Portugal is a very small country. It is smaller than a few states in the USA. Size isn’t everything, because there is so much to see in Portugal in two weeks. We flew into Porto and rented a little car. Our stay in Portugal was going to be a road trip. Our first of it’s kind in Europe. We did drive through Tuscany for a few days on another trip.
Driving In Portugal
We had read a lot about how scary it is to drive in Portugal. We didn’t find it to be the case at all. Well, at least once we got past the initial adjustment of a new car and the frequent roundabouts that we aren’t so accustomed too. It went really smooth after that. The roads are excellent and drivers are courteous. The cities were a bit more complicated, but we are from California so traffic is the norm for us. When out on the open roads, it was almost no traffic at all.
Keep in mind the toll roads. Toll booths are frequent on the highway. If you take the scenic roads less traveled, there are no tolls. But the highway is fast and it is still beautiful. If your car rental company offers you a little gadget that automatically pays the toll as you drive through….get it. You will burn through a lot of change and make a lot of stops otherwise.
We rented a really cute little Airbnb in Porto. It was a bachelor apartment, with parking and a washer/dryer. Porto is in the northernmost section of Portugal. Temperatures can be cool and rainier. We were there in mid-April. We were comfortable in pants and a light jacket. Our son who accompanied us for part of our Portugal trip wore shorts most of the time.
Much of Porto’s center is at the top of the hill. It is downhill to the river where there are plenty of riverfront shops and cafes. Across the river is Gaia. If you like Port wine, cross the bridge, designed by the same architect that designed the Eiffel Tower and do some Port wine tasting.
If you are looking for some fabulous food, make a reservation at Tapabento. Don’t try to walk in for dinner, it won’t happen. We did manage to walk in for lunch, but we were there by about 11:30. It is for sure worth making a reservation for.
On our way to Lisbon, our son wanted to stop at Nazare. Nazare was made famous by the surfers who successfully surfed its massive waves. The record wave surfed there was the month we were there at 80 feet, but we missed it by one week! Even without the monstrous waves, Nazare is well worth the little side trip. The coastline is spectacular from the point and the tiny whitewashed town is extremely friendly. You might even see some of the local ladies wearing the authentic Portuguese dress.
Our first impression of Lisbon was that it was a fairly large and busy city. But it’s beautiful and there is so much to see and do there. We rented a great little Airbnb right in the center, directly across the street from the park. Great location, near to everything including a couple of cable car stops.
Just wandering around is amazing. Head down to the waterfront, lots of cafes and people hanging out late into the evening. Lots of hills, so wear comfortable walking shoes. The castle was really interesting and there are some incredible views of Lisbon or Lisboa as it is known in Europe from inside the castle walls. Stroll one of Lisbon’s most busy streets, Rua Augusta. Artists, restaurants, shops and those amazing little pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard pastries). You won’t be able to eat just one.
Lisbon is centrally located for some great day trips that you can reach by car or by train. We spent an afternoon in Belem. While many enjoy visiting the cathedral, we opted to skip that and it’s very long lines and visit the maritime museum right next door. Very interesting.
An absolute must see if you aren’t planning on already staying there is Sintra. Catch the train right in the city center of Lisbon. There are two train stations, one runs along the coast and the station is located along the coast and the other train runs inland. It’s the inland train that goes to Sintra. We lost a good part of our day going to the wrong station first.
There is so much to see in Sintra. When we get back to Portugal one day we will stay in Sintra for a couple of nights. The afternoon we had was certainly not enough.
Sintra is a beautiful, quaint little town. The hills are lush and green. We arrived just before lunch, so we started with lunch. Our server gave us some excellent recommendations. As a local, he said we must go to Quinta da Regaleira. Do it first, then if we have time, go to the Pena Palace. There is also a castle there, but it was third on his list.
The Quinta da Regaleira is amazing….but that doesn’t even fully describe it. You really have to see it. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site consisting of a romantic palace, a private chapel, and the most fun garden you will ever see. The garden is made up of grottos, lakes, exquisite structures and my favorite, the Initiation Well. When you go to the Well, go down the stairs. It really isn’t scary at all and there is a passage out the bottom. Really cool underground tunnels.
We spent several hours at Quinta da Regaleira. There was still enough time to see the Pena Palace. We had walked to the Quinta da Regaleira but hired a driver to take us up to the Palace. Glad we did, it was a long way and a very steep run. Don’t waste the day walking it in order to save a few bucks. It was very interesting and had the highest view, even overlooking the castle. I enjoyed the kitchen most of all. We took a bus back down the long hill and caught our train back to Lisbon. It was a perfect day trip.
Portimao is located in the Algarve. We spent the remainder of our trip exploring the Algarve. It’s no wonder so many expats end up retiring there. We are looking for the perfect place to settle down as expats ourselves in the next couple of years and the Algarve just may be the place.
Portimao is a large city that attracts a lot of tourists who are looking for sun, sand, and nightlife. Portimao gives you that. We rented a really nice apartment, with a fabulous view located a half a block from what we call the boardwalk. Lots of shops and plenty of restaurants. As much as we loved the apartment and the view, would we stay in Pria de Rocha again? Probably not. It’s a party area and it was really noisy all night long. Quiet and peaceful during the day, but loud all night, even into the morning, like 6 or 7!
We didn’t spend a lot of time in the Pria de Rocha area other than to have dinner at any one of its really nice restaurants. We did a lot of day trips.
We really like Lagos or Lagoa. It’s much smaller than Portimao, but just 15 mins away. Right on the coast, quaint narrow streets, cafes, and boutiques. It’s a place we have in mind to explore more as a place to settle.
We spent a few hours in Silves. Very small, historic little town with its own castle. We had lunch, explored the castle and museum, both very interesting. It was in Silves that we first noticed the storks. There was always so much to look at when driving we never noticed their massive nests all over everywhere before. Considering their size, really don’t know how we missed them. In Silves, they are right on the top of buildings. One was nesting on a chimney. These nests can weigh as much as 1000 lbs and are also home to numerous other birds.
The coast of the Algarve is stunning. There are beautiful locations near Lagos, right on the Pria de Rocha in Portimao and near Carvoeiro. I could try to paint you a picture verbally, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Nothing can paint a better picture.
We wanted to take a look at Albufeira. We had heard that it was even more touristy than Portimao but wanted to see for ourselves. It’s a big city and attracts a lot of expats. You will find all the conveniences of home in Albufeira. The Portuguese culture seems to have been lost a little bit and while it is beautiful, we didn’t spend much time there other than to have lunch.
Tavira is almost to the border of Spain. While pretty, the landscape started to look like Southern California. It has no real beachfront, but the riverfront is really nice with cafes, a nice park, and some craft booths.
We explored Portugal from Porto to Tavira and some inland locations like Silves and Sintra. There was not one location that we did not like. Of course, there were some areas that we particularly loved. Driving through Portugal was easy and at least during the month of April, parking was not an issue either.
We have traveled by train through Germany, Austria, Italy & Spain. Having a car in our opinion is the best way to go if you plan to see the entire country of Portugal.
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