Local traditions and culture in Portugal

  • Festivals
    by berenices
  • The bullring in Vila Franca de Xira.
    The bullring in Vila Franca de Xira.
    by cachaseiro
  • Festa Espirito Santo 2013 in Ponta Delgada.
    Festa Espirito Santo 2013 in Ponta...
    by cachaseiro

Most Viewed Local Customs in Portugal

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    O GALO DE BARCELOS - Bird Symbol of Portugal

    by jumpingnorman Updated Feb 19, 2013

    This is the unofficial symbol of Portugal and unfortunately, I was not able to photograph this colorful BIRD SYMBOL when my sister and I went to Portugal in 2009. And so, I vow to return and take a picture by this famous symbol when we get the chance to return to this beautiful country.

    You will see this bird in ceramic form in tourist shops and also embroidered in towels, aprons, stamped on key chains, paper weights, and so forth. It is said that the bird "embodies the love of life displayed by the Portuguese people".

    The legend appears to have come from the city of Barcelos just east of Braga and this is how it goes:

    "At a banquet given by a rich landowner in Barcelos, a valuable piece of silver was stolen and one of guests was accused of the theft. He was tried by the court and was found guilty. In spite of the overwhelming evidence against him, he still protested his innocence. The magistrate granted the man a final chance to prove his case. Seeing a cock in a basket nearby he said, “If I am innocent, the cock will crow.” The cock crowed and the prisoner was allowed to go free. " (from Portugal Porto Mission webpage]

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    FADO HOUSES - soulful songs of Portugal

    by jumpingnorman Updated Feb 15, 2013

    My sister and I went to Portugal in September 2009 and heard someone singing with some string instrument with so much passion in a restaurant - we did not know at the time that this was "Fado music", folk music of Portugal.

    The English guitar was introduced into Portugal by the British community in Porto in the 19th century and they also use the six-stringed viola for the Fado songs. These are often very sad songs about love and pain, and it appears that the "soul of the Portuguese" is expressed through this musical art form.

    I also saw so much passion for songs in another country, namely Argentina (where people were literally crying as a performer sang about economic and political struggles).

    So, when in Portugal, be aware that these Fado Houses may be a nice venue for your dinner to better experience the spirit of Portugal.

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    PORTUGAL and FOOTBALL - "Força" song

    by jumpingnorman Updated Feb 15, 2013

    Portugal is also a football country (it was introduced to the country in 1875) and football is like a religion for this country, with Lisbon having 3 football teams which hold a total of 109 titles (maybe more now). The Sporting Clube de Portugal (also known as Sporting), Sport Lisboa e Benfica (Commonly known as Benfica) and the C.F. Os Belenenses. The main domestic football competition is the Primeira Liga.

    The first organized game in 1875 was in Camacha, Madeira, and then in October 1888 Guilherme Pinto Basto organized an exhibition. It has been said that his brothers Eduardo and Frederico brought the ball from England. And from then on, the game has appealed to the masses.

    The Euro 2004 football games were held in Portugal and it was full of excitement. Portugese-Canadian singer Nelly Furtado sang the Official Tournament Theme "Força". And there was a lot of surprises during the games itself which I will not elaborate on (will just mention that France who were the defendong champions got eliminated by underdog Greece).

    And from Wikipedia: "The Portugal national football team (Portuguese: Seleção Nacional de Futebol de Portugal) represents Portugal in association football and is controlled by the Portuguese Football Federation, the governing body for football in Portugal. Portugal's home ground is the Estádio Nacional in Oeiras."

    Other sports: indoor football, handball, basketball and roller hockey.

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    Restaurant portions are enormous ...

    by haikutaxi Written Feb 13, 2013

    Portions are usually more than enough for two people unless one of you is a really big eater. We were walking for hours each day and still generally ordered one meal to share. This seems to be perfectly acceptable though we usually ordered an extra soup or salad to go with it (and, of course, wine). A little extra tip is a nice touch to show appreciation. The Portuguese are exceeding generous and thoughtful ... it's contagious!

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    Bolo rei.

    by Maurizioago Written Nov 25, 2012

    Bolo rei is a sweet bread usually eaten around Christmas. It is round with a hole in the centre and covered with crystallized and dried fruit.

    It is sold in several confectioneries and supermarkets in this country.

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    by traveldave Updated Aug 6, 2012

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    An important aspect of Portugal's cultural heritage, azulejos are painted blue-and-white tin-glazed ceramic tiles that can be seen all over the country. Its is common to see azulejos applied to the walls, floors, and even ceilings of churches, palaces, train stations, restaurants, public buildings, and private homes.

