Planning a trip to Portugal? Well, let me tell you, my trip to Portugal in April 2019 was nothing short of an absolute adventure. Meiry and I were excited to do as much as we could when we were exploring various places to experience. We were able to visit three areas that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a good Portugal travel guide.
To start our trip to Portugal, we flew from Paris, where Meiry lives, to Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. From there, we rented a car and made our way to Sintra, roughly 30 minutes away from the Lisbon City Center. I was so excited to have so much time to spend spring in Europe because these are so many things to do in the Algarve and Lisbon area. You can also explore north, with a Lisbon to Porto road trip.
Our AirBNB in Sintra
After researching, we decided we wanted to stay in Sintra instead of in Lisbon, and I am really glad we made that decision. Sintra is a beautiful area with some fantastic, reasonably priced accommodations. Here, we stayed in a lovely AirBNB in town, which was also within walking distance to everything nearby. This made it very easy to explore in comfort.
Anyone that follows my travels, knows that I am fond of using AirBNB for my stays. There are several reasons:
- As someone with several food allergies, a kitchen allows me to cook food that I can eat without struggling trying to find restaurants. Another plus, is that I typically save quite a bit of money by eating at the AirBNB.
- I always stay at an entire home or apartment giving me more space. When you are travelling with a friend for a few weeks, it is nice to have some personal space occasionally.
- Many AirBNB accommodations come with a laundry facility. When travelling and trying to pack light, this is a lifesaver.
- I love the peek at the local lifestyle that you get when at an AirBNB. Also, most hosts are very helpful in knowing the local area well and can tell you all the gems you might miss otherwise.
- Lastly, I enjoy staying at places that are unique and not a cookie cutter space that could be in any destination. I choose places that have a special element that makes them a treat.
I am happy that we decided to stay in Sintra after reviewing another Portugal travel guide.
Neither Meiry (my friend and photographer) nor myself had ever driven in Portugal, so this is what I would call the start to of our exciting (and often unexpected) adventure. We definitely made a few wrong turns at times, which made the experience all the more enjoyable!
If you don’t have access to internet maps, be sure to get yourself a paper map of the area when driving. Have your passenger guide you so you don’t end up on the other side of the country (no joke)! But, if you’re an adventurer like myself, then you won’t mind taking some wrong turns – it all adds to that raw, traveling experience, after all.
If you are looking for help planning your next trip, check out my travel resource guide.
My Trip to Portugal – The Details
You could choose to plan the trip with all of the sights you want to visit or see where the “path” takes you with Portugal’s many wonderful sights that aren’t easily missed.
Did you know that Portugal is one of the world’s most famous surfing destinations? Not only that, but it’s a country also filled with antique spots like the oldest book store and one of the oldest universities to exist. It’s also the oldest country in Europe – with Lisbon, their capital city, being even older than Rome!
If this beautiful coastal destination isn’t on your travel list, I suggest you add it – especially if you love beaches, stunning age-old architecture (including castles), and world-class cuisine. Portugal has something for everyone of any interest to enjoy. I hope this Portugal travel guide inspires you to take a trip, too.
Lisbon is filled with over 500,000 people and is Portugal’s capital (and largest) city. This hilly, coastal area captures a true sensation of living in a long-lost era and has scored itself one of the world’s leading city destinations ever. Here, one can find rich history, lively nightlife, a wonderful year-round climate, charismatic people, and vibrant architecture.
Our stop in Lisbon was only for the day. We decided to park our car in a 24-hour parking zone and used an Uber or walked to the places we wanted to visit. Side note – finding parking for the entire day is NOT easy, so do your research beforehand!
After we (finally) found parking, we began our day by watching the gorgeous sunrise at Miradouro de Santa Luzia – one of the many stunning viewpoints in Lisbon. We snapped a few photos, toured around, and made sure to visit some of the iconic spots in Lisbon like the waterfront, pink street, library, and the yellow street cars.
