Last updated: July 2018
If you haven’t already been to Portugal, chances are it’s on your bucket list. Over the past few years, Lisbon has quickly risen from relative obscurity to becoming one of the most popular places to visit in Europe (and maybe even in the world).
Visiting Lisbon, Porto, the Algarve, or any of the many wonderful destinations in Portugal, is an unforgettable experience in itself, and chances are you’ll want to pick up a memento or two for yourself or to give as a gift. Here are just a few things worth looking out for.
If you’re like most people, you probably only drink Port wine occasionally – maybe around Christmastime. You might not even know that there are more than one different style of Port: Ruby, Tawny, White, Crusted, LBV…
If you’ve never given Port Wine much thought before, then a trip to Portugal (and especially Porto, if you get the chance) is a fantastic opportunity to discover what could become a new favourite drink.
Port is also a great gift to bring back to friends and family back home, particularly the harder-to-find styles of Port. If you’re not sure what to get, white Port is always a novelty and a Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is always a crowd-pleaser.
Sardines & Tinned Products
Tinned products outside of Southern European countries like Spain and Portugal are typically cheap, and not something that you’d ever consider making the focal point of a meal. Tinned tuna, for example, is often made from cheap cuts of tuna, soaked in brine, and sold in bargain multipacks.
Not so in Portugal. Here, tinned food (conservas) is taken very seriously, and you won’t just find tinned tuna either. You’ll also find mussels, clams, octopus, horse mackerel, lamprey, trout – you name it.
The fish is usually stored in olive oil, typically high-quality olive oil, and may include other flavourings like herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, spices, white wine, or onions.
The tins themselves are usually very pretty, and many people buy them simply to have as ornaments in the kitchen or to give as gifts.
Cork is one of Portugal’s main exports but, as the world moves from cork to screw-cap bottles, the industry is in decline. To counter this, cork is now getting turned into just about every product imaginable: shoes, handbags, hats, wallets, iPad covers, coasters, keyrings – you name it. It seems like the approach is to make a cork-based version of everything, and then see what sells.
You’ll see cork products for sale all over Portugal, and particularly in souvenir shops, and there are also a couple of high-end retailers that specialise in cork like Cork & Co. in Lisbon.
While you may have have tried Port before, and seen cork products for sale all over Portugal, you may not know that Portugal is famous for the production of luxury soaps. At least two companies, Castelbel and Claus Porto, carry this reputation with Claus Porto soaps being sold at high-end boutiques like Saks Fifth Avenue and LAFCO New York.
Portuguese soaps are usually cheaper in Portugal, so picking up a bar or two while you’re here is definitely recommended. You’ll find them for sale at most boutiques, Portugal-specialist shops like A Vida Portuguesa, and department stores like El Corte Inglés.
Tiles, or azulejos, have been a part of Portuguese life for more than five centuries. They were introduced during Moorish rule, and initially weren’t as artistic as the tiles you see today as Islam prohibits depicting the human form in art. Once Portugal came back under Catholic rule again, however, the Portuguese went to town and began creating many of the tiles you see today.
You can buy tiles in any quantity in Portugal. Some people just buy one at a souvenir shop or a flea market*, others buy a couple to use as coasters, and others order a crate to redo their kitchen.
* There are reports that the tiles sold at many of the flea markets around Lisbon and Porto are being ripped off of historical buildings, and many people are now recommending that you no longer buy these tiles to discourage it from continuing.
Specialist shops in Lisbon include Fábrica Sant’Anna in Chiado, Solar Antiques in Principe Real, and Loja dos Descobrimentos in Alfama.
Did you pick up any souvenirs while you were in Portugal? Was it for yourself or for a gift? Let us know about your shopping experiences by leaving a comment below.