Portugal usually isn’t a country on the top of people’s list to visit in Europe, but for those who are looking for delicious food, beautiful beaches and amazing scenery, this is the place to go. It is a trip that won’t break the bank (if you use some of the tips below) and it is full of surprises!
When to Visit:
Summer months are the most popular times because the weather is always great and it is summer break for many students in Europe and America. To avoid the high season prices, visit at the end of April/May or September/October as the weather will still be decent. At this time, it will also be less crowded and the heat will be a little more comfortable. If you are traveling to Portugal, specifically Lagos, and are looking for more of a party atmosphere, definitely go during the summer months.
If you can catch a direct flight to Lisbon, it is quite an easy trip of about 7 hours. But the only direct flights from North America to Lisbon are from New York (on United, Lufthansa and TAP Portugal), Washington DC (on United and Lufthansa), Miami (on TAP Portugal), Toronto (on Air Canada and Lufthansa) and Montreal (on AirTransat). The direct flights can get quite expensive but if you book in advance, you can grab great fares at around $550 USD for a round trip or even better, keep an eye out for The Flight Deal postings which recently had some for as low as $300 USD round trip! You can also find flights from Barcelona or Madrid to Lisbon for very cheap and there are more flights from the US and Canada to those cities, so it might be worth looking into those flight options and even take a quick 2-3 day stopover.
What to Pack:
Definitely pack a good pair of walking shoes since this is a great way to explore the cities and save money on transportation. Girls, I wouldn’t even bother bringing heels. The cobblestone makes it impossible to walk and people usually dress pretty casual to go out there. Portugal uses the two-pin continental plug which has two round pins and operates on 230V and 50Hz AC so make sure you bring a converter.
Tipping and Payment:
Tips are not expected when purchasing coffee or pastries, but taking a taxi or eating at a café, it is usually good to round up the bill or leave a few extra coins if playing in cash. When getting drinks at bars, tipping isn’t required, but if you think the service was good, it is nice to leave a euro or two. ATM’s can be found everywhere throughout the city but I would suggest bringing extra cash and exchanging it instead of pulling money because the bank fees can be as high as $16 USD per transaction.
Where to Stay:
Portugal has some of the most reasonable 5 star hotels in the world. If you feel like treating yourself, this would be the place to do it. If on a tight budget, you can find some very reasonable 3 or 4 star hotels for 30-50€ a night but another good alternative is renting a place on Airbnb as there are many cheap options.
- Four Season Hotel Ritz Lisbon
- York House Hotel
- Bairro Alto Hotel
- Baixa House
- Memm Alfama Hotel
Around the city center, it is easy to walk everywhere. Everything is pretty close but if you need want to explore outside the city center, a great way to get around is by tram, as it will also add to the authentic Portuguese experience. Taxis here are not that expensive, in comparison to the US and Canada, and can sometimes be the most cost efficient way to get around especially if you are traveling in a group. But if you want the most cost-savings way to get around, it would be to take the metro as an all-day ticket only costs 6 Euros. Taking the bus is another cheaper option to get around costing 1.80€ per ticket.
If you are planning to visit many tourist destinations, it would be worth looking into the Lisboa Card which costs 18.50€ for 24 hours. 31.50€ for 48 hours and 39€ for 72 hours. This includes free public transportation including travel on the CP train lines to Sintra and Cascais, free access to 26 museums, monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other deals and discounts. You can purchase one online which will give you an e-mail voucher that you can exchange for a card at the Lisboa Welcome Center, Foz Palace or the Lisboa Airport.
If you are taking a taxi from the airport to the city, it will cost around 20€ and will take about 15 minutes. Taxis will also charge extra for bags going to and from the airport. Two alternative ways to get from the airport to the city is by taking the Aerobus or the metro. The Aerobus runs every 20 minutes from 7am – 11pm from the airport and goes to the airport from the city center from 7:45am to 10:30pm. It will only cost you 3.50€ if you purchase online ahead of time, and takes about 30 minutes. The airport metro station operates from 6:30am to 1am and takes about 20 minutes to get to the city center. This will cost you 1.40€ one way or you can purchase the daily pass which would include this trip for 6€.
Most museums are free on Sunday’s so try to plan your visits then to save some money.
- Ride Tram 28 through the streets of Lisbon which has been in use since 1873. Stops include Sao Jorge castle, the terrace area of Portas do Sol and the flea market Feira de Ladra. If you plan to do this, make sure you go line up at the main stop, Praca do Martim Moniz, very early in the morning or around dinner time to avoid 2-3 hours waits and to get a seat. You can buy tickets on the tram for 2.85€. Also, make sure you watch out for pickpockets here.
