Accommodation in Portugal is pretty good value compared with other western European countries. In almost any town you can find a basic guesthouse or small hotel offering a simple double or twin room for as little as 40 EUR, though you’ll pay more in Algarve resorts in summer, or year-round in Lisbon or Porto. Moving upmarket, you’re often spoilt for choice by some wonderful manor houses and a network of comfortable hotels known as pousadas, many in historic buildings or sited in places of natural beauty. Even in high season you shouldn’t have much problem finding a bed in most regions, though the best places in Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve are often booked up days ahead, so advance reservations here are advised.
A word of warning: between November and April, night-time temperatures throughout the interior and the north can fall to below freezing. However, few B&Bs or guesthouses have any form of heating other than the odd plug-in radiator, so check out the facilities before taking a room. Similarly, in the height of summer check for a fan or air-conditioning, as nights can be very warm.
A simple guesthouse is known as an alojamento local – these come with or without en-suite facilities and don’t always provide breakfast, but are usually perfectly comfortable and often in characterful old townhouses. In seaside resorts and smaller villages, you can also often rent a room in a private house, known as a dormida or quarto – just look around for signs in windows. Room quality and facilities vary greatly; some are little more than a bed in a converted attic, others come with modern bathrooms and air conditioning. Always ask where the room is before you agree to take it – you could end up far from the town centre or beach. Rates for alojamentos locais and quartos average 40–50 EUR a night, though in the Algarve in high season expect to pay up to twice as much.
Hotels are all classified with one to five stars, and can vary from old buildings with plenty of character, sometimes with owners to match, to top-notch, stylish, luxury resorts. At two- and three-star hotels, en-suite doubles cost around 80 EUR; many three-star places have air-conditioned rooms with cable/satellite TV, and even swimming pools, so they can be pretty good value. Some cosier places of four- or five-star quality, often in a converted historic building or manor house in a rural location, are known as estalagems, or inns. All hotels and estalagems/inns serve breakfast, usually (though not always) included in the price. In one- and two-star hotels it tends to be continental-style; more substantial buffet breakfasts are provided at three-star places and up.
Pousadas de Portugal is a chain of 37 hotels that have mostly been converted from historic properties such as old monasteries or castles, often in dramatic countryside settings. The larger converted historic buildings are particularly fine, making full use of the old cloisters and chapels, etc, and some have been well modernized by Portugal’s top architects. Others are more like small country houses, with an old-fashioned elegance and charm, while facilities and service throughout are equivalent to those in four- and five-star hotels. Most also have a swimming pool, lovely gardens and a good restaurant. Prices vary considerably depending on the season, day and location, but start at 100–120 EUR per night, rising to 170–200 EUR for the finest properties. That said, a whole host of promotions (through the website) offer discounted rooms, and there are good deals for anyone over 55.
An increasingly popular alternative is to stay in a privately owned country or manor house. Promoted under the banner of Turismo no Espaço Rural (TER), most are reasonably priced. Properties range from simple farmhouses offering a couple of rooms on a bed-and-breakfast basis, to country manors complete with period furnishings. Quintas or herdades are farm estate houses, and you can even stay in palaces (palácios), owned by Portuguese aristocrats who have allowed their ancient seats to become part of the scheme. Rates start at around 70 EUR a night, though the grandest places might charge up to 120 EUR for a double/twin room, or a little more for self-contained apartments or cottages within the grounds (sleeping up to six). Large breakfasts are invariably included, while many will provide dinners made from locally sourced ingredients.
Virtually every area of the country has some sort of self-catering villa or apartment available for rent, from basic one-room studios to five- or six-bedroom houses complete with grounds and pool. Most UK and European tour operators can find you a suitable place, though in summer the best places are booked up months in advance. The minimum rental period is usually a week, and the best deals are often packages, including flights and car rental, with endless tour companies such as First Choice and Thomson, or Western Algarve experts Star Villas.
There are hundreds of campsites – though many are huge, town-sized affairs by or near the beach that also have space for campervans/RVs, caravans and permanent bungalows and apartments. Needless to say, these get very crowded with Portuguese families in summer, though there are also plenty of smaller rural sites offering a quieter experience. Charges are usually per person and per caravan or tent, with showers and parking extra; even so, it’s rare that you’ll pay more than 8 EUR per person, although those operated by Orbitur – usually with bungalows on site as well – are more expensive. The cheapest place to camp is usually the municipal campsite in each town, though these vary in quality and can be very crowded – they are not always recommended. Camping outside campsites is legal, though there are restrictions – for example, you can’t camp on tourist beaches or in natural parks (other than in designated camping areas).
As everywhere else in Europe, hostels are a popular and cheap option of accommodation in Portugal. You can find hostels in most cities and big towns all over the country. The prices usually start at around 10 EUR per bed per night, not including breakfast.