Three must-see locations in this year’s hottest travel destination.
The view from Sao Jorge castle in Lisbon. Photo by Michelle Bilodeau.
If you’re someone with an Instagram account, then you’ve probably seen a plethora of #visitportugal pics in your feed by now. (I swear: every fifth photo is from another person living their best life in the beautiful coastal country.)
Earlier this summer, I spent nearly two weeks there, snapping pics of the unreal beaches, working my backside climbing up and down the cobblestone streets of Porto and Lisbon, and diving into any delicious fish dish I could get my hands on.
If you’re headed to Portugal this year, or hope to travel there as soon as you can, here’s what to add to your itinerary.
While staying in Albufeira, we rented a car and drove to this little wonderland of a town. Once we found street parking (no small feat on the tiny Lagos roads), we popped into chic boutique hotel Casa Mae for lunch. This gem is owned by a Parisian financier, who gave it all up to live in Lagos. After a farm-fresh, tapas-style meal consisting of beet and goat cheese salad and tuna tartare, we walked the grounds — part of the property backs onto the old wall of the city, and it’s adorned with minimalist chic tables and chairs, a small v-shaped infinity pool and massive palm trees, making it a perfect Insta-stop — before heading to the beach.
Hot tip: Make sure to hit the beach well before 4 p.m., because once high tide rolls in, it’s hard to get through the caves to each of the little sand havens that line the waterfront. This is where you’ll find the quintessential images of rocky cliffs and beaches that people have been plastering all over their feeds. But don’t be put off by its ubiquitous-ness; this beach is beyond spectacular, and you’ll want to put that same shot up as soon as WiFi access permits. It’s really the perfect spot to lounge around and people watch all afternoon. We spotted families, young paramours and even some happy pooches kicking back in the sand.
If you’re a book lover or a Harry Potter nerd, head to Livraria Lello, one of the oldest bookstores in Europe. (It also happens to be where J.K. Rowling got inspiration for the library in the Harry Potter series.) Arrive around 9:30 a.m., grab a ticket from a few doors down, and park yourself outside until the shop opens at 10 a.m. It’s worth getting there early to see the intricate wood detailing minus the crowds, because this is one place that gets packed.
Across the street, housed in an Art Deco, open-air shopping mall, is Mr. Mood. This menswear brand specializes in fabulously printed shirts and swim trunks (which come in kid sizes, too), as well as classic Portuguese linen button-up shirts. By this time, our bags were already full, so we ordered a few of the slim-fitting shirts through the brand’s website.
Porto is close to Douro County, the birthplace of Port. If you have time, take the day trip up the river to wine country and see the rolling, vine covered hills for yourself. If not, walk over the stunning Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia, which is home to many port distilleries. The most beautiful among them is Taylor’s,—perched high on a hill overlooking the river, facing back at Porto— which boasts a beautiful rose garden complete with peacocks. Oh, and the port is pretty delicious too!
For food, snack on Anthony Bourdain–approved hot dogs at Snack Bar Gazela, or head to Rue Picaria if you’re looking for a lovely dinner experience. Grab beverages at Champanheria da Baixa before heading to Cruel, across the street, for dinner. Our meal was divine and included an edible flower, which enhanced the flavours of the appetizer.
After spending four days in the country’s capital city, I was in love. The energy in Lisbon is incredible, with everyone from partygoers to young couples to families taking everything in — including late night drinks! A hidden gem that’s hard to find, Park Bar, is not a misnomer; it’s a bar situated on top of a parking garage, offering great views of the city (hello, Lisbon has its own Golden Gate bridge!), and some spectacular sangria sold by the pitcher.
Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills, and once you get walking you’ll understand why, since everything is pretty much up or down a hill. We made the trek up to the Moorish Sao Jorge Castle, which also has fab views of the entire city. On our way back down to the centre of town, we stopped into A Vida Portuguesa, which sells handmade soaps, knitted blankets, delicious foodstuffs and more, all from local brands and artisans. For those familiar with the Drake General store, it’s a very similar concept, if slightly elevated. I walked out with a fragrant bar of soap from Claus Porto, of which I can’t get enough.
Other noteworthy spots include Time Out Market, a food hall filled with delicious options. The pastel de nata here was divine — don’t forget the cinnamon! This old warehouse also houses the fresh food and seafood market, so grab something to eat for now and for later. If you’re looking for cool clothing, art and people, head just outside the downtown core to LX Factory, which consists of artisan stalls, a stellar vintage clothing store, design firms and a number of bars amongst the old factory buildings.
While wandering some more, we came upon Lost in Lisbon, a hilltop bar adjacent to Sao Jorge with a relaxed, colourful vibe, perfect for indulging in some afternoon vino. That evening, we spent time in the Alfama neighbourhood and took in some Fado, traditional live music that’s extremely popular among locals.
If you are able, rent a car and drive about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon to Sintra, a medieval fantasy of a town, which sits on a mountain. Stay for the nighttime view of Castelo dos Mouros, a granite palace that lights up at sunset.