Portugal was the last destination before I flew home to Canada for graduation. It was also one of my favourite trips – I loved it so much that I have plans to move there one day. I honestly don’t know a single person who went there and didn’t obsess over the place. Our time in Portugal was an absolute whirlwind of extremely late nights/early mornings, great food, sangria, sand and too much sun. And if that doesn’t entice you enough, two words: custard tarts.
We spent a total of 2 days in the capital of Lisbon and 4 days in the beach town of Lagos, but easily could’ve staid longer than the 6 days we planned.
Getting there: Lauren and I took a ~2 hour flight in from Manchester, where we did our exchange semester. Two other girl friends flew from Toronto to meet us – it took them about 7 hours. Flights were quite affordable from Manchester and Toronto, which is just one more reason to visit Portugal!
Staying there: Airbnb saves lives, guys. Seriously. There are a ton of good hostels in Lisbon, but if you have enough people to split the cost of an Airbnb, I highly recommend it. Sometimes it may even be cheaper than a hostel in peak seasons. Our one bedroom apartment was located in the Alfama district, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, known for all the Fado restaurants. It’s a little further from the core area of the city, but we always felt safe in the area, even when coming home at 5am.
Getting around: The city’s metro, Metropolitano, is super easy to navigate and affordable. Walking is also a good option.
Things to do:
- Go out in Bairro Alto: Not going to lie, this is where we spent the majority of our time in Lisbon. It is so live all the time. Head out here at night and join the parties in the streets. We also managed to find the world’s largest mojitos here one night and everything went downhill (uphill?) from there.
- See the castle: Castelo de Sao Jorge overlooks the city. It’s only 5 EUR to get in and worth going to catch a nice view of the city.
- EAT SOME TARTS: Portuguese custard tarts (“Pastel de nata”) are delicious. You cannot go wrong with flaky pastry dough and a egg-y custard center. Go to Pastéis de Belém to snack. They are supposedly the original bakery of custard tarts and accessible by metro from Lisbon.
- Sip Vinho Verde in a Fado bar: Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine meant to be consumed young, a year out from bottling. It’s light and tastes, for lack of better words, green (in a good, refreshing way). Order a glass (or bottle) at a Fado bar while you listen to musicians perform traditional folk music. NICE.
- Day trip to Sintra: Sintra is the cutest little town about 45 minutes inland from Lisbon. Take the metro there for the day and visit the Quinta de Regaleira. It is the grown up’s answer to a Disneyland. We spent hours exploring the ruins, underground tunnels and ponds in the gardens.
OMG Lagos. My favourite place and dream life. The town itself is quite small and has an interesting mix of European tourists, foreigners living the surf life and locals. It is so much fun and I wore flip flops everywhere (major plus!!). I personally wished I could’ve stayed at least a week to surf. The other girls would disagree, but I wouldn’t blame them because surfing was one of the most physically challenging activities I’ve ever done. This is coming from a girl who runs/boxes 4 days a week. But, like, I’m down to live that surf life. Really. Into. It.
Getting there: We took the local intercity bus to Lagos from Lisbon. It took us about 5 hours, but it was comfortable, didn’t require any transfers and the cheapest option. You could also travel by train, which takes about the same amount of time as the bus, or by taxi, obviously the most expensive option. If Lagos is your sole destination in Portugal, it may be better to fly into the city of Faro.
Staying there: We spent the first 2 nights in a surf hostel called the Surf Experience. I highly recommend it. The hostel staff were quick to accommodate when we were making the booking and friendly and welcoming when we arrived. The surf instructors were loads of fun and had enough patience to deal with 4 constantly hungover girls. Accommodations included breakfast, lunch, wifi (important), as well as daily surf instruction and equipment. Wanting to do more than just surf in Lagos, we decided to stay in Old Town Hostel for our remaining night by a friend’s recommendation. Clean hostel in a good location with the chance to meet other travelers and future party buddies.
Getting around: Just you and your flip flops are needed, my friend.
What to do: ANYTHING YOUR HEART DESIRES. You can moss on the closest beach, Praia de Batata (Potato Beach) or hike/explore the other beaches along the Algarve coast, or kayak or SUP. If you don’t think surfing is your thing, you can also try it out for just the day. The nightlife is fun and so casual (flip flops for days). Also, if there is one thing you must do is eat at the Green Room – the yummiest, freshest Mexican food ever with bomb mojitos (I enjoy mojitos if you haven’t noticed).
Summary: GO TO PORTUGAL, GUYS. Go quick before everyone realizes how magical it is. I came back home tired, sore and probably sunburnt, but. so. alive.