In this article, I seek to expose how scholars came to construct the idea that Portugal is an ‘unplanned country’— a product of disorderly growth. While urban scholarship has now challenged the hegemonic view of spatial order as a proxy for modernity, development and progress, Portuguese scholarship has remained largely impervious to these debates as it consistently offers a view of the Portuguese city as ‘not quite yet’ modern and civilized. Based on a review of accounts by key authors recognized for their prominence and contribution to contemporary Portuguese scholarship, I argue that rather than being a constitutive fact of or truth about the Portuguese urban condition, the ‘unplanned country’ operates as an intellectual and discursive construct that organizes the experience of modernity, urban growth and social transformation throughout the twentieth century. The article discusses how Portuguese scholarship constructs the ‘unplanned country’ idea through insufficient engagement with relevant research and debates in urban studies and is based on several empirical shortcomings. The article concludes by offering a preliminary research agenda to address these imbalances. I suggest that such efforts could enhance the relevance and contribution of the Portuguese urban experience to recent calls for epistemological renewal in urban theory production.