If you suffer from celiac disease or a gluten intolerance like myself, then I highly recommend you head to Zarazuela here – which is the best gluten-free baked goods I have ever had! Seriously!
They also have the classic Portuguese tarts in gluten-free and vegan-friendly versions. These were DELICIOUS!
Places To Visit In Lisbon
When visiting Lisbon on your trip to Portugal, you can’t miss out on these. Add any of these to your Portugal travel guide for your trip and you won’t be disappointed.
Ler Devagar Bookstore
This is the coolest bookstore in Lisbon, if I do say so myself. The Ler Devagar Bookstore would make any book lover’s dream come true. When entering, you step into a place that immediately arouses your curiosity and satisfies your inner “book nerd.”
The name “Ler Devagar” literally translates to “read slowly” in Portuguese. There is an extensive selection of books here that will definitely appeal to fans of any genre!
Convent do Carmo
A former Catholic “medieval” convent, the Convent do Carmo, is another wonderful sight found in Lisbon. It was founded in 1389 (now that’s old) and sadly ruined in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. These days, it’s used as an archaeological museum where visitors can explore its ancient fountains, tombs, windows, and more.
If you love medieval architecture, don’t leave this place unchecked on your travel list.
Terreiro do Paco (Waterfront)
Lisbon’s waterfront square, Terreiro do Paco, is considered a must-see destination in Lisbon – and I can attest to that. You don’t want to leave without visiting it!
There are gorgeous 18th-century buildings here that face the River Tejo. With recent renovations, you can also use the pedestrian access to get to the River Tejo as well as a walking area along the river.
It is known as the Terreiro do Paco because, before the great earthquake that destroyed the area in 1755, it was the home of the Paco da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace).
Praca do Comercio
This is the most magnificent plaza in the city and one of its most beautiful highlights. Surrounded on three sides are eyecatching yellow Pombaline-style buildings that give it a notable appearance.
It was here where captains and merchants planned perilous sea-voyages and traded goods. This area also prominently reflects the wealth of Portugal during the late 18th-century, and when you stand in the plaza yourself, it’s easy to see why!
Pink Street is exactly as its name suggests. It’s a beautiful “pink street” in Lisbon, officially called “Rua Nova do Carvalho. It was once Lisbon’s Red Light District and is home to the city’s best bars today! This is also a fun, quirky photo destination for all of you photo-lovers out there.
Miradouro de Santa Luzia
The Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a famous observation deck in Lisbon with outstanding views of the city and the Tagus River. It’s situated next to the Church of Santa Luzia, and if you’re looking for a way to view the entire city from a dramatic perspective, this is the place to do it.
There is plenty to do in Sintra – a resort town located just outside of Lisbon in Portugal’s Sintra Mountains. It is a more affordable area while still keeping you close to everything Portugal has to offer. It has gorgeous forest surroundings with contrasting villas and palaces and is a major tourist destination with picturesque views and incredible history.
More than that, though, Sintra is also consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in Portugal. That alone proves just how wonderful of a place it is!
Places To Visit in Sintra:
If you don’t know where to go in Sintra on your trip to Portugal, here’s what I recommend.
Azenhas do Mar
This seaside town is absolutely breathtaking. Imagine cottages perched on cliffs atop a beach, a rocky coastline, and a stunning array of traditional architecture from hundreds of years ago. That’s what you get when you visit Azenhas do Mar – a photogenic destination and one that I’m so glad I got to experience.
Quinta da Regaleira
I can’t leave out the castles on this list, of course. The Quinta da Regaleira is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, so you know it’s going to be good. I was not disappointed! This palace is found within the cultural landscape of Sintra and is one of the most essential tourist attractions here.
With its luxurious park, palace, and chapel combined, accented with benches, wells, fountains, and many exquisite designs that make you feel as if you’re apart of history when visiting, you don’t need to pull out a history book to learn about this area. Simply standing in its presence will have you immersed within Sintra’s incredible history. I recommend that you get your tickets for visiting ahead of time online.