- If you don’t want to wait for Tram 28 and still want a tour of the city, take a tour on a Tuk Tuk (tuk-tuk-lisboa.pt) as it is a great way to see the city and allows you to get out whenever you want to take pictures, unlike the tram. There are three different tours you can take (Belem, Barrio Alto & Castle S. Jorge) and if you had some other places you wanted to stop in between, the drivers can work with you to make sure you see what you want. You can fit up to 6 people in one Tuk Tuk (it is best to get one where everyone is facing forward) and they will usually cost 50€ for 1 hour (90€ for 2) but if you call Ricardo below, he will take you around for 45€ for 1 hour.
- Tuk Tuk Driver: Ricardo
- Phone Number: 00351 925086387
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Visit the Torre de Belem which is about 10 minutes away from the city center. You can take Tram 15 there for 1.80€ or a cab for about 8€. While here, you should also take a look at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and stop by Pasteis de Belem for their famous pastel de nata.
- Ride the Santa Justa elevator for a beautiful view of the Lisbon and the Tagus River.
- Visit the Castle of Sao Jorge located in the historic area of the city. It costs 8.50€ to enter the castle grounds.
- See a Fado show in Alfama. Fado is their local music.
- Wander the streets of Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. Here you will find many medieval alleys, houses with tile panels in narrow streets, tiny squares and churches. A great area to explore for photographers.
- Take in the best view of the city at the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Another great viewpoint is Miradouro da Graca (official name is Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen) on the hill of Santo Andre. These are both great place to bring a snack or some beers and sit on the wall for a while.
- Walk through the 10-acre Jardim Botanico in the heart of the city. This is a great place to have a picnic!
- Go to a beach in Cascais (which is about 40 minutes west of Lisbon). There is a train that takes you there from the city center.
- Take a day trip to Sintra, the home of Palacio da Pena castle. You can get here by train but this is a great day tour to book if budget allows. Two good tour companies that offer Sintra tours are Celina Tours and My Lisbon Holidays. Celina Tours offers a great 8 hour tour to Sintra and Cascais for as low as 40€ per person (not including entrance fees or lunch). But the price will vary based on how full the tour is. My Lisbon Holidays offers a 7 hour private tour of Sintra but you have to pay for the full car so it is only really worth it if you can fill up a car. It costs 165€ for a car that fits 3 passengers or 200€ for a car that fits 8 passengers. Both tours include pickup and drop off from your hotel.
- If you like art, check out the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which consists of works by Dali, Picasso and Warhol.
- The Lisbon Street Art Tour is also a great way to see the city for those who like street art. Tours are Wednesdays at 11am and Saturday & Sundays at 3pm. The tour meets at the Praca de Luis Camoes in front of the large statue in the center of the plaza and lasts about 2 ½ hours. You can RSVP for the 10€ street art tour on Facebook so they know you will be attending.
- Check out the LX Factory where you can find anything from fashion to fine arts to architecture to music. If you like books make sure to visit Ler Devagar bookstore there. Also, it is a great place for a quick snack or a drink and they have great happy hour deals!
- Walk by the Arco da Rua Agusta and Praca do Comercio by the water. La Casa dos Bicos is also an amazing building to see.
- When walking around, look up and down to see the beautiful tiles on the buildings and floors. The tiles you will see throughout the city are call azulejos, painted ceramic glazed with tin. In the past, having tiles on your house was a way to show wealth.
- If you are looking to buy some sardine cans to take home, Loja Das Conservas is a great place to check out as they carry every different type of Portuguese sardines. But if you don’t need anything too fancy, you can just head to one of the grocery stores and purchase a few cans of Conservos Santos sardines there for half the price (which they do carry in Loja Das Conservas).
- Check and see if there are any good events happening at Campo Pequeno. This was built in the late 1800’s as a bullring but reopened as an event venue in 2006.
- If you like aquariums, visit the Lisbon Oceanarium which is Europe’s largest aquarium.
Where to Eat:
You can find a good sit-down meal with drinks here for around 20€ in the touristy areas. But there are many local places outside of downtown where you can get a good meal for around 15€. If eating at a restaurant, the restaurants place bread, olives or other appetizers on the table, but be aware, these are not free! They will charge you for what you eat. This is a common cultural norm in Portugal. If you like spices, make sure to try their famous piri piri sauce, especially if you order chicken.
- Estrella de Bica for a typical Portugese meal in a homey restaurant.
