We explore some of the best places to live in Portugal for expats looking to enjoy life on the Iberian Peninsula.
If you are thinking of moving to Portugal, there are some fantastic locations to call home. And with each one offering its own unique character and charm, there’s somewhere to suit all tastes and preferences. Whether you want to live in the heart of a bustling city or enjoy laid-back life by the sea, here are some of the best places to live in Portugal as an expat.
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With its iconic cobbled streets and beautiful ancient architecture, Lisbon is an obvious draw for many expats moving to Portugal. Situated on the Southwest Coast, the nation’s capital offers a diverse range of lifestyles across its various neighborhoods; from bustling shopping districts and thriving nightlife hubs to cozy local quarters and scenic coastal spots. It is also home to some of Portugal’s most famous landmarks; including the 11th-century São Jorge Castle and the 16th-century Torre de Belém. These historical delights, coupled with the numerous cafés, restaurants, and shops on offer, attract millions of tourists each year; therefore, you might want to choose your neighborhood carefully.
With good public transport links, it is easy to navigate the city and enjoy the various local attractions on offer. And with a temperate maritime climate that brings hot and dry summers and mild winters, it ticks many boxes for sun-seeking expats.
Situated 10km south of the Spanish border, the small rural town of Chaves – which means “key” – is a historical gateway into Portugal. It is famous for its many spas and thermal baths which are believed to have healing properties. The bathhouses in Caldas da Rainha, for instance, have been used to treat various ailments since Roman times. The site is now a modern thermal complex, complete with a green park and several bars. Chaves also boasts fantastic architecture dating back to Roman times and is home to two 17th-century fortresses and a tall tower that marks the remains of Chaves Castle.
Although many of the villages surrounding the town are extremely poor, the residents are renowned for their friendliness. While property in Chaves is a fraction of the price in Lisbon, you will experience shorter summers and cooler winters. However, with several airports nearby, you’re never far away from your next sunny vacation.
Located along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is the second-largest city in the country and has its own airport. The city is considered to be a center of culture and entertainment that rivals Lisbon. Furthermore, it’s historic center was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. As a result, it is hugely popular with tourists. Therefore, when choosing where to live, it might be worth exploring the areas in the outskirts of the city if you seek a more peaceful lifestyle.
Property prices in the surrounding areas are lower than the city center and there is also a good variety of accommodation on offer; from apartments to family homes. The new quarter, Vila Nova da Gaia, which lies just south of the city, for example, is a popular choice for expats. The seafront properties at Madalena and Lavadores are also top choices.
Other popular expat neighborhoods include Campanha, which lies just outside the city center, and Ribeira, one of Porto’s most vibrant areas and part of the historic center. Meanwhile, the district of Ramalde continues to expand as the population grows, and many expats with generous budgets settle in Foz do Douro, an upmarket but expensive beachside area.
Located in the north of Portugal, Braga is the country’s third-largest city, after Lisbon and Porto, and the oldest. This elegant city is characterized by its narrow lanes which are lined with lively cafés and high-end boutiques. It is also home to several famous ancient churches, including the hillside church of Bom Jesus do Monte; one of Portugal’s most iconic landmarks. Despite its rich heritage, Braga boasts plenty of modern properties and a popular housing market.
Properties rarely come onto the market in the city’s old quarter, but expats seeking a laid-back lifestyle and attractive prices can find it in the northern quarter and the areas nearest to the Universidade do Minho. If you are seeking more tranquillity, however, or intend to retire in the region, the towns and villages on the outskirts of the city offer larger properties with plenty of land. Just bear in mind that these often need a lot of renovation, and therefore require a hefty investment.
Located in the center of Portugal, Aveiro is often dubbed the Venice of Portugal due to its beautiful canals, Nouveau architecture, and colorful gondolas (known as moliceiros). Despite its historical richness, Aveiro receives fewer tourists than many other Portuguese cities and is therefore popular with expats; especially those moving there to retire.
The city center has undergone a lot of modernization in recent years, bringing in more pedestrianized areas to encourage walkers and cyclists. As a result of this, it has become popular with expats seeking a quiet, family-friendly environment with little traffic. That said, there are still plenty of shopping malls, cozy cafés, and indoor markets to keep residents entertained. And with good road links to Lisbon and Porto, the city has added appeal. Apartments are the most popular type of property in the center, however, you can find better value nearer to the university.
Located in central Portugal, halfway between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra is the country’s third-largest city and home to one of the best universities in the world. With a low cost and high quality of living, Coimbra has an established expat population and is hugely popular among retirees.
Luckily, finding a place to live in Coimbra is relatively easy and there are a variety of options to choose from depending on your preferences. Because the city has a large student population, areas in the center and close to the university are in high demand, but ideally designed for students. Other options include older properties in need of renovation and larger ones with more land in the rural outskirts.
Due to its close proximity to Lisbon, the port city of Setúbal is hugely popular with tourists and expats alike. This thriving historic town is at the heart of the Portuguese sardine industry and is famous for its sweet moscatel wine. Its atmospheric alleyways, tree-lined boulevards, and lively food markets attract many visitors throughout the year. And with a range of property types on offer, and at reasonable prices, it’s not hard to see why expats choose to settle here, too.
Properties close to the area of the port are reasonably priced, but in high demand among locals who work there. However, expats with bigger budgets often choose to live in the more expensive apartment complexes located close to the beaches. This area is particularly popular with those who are retiring due to the good leisure facilities on offer. Meanwhile, those seeking more in the way of tranquility tend to live in the surrounding small towns.
Located between Faro and Sagres, the Algarve region boasts some of the most beautiful beaches and golf resorts in Portugal. Coupled with the fact that the area receives glorious weather most of the year, it’s no surprise it is a major holiday destination and home to thousands of expats. Foreign buyers have been flooding to the Algarve for decades, especially as they approach retirement. They often target the apartment developments close to the beaches, and naturally, prices are higher here than other areas.
With so many holiday homes available for short-term rental, finding a permanent place to live can be a bit tricky. Therefore, it is a good idea to do your research on property prices and know your options.
Despite the many holiday-home developments on offer in Central Algarve, you can always find more options a little further out. The port city of Portimão, for example, is popular with expats; largely due to its proximity to the main beach, Praia da Rocha. Those moving to the city will find a range of older 19th and 20th-century buildings dotted around the town, as well as modern apartment blocks. Meanwhile, the modern city of Faro, located in the south, offers a more tranquil and affordable lifestyle. This is ideal for expats seeking a slower pace of life away from the more developed areas. It also boasts an international airport, making traveling back home a breeze.