Some of us want to immerse ourselves in Portugal and get as far away from fellow Brits, Americans, Germans and other expats as possible. And some want to join a friendly bunch and become part of the international community. You can do either very easily in Portugal. This article is for those who prefer Portuguese homes where you can probably speak to your neighbours in English! So, where should you start your search?
Portugal has such a thriving tourist industry that in some areas the population swells by ten times in summer. Great for a lively summer party, but a little but noisy! Nice and quiet in winter though. Maybe too quiet. So if you’re considering making Portugal your permanent home, tourism could have an impact on where you choose to settle. This guide examines some towns in Portugal that are ideal for permanent living.
There will be a marked contrast in feel between the peak of the season and the quieter winter months.
In any area popular with holidaymakers, there will be a marked contrast in feel between the peak of the season and the quieter winter months. However, by selecting towns in Portugal wisely, you can ensure the place you choose suits your lifestyle all year round, and doesn’t feel uncomfortably busy OR uncomfortably quiet at any point.
We begin in the Algarve, but also present a couple of options elsewhere in the country.
Where else could we start but Vilamoura, the “largest single tourist complexes in Europe,” according to some reports? Vilamoura certainly isn’t one of the most authentic towns in Portugal. However, what you get here is amenities galore and a location right in the middle of all the golf courses and beaches that make the Algarve so appealing.
Life in Vilamoura centres around the huge marina, which has room for more than 1,000 boats. This is a place where you’ll rub shoulders with the rich and famous during the busy months.
Being modern and purpose-built gives Vilamoura a very clean and organised feel. There are lots of cycle paths and walking routes. Furthermore, the town copes well with the number of people who descend over the course of the region’s long, hot summer.
During the off-season, things feel a bit different but the place doesn’t shut down. Vilamoura is home to several of the Algarve’s most high-end restaurants, ensuring plenty of year-round visitors. There are also several year-round residents, both around the town itself and in nearby Vale do Lobo and Quinta de Lago.
Vilamoura’s international feel may not appeal to anyone, but for many it delivers a perfect mix of sun, sea and sport, in a very accessible package.
Two-bedroom condominium apartments in this area start at around €225,000. The sky’s the limit for the price of luxury villas.
There are numerous variables in the Brexit negotiations, but if there is no deal, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Find out what you need to consider in our Guide to Living in Portugal After Brexit.
Cabanas de Tavira, East Algarve
Residents of the Algarve are often competitive over the benefits of their specific part of the region. It’s rather like the situation between residents of north and south London! While it was resorts to the west of Faro airport that originally attracted tourists and foreign residents decades ago, more and more people now choose the eastern Algarve as the place to make their home.
Cabanas de Tavira is a small village of around 1,000 people, a simple 30 minutes drive from Faro airport. The small population count is deceptive because the village joins seamlessly with neighbouring Conceicão, and the apartment developments fill with tourists and holiday home owners for much of the year. In addition, the small city of Tavira (population 27,000) is just minutes away by car and train.
While Cabanas does undoubtedly quieten down in the winter, there’s a year-round expat population in the area. And while the village gets very busy in the summer, complete with vibrant events and lots of visitors from Lisbon, the pace only becomes truly frenetic for about six weeks. This is a short enough time to ensure it feels like a novelty.
In Cabanas, people happily gravitate between lots of friendly bars, a varied selection of restaurants, the stunning island beach, and plenty of nearby sports facilities. There’s no shortage of clubs and activities to get involved in. The proximity to Tavira means there’s lots more choice on the doorstep, and a short drive over the border to Spain makes for even more variety.
Two bedroom apartments on good quality developments start at around €175,000. There are several lower-cost options, and also some grand villas dotted around for those with money to spend.
About 40 minutes further west, Lagos is the last of our year-round towns in Portugal located in the Algarve.
With a population of just over 31,000, Lagos is a small city with a stunning marina and waterfront. It’s also home to some of Portugal’s very best beaches. These include the sweeping Meia Praia, often windy and hugely popular with surfers, and Praia de Dona Ana, an impossibly beautiful cove that’s the subject of a great many postcards.
Lagos is a working town with plenty going on including a popular daily market. There’s a glitzy modern marina and an extensive old town area
Lagos is a working town with plenty going on including a popular daily market. There’s a glitzy modern marina and an extensive old town area, offering lots of choice and contrast. Lagos attracts tourists from much further afield than Europe, and it’s not unusual to run into backpackers from Australia and surfers from the US.
Lagos does get very busy in the summer months, but doesn’t feel too much like a ghost town in winter. In fact, warm off-season days are often a highlight for local residents. It’s impossible not to be awed by having a choice of so many stunning yet quiet beaches.
Transport links are excellent, and include direct trains to Faro and easy connections to Lisbon. The airport is approximately an hour away by car.
There’s plenty of choice of property in Lagos, from rustic central town houses to modern condominiums. There are also lots of beachfront apartments with truly stunning views. You can pick up apartments with sea views from about €185,000.
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Situated within easy reach of Lisbon (by both car and train), Cascais has long been popular with overseas residents. It’s the destination of choice for many families who move to Portugal to work in the capital. This is a place with plenty of English speaking residents, both British and American. They are well served with facilities, including international schools.
One of the highlights of living in Cascais is taking the enjoyable train ride between the town and Lisbon. The journey is hugely scenic, and the tracks are close enough to the sea that the trains are sometimes splashed by waves!
This proximity to Lisbon has benefits that go way beyond an enjoyable train trip. Days and nights out in the city are straightforward, so this is a perfect place if you’re looking to be within easy reach of atmosphere and culture.
Cascais has a distinctly upscale feel. Residents often spend their evenings taking long walks along the promenade to the neighbouring town of Estoril. The town is home to an enormous casino, and said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
Cascais is a very straightforward place to settle. People often report a warm welcome, both from the large English-speaking community, and from the Portuguese. The town is busy in summer, with many people taking day trips from Lisbon. While the night-life undoubtedly calms down at quieter times, the town remains active, buoyed by the large permanent population.
Two-bedroom apartments here start from around €230,000. Those fortunate enough to have plenty of money to invest will find some of Portugal’s most expensive property in the areas along the coast between Cascais and Lisbon.
Caldas de Rainha
Picking out towns in Portugal for year-round living is slightly more complicated north of Lisbon. For example, many people specifically choose the countryside of central Portugal for village life and isolation. This means that some towns become “hubs” for overseas residents, but without a particularly significant population all in one place.
Caldas de Rainha is an historic spa city very slightly inland from Portugal’s desirable Silver Coast. It has a population of just over 50,000 people, including no shortage of overseas residents.
Transport to other places is often very important to expats. Caldas de Rainha is extremely well connected, being around an hour’s drive to Lisbon and it’s airport. This makes trips “home” to the UK very straightforward, and also makes it easy for guests to visit.
Although Caldas de Rainha isn’t directly on the coast, the beaches towns of São Martinho do Porto and Foz do Arelho are very close by. Both of these towns are also firmly on the shortlist for people considering a life on Portugal’s Silver Coast.
There’s no shortage of culture in Caldas de Rainha, with beautiful churches and eclectic museums. There’s also the particularly stunning Parque Dom Carlos I. It does feel a shame that little is currently made of the city’s historic springs, but locals are hopeful that a new complex may be built around them in the future.
Property is Caldas de Rainha is notably affordable, with basic apartments on sale for less than €100,000. There are sizeable detached homes for less than €200,000.
There are plenty of towns in Portugal that have lots to offer prospective new residents. The towns on this list particularly stand out as a home from home for those who plan to live in Portugal all year round. If you’re dreaming of a life in Portugal, check out these top tips.