Are you itching to get on a plane and go international soon? Maybe this summer now that many countries have opened their borders. May I suggest Portugal? Whether you go for a week, two or three it will still not be enough to fully appreciate this magnificent country full of vintage castles, beautiful coastlines, daunting vineyards, and sooo much history. Whether you get there through the Lisbon, Porto or Faro Airport, all three offer a variety of ground transportation to get you to your destinations. Here are my favorite picks and why. 

Old World Lisbon

Plan to stay at least a couple of days in Lisbon, if not more. This city has over 50+ monuments and museums to visit that draws in the city’s long history and rich culture. Unlike many US major urban cities, the downtown area is an extension or part of several neighborhoods that are intertwined regardless of social or income status. Not all the downtown is exclusively for upscale renters. Although, that is changing as more buildings are being emptied to develop hotels; a kind of tourism gentrification going on. The architecture represents mostly rows of tall white and pastel-colored buildings, a bit worn with plenty of wrought-iron balconies and terracotta rooftops. The city is vibrant, full of energy, with massive numbers of people walking its streets, shopping, working and selling their wares. Strongly suggest signing up for walking tours, food tours, cooking classes and sightseeing trips to really get to understand the culture and history of what makes this city a global marketplace.


From Lisbon to Sintra is about an hour and worthy of a day trip. This small dreamy and romantic town with a huge palace on a hilltop next to the coastline was once the summer playground for the nobles and the rich before the monarchy was taken down. Today, it is a superb tourist attraction and for those that want to get to the closest beach (40 minutes). 

The star attraction is the Pena Palace….this magical, romantic fairy-tale palace that was once a monastery expanded into this enchanting royal residence with a nature park three times its size built by a king for his queen (who died before it was built although she managed to birth him 11 children). The palace is mysterious, nostalgic and extravagant and it takes several hours to get through it. The town is also very charming with other historical monuments such as the National Palace.

Upon leaving Lisbon you can choose to head South or North assuming your arrival destination was Lisbon. For this story, we are heading south first.

Salema and the Fabulous Caves of Algarve

Portugal has some of the most stunning and fantastic rock and cave formations in the world. It’s entire coastline in the southern region referred to as the Algarve is a long stretch of just amazing gigantic caves and rock formations of various colors of green, yellow, blue, and nature’s browns and greys — just absolutely stunning. Boats swing in and out of the caves without bumping into each other in what are mostly dark caverns. Ideally, to explore the caves you need to sign up for a boat tour as the views from the ocean are spectacular.

The most famous rock formation is the Cave of Benagil where the Algar de Benagil is also located (Benagil Cathedral) giving it the appearance of a cathedral. The color yellow stands out as it were competing with the sun. It definitely is the mother of all rock formations (although the rock that resembles King Kong is not all that bad). Between these rock formations and in some of the caves, there are plenty of beaches for folks to swim. The town of Salema has a lovely beach coastline with its own amazing rock formations. This town is slowly being bought out by Europeans. It is hardly any more a fishermen’s village as they consider it a place for vacationers. It just very interesting to see the evolution of communities that are impacted both good and bad by the wealthy and tourism.

Charming Villages of Sagres and Tavira

Both these villages have not experienced the overdevelopment of other coastal towns. Sagres is a surfer’s town, being on the most southwestern tip of the country with stunning beaches. Most of this town was demolished and rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. Best part of a day trip beside the beach was visiting the Fortaléza, a significantly hefty fort with spectacular views of the surrounding coastline. I also liked the rugged desert landscape and the small white painted church in the center of the fort.

Tavira which is on the east southern coast and about 90 minutes to get there on a highway with a least half dozen toll gates (for real). This town is very close to Spain’s Seville (if you would like to make a stop there) and has a more Spanish vibe to the city. It reminded me of the White Village of Mejia in Spain’s Costa del Sol. The place comes alive in the early evening hours as families step out to enjoy the Plaza, which generally has live music. Tavira does not have a beach. You need to take a 30 minute ferry to get to the island of Tavira. This has allowed it to not be as impacted by tourism as other coastal towns.

Going North to Portugal’s famous wine country…….

Luscious Baião and the Douro River 

Baião is in the heart of the Douro Valley wine country. A bit of a climb getting there thru some intense mountainous winding and curvy roads until your ears pop. The views of the harvest over cascading mountains and the Douro River are both spectacular and scary. Baião was once part of the Roman Empire, which it proudly claims as part of its heritage, and where wine harvesting began, thanks to the Romans. One change that you see happening in this region is the built out of new homes, mostly white houses with terra-cotta roofs creating more residential living in these mountains. Portugal ranks 12 in the production and import of wine and produces half of the bottle corks for this industry and now is experiencing a thriving agri-tourism boom. There are tons of daily tours to wineries coming from both Lisbon and Porto. Do make plans to take a boat tour on the Douro River and take a wine tour of the area vineyards and architecture.

Last or first stop to Porto…….

Timeless Old World Porto

Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal with over 2 million persons living in the broader Porto District similar to Lisbon but much smaller. You can walk it in two days. The 1700 earthquake did not affect this city and so its architecture is indeed timeless, a bit gritty but also romantic. There is a more historic look about this city combined with an industrial past that is changing drastically. I found the architecture so different from most of what I have seen in Portugal. The use of glazed ceramic tiles referred to as Azulejos to adorn their buildings goes back as far as the 15th century when the Moors controlled much of Portugal and Spain. Over time, the Azulejos began to feature stories not just geometric designs, popular among churches.

This city is undergoing a cultural renaissance that worries folks living there. In 2018, it ranked as one of the highest invested cities in the world. A place to visit is the enchanting Ribeira Waterfront and portly Gaia, the lower part of Porto towards the river and the town of Gaia where most of the port wine is matured and shipped out. Walking is an opportunity to again see a city that is vibrant, full of life and energy with such enduring architecture making your way to the Ribeira waterfront crossing over the bridge to the town of Gaia and taking a ride on their cable cars to where all the port wine lodges are. The gondola is worth the 5 Euros. Once on the grounds, walk thru the many alleys and cobbled streets, home to so many port wine lodges and have some port wine! By the way, the English control most of the port wine (something to do with a war and a treaty). In Porto there are tons of tours and activities to do, including listening to different versions of Portugal’s Fado music. 

Portugal should be on everyone’s bucket list at whatever price you can afford. Not necessary for you to visit all 8 cities/sites to experience Portugal; just plan and go.

Lastly, I cannot stress how important it is to research and plan your travels. There is so much the internet offers in getting you there.

Bon Voyage


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