Publico began publishing on March 5, 1990. Sonae founded the newspaper and is a member of the Sonae Group. In 1992, Repubblica International Holding SA, an Italian media company and subsidiary of Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso, acquired 16.75% of the newspaper.

Público is a tabloid newspaper based in Lisbon, recognized as a publication of the French school for its dense text and lack of visual representation. Vicente Jorge Silva, who had been sub-editor-in-chief for Expresso, was the first editor-in-chief. José Manuel Fernandes also managed the newspaper. Since 2009, Bárbara Reis has held the position of editor-in-chief.

Since 1995, Público has been one of the first Portuguese newspapers to have an online version. With the exception of photos, the online edition included almost all articles from the print edition and was free of charge. In 2005, it changed from a free access model to a subscription model. In 2006, the HTML version of the daily edition became free again, while other content, such as the PDF version (only for subscribers), the enhanced HTML version and access to previous editions, still required a subscription. In 2013, Público Online Edition was chosen as European Online Media of the Year.

In 2014, the European Newspaper Congress awarded the newspaper the European Newspaper of the Year award in the national newspaper category. The current editorial philosophy is clearly pro-Europe.

The newspaper is considered an important source in Portugal in collaboration with the Diário de Notícias.