Drawn by its mild climate, easy-going culture, and abundance of UNESCO sites, Portugal has been on our bucket list for a long time. My boyfriend and I were intrigued to make a trip there after several members of my family had already visited and had such positive things to say about it.
During our two-week vacation, we visited various locations with Lisbon and Faro as our bases. We spent some time in Porto, Cascais, Sintra, and the Algarve region. I was left in awe as each place was unique in their own way and had plenty to offer. I only wish that I had more time to explore. In case you want to visit Portugal sometime in the near future, here are a few things to keep in mind to hopefully help you during your visit.
In Portugal, there are 300 days of sunshine per year. Like Southern California, they have mild temperatures all year long, and while we were there during shoulder season (late September and early October), the weather was hot in the day averaging to 80F | 26C and cool at night around 65F | 15C. It was a good idea to pack for both warm and cool weather such as a combination of jeans, tops, dresses, shorts, and a light sweater. It also never rained while we were there which, we were lucky in that sense.
Mask mandates and Covid restrictions are no longer in effect. Portugal fully resumed operations, although, as a precaution, my boyfriend and I wore our masks while visiting Portugal in crowded areas such as trams, metros, and trains after hearing about our friends getting Covid several weeks prior to our trip. They had gone to Greece and was also supposed to visit Portugal, but never got a chance due to being sick from Covid. Thankfully, everything worked out fine for us.
You can choose from a variety of hotels and Airbnb accommodations. Since areas like Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve region are larger cities or spread out, you will want to choose a neighborhood or town where you want to stay that will enable you to meet your needs. If you have a car then you have more flexibility to go around as you please.
While we were there, we used both Airbnb and a hotel. Our Airbnb accommodations were fine. We had friendly and helpful hosts during our stay and did not have to walk far to get to sights or restaurants since the accommodations were centrally located. Moreover, our experience was enhanced by the fact that every place we stayed had an air conditioner.
A few of neighborhoods in Lisbon are listed below:
Alfama Neighborhoods: Lisbon’s oldest and most characteristic quarter. It is best to walk through the district to gain a true understanding of its character, especially in its interior streets.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Castelo Sao Jorge
Barrio Alto: Known for its bohemian vibe, hilly and windy streets filled with bars, clubs, and cafes.
Miradouro de Santa Catarina
Baixa Neighborhood: Lisbon’s Baixa-Chiado neighborhood is the most tourist-friendly neighborhood in the city’s core.
Chiado: This trendy neighborhood is a popular tourist destination in Lisbon. This is where we stayed in our first Airbnb. There are also many shops and bookstores in the area as well as the Carmo Convent and Santa Justa Lift.
Transportation and Airport
There are several modes of transportation in Portugal. They are trains, trams, tuk-tuks and Uber. For the most part they are all reliable and quite honestly they’ve been on time almost in every ride we’ve been on.
Airport to Lisbon: You can take the train from Lisbon airport (Humberto Delgado) to the city center which takes 40 minutes. There are visible signs for the train lines when you exit the baggage claim and the metro lines are all color coded so there’s no need to worry about finding your way.
When you switch from the train to the metro you’ll need to get the Viagem card which you can buy them at a train station. There’s usually an attendant managing the system who can also help you out if you need it. The card costs .50 cents plus the amount you want to get either 24 hours or recharge it on demand. You can use this card in the city on any trams, bus, metro and you can tap up at any time.
Something to keep in mind is that there may be a couple of people approaching you at the train station asking if you need a Viagem card. This happened to us when we arrived at the station in that multiple people who were exiting the station were giving away their Viagem card. We didn’t take anyone up on their offer because at that moment in time we had no idea if there were any complications in taking a Viagem card for free from a stranger. The Viagem card is .50 cents if you buy a brand new one and I suppose we could’ve taken it without having any issues. This is not a suggestion but, rather a heads up.
Another way to get around Lisbon is Uber. Again, we didn’t have any issue finding one multiple times in the day and also at an early time around 6am. However, in Sintra, it was a bit more complicated in finding Uber drivers who could take us from one castle to another and I still don’t know why. Several drivers had cancelled on us but, we still managed to find drivers while we were there. For Cascais and Porto, we took the train and walked everywhere when we explored each city.
Algarve: The Algarve region is different. You will need a car if you want to hop around from one town to another. It is not walkable, for example, to get from Faro to Albufeira (it takes about 40 min. by car depending on traffic). You will need to take the train or a car. Another option would be to fly into Faro airport then take the train from there to a nearby town or wherever you plan to stay.
Rental Cars & Driving
We rented a car in advance while we were in the Algarve. Nowadays, cars are a hot commodity, so if you can reserve one ahead of time, all the better. You should also be aware that driving a stick shift is standard in Portugal, so if you only know how to drive an automatic (like us), you will be charged more for an automatic car (at least $100 difference). The car rental company we used was Movyng and I highly recommend them. We had a pleasant experience with them, from handling the deposit to delivering the car to our location in Faro and then driving us back after dropping the car off. Both employees who met us were friendly, helpful, and informative. I would definitely use them again.
Driving in the Algarve is fairly easy. The roads are paved, flat in compare to Lisbon and Porto, there’s parking (limited during peak hours) and toll roads available. The only thing to keep in mind are the roundabouts that we came across. They have them in every town we passed along the coast and when there’s major traffic during peak hours it can add time to your journey. Be sure to plan ahead for traffic if you made reservations in another town (i.e. kayak tour to see the Benagil Cave) or you could take the toll roads as another option.
