Almost exactly one year ago, I made a fairly last minute decision to hop on a plane to Europe and visit a country I’d never been to before.
I ventured out to Portugal, one of my favorite places of all time, and spent a week exploring with my boyfriend. We had the time of our lives and now know a ton of friends heading that way this summer, so I wanted to put together a travel guide with my recommendations!
This guide goes in order of our trip after we flew into Porto from Madrid. As for transportation, I recommend renting a car when/where possible and driving down to the south of Portugal. This is the most cost-effective way to see everything and also gives you the freedom to move around if you want to explore other towns!
Where we stayed… After a decent amount of planning, we decided on the Eurostars Porto Douro for our first stop in Portugal and were so happy we did! After a welcome glass of porto (of course!), we found our way up to our gorgeous and modern room that had insane views of the Douro river and bridge. We passed on the breakfast (for however many extra euros) so I can’t speak to that, but I would happily recommend this hotel to absolutely anyone, especially since it was an awesome price! The only thing to note is that you’ll be walking a decent amount, as this hotel is about 10 minutes from the base of the hill/stairs to get up to the actual town of Porto. So worth it!
What we did… Since we only had about 24 hours in Porto, we spent a decent amount of that time just walking through the city, exploring shops, grabbing tapas (a must) and an afternoon cup of cafe. We did stop by this really cool antique type shop that actually had a bar in it too (and a super cute dog!) called the Armazem. I think my two favorite visual memories of Porto are looking out over the city and its gorgeous red roofs from the Torre de Clerigos and taking a moment to sit by the river and people watch.
Not to be missed… If you can, I highly suggest you book a table for dinner at Cantinho de Alvillez. The food was out. of. CONTROL. I think this meal might’ve been our favorite meal of the entire trip, and that’s saying a lot! We even found one of this chef’s restaurants in Lisbon later on in the week, which I’ll mention below. I also recommend taking a look at the NY Times 36 Hours in Porto guide, as that has some awesome recommendations!
What we did… Our time in Faro was fairly short because we were eager to get to Lagos, but we did take a stroll through the city, the night we arrived, grabbed a delicious seafood dinner at a nearby restaurant (it’s a fishing town!), and booked a boat trip to the Ilha Deserta, the southern-most part of Portugal!
Not to be missed… The beach on Ilha Deserta is so, so beautiful! It’s fairly cheap and quick to take the boat ride over, and we spent the day there. The water was a bit chilly and rough the day we went, but it was hot so it was very refreshing! There’s one restaurant there that we loved called Estamine where we had homemade pasta with clams, salads, and oysters. The fish was so fresh and the service was amazing, too!
Where we stayed… Ok so we kind of splurged on this one since it was our one really nice night of the week. Lagos is a pretty romantic place in my opinion, and we pretty much stayed at the most romantic boutique hotel ever – the Hotel Vivenda Miranda. I can’t even say enough wonderful things about this place – the people are so welcoming and there’s champagne waiting for you when you check in so you can relax on the veranda and look out over the cliffs to the ocean. The room itself was pretty massive for two as well, with its own patio and everything. The views from this place are definitely worth noting, as well as the incredible buffet breakfast (so many options!) and gorgeous pool. I’m dying to go back here!!!
What we did… Exploring the town of Lagos the night we arrived was SO fun, we just found a cute restaurant for some more seafood (it’s their specialty, we couldn’t pass it up!) and gelato…duh. We also booked a kayaking tour for the next day, which I literally recommend to anyone who tells me they’re going to Portugal. The cliffs and rock formations on the outer parts of the Algarve are so stunning and you can’t really get the full view unless you’re way out in the ocean. We did the kayaking tour for a few hours that day, which starts and ends on a little boat that takes you out there. The tour goes in and out of the rocks and they tell you all about the history of the city and what each formation represents. It’s insanely beautiful, I wish I’d had a waterproof camera back then but I took lots of mental photographs 🙂
Not to be missed… Whether its 99 degrees during your trip (like it was for ours!) or a bit cooler, the Praia Dona Ana (pictured above) is a MUST. You will never see anything else like it, I can promise you that. To get to the beach that’s surrounded by rocky cliffs, you’ll go down a pretty large set of stairs. There isn’t a ton of space to lay out, but the Portuguese are nice so you’ll have friendly neighbors! We brought beer, bread and cheese with us for a picnic and took a dip in the water after lunch. The seas can be a bit rough, but if you go in the summer you’ll need to brave it! The image of this beach, with its cliffs and colorful beach umbrellas, is engrained in my mind with the fondest of memories!
Where we stayed… The best pick for Lisbon in my opinion is an AirBnb! There are tons of great options and the prices are awesome. The other thing is that you probably won’t be spending much time in the room anyway since you’ll be out exploring, so splurging on a fancy hotel room doesn’t make too much sense (unless you want to!). I also think it’s kind of nice staying in the heart of a real neighborhood instead of someplace touristy, too. You get a better feel of what it’s like to live there, I think! Here’s the link to ours – we LOVED it.
What we did… So because it was hot as a mother the two days we had in Lisbon, we actually decided to spend the majority of our days in Cascais (a train ride away!) and Sintra, which are both detailed down below. The afternoons and nights we spent in the city, though! This is another city that’s perfect for just taking a stroll and exploring. There are so many shops and cafes to sip sangria at! We found another restaurant by the chef from the place we had dinner at in Porto called Pizzaria Lisboa – so delish! We also stopped by a bar afterwards called Pensao Amor. This place has so much character around every corner, and even a sex shop in one of them in case your drinks make you feel frisky 😉
Not to be missed… The Time Out Market was definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip. We went here twice, once before our train ride and day trip to Cascais, and once after for dinner. There are endless options and everything is insanely delicious. The gelato and doughnuts were standouts in my eyes, as well as the jamon iberico and cheese plate!!
What we did… This town is so charming, I fell in love immediately. After walking around and exploring, we headed down to the beach for a mojito and some standup paddle-boarding! The water is super warm (at least in the summer) and the beach is packed. Doing a water activity is a good plan since you’ll fit in some activity while getting to see the coastline from out in the water! As far as I remember, it couldn’t have been more than $20 to rent the board for an hour or so, either!
Not to be missed… You have to HAVE to go to the House of Wonders. I can literally still remember this meal because it was so fresh and delicious. We actually went here twice in two days because we were craving something healthy by the end of our trip! Their healthy plates are packed with veggies, but they have fresh smoothies and pastries, too! The rooftop is the perfect place to dine since you can see out over the town, and it’s so colorful!
What we did… There are two gorgeous castles in Sintra, but we only had time for one of them. We went for the Quinta da Regaleira since my boyfriend had been to the Pena Palace before (it’s the super colorful one you’ve probably seen in photos!). We drove our rental car way up to the hill, grabbed some croissants and coffees, and then walked the rest of the way to the castle, which has so much to see! There are many gardens, secret tunnels and caves, a beautiful well that you can climb up, and the gorgeous castle itself. The views from the grounds are gorgeous, as well!
Alright friends, that’s all for today! Have you ever been to Portugal before? If you have any other recommendations, please share them in the comments so others can see them, and if anyone is thinking about going there, I’m happy to answer any questions 🙂