Portugal is famous for its culturally rich history, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fado, as well as delicious wine and food, but there’s so much most don’t know about the country. So let’s get straight to it, here are 17 fun facts about Portugal that will blow your mind!
1. Portugal is one of the oldest nations in Europe
The borders of the nation of Portugal were defined in 1139, making it not only one of the oldest nations in the world but arguably in all of Europe. Portugal appointed King Afonso Henriques as its king that year. Fun fact: Lisbon is actually four centuries older than Rome. Before it was known as Portugal, the territory had been settled by various empires and civilizations such as by the Phoenicians in 1200 BC.
2. The oldest operating bookstore in the world is located in Lisbon
Located in Chiado, Livraria Bertrand holds the Guinness world record for the world’s oldest bookstore still in operation, founded in 1732. With over 250 years of history, Bertrand was opened by Peter Faure as a small shop and was once a hotspot for Portuguese intellectuals across the decades. In 2010, the bookstore became part of the Porto Editora group and branches opened all over the country. However, the Lisbon bookstore remains a historical and cultural landmark for book lovers.
3. Portugal is one of the most peaceful countries
In 2021, Portugal came in 4th place on the Global Peace Index (GPI), making it one of the most peaceful countries in the world, behind Iceland, New Zealand, and Denmark. Portugal is thus one of the safest countries in the world with little violence.
4. There are over 250 million Portuguese speakers around the globe
Portuguese is one of the 10 most spoken languages in the world, with over 250 million Portuguese speakers around the globe. Portuguese is the official language in 9 countries including Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Therefore it’s not that surprising that only 5% of Portuguese speakers live in Portugal.
5. Portugal is home to the world’s largest cork forest
After bacalhau and the Barcelos rooster, an iconic Portuguese symbol is cork. Portugal is the biggest cork producer in the world and produces more than 50% of the world’s cork supply. It is also home to the world’s largest cork forests, making up 34% of the world’s area of cork forests. The Amorim Family of Portuguese billionaire Américo Amorim made their multi-billion-dollar fortune in the cork industry.
6. Lisbon suffered one of the world’s largest natural disasters in world history
On November 1st, 1755 an earthquake hit Lisbon, destroying almost the entirety of the city. Seismologists estimate the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.7 or more. The earthquake generated a 6-meter-high tsunami that caused many to drown. The death toll in Lisbon was between 12,000 and 60,000 people, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.
7. Portugal lived under a fascist dictatorship for over 40 years
Not many know this outside of Portugal, but for over 40 years, the Portuguese lived under a fascist dictatorship under the rule of Antonio Salazar. On the 25 of April 1974 the “Carnation Revolution”, a peaceful military coup, overthrew the dictatorship. This day signifies the end of decades of oppression, torture by PIDE (Salazar’s police), and the beginning of the end of Portuguese colonization. It’s a day of freedom, “Liberdade”.
8. The maximum prison sentence in Portugal is 25 years
The Portuguese Penal Code states that a person must not be sentenced to a prison sentence longer than 25 years. This means that even if multiple crimes such as homicides are committed, no one will serve more than 25 years in prison. Naturally, the death penalty is also not present in Portugal.
9. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001, the first country in the world to do so
On July 1, 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize all drugs, including meth and heroin. The law made drug possession for personal use legally prohibited, while drug trafficking remains a criminal offense. The change in law was applied as a measure to fight the heightened drug epidemic of the 90s and the rise of HIV cases. Portugal now has some of the lowest drug usage rates in the European Union (EU), where most countries hold criminalization models.
10. The biggest waves ever surfed are in Portugal
Nazaré is the go-to for surfing huge waves as it has set world records, making it a permanent spot on the World Surg League Big Wave Tour. In 2013, McNamara broke his own world record by serving an estimated 30-meter wave off the coast of Nazaré. However, the official Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed is currently held by Brazil’s Rodrigo Koxa, who caught an almost 25-meter wave at Praia do Norte, Nazaré in Portugal in 2017.
11. Around 8 million travel to the site of the miracle of Fatima every year
In 1917, three shepherd children witnessed the apparition of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, six times over six months. These three apparitions and the spread of the messages throughout the city culminated in the Miracle of the Sun, allegedly witnessed by over 70,000 people. There are many accounts of what this miracle consisted of but most say that after a period of rain, the skies cleared and the sun appeared as a spinning disc in the sky with radiant colors. Over 100 years later, around 8 million pilgrims travel to the Sanctuary of Fatima every year to visit the site of the apparitions and of the Miracle of the Sun. Take a look at our guide to Fatima so you can plan your visit.
12. Europe’s most westernmost point is located in Portugal
Cabo da Roca, located on the western end of the Sintra mountains on the coast of the Atlantic ocean, is in fact the westernmost point in Europe. Also known as Cape Roca, this point is a narrow granite cliff that is 144 meters high and boasts views of the Atlantic ocean, once known to the Romans as Promonotorium Magnum.
13. Portugal is a European leader in sustainable energy
In March of 2018, Portugal generated 100% of its energy through renewable sources such as hydro, wind, and solar power. In 2020, Portugal ranked as the 4th green country in the European Union across six categories, including waste, energy, greenhouse gases, air quality, fresh water, and natural land. Portugal was also among the first countries in the world to set 2050 carbon neutrality goals.
14. Portugal is one of the best places in the world to retire
Portugal is one of the best places in the world to retire, according to the International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index and Forbes. With a low cost of living and tax incentives, retirees come from all over the world to settle down in Portugal. Retirees can make use of the NHR regime, a quality healthcare system, and an all-around high standard of living. Take a look at our guide to retiring in Portugal.
15. The Vasco da Gama bridge was the longest in Europe (when it opened)
The Vasco da Gama bridge crosses 17 kilometers over the River Tagus in Lisbon and opened in 1998, at the time, making it the longest bridge in Europe. The bridge was named after the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama who discovered the sea route from Europe to India. Today, it is the second-longest bridge in Europe, after the Crimean Bridge, but it remains the longest bridge in the European Union.
16. Portugal is known as the “country of tiles”
Since 2013, it’s been forbidden to demolish buildings with tile-covered façades in Lisbon to protect their cultural heritage. These glazed blue ceramic tiles from the 14th century decorate the streets, buildings, and monuments of Portuguese cities. The azulejo is also commonly displayed in Portuguese homes, as well as train stations, restaurants, and fountains. Tiles were originally created to protect the walls of houses from low temperatures, not for aesthetic purposes.
17. The birth rate in Portugal is below the EU average
Portugal has one of the lowest birth rates in the EU, standing at 7.7% in 2021. The birth rate has been decreasing exponentially since the 1950s. The Socialist Party (PS) has included major measures to tackle the low birth rate in the proposed state budget for 2022/2023, such as providing free childcare for kids up to 1 years old.