- Mercado da Ribiera for lunch or a snack – there are many awesome food options here and there are even drop in cooking classes you can take.
- Brick Café for some pastries made in-house.
- Pasteis de Belem for a sandwich and a pastel de nata (their famous custard tart) but if you don’t want to venture that far, the best pastel de nata in the city center is from Manteigaria in Praca Luis de Camoes. They will ring the bell outside when the pastries are fresh!
- Petiscaria Ideal for some Portuguese tapas in the Santos neighborhood.
- O Prego da Peixaria for a cozy reasonable dinner and great cocktails in Principe Real neighborhood.
- Principo Do Calhariz for a traditional Portuguese meal at a good price.
- Cervejaria Ramiro for some great shellfish dishes. There is always a long line here so make sure you allocate time to wait a bit outside but it is delicious and worth it!
- Lisboa à Noite for their famous cod dishes in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. This place is a bit more expensive at around 35€ per person with wine.
Where to Grab a Drink or Go Out:
- Park Bar at the top of a parking lot in Bairro Alto. This place has a great view of the city and an awesome atmosphere. To get to the entrance you need to walk up the stairwell of the parking lot.
- The rooftop bar at the Bairro Alto Hotel for a drink with a nice view
- LX Factory for an afternoon drink. They have great happy hour specials!
- Go bar hopping down Rua Nova do Carvalho (the pink street). A few good places to check out here are Sol E Pesca, Povo, Pensao Amor and Music Box (tucked under the arches of the bridge).
- The Santo Amaro Docks (Doca de Santo Amaro) is a good place for a drink in the late afternoon or for a livelier atmosphere, head over at night for some dancing.
- If you are looking to dance, there are some good clubs concentrated on Avenida 24 de Julho (between Downtown and Belem).
- A few clubs to check out are below. These are open late until 6pm (some open that late only on weekends) and will usually have a cover of 10-20€. They don’t usually get busy until 2 am but it might be worth heading over a bit earlier to avoid the lines.
- Lux (Jardim Do Tabaco)
- Main (Avenida 24 de Julho)
- Lust (Comercio Square)
- Incognito (Barrio Alto)
- Place (Cais do Sodre)
- OP Art Café (Doca de Santo Amaro)
About 300km south of Lisbon, the Algarve is where all Portuguese want to be and love to go in the summer. Lagos is one of the larger towns in the Algarve and is the perfect place to plan a fun summer beach vacation.
Where to Stay:
Airbnb has some great cheap places to rent but a few other great places walking distance from the city center that are great for small or large groups are:
There are a few ways to get to Lagos from Lisbon. You can take the train, take the bus or rent a car. The train costs 26€ and takes about 4 hours (but you have to switch changes in Tunes). There are 5 trains that go from Lisbon to Lagos daily from the Entrecampos train station. If you rent a car, the drive will only take you two and a half hours but driving in Portugal is difficult and parking is limited. I do think it is worth renting a car for a day or two while you are in Lagos so you can easily explore some of the other amazing sites in nearby cities such as the Cathedral Cave in Benagil, the most southwestern point of Europe in Sagres, or Praia de Arrifana to surf.
The bus will cost around 20€ one-way (or 35€ round trip) and takes about 4 and a half hours. If you book ahead of time online though you can get a 2 day or 5 day advance purchase discount. There are 10 buses daily so if you don’t want to bother switching trains, this might be the way to go as it is cheaper and only a half hour longer. There are 3 buses that travel this route. Renex, and Eva or Rede Expresso who both operate under the same company. They all cost around the same price. The Renex coaches leave from the Gare do Oriente bus station, which is part of the Expo Park development, to the east of Lisbon. This is the more modern, cleaner bus station. You can get here from the red metro line by the Expo metro station. The Eva and Rede Expresso buses depart from the Sete Rios bus station. Sete Rios is the main bus station in Lisbon and is located on the blue metro line and connected to the Jardim Zoológico metro station. The buses are actually very nice and it is quite an enjoyable ride. Make sure you check the times the bus leave so you don’t have to wait at the station. There are also buses that are express which take a lot less time. Both buses have Wi-Fi.
If you are coming from another city, Faro is the closest airport which is about 90km east of Lagos. There is a train that takes you from Faro to Lagos which costs 7.20€ and takes about 2 hours. There are 9 trains that go daily. Avoid taking a taxi as this will cost you upwards of 90 Euros. Private transfers will still run high at about 70€. There are shared cars that seat about 8 people and these are more reasonable at around 20-30€ per person and will take about an hour to an hour and a half.
Buses also go to Seville (via Huelva) in Spain for 21€ and it takes about 5 and a half hours, usually two or three times every weekday.
