Have you ever thought about traveling to Portugal? Or have you been already? Nope?! You are definitely missing out!
Not only is it Europe's westernmost country, Portugal is also Europe's oldest country, which is very exciting for people like me who enjoy places and things with history. The locals are nice and easy-going. If you try and speak a few words in Portuguese it will open many doors for you. In the capital city (locals call it Lisboa - pronounced as Lishboa) you can discover the oldest bookstore in the world or buy lots of cork, as you can most anywhere in Portugal.
For all of you who surf, it is most important to note: Portugal is one of the world's top surf spots! But I'm sure you already knew that ;)
All in all - Portugal is a great country not only for surfing, but also for exploring, road trips, and meeting amazing people. Another bonus - it's much cheaper than many other parts of Europe.
01 | Almancil
You can start saving money from the time you book your ticket. Instead of Lisbon, look for flights with Ryan Air to Faro. If you're looking for a rental car, Luz car is easy-going and offers fair prices. From Faro it takes around 30 minutes to Almancil (close to Loulé) where you will find the beautiful Villa Clara Luz (swimming pool pictured above) and it's wonderful owners Ludmilla and Chris with their dog Leo. We booked the Villa Clara Luz through Airbnb.
If you're looking to arrive in a place where you will immediately get that vacation feeling, this is the place for you. But, I must warn you: You might fall in love with the Villa and the hosts and just decide to stay longer ;)
02 | Portimao - Praia da Rocha
Portimão is a city within the area of the Algarve. Downtown is quite touristy, but it's still nice to stroll around at night. I highly recommend the beach Praia da Rocha; especially, but not only, at sunset. Don't forget to buy a local drink at a grocery store near-by and bring it to the beach. This is one of the most famous beaches and you will probably find it listed in every guide. Now we know why!
03 | A taste of Alvor
Alvor is a little town around 8 km from Portimão. Make sure to stroll through the historic old town with its white painted houses. Enjoy a cup of good coffee with local pastries at Pao d'avó. There you'll find the best quality, good prices, an English speaking staff, and to top it all off, there are almost no tourists! You also must try the pizza at Ciao Baby. If you get the chance, talk to the owner. He has some really crazy stories to tell about his life in England, South Africa, Italy, etc. After dinner, make sure you check out some bars downtown. It's really busy there!
04 | Ericeira - Portugal's surf mecca
Surfers- this is for you! Only 50 km northwest from Lisbon is the world's first European surfing reserve. Here you can find around 20 different prime surf spots along the coast line. If you're coming from further south, do yourself a favor and take the highway from Lisbon. The country roads are tiring as you drive through little villages, with lots of curves and hills.
After a long and exhausting afternoon in the surf, it is totally worth it to explore downtown Ericeira. Here you'll find several nice little shops with style, lots of surfer shops and some authentic alleys. It's fascinating to see all different kinds of people in Ericeira. There are lots of tourists, but also lots of locals and everybody adheres to the easy-going "surfer attitude".
05 | Surf at Foz de Lizandro
Around Ericeira, you'll often see these cool surfboards along the road. They mark a beach with a convenient surf-spot. If you're new to surfing, you should look for a surf camp where classes are included. If you take single classes at the beach everyday it can be quite expensive. At this beach, we rented equipment at a place called "Na Onda" (in the wave).
1 day = 30 € (wet suit and surfboard, without lesson)
Surfer's app: Wannasurf
06 | Ribeira d'Ilhas
Ribeira d'Ilhas is one of the most famous beaches in Ericeira. There is a relatively new complex at the beach with a restaurant, bar, a surf rental shop and more, and it's only 3.5 km away from Ericeira. The world surfing championship events have been hosted at this beach several times.
For a beginner like me, the waves were too big. But, we did run up the hill (as you can see on the picture) and from up there we had an amazing view over the ocean and the coast to watch all the other surfers trying to catch a wave. It is so peaceful up there. So, even if you're a non-surfer, you should visit Ribeira d'Ilhas for a run up the hill and to have a drink later at the bar.
If Ericeira isn't enough for you, there are so many other places around that you could visit. Santa Cruz is another cool city with a beautiful beach. From the promenade, you can watch kitesurfers, stand up paddlers, surfers and people hanging out at the beach bar. It's a nice town where many poets used to stay, coming even from Japan. So again, you have the opportunity to experience some of Portugal's rich history.
