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Lisbon + Algarve Travel Guide

Lisbon + Algarve Travel Guide

Wow am I delinquent on this post. Life has gotten crazy since we returned from Portugal but it was AMAZING. So inexpensive too. We paid for our airbnb's and flights with points so ended up spending around $350 for a full week in Lisbon and the Algarve. It was an absolute dream. 

Lisbon

After an overnight flight where Nick and I barely slept on TAP Portugal, we spent a good 45 minutes trying to figure out how to get an Uber and realized neither of us had brushed up on our Portugese (big mistake!). Once we finally got into the Uber, we navigated the maze of streets leading deeper into the heart of Lisbon. As our driver shifted gears climbing up hills I thought we certainly would roll down, the streets continued to narrow, the car magically seeming to fit between the pastel houses like something out of the pages of Harry Potter.

When we arrived, our host Manuela shouted my name, her lion-like mane of frizzy gray hair blowing in the wind as she waved to me from a balcony. Her husband took our bags up four flights of steps to an insanely beautiful apartment whose pictures didn't do it justice. Sweeping views of the city greeted us from every room as Manuela's husband opened each skylight window. The kitchen was tiny but perfectly stocked with fresh fruit, herbs, and a bottle of wine and the bedroom had a strong air conditioning that we greatly appreciated. 

Exhausted but determined to not let jet lag catch us, we showered and grabbed food then hit the streets to join a free walking tour of Lisbon led by Sandemann (our host Cuco was the best, would highly recommend). We learned all about the history, the ins and outs of the culture, and walked 5 miles across the city. On no sleep, with little food in our stomachs, and after 3 hours of walking and sun, we returned to our beautiful airbnb and fell fast asleep. We woke up for dinner but fell asleep again by 9.

The next day we explored the old part of Lisbon and went to Belém, though between long lines and a workers strike, we settled for some Portugese pizza and their national dessert, Pasteis de Nata. We took public transportation out there which made me feel cool and like a local :-) That evening we had an insanely delicious dinner and made our way to a bar called Park--which I totally forgot in my jet lagged state to tell Nick was a speakeasy so we ended up walking around a parking garage for 15 minutes before we realized we had to go to the top floor to get to the secret bar. In the AM it was time for us to go West! 

The Algarve

 After a quick stop to pick up our rental car at the airport, we headed two hours west to Carvoiero on the coast of The Algarve. It was rainy and cold and our dreams of sunny beach days looked like they were about to be dashed. In the rain, we struggled to contact our airbnb host and texted 5 times before we figured out the number they gave us was a land line (millennials!). Once we got into the apartment, the trip started looking up. The kitchen was again stocked with fresh fruit, juice, and wine. The wraparound deck had plenty of lounge chairs and the cutest little dining set for breakfast outside (which we had outside every morning) and the two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room and dining room was at least 3x our NYC apartment size. 

With over 150 beaches, there's so much to explore along the coast. We went beach hopping during the day, to Sagres which is the western most point of Portugal that explorers used to call "the end of the world", and to castles and a little fish market in town. We made great dinner every night with fresh produce and became addicted to Milka Oreo Bars (not gluten or dairy free, or organic-can't be perfect all the time!) On our second to last day, we tried to find a beach where we had to abandon our car due to the narrowing dirt road and walked for 20 minutes to be no closer to the water. I've included the video of us in the middle of nowhere :) 

Not to be deterred, on our last day we set off for another remote beach that was written about only by two websites who said those who find this beach are rewarded with a jaw dropping view, serene quiet, and caves to go exploring in. Again we went out searching for a hidden beach, parking our car about 10 minutes out from our destination and setting off on foot through a narrow trail. When we came to the clearing, we found ourself on a cliff with the ocean waves crashing hundreds of feet below us. We walked a little further to the edge and when we looked down there it was-a totally remote and tiny slice of beach with two sun bathers on it, and no way to seemingly get down there. We ran around the edge trying to find a way down, thinking maybe they rappelled or were amazing rock climbers. Finally, an old man came through the clearing walking with purpose and we stalked him until we found the trail down, which was essentially scaling rock (thank goodness we wore sneakers!) 

It was everything promised and more. The serene beach had crystalline blue water that crashed gently against the shore, lapping against the soft golden white sand. A series of caves offered secret hiding spots and breathtaking views my camera tried but failed to capture the beauty of. The only sounds surrounding us were the crashing waves, the wind rustling the palm trees, and the birds perched on the cliffs. It was incredible. We also found out the beach was nude when we were exploring the caves and turned a corner to be greeted by an old man and his very tan penis. Though neither of us went nude, something about it made the experience feel truly authentic. 

The next day, we headed home with our stomachs full of pasteis de nata, our shoes sandy, and our stress levels lower than they had been in months. It was an amazing and inexpensive trip that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking to get a little city and a lot of beach and sun.

Before we went, I collected recommendations from everyone I knew who had gone and did hours and hours of research to find the perfect itinerary. So now, you don't have to! Here are my recommendations:

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STAY

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I highly recommend getting an Airbnb. It's cost efficient, a great way to authentically experience the city, and cooking will save you major money.

