• Becca

My Favorite Places in Southern Portugal

Updated: Jan 31, 2019

After driving all over Southern Germany / Northern Austria, and spending a quick day and a half in Barcelona, I finally got some much needed relaxing time in Portugal. Being from Brazil, I was very (very!) excited to visit, for the first time, the place where basically all of my country's history starts. Also, I was excited to be somewhere where I can speak the language fluently.

Another reason I was eager to visit Portugal was Portuguese food! So my first stop after landing was the Time Out Market. There are SO many food options here, and although they are a little overpriced, they all looked really great and the place has a really cool atmosphere (It reminded me of the Packing House in Anaheim). I'll be honest here - I chose the place I was going to order from based on the length of the line. I figured if people were lining up, then the food must be delicious. I think this is usually a pretty stupid strategy, but this time it really paid off. I ordered the Codfish Risotto at this place called Marlene Vieira (10/10), and then had a Pastel de Nata (something I had been dying to eat in Portugal) from the Manteigaria kiosk at the market. I highly recommend both spots.

After a day of traveling and eating, I was pretty tired so I decided to head to my AirBNB and get rested for the next day of exploring. I stayed at a lovely AirBNB in the town of Carcavelos, about 25 minutes west of Lisbon. The main reason why I chose to stay outside of the city was because of proximity to other towns I wanted to visit. Carcavelos is dead in the center between Lisbon, Cascais, and Sintra, taking less than 30 minutes by car to get to each one. The AirBNB I picked was also directly across from a train station (although I had a rental car), and about a 15 minute walk to the Carcavelos Beach.

So, over the next four days I saw a lot of stuff, but here are my favorites from this trip.

The Little Town of Óbidos

I had no idea this place even existed, and it was not on my original itinerary. But I am so glad that I found it! This little town, with it's history going all the way back to before 200 BC, is the dictionary definition of European charm.

Although fairly small, this little town has a lot to offer. The "main street" has quite a few restaurants, souvenir shops, and more than enough opportunities to try Ginja de Óbidos, which is their local liquor, made of sour cherries. You can get Ginja shots in little chocolate cups for about €2. If I'm being honest here, it tastes a whole lot like cherry flavored cough syrup. If that's your thing, then you may like it. I didn't. For only a couple euros, it's worth a try, though. And the edible chocolate cup it comes in is...well...chocolate. So it's good.

Before having too many shots of Ginja, make sure to climb up the walls that surround the entire city. But seriously - do this sober and very awake, as there are no barriers to prevent people from falling over, and some of the rocks can be quite slippery.

The slightly scary experience is well worth it. From up on these walls, you will get incredible view of Óbidos and the surrounding are, which is green and lovely. (Plus, I can't say that walking on fortress walls overlooking an ancient city didn't make me feel like I was in Assassin's Creed IRL. Alas, no piles of hay to jump into.)

The Castles of Sintra

Town of Sintra

This extremely charming little town is full of surprises. From street markets selling vintage goods, to little cafes, to the amazing castles surrounding it, it's a perfect day trip from Lisbon.

If you chose to drive, there's plenty of parking in Sintra. Otherwise, public transportation will also easily take you there. Another option is to purchase a tour leaving from Lisbon.

The little Tuk-Tuks are all over the city, and will take you to any one of the main attractions for a fee, but they can get quite expensive if you're on a budget. There are buses as well, but since I had a rental car, I'm not sure what the cost is. Either way, you won't have a problem getting where you want to go, as there are plenty of options.

The two castles in the area, Castelo dos Mouros and Castelo da Pena, are definitely worth seeing. It is free to visit both areas, but you do have to pay to go in the actual castles. It's not expensive, €8 per adult for Mouros, and €14 for Pena. But, as you may have guessed, I didn't pay to go in - so I can't tell you if it's worth it or not. Although, I can imagine the views from the fortified walls are fantastic - so if you've got the money to splurge, do it here.

Castelo dos Mouros

Palacio da Pena

The Statues of Lisbon (and Tram 28!)

