says: “There are only tourists there! It’s too crowded and even hotter than here!” He should be right.
It was horrible when I got there.
The Google navi was as good as a wet fart in the Algarve: nothing.
It was scalding hot. We just wanted to go to the beach and especially into the cool water. Rafael had found an unguarded beach on the internet and navigated to a nearby car park. But our best friend the Google-Navi guided us to private hotel streets that had no turning possibility. On top of that we were not the only ones with the problem. One street was so narrow that Rafael had to back out again, but his back man didn’t want to see the whole thing. So the first few minutes in the Algarve started with a fight and a lot of stress. After two hours we finally reached our destination. But the problems wouldn’t stop there.
Do you remember the story of Praia da Ursa and the steep path to it? I thought it was steep. But the path was nothing compared to the climbing to the beach in the Algarve, which didn’t even have a name.
Admittedly, the adventurous way to the beach was more fun than I had expected. Also the dogs were more than happy to be allowed to move after the long car ride.
So: everything is not so bad.
Arrived at the beach I was speechless. The beach was not big, but the more beautiful and surrounded by a breathtaking rocky landscape. I could not suck all these impressions into myself. It was wonderful.
At sunset we went back and made a stopover at the beach Praia dos Tres Irmaos. This is a guarded (and very popular) beach from front to back, but the sun was already almost set. There were no more lifeguards in sight and no flags fluttered in the wind. So we let the stressful day end with a wonderful sunset walk at the Praia dos Tres Irmaos.
The next day should be one of the most unforgettable days in my life! Already in the darkness we drove to our next destination: Benagil. Right at sunrise the adventure started:
The sun hadn’t risen yet, when Rafael and I were already pumping air into our inflatable rubber boat. Our destination: The cave of Benagil, better known as Benagil Caves.
With the inflated rubber boat we paddled from Benagil beach 50 meters over to the cave. The way is not far at all and can even be done by swimming. Here the community has thought of something for the safety of the visitors: A traffic light that lights up red, should the waves be too high (and therefore much too dangerous) for swimming that day.
After 3 minutes paddling we reached the cave.
This morning we were the second human couple to enter this cave. We spent over an hour in this breathtaking natural spectacle. I would have liked to spend more time there, but already at 8 o’clock the first tourist ships arrived. There must have been 30 people per ship. This mass of people took away the magic of this place, which fortunately I was still able to experience. Before the first ship anchored, we made our way back.
Back at the car and with an indescribable feeling of happiness in my heart I took my time to explore the area on Google Maps. I found a lake a little off the beach that flowed into the sea. It looked interesting (and above all unguarded). We didn’t torch for long and drove off. This time it also worked with the Navi. We parked at the beach parking lot. The way to the beach is the same way as to my discovered watering place, which is almost directly opposite the beach.
Rafael found out that we had just found the hot spot for mussels. That explained all the fishermen with their nets digging in the sand. The place was nice and invited to stay, but the water was very shallow – only ankle high. It was much too hot not to be able to cool down completely.
That’s why Rafael went and looked at the beach. After 10 minutes he came back and reported joyfully that he had found an unguarded beach section. Not far from a tourist beach. We didn’t expect that! On the first day in the Algarve I had to realize My dad was right.
The Algarve was full of tourists. The beaches were fuller than full, even fuller than the “normal” beaches in Portugal. Not one centimetre of sand was exposed. The whole beach formed a carpet of hundreds of towels. The joy was all the greater when Rafael discovered the beach section. It was almost deserted and the water was so clear that it looked transparent.
In the evening we set off for the north of Portugal. Our time at the beach was over – now the adventure of wanderlust and mountains would start!
The third week of your holiday: hiking with your dog in the mountains of Portugal
In the north of Portugal my parents have a house. We spent a few days of the last week of our holidays to relax and to review the adventurous days. Only now I realized how much we had actually experienced in such a short time. So we cut back a little and spent a lot of time with the family.
► Serra da Estrela Natural Park
The national park on the highest mountain range in Portugal is worth a visit every year. Just the drive there left me amazed: beautiful landscapes with natural rock formations as I had never seen them before. Mother Nature obviously knows her craft. Our first stop should be the Barragem Marques da Silva dam at the Lagoa Comprida lake.
If the weather is good, you can spend a wonderful bathing day here with crystal clear water or cool off and start the hike to Covoa dos Conchos. This year we cancelled the 20km hike, because we didn’t want Mateo to have such a stony and long hike. Last year it was my highlight of the holiday and I can warmly recommend this tour to every hiking friend. On the way to the waterfall one discovers wild goats, beautiful heather landscape and again these fascinating rock formations paired with absolute silence. You hear nothing but the wind in your ears. Simply a great experience.
After the small stop at the dam we drove another 10 minutes to the top of the Torre mountain. Those who arrive up here can build their very own stone tower as a souvenir. Here, this is a kind of tradition and looks really fascinating in the crowd.
On the summit region you can buy traditional bread and delicious cheese – not quite cheap, but tasty. From the summit you have an amazing view over the whole mainland.