    Azulejos are not uniquely Portuguese--they were imported from Spain to Portugal by the Moors--but the Portuguese perfected the design and quality. The term azulejo comes from the Arabic al-Zulayj, which means "polished stone." The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of covering bare walls with the decorative tiles.

    After the Portuguese captured the North African town of Ceuta in 1415, they acquired the technique of making azulejos. Prior to that time, they had to rely on imports from Spain.

    Although most azulejos contain simple geometric designs, many depict historical events or scenes from everyday life. The azulejo pictured here depicts an early city scene, and is found on the outside of the Igreja Santa Luiza in the Alfama district of Lisbon.

    A unique souvenir of Portugal, azulejos are sold almost everywhere, but true antique pieces are hard to find.

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    by solopes Updated Jul 8, 2012

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    Portuguese are proud of their independence from Spain, and may get offended if CONFUSED with Spanish.
    However, Spanish people are well received in Portugal, and the attempts to communicate between both languages created a new concept: "Portunhol". That's what we call to the result of a Portuguese trying to speak Spanish.

    Both languages seem alike when written, but they are very different when spoken, the Portuguese being one of the most difficult languages in the world, because of its use of closed vowels (Brazilian is an evolution easier to learn, because it uses less closed vowels).

    Portuguese, generally, do understand Spanish, if spoken slowly, but it doesn't work the other way. That's where "Portunhol" may become useful.

    There's nothing to be afraid of, concerning language, when coming to Portugal. Everywhere you will find someone speaking English (or tying to), French and Portunhol. Get a good dictionary, and enjoy your time, in a real welcoming country, with a welcoming people.

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    by solopes Updated May 5, 2012

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    If you plan to go to Portugal, or to deal with Portuguese, there´s a word that you should understand - "Desenrascanço" or in its verbal form "Desenrascar".

    It has no translation in English, and browsing the net searching the best way to explain it, I found a silly text that, despite some nonsenses that shocked the few Portuguese that commented it, gives a close idea:

    The site is called The 10 coolest foreign words English language needs and says:

    Means: To pull a MacGyver.

    This is the art of slapping together a solution to a problem at the last minute, with no advanced planning, and no resources. It's the coat hanger you use to fish your car keys out of the toilet, the emergency mustache you hastily construct out of pubic hair.

    What's interesting about desenrascanço (literally "to disentangle" yourself out of a bad situation), the Portuguese word for these last-minute solutions, is what it says about their culture.

    Where most of us were taught the Boy Scout slogan "be prepared," and are constantly hassled if we don't plan every little thing ahead, the Portuguese value just the opposite.
    Coming up with frantic, last-minute improvisations that somehow work is considered one of the most valued skills there; they even teach it in universities, and in the armed forces (Ah Ah, Ah!). They believe this ability to slap together haphazard solutions has been key to their survival over the centuries. (Ah Ah, Ah!)

    Don't laugh. At one time they managed to build an empire stretching from Brazil to the Philippines this way. (Ah, Ah, Ah! - my next visit: Portuguese Philipinnes)

    Yes, don't laugh! I promise to stop laughing too.

    It seems to have been written by one those Americans that we see in TV answering that Australia is the capital of Paris, but it gives an idea - "Desenrascanço" is the ability to go beyond planning if anything fails, and to find a solution.

    So, if you travel near S. Martinho do Porto, and find a pillar in the middle of the road, at the exit of a tunnel, don't be surprised - it is not madness or incompetence . It is a monument to the national "Desenrascanço" by an architect that, probably, studied in one of those mentioned universities.

    Ah, Ah... excuse-me, I promised to stop laughing!

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    Carnival time in Lisbon

    by gwened Written Feb 10, 2012

    carnival is a festive grand celebration wherever, Lisboa is no exception. If you happenned to be there, its grand. yes busy even crowded but fun all around, recommended, see the official site in English

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    Cork Trees

    by DSwede Updated Feb 1, 2012

    Portugal produces a lot of cork. In the trendy shopping districts and tourist centers, you will find cork made into many products, like wallets, bags, book covers, tablets, etc. It is a renewable product which is waterproof and relatively durable.

    But what most people don't know is how the cork is harvested. Particularly in the south of Portugal, lots of cork trees grow both in orchards and in any free spaces available.

    The cork is harvested from the outer bark layer of the tree. When the cork is removed, the trunk of the tree is dark, almost black. As the bark grows back, its thickness increases and the color returns to the brown tree.