Praca do Comercio

It may be weird that this is the main thing that stuck in my head about Lisbon, but I have never seen statues this huge in the middle of a city before. I mean... these things are massive. Sure - we see big statues all the time, but usually they're distant-ish, or in the courtyards of some crazy ancient building, or floating on New York Harbor, but not in the middle of a plaza, in the middle of a city. It is crazy! And these are literally all around Lisbon. Everywhere you look. BAM! Giant statue.

One of my favorites was in Praça do Comércio. It stands 40 feet tall in the middle of a bustling city plaza - crowded with people and cars, and surrounded by shops and cafes. This is a cool spot to spend some time people watching. And bonus: It has an ocean view as well.

Although I only spent less than a day in the actual city of Lisbon, I wanted to make sure to go see the iconic Tram 28. You can see the red and yellow trams all throughout the city, and there are some really great photo spots if you are patient enough, but perhaps the easiest way to get a decent shot is just to go to the initial stop, where there are always plenty of trams to photograph. Also, at this stop, they hang out there for a little bit while the lines of tourists pack inside, so there's plenty of time to take a good photo.

You can, of course, ride the tram throughout the city for €2,90. If you plan you ride it more than once, just buy the day pass. It allows you to travel on the metro, bus, and trams as many times as you'd like in one day, and only costs €6,15 (you can get the day pass at metro stations).

The Beaches of the West Coast

Beach in Cascais

I fell in love with the Portuguese beaches. They are sandy and the water is clear and it was perfection. During the week, they were mostly quiet - which I loved. During the weekend they were crowded, as expected. So go during the weekdays - unless you want a crowd. Below are the ones I got to visit and my thoughts on them.

Praia de Carcavelos

I stayed in Carcavelos the whole time I was in Portugal, and this beach was down the street from me. It's a nice beach, with a few restaurant options including traditional Portuguese, Pizza, Poke and Sushi options. I basically had the beach to myself during the week, but when I tried to go on a Saturday it was so crowded I turned right back around. (Please note my definition of the word. Crowded: Any time I can see ten or more human beings at once.)

Praia da Ursa

To be fair, I didn't actually ever make it to this beach - which sucks because it was one of the ones I was most excited about seeing. I had seen plenty of photos on Instagram and was excited to take my own. However, my rental car was a Fiat 500, and the path the GPS took me was...well...not meant for a Fiat 500. As far as I could tell, there was no other way of getting to the shore - so if you're going here, please make sure to get a 4x4, or at least a bigger car that can easily go over rocks. The "road" to the beach is a tiny dirt path, with cars traveling both ways, and lots (lots!) of rocks.

After about 5 minutes on it, going about 3 miles per hour, I gave up and turned around. I really didn't want to deal with the cost of destroying my tiny rental car.

Maybe next time.

Praia Porto das Barcas

This beach is pretty small and nestled between some big rocks. It was empty when I went, aside from some people who looked like they might have been working on the abandoned hotel up on the cliff. The beach itself is nice and deserted - there are no restaurants, shops, or anything - but the abandoned hotel makes a pretty cool backdrop for some photos (not bad for drone shots either).

Porto das Barcas is on the way to a bunch of other beaches (if you are coming from the South coast), so it's worth stopping by and checking it out.

Praia da Areia Branca

This beach was awesome. Clear water (although a bit cold when I went in May), white sand (hence the name), and food and shops nearby. Again - I went during the week, so it was very quiet. If you go here, make sure to eat at Cafe Amarelinho for some delicious Portuguese food. I got the steamed clams and the cod fish cream pie and they were both amazing. Seriously some of the best food I had in Portugal. And the view didn't hurt, either.

Portugal was one of my favorite stops on this three week trip. I think part of it was the whole getting to speak my own language thing, and eating familiar foods. But even aside from that, the weather was perfect, the people were kind, and the sights incredible. I can't wait to be back.

Have you been to Portugal? What was your favorite part?

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