► Alvao Natural Park
As you can see, the north of Portugal is characterized by countless nature parks. After a rest day at the lake near my parents’ house the adventure continued. This time the verpinscht Family went to the waterfall Piocas de Cima. First we looked at the whole thing from the outside – this view was already beautiful.
But it should become more beautiful!
After the short stop Rafael drove on to the source of the waterfall Fisgas do Ermelo. There is a parking lot with a great sign, and I quote: “Leave nothing but footprints!”
The way to the waterhole is not easy, but by far easier than to the beach Praia da Ursa. After about 10 minutes we reached our destination. This water place is often used for swimming and that is exactly what we had planned to do that day. After we found a good place to lie down Rafael, Mojo, Rana, Mateo and I took a break and only left when the sun said goodbye to the day.
A beautiful city that absolutely had to be on the list of sights we wanted to see. A cloudy day with little sun – perfect for a city trip with dog.
First we strolled through the alleys of Portos, over the metal bridge Ponte Dom Luis l. On the other side of Portos we had lunch in a restaurant on the river bank. We watched locals earn some extra change by jumping down the bridge.
In the legendary Teleferico de Gaia cable car dogs are allowed and cost nothing. It flies you in a gondola over the Douro and you can go from the old town to Gaia and back again.
The return trip costs 8,- Euro, a single trip costs 5,- Euro. A photo in the gondola will also be taken. We could not help but wrap it as a souvenir. For us, we went after the meal to the cathedral Sé Catedral. Another UNESCO world cultural heritage. From here you have a wonderful panoramic view of the city of port wine.
The trip to Porto was the perfect ending.
Two days later the pack was already on its way back to Germany.
The return journey with dog to Germany & how I spent my first night on a parking deck
She was mean.
None of us will forget this trip back to Germany so quickly. Because of the car accident we had no more car. The yellow angels organized a rental car, with which we had to drive from the Spanish border to Barcelona to pick up the rental car with German license plates, which should bring us home safely.
So my parents first drove us from the north of Portugal to the Spanish border. Until here, everything went well so far. The arrival went according to plan: Right after the opening of the car rental (10 am in the morning) we stood at the shop entrance as ordered and not picked up.
The suitcases and dogs from car A to car B and off we went to Barcelona. The problem: The car rental in Barcelona would close at 11 pm. We had 1100 kilometres to get there. So about 10 hours drive. Rafael had to drive through without a break, so that we could do it safely. At 9 pm (so pretty punctual) we arrived in Barcelona and…
…stood in front of a closed door. Then the car rental company had thwarted our plans and just finished work early. For us that meant waiting and sleeping in the car. In the car that had to be returned at 9 am the next morning at the latest, mind you.
One sleepless night and a few aching limbs later (sleeping in the car is so uncomfortable!) Rafael had to return the current rental car – and our only place to stay – and so I stood on the parking deck with my suitcase and dogs as ordered and not picked up and waited. Waited for 4 hours.
After 5 hours I finally got to see Rafael again. He looked in a good mood, which immediately calmed me down. With the car papers in his hand and a tired smile on his face, he said, “I’m going to get the car and then we can finally get out of here.”
No sooner said than done.
Just threw the stuff in the car.
Strapped the dogs on and off. We just wanted to go home.
After another 12 hours drive we were finally there.
Home, sweet home.
Portugal is not as dog-friendly as Germany, but not more dog-unfriendly than many other countries. In Spain, France and the Netherlands, for example, dogs are not allowed on the guarded beaches any more than in Portugal.
Instead, Portugal offers a lot of “unused” space on the part of tourism. You can use this space perfectly for a holiday with your dog. Often these are unguarded beaches and you don’t have the luxury of a toilet on the beach or a bar nearby – but you have your best friend at your side! Furthermore, the guarded beach sections are never far away from the unguarded beaches. So you can still get to the toilet, even if it’s a long walk.
You are not allowed to enter restaurants with your dog, but isn’t it much nicer to eat outside in the summer anyway? Almost every restaurant has several rows of tables outside the restaurant. Here dogs are welcome and often get water.
Almost all the attractions and sights on our list we could check out with Mojo, Rana and Mateo. During the whole vacation we only stood once in front of closed doors: In the UNESCO world cultural heritage in Sintra. I would at least have liked to see it from the outside, but I had not expected that dogs are even forbidden in the garden and this is also rather seldom the case. Actually it was the first time. With the dogs we have already visited many sights in Portugal
My personal conclusion: Portugal is a great country if you want to see a lot of nature with your dog. We have spent so much time in the fresh air and discovered so much. Also in the big cities of Lisbon and Porto a trip with dog was possible. You just have to be aware that museums and similar public institutions are taboo. The usual city trips with sightseeing tours in the individual buildings are unfortunately denied to dog owners.
If you want to see things like the Belem Tower or the many churches from the inside, your dog will have to stay at home! Unless you have someone else in tow – in which case you can take turns viewing the individual attractions from the inside. That’s how Rafael and I do it quite often. In the change we look at certain highlights also from the inside, while the other one waits outside with the dogs and takes a little forced break.
Nothing stands in the way of your holiday with a dog in Portugal if you are willing to make a few small sacrifices here and there.