In recent years, Portugal has become a popular destination for travel within Europe. Several of my friends and colleagues have gone this year, and their feedback partially inspired our own two week excursion. All in all we had a great time and I would recommend Portugal to anyone who has not been there yet. Especially if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists in Italy or Spain. My only mistake is that I didn’t fully believe how cold the water would be. With the exception of a few shallow lagoons, I was unable to stay in the ocean for more than 10 minutes despite the fact that I regularly swim in outdoor pools and lakes in Switzerland.
My top three recommendations for Portugal are:
- Explore Sintra by foot (Quinta da Regaleira)
- Go to the beach in Algarve (particularly west end, i.e. Sagres)
- Try the seafood!
Everyone says great things about Lisbon and Porto, and I agree up to a point, but I much preferred smaller places likes Sagres or Nazaré. I particularly liked Sagres because of how few people were there despite the breathtaking beauty.
Overall I was really surprised by how many people spoke excellent English. Somehow I was used to having to use sign language in other parts of Europe, so this was a nice surprise.
Sagres was very quiet, and we really really liked it. We met some locals who were genuinely friendly: introduced themselves properly and took the time to talk to us and answer our questions about where to eat and what to do. With hotels, as with anything, sometimes it can be a miss or a hit. We got lucky with the one we booked in Sagres. The breakfast really was the best I’ve had in years, and it all felt so home-made and fresh. My wife was also very impressed with the dinner.
When we went for a walk after our first night, we bumped into some cows (so we felt right at home) and enjoyed the beautiful views in all directions. It was a bit windy, which is to be expected near the ocean. There are two large beaches, but because the water was quite cold we spent more time in the pool. The nearby fortress (castle) is also fun to explore from the outside.
Nazaré has a really long nice beach, and can sometimes feel too touristy, but I am a tourist after all, so I shouldn’t complain. Have you noticed how many tourists try to avoid the touristy places at all cost? 🙂 Nazaré was somehow crowded, but you at least have a good choice of nice restaurants. If you like Japanese, I would recommend Sushi Lovers if you can look past the cheesy name.
You should definitively take the funicular (steep train) up to the viewpoint (side photo). Also, there is a really neat food market in the center if you want to get some fresh fruit or ingredients.
Sintra is a beautiful little town best explored by foot. In fact, parking was the only part that I didn’t love about Sintra. I found out about Sintra from Atlas Obscura and decided that I must see it. And I was not disappointed: you could spend many enjoyable hours in Quinta da Regaleira, and this is just one of the attractions. Afterwards we ate at Tascantiga (GPS coordinates 38.795822, -9.391064) which had amazing tapas (as well as very cool toilets).
One of the nice things is that there are many trees and narrow streets, both of which provide shade in the summer. On the outskirts there are many wonderful villas, and we enjoyed dreamily being envious and saying “one day…” as we passed by. I wish we had booked a hotel closer, and spent more time exploring Sintra, it was really that good. No wonder that this place is an official UNESCO Heritage Site.
Lisbon is almost a mandatory stop if you are in Portugal. The yellow trams are world famous but we didn’t manage it somehow. We did see the castle and it’s completely worth the steep climb and steep entrance fee. A large portion of the last three days in Portugal were spent enjoying nice restaurants and shopping!!! 🙂