During my 2-year world trip, I ran into so many people that spoke highly of Portugal as a travel destination. Over and again, people would say that it’s beautiful, trendy, relaxed and inexpensive. Locals are kind, city streets are alive, the coast is stunning and the wine is both delicious and abundant.
Obviously, with so much hype, I had to go see for myself. Lisbon / the Algarve region was my first trip and I was totally sold. So much so, that I came back a second time to Faro and a third time to Porto / Douro Valley. Each region has its own distinctive vibe and variety of things do. I tackled each place for 2-3 days at a time and came out wanting more. See below for a few tips and tricks, with a mixed bag of highlights, one city at a time.
Red tiled rooftops, pastel colored houses, cobblestone alleyways, old school trams and coastal views – this is Lisbon. One of the world’s oldest cities, with a history dating back to the original Iberians and some fascinating facts regarding the Roman rule and Christianity takeover. With Fodo music on every corner, street parties with 1-euro beers and the best Portuguese tarts you will ever have. This place is just straight up cool. It has a combination of glam and gritty, mixed into a historical and architectural masterpiece, making it impossible to go wrong in this city.
Air B&B is a good place to look for accommodation. I would recommend an apartment with a terrace, so you can utilize the sunshine and of course, icy Rose. For a history lesson, try doing a TUK-TUK tour. It’s an easier way to get around, as there are many steep hills to climb and a lot to see. Do not pay more than 15 euro per head and make sure you get the itinerary beforehand to solidify interesting stop points – you might have to negotiate a bit here.
For the most delicious, buttery, mouthwatering Pasteis de Nata, go to Manteigaria – custard tart factory. For an incredible lunch head to Time Out Market, where you will find never-ending food stalls of delicious food and drink. Go Hungry! For an amazing wine bar with excellent antipasto, check out By The Wine. For a really nice seafood dinner, go to SEA ME, which has fresh seafood on ice for your personal preference. Lastly, for one of the coolest street parties, go to Barrio Alto District. This area has a vibe of its own that will activate all your senses. The parties fall on Friday and Saturday nights. You will not be disappointed.
For scatted seaside villages, resort towns, sea caves, cliffs and golden beaches, head to Faro. This region sits in the Southern point of Portugal, ideal for relaxed beach holidays, fresh seafood and stunning coastal views. We explored two different areas that are well worth going to. Lagos, the largest resort town, has great beaches within walking distance from the town centre, fun activities available (boating and cave kayaking) and a bunch of cute restaurants. Admittedly, this spot is pretty touristy, but for an easy holiday, it works! We did an incredible walk from the town centre to Farol Da Ponta da Piedade and ate at a couple great local restaurants including Retiro Da Trindade, Adega Tipica A Forja (AKA Blue Door) and 2 Irmaos. Separately, on a different trip, we went to Faro for our friends 30th. Most of the trip, we were enjoying the villa life, however we did do beach day that was epic. We took a speed boat taxi from Faro harbour to Ilha do Farol and posted up at a beach front bar called Maramais. We lounged here for the whole day, drinking and eating with the sea breeze and sunshine. Highly recommend this spot if you are staying in Faro.
Porto is one of the fastest growing European tourist destinations, for good reason. It’s a port city in the North West of Portugal, built along the Douro River. To date, it’s is one my favourite European cities. Known for it’s historical centre that has been named an UNESCO site and for the famous Ribeira District of cobble stone laneways, impressive bridges, local eateries and 18th century town houses. This city is easy going for any tourist – walkable, inexpensive, entertaining and historical. Porto is modern enough to support tourism, yet preserves the authenticity of Portuguese culture. I went with a couple girlfriends for a Bachelorette, which was actually perfect because restaurants are open late and the nightlife is pumping. We stayed at a great little apartment (Oporto View) that met all of our needs and was walking distance to everything. For food and beverage, check out Capela Incomum (chapel converted wine bar), BOP café (American style burgers and craft beer, good for hangovers), Base (park hangs and open bars) and Terrace Lounge 360 (patio bar in Gaia with views of the river/city). Otherwise, there are small tapa style restaurants everywhere that you can pop into for a few nibbles and a glass of wine. So delightful!
In my opinion, you can’t visit Porto without including a trip to Douro Valley. The famous wine regions that I have been to before like Hunter Valley, Marlborough, and Bordeaux are incredible, but definitely on the pricier side. Whereas Douro Valley is arguably just as beautiful, with a similar quality of vinos, but sold at very reasonable prices. Whether you are buying bottles individually, or wining and dining at gorgeous wineries, it is so incredibly affordable (at least for now). My girlfriends and I rented a car in Porto and drove to the most amazing property, where we stayed for 2 nights, Quinta Da Pousadela. This little piece of heaven is located 5 miles from Amarante, has an outdoor swimming pool and 60 acres of vineyards. The staff are incredibly helpful, breakfast is served in a picnic basket that they hang on your door every morning, and each night you have the option to join-in on a buffet style, home cooked meal, prepared with traditional recipes. You could easily spend 4-5 days here. There are many wineries that you can visit all around (reception gave us a map with the stops) and other cool historical towns like Amarante. Heads up, if you do go here, be sure to get specific directions first, otherwise you could end up in the hills on sketchy and steep roads. Yes, that happened to us while following google maps. While this little de-tour was pretty hilarious at the time, it could have easily damaged the car or us, so try to avoid it.
Three trips, three cities and a few villages later, I can confidently say that Portugal is an amazing place to visit. Whether you are looking for a cultural city experience, beach holiday or winery, you can find it there. Plus, for whatever reason, the country is not yet overrun by tourist, especially in Porto. Go now! 😉
Thanks for reading!