Shopping in Portugal

Portugal often conjures up images of naval discoveries and world explorers . Today  country is more known for its charming easy-going attitudes, scenic lanes, old city architecture, port wines and bossa nova. If opting to shop here, you will inevitably encounter not just a few paradoxes.  Portugal  is more contemporary than you might imagine: while it definitely has its traditional shops,  a large number of shopping malls and bigger department stores have also mushroomed here and there. Popular domestic buys include leather goods, copper, ceramics, silver and gold jewellery, tapestry, woodcarving, cork goods, porcelain, crystal and glassware.

Port wine remains the ultimate souvenir most often associated with Portugal. It can be purchased just about anywhere and is sold in heavy thick bottles. You'll find it reasonably priced in the local grocery stores, but you can also look for it at  airport shops, where, however, it tends to be more expensive. Port can be legally produced in one region only, Portugal’s Douro River Valley, that's why it is so expensive to buy at home! The brandy that is added to the wine makes it a lot stronger than a regular wine, and adds a specific taste to it. In the past  brandy was merely added to keep the wine from turning into vinegar, the tradition has continued ever since.

Painted tiles and ceramics are the Portuguese  souvenirs par excellence. These can be found anywhere in the country’s vast array of handicraft stores. The best places to buy good quality glazed tiles and ceramics remain Sintra and Minho, the latter boasting an excellent open-air market selling all possible kinds of goods. These ceramics, often depicting Moorish motifs, bear some English and Chinese influences that are visible in the Portuguese blue-and-white azulejos (tiles), individually designed and decorating numerous walls throughout the country. Similarly popular are the plates, wine and water jugs, and vases often covered in mythical images.

The well-known Arraiolos Carpets, remnants of the Moorish reign over the city of Arraiolos, have surprisingly intricate designs. The handmade carpets are produced by several embroiderers and weavers, the raw materials being made of pure wool combined with petite point and cross stitches. The opulent images of fruit, flowers and animals roaming through celestial gardens might have been adopted from Persian weavers, although the designs are still distinctly Portuguese. If buying, you should be aware that the size of a piece and the amount of intricate embroidery determine the price. The carpets themselves can be found in Arraiolos as well as in many shops in Lisbon.

Jewellery and leather are further must-buy items from Portugal. Here jewellery must  contain at least 19.2 karats to be considered 'made of gold'. Jewellers carve this metal into exquisite filigree pieces, sometimes even into entire relief plaques telling stories and bearing some amazingly accurate and finely carved imagery. The gold Portugal produces is of exceptional quality, and is still more reasonably priced than anything you might find in your own country. Portuguese leather products, a continuation of the country’s long history of bullfighting and cattle breeding, include quality jackets, shoes and wallets, selling for much less than outside the country. Of Portugal’s many leather centres, Lisbon is perhaps the most convenient to pick up high quality leather goods, while Porto is a centre of jewellery making.

Naturally, the country’s capital is the best place for gathering up gifts and unique items before heading back home. The contemporary Colombo Shopping Centre, one of the largest in Europe, sells examples of what is best in Portugal. Excellent Portuguese shoes, also found in the Chiado area, reign supreme here. The centre with its more than 500 shops also contains a food court laden with first quality Portuguese cuisine, and fine restaurants rubbing shoulders with fast food spots. The supermarket on the first floor sells Port wine in abundance.

Lisbon’s designer clothing is concentrated in the shopping malls of the Centro Comercial de Foz and in the Centro Comercial Aviz, located amidst automobile dealerships. The Centro Comercial Brasilia, packed with cheap buys from Asia, and its opposite the upscale Centro Comercial Cidade de Porto, selling top-end clothing, furniture and houseware, are other places worth a look. Rua do Bom Sucesso is known for its excellent shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas and cafes. Otherwise, the country’s scenic open-air markets can be found almost anywhere. The Mercado dos Passaros, where you can find caged birds, is particularly attractive.

Shops usually remain open Monday through Friday from 9am to 7pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. The larger shopping centres are open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 12pm. The local currency is the Euro (EUR), available in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of 2 and 1 EUR, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents. When exchanging currency, you should be aware that many banks offer different exchange rates depending on the denominations of local currency being bought or sold. It is common  for banks to charge 0.5 percent commission with a minimum charge of approximately 10 EUR. Some banks might not charge any commission on transactions of less than 25 EUR. Local banking hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 3pm. ATMs in Portugal are identified by the symbol MB (MultiBanco) and charge a 2 percent commission on transactions. Credit payment is widely accepted, the most popular cards being American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged almost anywhere. If you wish to avoid additional exchange rate charges, take traveller’s cheques in euros with you.