For Lisbon, I'd recommend staying in Bairro Alto which is the heart of town and makes almost everywhere you'd want to go walkable. For the Algarve, we stayed in Carvoiero which was a sleepy little beach town with great walking trails and everything was within an hour drive. If you want to explore the entire Algarve-try to find a town in the middle as a good jumping off point. Here is where we stayed: 

Lisbon: Centro de Lisboa Zona histórica

Algarve: Carvoiero Apartment

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EAT & DRINK

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Lisbon: 

  • Pharmacia: Pharmacy-themed restaurant with a beautiful front lawn and great food overlooking the water in Bairro Alto
  • Park: A speakeasy on top of a parking lot in the heart of Bairro Alto. Head up the stairs for stunning views of the city and get there early if you want to get a seat! 
  • La Fóllia de Belém: I was beyond hangry by the time we got to Belém and all we could find was restaurants with sardines and cod until we stumbled across this pizza shop. The owner is a one man show--taking our order, making our lunch, and providing recommendations. This was just as good as pizza in NYC. 
  • Pasteis de Belém: You will find a million places in Lisbon imitating this Portugese dessert but this place is the OG. Hop the train over to Bélem and wait in line for this delicious treat that's well worth the trip. 

Algarve: 

Honestly, we cooked for most of the Algarve portion of the trip (the supermarket was amazing!) but there are two standouts I must mention: 

  • Sagres Watermelon Juice: When you arrive at "the end of the world" there are plenty of vendors selling food and drinks. Walk by all of them and head into the actual fort and to the bar. Ask for the watermelon juice and enjoy it with an incredible view of the westernmost part of Portugal. It was insanely good. 
  • Boneca Bar: This restaurant is carved into the cliffs, and requires you to go down about 100 stairs to get there. It is surrounded by caves and cliffs and the waves crashing in front of you. The food is delicious and don't forget to follow the signs through the caves to watch the sunset after your meal. 

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TOUR

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Lisbon: 

  • Sandemans: Sandemans tours are free and you simply pay what you think the tour was worth at the end. Free tours are amazing because the tour guides really focus on making it great to get a good tip at the end. We did a 3 hour walking tour of Lisbon and our tour guide was simply amazing. He taught us about the history, the best hidden spots for dinner, and cultural nuances we needed to know. I'd highly recommend Sandeman in any country they're available! 
  • Jerónimos Monastery: The line for this was insanely long by the time we got there so we didn't go, but even the outside is beautiful. Try to book a tour if you're interested which will get you past the line. 
  • Belém Tower: This one was closed for a workers strike but again the outside was beautiful and it is literally on the water. This and the monastery are UNESCO world heritage sites and known for the role they played in the Age of Discoveries. Again-would highly recommend a tour to ensure access to both of these sites. 

Algarve: 

  • Silves Castle: About a 45 minute drive from Carvoiero-Silves Castle has incredible views of the old town of Silves as well as a rich moorish history dating back to the 8th-12th centuries. 
  • Fish Market in Lagos: Lagos is probably one of the more touristy towns of the Algarve but this fish market is a must see-get there early! Fishermen sell their daily catch, barter with customers, and fish are thrown overhead. Stinky but a lot of fun! 
  • Seven Hanging Valleys Walk: This walk takes you along the coast starting in Carvoiero. It's pretty easy and a good way to get yourself acquainted with the area. 

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SHOP

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Lisbon:

  • Lisbon Duck Store: Literally a store full of rubber ducks. Go, it's weird and amazing. 
  • Conserveir de Lisboa: There are sardines everywhere in Lisbon but this place has amazing packaging and is known for great tasting sardines in a million flavors. Great for gifts. 
  • Fabrica Sant'Anna: Beautiful tiles and ceramics 

Algarve: 

  • Garrafeira Wine Shop: I don't drink alcohol but this place was so fun for gifts and the owner was beyond helpful. We grabbed so Port wine for our family (from Porto, Portugal), absinthe, and scotch for Nick's dad. It's in Carvoiero. 
  • A Mó: We actually got lost trying to find this place and ended up in a tiny town stuck on a tiny street. Funny enough, after giving up on our drive to the surfer beach, we found it two minutes away. This place has an incredible selection of pottery and is covered wall to wall with hanging plates and bowls. We got some beautiful gifts from here-just remember it's cash only! 

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RELAX

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Like I said, The Algarve has SO many beaches. We went to a bunch but these were my favorites: 

  • Praia de Dona Ana: In Lagos, we had a great picnic here and went exploring through caves. The water is shallow and clear with formations dotting the water and the sand is soft with plenty of places to lay a towel and lay out.
  • Praia de Mareta: On Cape St. Vincent, this beach is well known for attracting surfers. Nick called this a "real beach" because the water was crystal clear, the sand was unbelievably soft, and the beach was very quiet. It was so fun to watch the surf schools on the water and is a great beach to swim at as the water is warmer the further west you go. 
  • Praia de Joao de Arens: This is the secret beach where you have to find the rocky path to get there. Park your car about 5 minutes out, walk to the cliffs, turn left. Follow the cliff around until you see the path through the clearing in the trees. Wear sneakers to get down because the path is very steep and rocky. Once down there, don't forget to explore all of the caves and bring some food because you'll want to stay there for awhile. 

Have you gone to Portugal? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments below! 

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