Baecation Days: Porto, Lisbon and Algarve, Portugal

The Best of Both Worlds in Portugal: From Cities Streets to Sandy Beaches

I am a beach bum.  Give me a lounge chair, some sand between my toes and time to work on my tan, and I am content for days on end. 

But bae is more about that urban life.  After just a couple hours of sitting still, he is itching to get moving.  He prefers wandering city streets where he can explore the country’s history and culture with a more hands on approach.

The good news is we both appreciate the other’s tastes.  I still love a good city adventure and he finds his own ways to stay busy in beach towns.  We have no problem compromising, he gets Copenhagen in August and I get Fiji in December. Win. Win.

But sometimes, the worlds align and we find a destination that offers the best of both worlds.  Cue Portugal. 

When we went a couple years ago, we spent a week working our way south from Porto to Algarve taking in everything the country had to offer.

Here’s how we found the perfect balance between sun, sand and cityscapes in Portugal.


Porto

Porto was the first stop on our journey through Portugal and it remains a big reason the country has stolen our hearts.

Nestled on the northwest coast of Portugal, Porto has a charm unlike any other.  Trekking up hill on the city’s narrow cobblestone streets, you can’t help but feel like you’ve gone back in time.

Though I could have stayed for weeks, 48 hours was more than enough time to experience Porto’s main attractions.

Our favorites were:

  • The Cais da Ribeira — We spent almost every meal sitting along the banks of the River Douro enjoying local cuisine and sharing pitchers of sangria made with local Port wine. The city truly comes alive in this area with street performers, tourists and locals alike enjoying the laid back vibe down by the river banks. 
  • The Ponte de Dom Luis I – Trust me when I say admiring this bridge from afar just doesn’t do it justice.  Be sure to take the walk over and enjoy the views of the River Douro from both sides.  It can be a bit of a hike up to the bridge but it is worth it. 
  • Funicular dos Guindais — If you want to make the journey to the bridge a bit less burdensome, you can always jump on the Funicular dos Guindais.  The ride up in the glass enclosed cable car boasts unparalleled views of the city and costs only 2.50 euros.
  • Clerigos Tower — Another great place to view the city from above is Clerigos Tower.  Again, the climb up is a bit strenuous, but once you reach the top the views will take your breath away.
  • Palacio da Bolsa – Also known as the stock exchange palace, Palacio da Bolsa is an impressive structure inside and out.   
  • Rail Station Sao Bento — Sao Bento, the city’s active train station, is also home to some of the most beautiful mosaics in the country.  There is no charge to enter and learn all about the city’s past as depicted through the station’s traditional Portuguese tiling.
  • Wine tours — Of course you have to check out some Port wine while you are there.  Our favorite was Churchill but there are plenty to choose from.
  • Yeatman  If you need somewhere to relax after all that walking, climbing and sightseeing, the Yeatman is your place.  With private baths and a world-class spa, you’re sure to leave completely recovered and ready for another day of exploring. 

Lisbon

Though the our next stop was another city, this one was uniquely its own.  In contrast to Porto, Lisbon is much more modern and trendy with the metropolitan feel you’d expect from a large European city.   We enjoyed the laid back atmosphere in Lisbon and found a lot we loved about the city.

  • Alfama — Charming narrow allies lined with craft stores and cafes lead through to amazing views of the Largo das Portas do Sol.  Even the old buildings add to the area’s character and draw tourists from near and far.
  • Bairro Alto – The “it” party spot for college kids, Bairro Alto is a vibrant neighborhood filled with bars and restaurants. The streets are quite literally filled with young people mingling and enjoying the vibe. If you’re looking for some nightlife, this is the place for you. 
  • Belem – A bit of a bus ride outside of the city center, there is plenty in Belem to see and do.  You won’t regret the time investment getting out there. While you’re there don’t miss Jerónimos Monastery, Padrao dos Descobrimentos or Santa Maria de Belem Church – all are true testaments to Lisbon’s rich history.  Before you head back, be sure to refuel with some delicious pastel de natas at Pasteis de Belem. They are famous for them.

Algarve

After five days of maneuvering cobblestone, hoofing up narrow hills and climbing hundreds of stairs, this beach bum was ready for a lounge chair and a fruity cocktail. 

Algarve did not disappoint. 

There was not only sand, sun and waves galore, but the views of the cliffs along the coast were like a scene from a postcard.

To be honest, we spent most of our time in Algarve relaxing by the pool and beach, which was exactly what we needed.  However, here are some highlights from the brief moments we were awake between our sun-induced slumbers.

  • Pine Cliffs Hotel — This Starwood hotel was absolutely gorgeous.  From the picturesque outdoor dinning to the views from the glass enclosed elevator that takes you down to the beach, every detail was designed to showcase the natural beauty of the area.
  • Downtown Albufeira — A great place to reassimilate into society after secluding yourself to the beach, Albufeira is full of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.  We spent a night there enjoying everything from our piri piri sauce to people watching.

Whether you’re looking for sand and surf or cobblestone and culture, Portugal should be on your list. It’s got something for everybody.

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