Are a lot of your friends in Portugal right now, Instagramming beaches and sardines? Here’s why—and what to see when you eventually make your own trip.
What’s up with Portugal? Like, all my friends are going there.
Congratulations, you have very hip friends. Portugal is a great place to visit if you like warm weather and fresh seafood. (The country is famous for its sardines!) Portugal is also pretty affordable, especially right now while the dollar is strong against the euro.
Why is it peaking now?
The truth is a little bleak. It was only a few years ago that the European financial crisis threatened to bankrupt Portugal. But post-EU bailout, the country has become newly revitalized. A combination of new local businesses and a burgeoning arts scene has made Portugal more vibrant than ever.
So I… should go?
Yes! Especially if you want to lounge on some truly stunning beaches. Portugal offers the scenic beauty and culinary delights of southern Europe at a good price.
Is there any reason not to?
Maybe the idea of doing a lot of walking uphill on cobblestones is not your ideal vacation. (It’s a good workout though!) Or maybe you’re someone who’s just not into seafood. Or you have a rare disease that makes you go into a blind rage every time you see a Cristiano Ronaldo jersey.
Okay, I’m convinced. Where should I go in Portugal?
The capital of Lisbon is an obvious go-to. It’s compact, meaning you can basically get everywhere on foot, whether you’re taking in the cultural activities like the National Tile Museum or stumbling out of the clubs on the Bairro Alto. Lisbon is an extraordinary city to wander. Every corner reveals a gorgeous church with a baroque facade or a bakery with delicately-made sweets.
I’d also highly recommend hitting the southern coast. From Lisbon, it’s a short flight to Faro, where you can experience the country’s best beaches. About an hour drive west takes you to the town of Lagos where the beaches are tucked into rugged coves with magnificent rock formations. For just a handful of euros, you can rent a covered lounge chair and chill all day.
Also, an easy train ride north will take you to Porto, where you can admire the rich Douro Valley and sample of city’s famous namesake dessert wine. If you’re looking to relax, you might end up enjoying Porto more than Lisbon—especially if you sneak into the pool at the Yeatman Hotel.
Any advice on accomodations?
The hotels are great, but entire-home Airbnbs are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Find one with a terrace and drink wine while gazing upon the city. In Lisbon, I had no trouble finding one that was centrally located in Rossio for less than a hundred bucks a night.
Sardines! Eat a lot of them, especially if you’re there in the summer. Whether you’re eating them on a bun or over a bed of fries or just on there own, sardines are the country’s main culinary attraction.
The local beer is alright, but you’ll want to try vinho verde, a crisp young wine that originates in Portugal’s Minho province. It’s sharp and bright—perfect when you’re feeling sticky and hot.
Indulge in Portuguese pastries too! I recommend starting every day with one of Portugal’s famous egg custard tarts, pasteis de nata, which will pair perfectly with your morning espresso.
High-end dining in Lisbon doesn’t have to be expensive either. A meal at one of Lisbon’s hottest spots, Taberna da Rua das Flores, for two people—three shared plates and two bottles of rosé—only cost us 50 euros. Similar terrific is Cantinho do Aziz, where you can enjoy Mozambican food in a quiet alley. And if you want to sample every kind of cured meat and wine the city has to offer, stop by the Mercado da Ribeira for an abundance of stalls and small restaurants in one place.
What should I Instagram?
I do it all for the ‘grams.
Sintra probably has the best ‘gram game. Just a 40-minute train ride away from Lisbon, Sintra is a UNESCO-protected heritage site with a beautiful palace and a Moorish castle set atop a very tall mountain. The photo ops will be plentiful. Instead of the tourist bus, take a local buggy up the mountain for five euro to get a view of the entire valley. It’s been touristy though, so probably best to stick to weekdays for your visit.
You can also turn that day into a beach trip by taking another easy 40-minute bus to Cascais (they come every hour). It’s not quite as gorgeous as the beaches in Lagos, but you can enjoy a beer and some grilled sardines on the sand, then take a train directly home from Cascais to Lisbon when the sun’s worn you out.
So I should pack sunscreen.
It’s one of the sunniest places on Earth. Definitely pack sunscreen.