    Harvested trees are painted with numbers indicating the year in which it was last harvested. About 10 years later, the cycle will be repeated.

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    Ameixas d´Elvas - rich, candied plums

    by berenices Updated Dec 4, 2011

    These Elvas plums, grown and preserved for centuries in the upper Alentejo is known the world over for their sweet and special richness. It is excellent to eat by itself, though it is often used as an accompaniment to cakes or eaten with cheese. There is a very good traditional Portuguese cake (again from the Alentejo region) called sericaia which calls for a slice of this plum on top.

    These plums are harvested in summer and left in vats of sugarcane syrup. The fruits are then candied for several weeks, and then stored again in sweet syrup to be drained and dried when ready for packing.

    These candied ameixas do not come cheap, a small box with 6 pieces easily cost around 7 euros, but they're worth it. Towards Christmas, deli shops and candy and pastry shops, and supermarkets start stocking up on the Ameixas d'Elvas. It's a great gift to give any time of the year, or just to bring home to indulge in one bite at a time!

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    Bacalhau - a national passion

    by berenices Written Dec 4, 2011

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    Football and codfish wrestle for top position as a national passion in Portugal though perhaps it's more accurate to say both share top position. It goes a long way back, many centuries ago. Codfish is caught in the North Sea by hardy fishermen who would be gone for months, enduring the bitter cold and risking their lives. An entire industry and associated industries sprung up because of this - saltmaking, boatmaking, ropemaking, etc. Today, more sophisticated fishing boats though in much lesser number, and also because of the significantly less supply, do the job.

    In the country's history, eating dried codfish played a significant role in religion, as it was prohibited by the Catholic Church to eat meat on certain days of the week and during Lent. Though it is fairly common to have it in regular meals, codfish is practically a must in the Christmas dinner. Easy to cook -- all you need really is good olive oil and herbs (but don't forget to put it in water for at least 24 hours to take away the salt), the flesh is smoothly textured, with a light taste and is filling. It goes wonderfully with potatoes, and with spinach. Although of course the Portuguese claim there are 1001 ways to do it!

    Bacalhau is always present in all restaurant menus, so next time you're visiting, be sure to order a dish, and find out why eating it is a passion in this country. And may I recommend, grab a glass or better yet, a bottle of white wine to go with it to round up a perfect Portuguese meal.

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    The portugese love codfish.

    by cachaseiro Written Oct 6, 2011

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    The portugese do in general love fish, but the really big passion of the portugese is codfish even if it´s not really caught in their waters, but comes from up north.
    they get most of their codfish from Norway as salted and dried fish and if you walk in to a portugese supermarket you will mostly see a whole counter that has nothing but salted and dried codfish.
    The portugese like to eat codfish for christmas too which shows what passion they have for this fine fish.
    So if you are in Portugal then you better eat some "bacalhau" as the portugese call it, if you want to capture the spirit of the nation.

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    Fishing industry in Portugal

    by Odinnthor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    A question was asked regarding the local fishing village custom wherein the women in the villages carried the days catch in baskets on their head. Another member showed some photos in a link, from 1964 and I was compelled to comment. Here is my comment: I checked out the link above, - great historical record, - but those are really days gone by. I recently read an extended article in the Los Angeles Times, - perhaps three months ago, - and learned that the entire fishing industry in the small fishing towns in Portugal are in dire straits due to severe over fishing in their usual fishing territories. It was a truly enlightening reading and really showed an ending of an era. My point being that age old customs, such as carrying the days catch in baskets on their head, do not necessarily die out, but there may not be much to carry these days. It was indeed sad to see what has become of age old traditions due to lack of respect for the natural oceanic habitats. This was not brought about by the Portugese fishermen, but rather industrial overfishing by other countries. Nevertheless this has devastated the age old villages that have depended on this livelihood for centuries. Just a thought. The link to the photos from 1964 is below.

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    by acemj Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The most well-known style of Portuguese music is the Fado, which translated literally means "fate." It is difficult to describe or define fado, but it is certainly an evocative form of expression (musical poetry, if you will). It can be both melancholy or more upbeat and it is said to be better felt than understood.

    There are two styles of fado; Lisbon's version and that of the university town of Coimbra. Both involve singers accompanied by a 12-string Portuguese guitar and a traditional guitar known in Portugal as a viola. The roots of fado are said to be in troubador music as well as influences of the music of African slaves.

    Check out the website for more info.

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