I really had no expectations for Portugal- it definitely seemed like I would enjoy it when I booked it. It's in Europe, its on the coast, it's got mountains, its got cities, good foods, fun scenes, I had fun friends that were joining Joe and I on the trip, basically everything I like. So looking back now on the trip, I would say for anyone who is thinking about going, set the bar high because it will exceed your expectations for sure! I absolutely loved Portugal, and I realize we only scratched the surface. It could warrant a second trip to other areas of the region (Porto, Madiera, Azores), but let me get back to actually recapping where we went and reliving the experience.
Lisbon: A great homebase to start and end the week. This is a fun city! And it's beautiful! There is a ton of graffiti around the city- actually that's one of the things that first struck me. But it doesn't take away from the charm at all- actually gives it some Euro edge different from alot of famous European cities, which I liked! The city architecture is European picturesque, the small streets winding up and down hills, tons of small squares are parks with food/drink options around picnic tables, and all along the water. Really fun to just walk around and check out all of this- plus a few castles, landmarks, etc. We started out in an Airbnb in the Barrio Alto section of the city. This is where it all mostly goes down. We were walking distance to everything- just a few blocks from the Avenue de Liberdade - a huge street which cuts straight through the city all the way down to the water. Follow that and it will take you where you want to go. Here's a basic idea of where we went and what we checked out in Lisbon our first 3 days (Saturday-Monday):
Frade Dos Mares for dinner: slightly expensive, good seafood, not a ton of seating, close to the water. They have a bell at each table that rings the server went you want service (genius), make a reservation on thefork.com ahead of time
Time Out Market: Went here twice, first for drinks, second time for dinner and drinks. Very cool indoor market with gourmet food stands, wine/beer/cocktail bars- a little pricey but fun and worth it! Right by the train station on the water
Cervejaria Ramiro: Favorite meal of the trip! Email the restaurant directly to make a reservation- otherwise you will be waiting for at least an hour- this place is packed thanks to being featured on No Reservations years ago. AMAZING SEAFOOD and really well priced. Not fancy at all- worth all the fuss, you must go and get the Swimming Crab!
Zenith Brunch and Cocktails: For a really good American Brunch. Be prepared to wait on the weekends, but they have plenty of tables. Avocado sweet potato toast yum.
Other things to get: Pastries de Belem (when you go visit Belem Tower)- they famous and you will wait in a small line, churros from food trucks (basically churro-donuts), try their Vinho Verde wine (ask for a dry white- they can get sweet)
Things to see and do:
Castelo de Lisbon- great views of the city and cool castle to tour
Belem Tower- walk along the water park about 3.5 miles, or grab a tuk tuk. After get your pastry from the small town across the street
Party and pictures on Pink Street- so picturesque by day, but at night it's club time (if you find the bar with the large deer head in the front room and stripper pole in the middle room, get ready for a wild night)
Watch the World Cup- if you can (we were lucky enough to be there to watch Spain vs. Portugal in the main square by the water- the love for soccer in Europe is next level)
On to Luz/Lagos Beach time! We headed south by car to Luz/Lagos for Tuesday-Friday. After having a nonstop super fun time in Lisbon, it was good to get a beach break for mid-week to slow down the pace. We rented an Airbnb in Luz, which is about 3.5 miles from Lagos (bigger beach town, more to do for sure). The ubers are very cheap here though and pretty quick - that helped us out many times getting back and forth. Luz is definitely a sleepy beach town, but popular so make sure to get reservations for dinner, we were turned down as walk ins for most places our first night. We settled on Forteleza de Luz- which was not good. Would have been a much better option for drinks only, however it was pretty windy at night so we sat inside. We did have a good dinner at A Fabrica- so check that out if you need a dinner spot. Breakfast here was nothing to write home about- pick a place and get your basics. Same with nightlife, all bars were completely dead after 10pm. If you want action head to Lagos, we did that the last night and found some fun places (Bon Vivant rooftop, Santa Maria bar).
Other things we did in Luz/Lagos:
We found an amazing hike at the top of the mountain overlooking the beach at Luz- we walked about 9 miles all the way to Lagos- and on the way saw all the famous beaches and rock formations - it was so cool and so beautiful! Seriously breathtaking views! The next day we walked from our place the opposite way along a trail- and saw more great views- but that hike from Luz to Lagos is definitely the one to do!
Sintra (and Lisbon)
Friday- Sunday, we headed back up North to Lisbon, dropped off our rental car, and ubered to Sintra (about 30mins from Lisbon). If I could go back and re-do the itinerary, I would have booked a place the final weekend in Lisbon, and either ubered or took the train to Sintra for the day, but hindsight is 20/20 right? The hotel we stayed in Casa do Valle, was pretty simple (good location to the town center, but very small rooms, you could order a continental breakfast to be brought to your room the next day but had to turn it in at 6:30pm, the office was only open 9-6, I was not impressed). Not much in terms of nightlife or restaurants in Sintra- literally half the town shut down at 7pm, and the few places that stayed open were not the best in terms of great dinner spots. But now looking back Sintra is really for day trip tourists, the main attractions are all the castles and gardens you can tour. And they were all amazing. The first night we took the train back into Lisbon to watch the World Cup (got great seats at a restaurant on the main square- could see the huge screen and everything!), had dinner at Pateo- a seafood concept restaurant which was in the Barrio de Avillez complex (several restaurants in one building). Probably the most expensive meal of our trip, but really good food, wine, and cocktails, and great service (not easy to come by in Europe). After we stopped by Pink Street one last time, then ubered back to Sintra.
On Saturdays we hike- we did an all day hike of all the Sintra tourist attractions, starting from the main town after breakfast. We hit up Quinta Regaleira, Palacio de Pena, and the Castelo dos Mouros and toured all of them plus their grounds/gardens. All were so magical- but I think the Quinta Regaleira was my favorite. This is where they have the initiation well with all the secret passages that lead to other parts of the park- it's so cool. The Palacio de Pena and Castelo dos Mouros were also amazing- awesome views of Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean from the top. I recommend doing them all and hiking to them all. It's a steep hike, but mostly shaded and a great way to spend the day. You can hike to them all, and it's one big loop back down to the town. It was a great way to end our trip in Portugal. We got to see and do so much I loved it all!
Cost Breakdown 9 nights/2 people:
Airbnbs and Sintra Hotel (9 nights total): $1400
Rental Car (plus tolls): $150
Extras (admissions to castles/tours/etc): $50