Portuguese handcrafts often exhibit exotic influences, in large part because of the artisans' versatility and their skill in absorbing other styles. Portugal's vast history as a seafaring nation also surely has something to do with it. The best place to see their work is in Lisbon, where shopkeepers and their buyers hunt out unusual items from all over Portugal, including the Madeira Islands and the Azores.
Shops operate all over the city, but Baixa, in downtown Lisbon, is the major area for browsing. Rua Aurea (Street of Gold, the location of the major jewelry shops), Rua da Prata (Street of Silver), and Rua Augusta are Lisbon's three principal shopping streets. The Baixa shopping district lies between the Rossio and the river Tagus.
Rua Garrett, in the Chiado, is where you'll find many of the more up-market shops. A major fire in 1988 destroyed many shops, but new ones have arisen.
Antiques lovers gravitate to Rua Dom Pedro V in the Bairro Alto. Other streets with antiques stores include Rua da Misericórdia, Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara, Rua da Escola Politécnica, and Rua do Alecrim.
Hours, Shipping & Taxes
Most stores open between 9 and 10 a.m., close at noon for lunch, reopen at 2pm, and close for the day at 7pm. However, many shopkeepers take lunch from 1 to 3pm, so check before making the trip. On Saturday, many stores open from 9 or 10am to 1pm; on Sunday, most stores in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal are closed. If the open hours of an individual place listed below differ from the norm, we give the specific hours.
Many establishments will crate and ship bulky objects. Any especially large item, such as a piece of furniture, should be sent by ship. Every antiques dealer in Lisbon has lists of reputable maritime shippers. For most small and medium-size shipments, air freight isn't much more expensive than sending the items by ship. TAP, the Portuguese airline, has a separate toll-free U.S. number for cargo inquiries (tel. 800/221-73-70). Once in Lisbon, you can contact TAP to make air-shipping arrangements for larger purchases by calling the Lisbon cargo department offices at tel. 21/843-11-40. It's open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Remember that all your air-cargo shipments will need to clear Customs in the United States, Canada, or your home country. This involves some additional paperwork and perhaps a trip to the airport near where you live. It's usually best to hire a commercial Customs broker to do the work for you.
Value-added tax (called IVA in Portugal) ranges from 8% for basics, such as books and food, to 17% for luxury goods and for most of the things a foreign visitor would want or need during a holiday in Portugal. The tax is already factored into the sales price of virtually every good and service you're likely to come across, making payment seem relatively painless.
Foreigners traveling in Portugal with valid passports can obtain a refund for the value of the tax they pay on purchases in stores that display a government-approved tax-free logo, provided that they spend more than 61€ ($76) in any one store. Ask before you make the purchase whether the store is equipped for the mechanics of arranging refunds on the tax (again, it's factored into the price), and then ask the staff to fill out a Tax Free Check. When you leave Portugal, you exchange the check for cash at the airport or frontier.
Note that the IVA you'll pay in the semiautonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira, ranging from 4% to 12%, is less than that on the Portuguese mainland. Other than that, tax refunds work the same.
When you leave Portugal, show your passport and purchases (which you must carry by hand, not check with your luggage) to the Portuguese Customs officials. If everything is in order, your Tax Free Checks will be stamped and you can redeem them at a Tax Refund counter for cash. There are Tax Refund offices at the airport and the Lisbon harbor.
Regardless of where it's made -- from the Azores to the remote northeast province of Trás-os-Montes -- merchandise from all over Portugal ends up in Lisbon stores. But if you're going to a particular province, try to shop locally, where prices are often about 20% less than those in Lisbon. A general exception is the fabled handmade embroideries from Madeira; prices there are about the same as in Lisbon.
Products made of cork, which range from place mats to cigarette boxes, are good buys. Collectors seek out decorative glazed tiles. You also might find good buys in Lisbon in porcelain and china, in fishermen's sweaters from the north, and in fado recordings.
Intricately woven lightweight baskets make attractive, practical gifts. It's best to shop for handmade lace in Vila do Conde, outside Porto, where you get a better buy; many Lisbon outlets carry the lace as well.
Pottery is one of the best buys in Portugal, and pottery covered with brightly colored roosters from Barcelos is legendary. In fact, the rooster has become the virtual symbol of Portugal. Blue-and-white pottery is made in Coimbra and often in Alcobaça. Our favorite items come from Caldas da Rainha. They include yellow-and-green dishes in the shape of vegetables (especially cabbage), fruit, animals, and even leaves. Vila Real is known for its black pottery, and Aceiro is known for polychrome pottery. Some red-clay pots from the Alentejo region in the southeast are based on designs that go back to the Etruscans. Atlantis crystal is another good buy. Suede and leather, as in Spain, are also good buys. In the Algarve, handsome lanterns, fire screens, and even outdoor furniture are constructed from metal -- mainly copper, brass, and tin.
The best buy in Portugal, gold, is strictly regulated by the government. Jewelers must put a minimum of 19.2 karats into the jewelry they sell. Filigree jewelry in gold and silver is popular in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal. The art of ornamental openwork made of fine gold or silver wire dates to ancient times. The most expensive items -- often objets d'art -- are fashioned from 19 1/4-karat gold. Filigree is often used in depictions of caravels. Less expensive trinkets are often made of sterling silver, sometimes dipped in 24-karat gold.
Portugal is also famous for Arraiolos carpets, fine woolen rugs that have earned an international reputation. You can visit the little town of Arraiolos, in Alentejo. According to legend, Moorish craftsmen expelled from Lisbon in the early 16th century first made the rugs. The patterns were said to imitate Persian designs. Some Arraiolos carpets eventually find their way into museums.
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