Praia da Ursa
This hidden gem – literally – had me captivated by the beach from a totally different perspective. Today, it’s still not quite overrun and is not easily accessed with a trail that isn’t well-marked. So if you’re up for something a little more adventurous and “off the beaten track,” this is for you.
Cabo da Roca
The Cabo da Roca is a cape forming the westernmost point of Sintra’s Mountain Range. It was known as “The Rock of Lisbon” during the age of sail – a period between the mid-16th to the mid-19th century. Gorgeous views of the ocean can be found here, along with sandy beaches and a perfect photo opportunity for tourists.
Fun fact — Caba da Roca is actually the westernmost point of mainland Europe.
Castles Around Sintra
All you castle-lovers out there – this is what you’ve been waiting for. Any Portugal travel guide needs to include the castles around Sintra!
Palacia de Pena
Found in Sintra’s Hills, Palacia de Pena is a 19th-century castle standing on top of a hill above the town of Sintra. It features vividly painted terraces, statues, battlements, elaborate carvings, lush greenery, and tremendous size that make it an outstanding experience.
On a clear day, you can easily see it from Lisbon. It’s a grand experience that quite literally took our breath away!
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros is a Moors Castle found in the forests of Serra De Sintra and was constructed in the 9th century. This hilltop, medieval castle is known as a National Monument and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you love exploring medieval castles, this one takes the throne.
My Trip to Portugal Vlog
Located three hours away from Lisbon along its coast, Lagos is the third highly recommended town we visited during our trip to Portugal. It’s famed for its Atlantic beaches, old towns, cliffs, historic buildings, and there is a reason why it is considered one of the most beautiful places in the Algarve! While this was just a fun day trip from Lisbon, I would love to come back to road trip through Portugal one day.
Here, Meiry and I went to the Ponta da Piedade, Praia do Camilo, and Praia dos Estudantes – three rock bluffs and beaches that are guaranteed to leave you breathless with their scenic views of the ocean.
Places To Visit in Lagos
If you’re struggling to think of places to visit in Lagos, try these. They are the top of my Portugal travel guide for this area. It was a fun day trip from Lisbon.
Ponta da Piedade
This is a headland with a group of rock formations found along the coastline of Lagos. There is also a lighthouse here that dates back to 1913.
The yellow-golden cliff-like rocks have become one of the most popular tourist attractions of Portugal – and it’s little wonder why. This was one of those scenic experiences that I just never wanted to look away from!
Praia do Camilo
Another beautiful spot to relax and soak up Portugal’s sun is Praia do Camilo – a sheltered, sandy cove beach with ochre rocks turquoise waters that’ll leave you feeling refreshed and tranquil within a matter of minutes.
Praia dos Estudantes
Accessible via a rock tunnel, this small cove comes with scenic cliffs and a sandy area for an all-day beach setup. I found myself feeling stunned by the beach’s relaxing atmosphere, which also provided a suitable place to sunbathe and read. There is also a lovely arch bridge and a carved-out cave entry from another beach.
Castles and beaches? Check. Beautiful coastal, cliffside architecture, and scenic views? Check. An experience that I’ll forever remember and one that I’d definitely do again? Check.
Portugal is many things – stunning, breathtaking, historical, and educational… It never ceased to surprise me with its beauty, and despite the occasional wrong turn (or struggling to find all-day parking), there is really nothing bad I can say about this trip. Every moment of it – including the struggles – are what made it worthwhile! Next trip I am keen to visit some of the best hiking trails in Portugal.
I’ll always cherish the memories I made here. I hope this Portugal travel guide helps you to make it an experience as amazing as it was for me!
Bella Bucchiotti of xoxoBella is a storyteller, food lover, dog mom and adventure seeker living on the Pacific coast. She shares her passion for recipes, dogs, sustainability, adventures, travel and philanthropy, in hopes of encouraging followers to run the extra mile, try new recipes, visit unfamiliar places and stand for a cause. Bella lives with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease.
Bella Bucchiotti is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer for MSN and the Associated Press Wire.