Within the city, there are taxis or local buses you can take to get around town. Tickets cost between 1-2€ but if you will be taking it a lot, it would be worth it to buy a booklet of 10 tickets. Buses usually only run Monday to Saturday between 1am and 8pm.
What to Do:
- Spend the day at one of the famous Ponta de Piedade beaches where you will find some awesome rock formations. Praia Camilo is usually a favorite as it is usually less crowded because of the hundreds of stairs you need to walk to get down and back up. When the tide is low you can walk from Praia Camilo to other small beaches along the coast. There is also a great restaurant at the top of the beach, Restaurante O Camilo, which has great seafood and is perfect for lunch.
- Take a kayak tour or boat tour through the grottos. All the companies are pretty much the same and they all cost the same as well. The three-hour kayak tour is 25€ and the one-hour boat tour is 10€. There are also longer cruise tours that are quite nice and include lunch and a swim stop. These will cost around 40-50€ a person.
- In the summer, there are so many dolphins that it would probably be worth going on a dolphin boat tour if you want to see some. Some companies will guarantee that you see dolphins because they are so common during summertime.
- Go to Praia de Arrifana to surf. Located about 45 minutes north of Lagos, this is one of the most spectacular beaches in Portugal and has great waves. The Restaurant da Praia has a great view and serves fresh seafood. If visiting in July, try to catch the Arrifana Summer music festival. You can rent surf equipment and get a ride to the beach with the Lagos Surf Center for 4€. They also offer surf lessons for 55-60€.
- Go scuba diving. There are many underwater caves and shipwrecks that are amazing. One dive runs at around 50€. I recommend using Blue Ocean Divers. The divemaster, Elmar, is very fun to dive with and is always excited to tell you about what you can see underwater. He will bring you to great dive sites with no other divers.
- Contact Name: Elmar Vees
- Phone Number: +351 964 665 667
- E-mail: email@example.com
- Visit the fish market and have a snack or lunch. You can also check out the vegetable market on the second floor.
- See the Old Slave Market (el Mercado dos Escravos) which is now an art gallery. This is only a short walk away from the fish market.
- Take a stroll along the town walls and wander the small city streets.
- Visit the most southwestern point of Europe in the town of Sagres (about a 40 minute drive from Lagos). It is very windy here!
- Go see the Cathedral Cave in Benagil. Taruga Tours is highly recommended if you would like to visit the cave. They leave from Praia de Benagil near Lagoa which is about a 40 minute drive from Lagos. It costs 17.50€ for the tour or 25€ with a transfer from Lagoa.
- Other cities in the Algarve that are worth visiting if you have time are Albufeira (45 minute drive), Vilamoura (1 hour drive) and Alvor (25 minute drive).
Where to Eat:
- Don Sebastiao Restaurante for lunch or dinner on Rua 25 de Abril – they have a great selection of fresh seafood and the seafood rice dish is amazing and a shareable size.
- Bora for breakfast, lunch or a snack – they have great fresh juices here, and the juice of the day is only 1.80€!
- The Garden on Rua Lancarote de Freitas for a nice relaxing dinner in what feels like a garden!
- Restaurante O Charco for the seafood stew – although the restaurant might not look very inviting, the seafood pots are a delicious here and can easily be shared between two people.
- Retaurante O Camilo for a great view.
- Casinha do Petisco – a small restaurant that serves delicious food that is reasonably priced. Portions are large and there is usually a wait outside so if you can make a reservation.
- Adega da Marina – one of the oldest restaurants in the city but still serves a great traditional meal.
- Nah Nah Bah for a delicious burger.
- No Patio for a great casual meal.
Where to Grab a Drink or Go Out:
- Rua 25 de Abril in the city center has a lot of great bars that fill up quickly in the summer time. You can never go wrong with bar hopping along that street. Bon Vivant is one of my favorites and it has a nice rooftop patio.
- The Garden is also a great place to grab an afternoon drink.
- Three Monkeys – open 1pm to 2am daily and shots are only 2.50€.
- RedEye Bar – open 8pm to 2am daily with cheap cocktails (3.50€) and a free house shot with your first drink.
- The Jam – open 6pm to 2am daily and two small cocktails are only 5€ all night.
- Black Cat bar – open 9pm to 2am daily in the summers and make a really good capirinha. Here you will find yourself among locals.
- Nikki Beach Club is in Portimao (between Lagos and Albufeira) and a great place for drinking during the day and at night. It is very expensive though but if only with girls you should be fine as you won’t need to pay.