Timeline: May 21-June 5, 2019
If you haven’t already, you can check out my previous posts on our trip timeline here:
This was one of the countries we were most excited about when planning our trip! We had heard great things about Portugal, including how beautiful it is, about the great food and drinks, the history, and the affordability! And let me tell you, it was all accurate! We absolutely loved our time in Portugal, and really wish we could’ve stayed longer (like maybe, forever).
Because Portugal was so high on our list, we dedicated two whole weeks of our 15 week trip to spend there. We divided our time between 4 cities, and boy it was hard to choose just 4. There were still so many other parts of the small country we wanted to explore! We ended up choosing Porto, Caldas da Rainha (Obidos), Lisbon, and Lagos (moving from north to south). But some others we really wish we could’ve checked out were Braga, The Douro Valley, Coimbra, Aviero, Nazare, the Azores, and more of the Algarve region (Sagres, Faro, etc.) We’ll have to save those for next time!
For now, I’ll give you a little insight on all the amazing things we saw, did, ate and drank in Portugal!
We stayed at one of the nicest Airbnb’s we’ve ever experienced in Porto. It was a little bit outside of the city center, which we actually preferred because it gave us more of a local feel. It was about a 20-30 minute walk to the city center, or a short bus ride, so for us it was perfect. The owner was extremely hospitable, spending an hour introducing us to her home, the area, and suggestions on things to do, including suggesting an amazing seafood restaurant we wouldn’t have found otherwise, which was still one of the best meals we’ve had so far on the trip! She even provided a nice breakfast spread each morning which was awesome.
In Porto, we got to know the Portuguese culture a little bit, including walking around the local areas, checking out the grocery stores and malls, and learning about the foods and the wines of the area. We definitely overindulged in wine while in Portugal, because it was so cheap and so plentiful! We tried some local specialties including bitoque (steak with a fried egg on top), bacalhau (salted cod), and million calorie “Francesinha” sandwich, stuffed with meat, bathed in cheese, fried, and covered in sauce!
We took a free walking tour of the city, which gave us some background on the city and the history of Portugal in general. We enjoyed wandering around the town admiring all the beautiful architecture, including buildings covered inside and out with the lovely azulejos tiles. We strolled along the beaches and the riverfront. We walked across the bridge to Villa Nova de Gaia, the small town across the river from Porto where all the Port wine cellars are located. We learned that the port wine-making process starts in the vineyards of the Douro Valley and is then made and aged in Gaia, and of course we enjoyed tasting the port wine as well!
Porto was such an amazing city! We could definitely see spending more time there in the future. The only downside was that it is a little chillier since it’s in the north of the country, so we were very excited to start heading south and get a little warmer weather!
Caldas da Rainha
Next, we headed to the small city of Caldas da Rainha. This wasn’t really a top choice at first, but we are actually very glad we ended up there! We wanted to go to the picturesque historic town of Obidos, with its ancient castle and walled city. But we soon realized that there weren’t really any Airbnbs there, and the hotels were expensive (by the standards of our 15 week vacation budget). So we found a nice Airbnb in the nearby town of Caldas da Rainha, which was just one quick trainstop away, and actually had a lot more to offer than Obidos. We found that just a day trip over to Obidos to see the castle and wander through the windy ancient streets was enough, while there were more restaurants and amenities in Caldas da Rainha. It was more of a mid-sized Portuguese town with nice residential areas and a small city center, and we really loved it there!
My birthday was during this part of the trip, so I was pleased that our Airbnb turned out to be very nice. It was in a 2 bedroom apartment, and the host was hardly around. The apartment was extremely nice and modern and felt like a hotel, with a cozy bed, nice bathroom, and a modern kitchen with built in espresso machine. Sometimes Airbnb can be hit or miss, but so far on the trip we really lucked out! This made for a good start to my birthday. On the day of my birthday is when we took our day trip over to Obidos, and I loved having lots of photo shoots along the castle walls and in the adorable town. We enjoyed a nice lunch and “jar” (carafe) of wine sitting outside at a cafe. Later, we returned to Caldas da Rainha and had an awesome dinner at a local Portuguese restaurant, which was our second best meal on the trip so far (after the seafood restaurant in Porto)!
We had just a couple days in this area, and next we moved on to the capital city, Lisbon!