Portugal’s currency is the euro. Many family-owned restaurants and shops preferred paying with cash, so the money we brought with us before our trip was useful. Other than that, we had no problems using our credit cards.
Type of converter:
A 220 volts with two types of sockets, both with two parallel round holes (types C and F).
Traditional Portuguese dishes usually involve fish or octopus but, you can also find anything from sushi, burgers, and seafood here. We couldn’t get enough of the well-known Pasteis de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart that is available almost everywhere. We ate it every day because it was so good and tasty. There is also a vegan version available in some places, which I thought tasted the same as the regular nata.
Restaurant recommendations will be posted separately, but be aware that couvert is common in restaurants. Basically, this is a starter that is served with bread, olives, or some type of appetizer. The servers won’t tell you that they aren’t free, but you can refuse them. Otherwise, you’ll be charged.
You should also consider the tip that will be added to your bill. There are a few restaurants (at least in Lisbon) that automatically add tips to your bill. In Portugal, tipping is not necessary, but it can happen. Don’t forget to double check your bill.
There is a lot to see in Portugal, and unless you stay there for over two weeks, you are unlikely to be able to see it all. Our trip was organized such that we selected towns that we were truly interested in and had to see. As I’ve mentioned, Lisbon and Faro were our main base and for the other towns such as Sintra, Porto and Cascais, we made a full day trip in each one. I still don’t think we had enough time to see it all.
Sintra is a UNESCO world heritage site known for their castles and palaces. There are four major sights to see while in Sintra and we managed to see 3 out of 4 of them. Our first visit was the Pena Palace with its colorful and eye catching architecture this is definitely a must-see. It is a popular sight and you will want to book your tickets ahead of time. The lines starts forming when they first open in the morning and it becomes longer the later it get’s in the day. I suggest taking the first time slot that way you can get into the sights, take photos of the surrounding areas of the castle (without many people around) and then, head inside the castle to do the tour. However, I don’t recommend doing the castle tour. I felt that going from one room to another and waiting for tour groups to move was quite a nuisance.
In order to reach the next castle or palace, you need to plan ahead. Except for Pena Palace to the Castle of the Moors, you can walk through the Pena Palace garden that will connect you to the Castle of the Moors in about 20-30 min. walk. To get to other places, such as Quinta da Regaleria, you will have to take an Uber, a tuk-tuk, or a taxi. We bypassed the tuk-tuks and took Uber instead. We did experience quite a few cancellations from Uber drivers in this town, but, with some patience, we were able to find them.
This is the order we took while we were visiting Sintra:
Pena Palace > Castle of the Moors > Lunch in town > Quinta da Regaleira > Home
Castle of the Moors: The walk from Pena Palace to the Castle of the Moors was quite pleasant. With tall trees and winding pathways, you are literally surrounded by greenery. I found it to be peaceful as well. As soon as we arrived at the attraction, we were pleased to find that tickets could be purchased onsite without any problems. We walked towards the castle and enjoyed the views from there. The Pena Palace could be seen from one of the angles onsite.
Quinta da Regaleira: This was the last attraction we saw, since our time here had come to an end. We also bought our tickets onsite and had no issues. The palace has a luxurious garden with grottoes, fountains, tunnels, and benches. It was pleasant not to have to rush but only to take in what was in front of us. I found the entire estate to be extremely romantic. The Initiation Wells were one of the highlights of this palace. It was never used as a water resource, but for ceremonial purposes instead. Going through the staircase in person was an experience in itself. While natural light was coming in and out of the well, my boyfriend and I took photos of each other as we meandered down the stairs.
Cascais: Cascais, a tiny beach town 35 minutes away from Lisbon, is lined with boutiques, small shops, and restaurants. It’s a perfect town to visit if you want to get away from the city and one of my favorite towns in Portugal. The city center offers a wide variety of restaurants, beach access, and is easily accessible by train. If I lived nearby, it would be the perfect place to spend a day at the beach.
Porto: To experience what this 2nd largest city in Portugal has to offer, you will need at least three full days. Although we only had a full day when we visited, we managed to see a few sights. These sights include the Douro River, Riberia, Torre dos Clerigos, Livreria Lello, Igreja do Carmo, Rua Santa Catarina and the famous Sao Bento Railway Station. The city also has quite a few lovely restaurants, but we didn’t get a chance to try any.
Tickets for Livereria Lello need to be purchased in advance since this is a popular tourist attraction. There was a huge line outside the library when we arrived, and people were confused as to how to get in. The most convenient way is to purchase your tickets in advance and show up at the library at the scheduled time. It will save you a lot of time waiting in line.
I will create a separate activity post for our trip to the Algarve. Stay tuned!
Things to See and Do in Lisbon, Portugal
It’s easy to see why Lisbon is so popular because of its variety of interesting attractions, including museums, monasteries, and castles. By arriving early, we were able to explore each attraction at our own pace and in full detail providing deeper appreciation to each sights we saw. Here are my picks for places to see.
Places to Eat in Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is a foodie’s paradise. The number of restaurants and cafes in this city is so huge that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve listed the ones we tried below as well as a few others that we didn’t get to go to, but I think might be worth a trip.