Now is definitely the time to visit Portugal. We took a memorable road trip from the south to the north, with stops along the way. Here are some highlights and tips to help you plan and enjoy your Portugal adventure.
Because this seems to be the summer of Portugal among many friends from around the world, I thought folks looking for some travel tips might like to know what to go and see, and where to stay while aiming for 5 solid days (or more) of amazing fun in the sun from our most recent trip. Of particular interest to me, was the travel experience of two Africans for the first time in Portugal. I can say confidently, it is definitely a place I would recommend for all tourists.
- Fly into Faro: Faro, is the southern capital of Portugal’s Algarve region. The pilot said, ‘Welcome to Paradise’ when you land and it certainly lives up to its name. Most tourists use the airport as their entry point to the region and commute from there, and so did we. We were going by road and Faro has a wide selection of car hire companies. Do consider getting the prepaid toll card loaded for the motorways, and also consider paying in advance if you are thinking of crossing the border as we did when you pick up the car to make it easier to travel.
- Stay at Quinta do Atlantico — it is close to the airport by car, and we had a late arrival. The owners are very friendly, and went out of their way to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Gorgeous morning view of Faro overlooking from a fairly high point, and great for a first thing swim right on the property. We do not speak Portuguese however, this did not prove a barrier as they speak a variety of others including English.
3. Skip Faro, and visit Loulé — about 16 km north of Faro. It is a small but very old, and walkable town. Our highlight was walking all the way into the city and to the market on Praça da República. Here is some helpful advice on how to walk this fairly compact city. We also enjoyed some cool chilli chocolate and porto flavored fudge from the market. Free parking at a lot just when you enter Loulé or paid parking closer to the center of the city — your pick, but all within very walkable distance. Carry some water as you walk around in summer.
- Praia da Dona Ana: This is easily one of the best beaches in Lagos set in place between stunning sea cliffs. We parked for 1Euro and walked under a kilometre to the beach. Most of the beach is walkable via the wooden plank walkways almost to the beach, and then you can take off your shoes and walk the rest of the way to the water.
- Skip Portimao town in the heaviest tourist season, unless you are set to arrive super early and spend the day in the company of tons of folks.
- Praia do Amoreira, western Algarve yielded a view of the place where the Aljezur River meets the sea. It is great for walking, and surfing and seaboarding when the sea is right.
Alentejo Region — This region is very different from the sunny beaches of the Algarve region, and in my view, even more worth visiting when you have a little more time in Portugal.
- Zambujeira do Mar: This is a small fishing village which introduced us to Alentejo region. You can park, and walk along the beach which boasts some of the most stunning clifftop views of the area. We came across lots of amateur fishermen too.
- Night 2: Tons Da Terra — After the breathtaking day along the coast, we were delighted to move inland to Sao Domingos and spend the night at a Turismo Rural, which boasts a delightful spa. This is a great option for families, but be sure to book ahead for large groups. The staff are very friendly, and we felt right at home. Book dinner before 7pm (to dine in), unless you want to dine out. You will not want to leave this peaceful stay, with options for kayaking,bike and horse riding
We decided to drive straight from Sao Domingos to Lisbon to cross further into western Europe. Most of the drive was via the main highways, and we had a vibrant playlist to keep us going over 150 kilometres. Approaching Lisbon one encounters the statue of Christ the King over the bridge.
We chose to start our walk through the Bairro Alto district of Portugal, which was approachable via a series of very uphill steps that were called ‘backbreaking’ steps, when translated from Portuguese.
After working up an appetite, we had lunch at the Restaurante O Soajeiro, of fresh caught fish you can select yourself from their display, and potatoes and veggies. A very friendly, and popular lunch spot, get there well before 3pm closing time for lunch. We were very close to closing time and the host welcomed us warmly.
If you visit in summer, you are likely to want to see everything, yet have walked a great distance. Thus, a tuk tuk tour around the city will avail the remainder of the city to you.
