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Jen’s ‘must do’s’ in Portugal

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Portugal is gaining popularity as a holiday destination and I recently found a window of time to explore. My plan was to balance seeing as much as possible but still having time to relax. Challenging but I think I succeeded.

After landing in Lisbon, spending a couple of days in this beautiful city, I rented a car to see the coast, ending my trip in Lagos and flying out of Faro.

Lisbon is a gorgeous city and I was a little obsessed with the beautiful old doors and tiled walls. If those doors could talk- the stories the would tell! The decorative stone pavements, and gorgeous churches were the highlight of my time in Lisbon.

I stayed in an 1800’s villa that I found on Airbnb. It has a kitchenette and opened out onto the garden. The rooms are newly renovated and I loved the location. Everything is about 15 – 20 minutes walk.

The tram # 28 is a great way to see the city on your first day. I took advice from my research online and walked through some beautiful, quiet streets and small tree shaded squares to pick up the tram at Estela Basilica. Please take the time to go inside this stunning Church but do not pay the four Euros for the staircase to ‘view’. Picking up the tram at this end of its route gives you more chance of a window seat and avoids lines of tourists waiting for the same tram.

I suggest you purchase the Viva card if you plan on stay for a few days and also visit Sintra. It costs 50 cents, you can top it up at any metro and all rides are 50% off.

There is also the Lisbon card if you chose to see some of the historic sights but I preferred to wander the streets. The two churches that I stumbled into were much more beautiful than the Lisbon Cathedral.

Bairro Alto is the old town – but quite touristy. I recommend you listen to fado music at Tasco do Chico but get there by 7pm as there was a line to get in. The space has so much history, a gritty vibe that serves traditional Portuguese food.

Stop by A Brasileira Bar (opened in 1905) in the Baixa-Chiado district for a coffee and Nata. It’s a very old cafe and Cavaleiro da Imaculada (church) is close by. The ceiling of this church is absolutely stunning and a must see!

Hungry? Try O Trevo for traditional Portuguese lunch which was a fave of Anthony Bourdain.

I suggest at least one Pastel de Nata per day until you find your favorite!

The Alfama district is very old and I would suggest a wander late afternoon, have dinner and then walk up to Miradouro da Graca for a view of the city and a drink as the sun goes down.

I would recommend at least two- three days in Lisbon and one day for Sintra. I was told to get the train (45 min ride) early to avoid lines at the castles etc. and it’s cooler there so bring another layer.

After two days I was ready for the beach and skipped a day in Sintra.

The real beauty of this country was yet to come as I traveled south along the coast. If you have time, make a stop in Evora which is about one hour outside Lisbon. This town is known for its walled city and a chapel made from human bones! I heard it’s a must see.

My fave coastal towns are Porto Covo -a small town for the stunning beaches surrounded by cliffs and my LOVE was Vila Nova de Milfontes. Wow. A postcard perfect small town with one of the best restaurants in Portugal. I could have spent a week here visiting the stunning beaches nearby.

Tasca do Selco is a destination restaurant. Friends who live south and have told me they drive there just for a meal and I was not disappointed. I had the octopus salad and traditional Portuguese dessert, both were paired with wine by my dear waiter George. FYI- I really enjoyed sitting at the bar. They get very busy so it could be your only option if you don’t book in advance. The other tip is to arrive at the restaurant at opening time (7pm -super early) and you can often get a table.

I continued south and stopped in Praia do Monte Clérigo which is in the town of Aljezur – a laid back surfer beach. If you stroll south on the beach and catch the tide going out you can in a stunning cove which I had all to myself for hours.

My final destination on this road trip was the Algarve and the magnificent Lagos. The beaches have been compared to Australia’s Ocean Road and I agree.

Praia Dona Ana is stunning and if the tide is low, there are adventures to be had! Walk as far right as you can and clamber over the rocks to discover beaches with little or no one else in sight!

I discovered a man on this beach selling boat trips. It is inexpensive and local fisherman take you along the coast and into caves. You can also rent paddle boards and kayaks closer to town if you prefer but I really enjoyed the boat trip.

Praia de Camilo the next beach over with access via wooden walkways and 160 steps, smaller but worth a half day. Pack into this small cove and live like a European for a few hours and enjoy a drink from the little bar. Do not leave without stopping at A Camilo – the best fish restaurant in Lagos- and having the oysters. I am spoiled for life! I am pretty sure I will never experience a better oyster- caught across the bay in Alvor. I could not control myself and ordered the octopus and clams dish. Incredible!

Arribale is charming and the meat is cooked on an outdoor grill with a traditional setting and a view of the sea, Other recommendations include Tanino’s and Travia which serves tapas plus organic wines and Port. Divine!

My adventure was coming to an end but I do want to mentioned Silves- a mountain town which is twenty minutes away and also Alvors which is known for their seafood and the nearby Praia de Tres Amigos for more beach cave exploration.

I’ll be back soon!

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