Some people who think of going to Portugal might just think of going to the capital, but I was actually less excited about it because we’d really been enjoying the small town life and this was going to be a big city. But nonetheless it was still an awesome city and had a lot to offer!
Unfortunately our Airbnb luck ran out when we arrived in Lisbon. The prices were a little more expensive since it was the capital, so we had settled on an “okay” apartment. And it really turned out to be less than okay. The biggest problem was when we first got there and sat down on the bed, it broke! The frame was new and we think it wasn’t put together correctly, so the wood snapped. The host made us a makeshift bed with a twin bed frame and a twin cot basically, of differing heights, with a couple thin mattresses placed on top, so it was lopsided and terribly uncomfortable. Add to that there was a heat wave in the area and no AC (most houses don’t have AC because they rarely need it), so we were burning up too! But despite all this, we still enjoyed our time in Lisbon- we just tried to stay away from the Airbnb as much as possible!
We did a ton of sightseeing throughout the hilly city (which reminded me a lot of San Francisco), including exploring more beautiful architecture, historic buildings and churches, hilltop views over the picture perfect city, the riverfront, an old fortress, local markets, and a Bullring with a mall and movie theatre in the lower levels. We took another free walking tour to learn about the history of this region, and we enjoyed more local Portuguese foods and pastries, including the famous “pastel de natas” from Belem.
In addition to exploring Lisbon, we were so excited to take two amazing day trips from there, one to Sintra and another to Cascais. These were two beautiful towns, and it was really nice to get out of the big city of Lisbon for a bit. Sintra is in the mountains and is known for the affluent palaces and mansions built throughout the hillsides. We visited two of them, including Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira. The palaces themselves are stunning, but the grounds surrounding them (especially at the Quinta da Regaleira) were fascinating! Cascais is a seaside town, which is also an affluent vacation destination, with some historic mansions along the coastline. There are beautiful beaches there, amazing rocky cliffs along the coast, as well as lots of shops and cafes. If you ever visit Lisbon, we highly recommend these two day trips, which are both quick and inexpensive train rides from the city!
Finally, our last stop in Portugal was in the much anticipated Algarve region in the south. There are lots of towns and beaches dotted along the southern coast to choose from. We chose Lagos after some reading as well as scoping out the Airbnb availability. We stayed at the home of a lovely older local woman, and the location of her apartment couldn’t have been more perfect! We were within walking distance to everything we could’ve possibly needed. It was 10-20 minutes to several gorgeous beaches, less than 5 minutes to a number of cafes/restaurants/bars (and pastelarias which are Portuguese bakery/coffee shop/cafes on every corner practically), 20 minutes to the city center, 10 minutes to a nice gym and grocery store, and less than 30 minutes to the bus and train stations. Lagos is a small town, but has everything you need, and is surrounded by beauty. Needless to say, we were in heaven and were completely ready to move there! Add to this the most perfect weather. Did I mention it was 100% sunny the entire time we were in Portugal? We didn’t see a drop of rain, and hardly even a cloud. It was warmer in the south, but not quite hot yet this time of year (70-80s during the day, 60s at night). The ocean was definitely chilly though! Of course we hear the temperatures warm up a lot as you get into July-August!
We more than enjoyed our time in Lagos. Everyday we checked out a different beach. We walked all over town and never had to take any public transportation. We popped in and out of local restaurants, pastelarias, and little shops. We worked out at the local gym and at some outdoor gym equipment. We took sunset strolls down the windy wooden path along the coastline. We drank way too much wine again, and took way too many pictures. We also took a day trip to neighboring town and beach, Portimao. We had heard good things about this area, and it wasn’t bad, but we really liked Lagos a lot better. This felt like “home” to us after only a few short days. We really didn’t want to leave to be honest! But we can safely say that we will certainly be back there, and hopefully next time for a longer period!
But, the bittersweet time came to move on to the next stop. Although we had thoroughly enjoyed all of Portugal, there were still 13 more weeks left in our trip, and many many more countries! So, we had to say goodbye, for now. Our next destination was heading back to Spain to spend two full weeks working our way along the southern coast and up the eastern coast. And this time, we would have a new addition to our international travels, my mom! Yes, my mom flew from the US to join us in Spain for two weeks! This was her very first time in Europe, so stay tuned for my next post to hear about that part of the trip!