Portugal, the country full of passionate people, fresh seafood, historic cities and seaside cliffs. I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in this wonderful country with my mom, dad, and little brother (and none of them had been to Europe before). I’m so appreciative that I got to have a family trip with just the 4 of us and I got the chance to show them the magic of Europe. Even though the entire trip was great, I’ve decided to narrow down my favourite parts in case one of you are looking for experiences you shouldn’t miss while you’re there! So keep reading for my highlights of my first (and definitely not last) time in Portugal.
#1: Ponta Da Piedade
This area was by far my favourite part of the whole trip. I am a sucker for a good view, add a sunset on top of that and we’ve got a winner! The massive cliff formations outside of Lagos that run along the coast are breathtaking and each is unique in its own way. It’s an easy walk down the boardwalk to different view points and you can always go off onto smaller paths made by others exploring. There is also a massive staircase (you can see in the photo above) that takes you all the way down the cliffs into a grotto area, which gives you a more up close and personal view of the landscape.
We went to this area twice, first at sunset, and on our last day around noon to see it all one last time. It was very busy during the day with tourists exploring, but at sunset was a lot quieter. If you prefer less people and don’t mind the dimmer light when the sun goes down, I suggest going at sunset (or sunrise if you’re a morning person). But this definitely can’t be missed.
#2: Sintra and Cascais
On our third day, we took an awesome full day tour of Sintra and Cascais. We got to Pena Palace before it opened so we were the first to enter and didn’t need to wait in line. Our guide was so knowledgeable and it was interesting to hear the history of this area and palace. I loved having a guide throughout so we knew exactly what we were looking at throughout the whole castle. We also got free time to explore the town of Sintra and have lunch.
When we got to Cascais we had time to walk around and grab a drink. We just loved the feel of this city, the busy downtown area with loads of restaurants and bars, a beach, old churches mixed with new condos. It was such a gorgeous place and if I go back I would definitely spend more time there. It was also a VERY hot day, so the chance to grab a drink whenever we could was much appreciated.
I truly don’t think I’ll ever get to tour a more extraordinary palace with that kind of history, and exploring the gorgeous towns finished the day perfectly. This whole area was gorgeous and our guide made the day even better than anticipated.
#3: The secret beaches
We spent 4 days in Lisbon and 6 days in the Algarve (specifically Lagos, and we would tour to different towns during the day). Since we had 6 days, we had a couple opportunities for relaxing time at the beach. Lagos is lined with so many different beaches separated by cliff formations it was hard to choose which ones we wanted to go to! But we ended up being able to see every one in that area, because they’re all quite close together.
Some of the most fun was getting to a beach and seeing a little cave, climbing through, and stepping onto a more secluded beach. Then seeing another cave and climbing through, then being at another small beach. We experienced this at every single one! I’m so glad our curiosity got the best of us because it was so cool to walk through that little hole in the cliffs and not know what to expect on the other side.
My favourite beaches were Praia Dona Ana and Praia Do Camilo, both very similar and close together with large wooden staircases to get down to the sand. So worth the exercise because the views were out of this world.
Fado (meaning destiny, or fate) is a genre of music that began in Lisbon in the early 1800’s, but we believe started much earlier than that. This music follows a traditional structure, and involves a Portuguese guitar, a normal acoustic guitar, and singers. Fado originally had more melancholy meaning, for the poor or people experiencing loss, but has transformed into passionate songs about every emotion.
We went to Sr. Fado in the Alfama district of Lisbon, and it was absolutely incredible. A couple invites you into what is like a small home, you eat what they’ve prepared in close quarters with a few others enjoying authentic Portuguese seafood and meat dishes over rice. Then they dazzle you with their music and passion. It felt like family had invited us for dinner with the warm atmosphere, and it was everything we hoped it would be because the hosts worked so hard to make it special. I highly suggest this restaurant (you’ll need reservations), or going to see Fado somewhere while you’re in Lisbon for a more authentic look at this special tradition.
#5: The people
I have never been to a country and felt more welcomed and safe when I’m travelling. I do feel lucky to be from Canada, where I’m never really scared to walk somewhere or go out at night. Being in Portugal was my first experience abroad where I also had no fear. The Portuguese may be very loud, passionate people, but they are also some of the kindest. They welcome you with open arms and enjoy conversation, where some places tourists are looked down upon and are made to feel unwelcome. These people understand how beautiful their country is and know we are there to see all of its beauty, and I felt their warmth through every action or sentence. I am so glad my family and I chose Portugal as their first experience in Europe, because the whole thing was made even better by the welcoming community.
We were also lucky enough to experience Benfica (the football team based in Lisbon) winning Nationals on our last night. The whole city celebrated all night and their passion for their team was evident in the honks and screams we heard until the early hours of the morning. I feel honoured that we were there to experience that with the city.
Portugal is so wonderful, I don’t have enough positive feedback to express how amazing this country was. I do intend to go back, and I hope this post helps you if you were thinking about visiting. I promise you won’t be let down.