We enjoyed seeing São Miguel and Graça neighborhoods. And even a surprise climb to a rooftop from where we could dee the whole city
Night 3: If you are driving, the most important thing is to get a hotel with parking. We chose Inspira — a sustainable, boutique hotel, and the first in Lisbon that boasts allergy-free rooms.
Sunset at Cabo da Roca :
Make every effort to drive, or take a bus to the lighthouse at Cabo da Roca when you stay in Lisbon.
On the lighthouse itself is part of a poem by Lisbon born poet Luís Vaz de Camões (1524–1580) ‘Here, where the land meets the sea’
After that dreamy visit, a short distance from the view is Alcabideche with a variety of places to eat, arrive early for a table, though — or reserve by phone.
Sintra Castles: The next morning, we decided to visit these iconic castles. Our favorite was Pena Castle. Parking is rare, so we had to walk quite a distance from where we left the car, to get to the park entrance surrounding the castle. A beautiful walk through the castle grounds was in order. You could very well picnic here and enjoy a pumped day of outdoor ambling. There is a 2 Euro minibus to take you right to the castle door, if that is your preference.
Night 4: Coimbra
Coimbra is a good night stopover as you make your way north.
They have their own version of Fado, which we got to catch at one of the nightly shows (6pm) at Fado do Centro.
To be sure, Coimbra is quiet, and many places close quite early. We left too early the next morning to say more. Highlights included the University of Coimbra, and the view from the bridge in the city.
Day 5: Sunday in Braga enroute to Bom Jesus
Braga is great, and has free parking before 11am downtown.
We enjoyed coffee and bitings at Frigideiras do Cantinho, a lovely pastry shop near the Braga Cathedral. We found super friendly staff, and lots of helpful recommendations on which pastries would be the best for us. Fuel for the walking we would do at Bom Jesus.
Bom Jesus Do Monte is a must-visit in the region, and very important to Christian pilgrims. To approach it, we started by walking in the gardens around the site
Atlas Obscura has a fuller description of what the experience of ascending the Bom Jesus’ 577 steps, and taking the funicular energy saving lift down (1 Euro each way).
We had parked all the way up, so we did the walk the other way, down then funicular up, but we still appreciated the refreshing sense of faith, and the journey of reviewing the Way of The Cross, the Major and Minor Prophets, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and so much more depicted through the steps. On a Sunday no less, Bom Jesus took us to church.
This post is about Portugal, mainly, but we could not miss the opportunity to visit Galicia for the first time. That is another post, however.
Back to Portugal
Night 6: Castelo de Santa Catarina, Porto
We arrived relatively quickly from Spain, and settled in for our night at the Castelo, a former castle — you can now choose between classic and contemporary architecture for your room.
Porto — we opted to take a bit of a long walk from the Castelo to the port of Oporto and by evening it is stunning. We were happy to find Abadia Restaurant, highly recommended by a friend who is from Porto — and if you go, ask for the Bacalau com Broa, thank me later! We walked a bit on the Ponte Luis I Bridge over the Douro River and everything about Porto by night nearby makes you want to stay there for hours on end.
Important to note for Porto, one can easily hail a cab anytime of day or night. This is not the case in many cities across Europe, and certainly not taken for granted by we two happy black Africans enjoying a new place. Thank you to the city of Porto for taking tourism seriously.
The next morning, we took a tour of Porto by Hop-on-Hop off bus to take advantage of the half day we had left. We could do this in 2.5 hours. If pressed for time, take the Red Line.
We then decided to squeeze in a tour of the castle at Guimarães — and lunch too. Guimarães is the site of many important battles which culminated in the formation of the kingdom of Portugal. Its history ties dynasties of surrounding kingdoms, a rich development of ties to strengthen the kingdom, and a longevity dating back to 968 AD.
While walking around the city, be sure to check out Portuguese home goods locally made via Chafarica, who have an online store, and a physical store you can check out.
We flew back from Porto’s Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport which is an international airport.
Language: Portuguese, but we could easily find someone who speaks English and helped us find our way in a most friendly manner.
Driving: Left Hand Drive
Security: No issues on this visit, check your Consulate for any advisory.