A Travel Guide to Portugal

I have a thing for Europe and the Mediterranean (call me bias with greek italian roots) – and have been to Greece (not all islands), Italy (Sorrento/Amalfi included), Spain (not the South) and Nice in France. I still need to visit Croatia, Malta and Southern Spain to give a fully informed reco, but Portugal and Greece top my list (ironically the 2 countries in economic turmoil). I plan to go back to Portugal to check out the Azores and Porto with my future lover muahah.

Here are some travel tips with pretty pictures if you are considering a vacay in Portugal!

When to go: Weather in May – June and September – October, peaks around a dry 30, which is perfect for me since I can’t handle extreme heat. August and July can reach the mid 40’s but there are always clear blue sunny skies, and a breeze (even in Lisbon) although you’ll need a leather jacket or sweater in the Algarve at night.

The water in June is somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees – but oh so refreshing after the sun. Hard nipples and goosebumps will be in your future. I’m pretty sure I hold the record for taking the longest time to dunk in the water. That may also be a metaphor for my approach to life at large = worrisome.

During a 127 Hours type expedition we braved the hilly, cliff-side climb between Oura and Aveiros beach.

How much time do you need? To do it leisurely, I would say 5 days in Algarve and 5 days in Lisbon (I had 4 and 3), using part of that time to travel in between the two. The bus costs 20 euros and is faster (2.5 vs. 3 hours) than the train which costs 40 euros one way. Plane rides between the two are astronomical.

Where to stay in Algarve Several towns make up the Algarve Coast including Ferragudo, Carvoeiro, Portimao, Lagos, Albufeira, Faro (the main city with airport), Olhos and Tavira. Renting a car would give you the opportunity to see it all as they are within 2.5 hours of each other. I stayed in Albufeira which has a thriving night life on a modern strip as well as in the old part of town. It is close to 4 beaches: Falesia, Oura (pretty), Aveiros (small but really pretty), Fisherman’s Beach (main, long sandy beach – not as cliffy) and Olhos D’agua. Lagos is considered to be the best place to stay (more history and beach), with Albufeira following.

Excursions the in Algarve We did a full day tour costing only 12 euro:

Sagres – southwestern most point in Europe where Henry the Navigator set up shop – very windy and cool. Huge Cliffs with a lighthouse and not much else (good photo opp). I recommend driving there on your own and visiting nearby beaches of Praia de Mareta and Praia Martinhal because they are gorgeous (at least from the distance).

Monchique – the highest mountain in Portugal (500 m) – the town was cute and very green/tranquil, apparently it has natural springs. The view from the very top was ok – kind of misty/cloudy. I would say this is optional.

Silves – a medieval town that used to be the Moor Headquarters and main access point to the Algarve. It boasts a roman bridge over the river and one of the best preserved castles in the region (ruins) but I think it is optional, especially if you visit Lisbon. There are also two gypsy markets nearby in Loule and Quarteira.

The Cliffs at Sagres Portugal.

Google to see a combo of the lighthouse + cliffs

The Food: I’m really not adventurous when it comes to food (lactose intolerant, sensitive tummy) – my travel companion is much better suited for this topic, but here are some local specialties:

  • Cataplana is a light fish stew that comes in a cool looking pot, with a light cream sauce.
  • Cod Fish many ways + Sardines (avoided both)
  • Pineapple with meat + an amazing almond based gravy sauce for fish and meat + huge kebabs of both
  • Fresh fish (Hake, Seabass, Snook, Sole, Monkfish, Shellfish)

Where to Stay in Lisbon: The heart of the city is by the waterfront, although the subway system is quite good and connects to uptown, which is where I stayed (the business district by Saldanha Station). Baixa is the lower part of town and more flat – I recommend it. Bairro Alto is a hipster neighbourhood with lots of cool, nice hostels and shops – however, it is a bit sketchy at night and I also found it harder to breathe in that part of town. It is also home to many bars/nightclubs. Estrela and Alfama are just west and east of the centre and hilly, I didn’t explore them as much.

Excursions Near Lisbon:
Sintra – You can spend a full day here as it is picturesque hilly town, home to 5 old school castles: The Moorish Castle that looks like great wall of China, the National Palace (well preserved on the inside in the main town square, built in 1147), Pena Palace (absolutely out of this world castle with fantastical facade and fancy rooms. Built in 1840’s and quite the hike to reach), among others. This site is a great resource.

King Manuel's Coat of Arms Room in National Palace at Sintra, Portugal

King Manuel's Coat of Arms Room in National Palace

Felt like singing songs from Beauty and The Beast and reliving ballet roots at Pena Palace

Cascais and Estoril – supposedly ritzy beachside tourist towns 30 minutes or so from Lisbon. Good shops and restaurants but the water doesn’t compare to Algarve. Also Nazarah beach is quite nice 1.5 hours outside of Lisbon and you can also visit Fatima, the famous church, outside of Lisbon.

Sightseeing in Lisbon:

  • Castle of Sao Jorge – Ruins that offer great views of the city. Santa Justa Lift also offers a view and is a cool looking structure.
  • 1,000 town squares – you will come across them at every turn. Plus there are charming trams to take you through the hillier parts of town. Also note the use of mosaic tiles on houses and buildings. The streets of Bairro Alto and Alfama are breathtaking.
  • Belem and it’s Tower – on the outskirts of town by the water, you can see a couple famous towers, the original Golden Gate Bridge, in the distance you can see what I call the “Jesus” Statue, a replica of the Rio de Janeiro one, plus the monastery and church with inspiring architecture.

View from Belem of Rio Statue and San Fran Style Bridge. I'm hearing Kanye's Jesus Walks.

Typical Lisbon Street view with trams - so pretty!

Cost: A 3 Star Hotel in Lisbon costs around 70 euro a night – booking.com yields great deals though. Our 3 star Hotel in Albufeira cost 50 euro a night (Hotel Topazio), Food isn’t as cheap as I was lead to believe (10 – 20 euro for a sit down meal with 15 being the sweet spot), sightseeing and public transport is pretty affordable. The people were overall friendly and the men were hot hot hot.

And there you have it! Where in the world inspires you?

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