Close to Santa Cruz is Praia de Santa Rita Sul where we met the Doppelganger of Charlie Sheen with his parrot.
07 | Cascais
Perfectly located for everyone who wants to surf or go to the beach but still have the opportunity to see Lisbon, Cascais is only 25 km west from Lisbon and easily accessible via train. While there, you should take a walk in the park of the museum Condo Casto Guimarães to see peacocks roaming around. There is not only one or two, no, they are everywhere! They are quite used to humans, so you can take some great pictures.
Very close to Cascais is Praia do Guincho - a beautiful beach (which is also the most western point of Europe). Here you will find many Portuguese natives spending their vacation.
Check out the water temperature before you head to the beach: Beachcam
It is cheaper to rent surfing equipment here and you will also find more options - Moana surf school
1h = 15 € (board & wetsuit)
2h = 20 €
08 | Historical Sintra
Around 20 km from Cascais you'll find the UNESCO world heritage site - SINTRA. Here you can see a completely different side of Portugal. It's perfect for a day-trip, but if you want to see a few buildings/castles you should think about spending a night there.
Downtown Sintra is beautiful to explore and to take photos. There are lots of little alleys, small shops and cafés but to warn you: it is very touristy. Also, it's a good idea to head off to the different sites. In the tourist office you may have to wait in line for a little bit, but it's worth it. The staff there is very competent, they speak several languages and they take their time to explain all of the different offers and options to you.
Castelo dos Mouros (The castle of the Moors)
This national monument is part of Sintra's Cultural Landscape and is located on top of the Sintra Mountains. From Sintra, it will take you around half an hour to hike up to the medieval castle. It might be a little exhausting, especially with the heat, but let me tell you, as soon as you're up there and you enjoy the 360 ° view over Sintra to the ocean, you'll know you did the right thing. The view is breath-taking. It's definitely a must-see! From up there, you will also see the summer residences of the aristocrats who used to live there. Many of them are open to the public and you can reach them by bus.
09 | Lisbon - the city of seven hills
Hello you crazy city, you! You are so different than other capitals in Europe and, it's obvious, that you're so much older than Paris, Rome or London.
If you're coming by car, make sure to book a hotel before you arrive with a parking garage (e.g. Hotel Mundial). From there, the oldest district of Lisbon, Alfama, is just around the corner. Don't miss the opportunity to see the castle Castelo de São Jorge. From there you have a beautiful view over the city. As you walk around, you'll notice that a few buildings are in very bad condition. Back in the old days, fishermen and the poor used to live here. Today it is still famous for its poor neighbourhoods. There are some nice cafés in the area, where you might just like to sit and watch people walking by as you soak up the atmosphere.
If you walk further and look for the sign 'Miradouro', you will end up at this beautiful (free!) view point. If you're lucky, you can listen to this guy sing.
Sundowner drinks at 'Park'
Being in a new city is fun. It's even more fun when you meet locals and they show you their favorite places. One way of doing this is through couchsurfing. That is how we ended up at this amazing place called 'Park' with Luís and Carmén (it's on top of a parking house near Praça Luís de Camões and Bairro Alto). You should check it out! The view is stunning and after the first drink you will simply not be able to leave.
If you're looking for a similar place with the same view but don't want to spend too much money, go to Adamastor (locals can tell you where it is) and bring your own drinks.
Time out - Mercado da Ribeira
If you're into food like me, then this is a place you have to see! The Reibeira market offers a traditional market with the best restaurants, chefs and local products of Lisbon. If you're looking for something very unique to the area, try ham from the black pigs (they're only in Portugal and Spain), locals call it presunto de porco preto (*by the time writing this article I was still eating meat).
Pensao Do amor - Love pension
If you want to check out a special bar, this is a place you have to see. It used to be a bordel for the seamen. It still got several rooms which are all a bit different and the lights are dimmed. People are sitting around tables having cocktails, while in another room a lady provides tarot card readings. It's a mysterious place, and even if you just have time to walk through, it's worth checking out.
10 | Praia da Falésia / Algarve
Before you leave beautiful Portugal from Faro, you should check out Loulé. It's a nice town only 16 km away from Faro where there are some nice unique shops and a very enjoyable and relaxed atmosphere. If you're looking for shoes, buy them here. They are cheap and you're getting the best quality possible.
What did you do in Portugal? Where are you planning to go? Let me know & thanks for reading!