I have a big, stupid crush on Portugal. Partially because it is a gorgeous country full of life and color, but also because it’s where I celebrated my 21st birthday. Yeah…it’s gonna be a hard one to top.
1. THE PESSOA Guesthouse
Stay here. This place has a great location in a wonderful neighborhood in the heart of Lisbon and is named for the famous author who used to reside here: Fernando Pessoa. He is considered the Shakespeare of Portugal. I read one of his best-known works, The Book of Disquiet, while I was there and got stopped by a local every time I was reading to get a stamp of approval. This place has so much personality and each room has its own unique, stylish design. There are shared bathrooms, and I’m a princess about that sort of thing, but it was a nonissue—everything is really nice.
It’s also relatively easy to get there—you can Metro right from the airport! Just hop on the Red Line (linha Vermelha), transfer to the Green Line (linha Verde) at Alameda, then get off at Baixa-Chiado and it’s a five-minute walk).
Sidenote: Since I was there for my birthday, they had cake fresh from the next-door bakery, a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of champagne, and The Book of Disquiet waiting for me when I walked in my room. This place is a gem.
This is the neighborhood that THE PESSOA is in, but even if you (make the biggest mistake of your life and) don’t stay there, you should still visit Chiado. It’s smart, chic, and full of Lisbon charm. The cobbled streets are decorated with designs and are the only thing separating the colorful buildings you see everywhere you turn. In case that’s not colorful enough for you, there are bright yellow trams constantly rounding corners. What cable cars are to San Francisco and red double-decker buses are to London are what trams are to Lisbon.
There’s a lot of good shopping in this area, but be sure to find Café A Brasileira as well. Grab a bite or not, but definitely peek inside and grab a picture with the statue of Pessoa sitting outside! This place is famous for being one of his old haunts.
3. Praça do Comércio
This was my favorite spot in the city. It’s the largest of Lisbon’s many plazas and it’s right on the edge of the Tagus River. This is because it was a hub for traders way-back-when, which is why the Portuguese name translates to Commerce Square. The bright yellow walls surrounding the plaza are only broken by a large, beautiful arch. That’s the one you’ll see in all the photos (including mine). The statue towering in the center is of King José I on his horse, provides a nice bit of shade if you want to hang out and read for a bit like I did.
If you keep walking along the road by the water’s edge from Praça do Comércio, you’ll end up here. This is the oldest area in Lisbon and is characterized by the fishing village it once was. Apparently, some people choose to take Tram 28 (one of the yellow trams I mentioned) through this neighborhood because it’s so hilly. But you’re better than that! Do what I did and brave the hills. Tone those calves. The narrow, cobblestone streets wind past dozens of quaint shops and restaurants. Take your time and get lost as you wind uphill toward the castle. It really is one of the best places to get to know-a Lisboa.
5. São Jorge Castle
So after you climb and climb those windy little roads, you’ll start to see signs pointing you here. This castle is a must-see. It has arguably the best view of Lisbon and the castle itself is amazing. You’ll get to see orange roofs cascading down the other side of the hills you just climbed and peacocks roaming around the castle grounds. The tickets are cheap and it’s so worth the climb.
6. Albufeira // The Algarve
After soaking in the sights of the city, hop on a bus down to Albufeira in The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region and soak in the sunshine.
My friends and I stayed at a beach house at Villas Rufino, which was amazing, but anywhere you stay here will be beautiful! I will say that ours was made especially nice by the small beach nearby with a little beach bar called Restaurante Lourenço. Sangria for days.
There are white beaches scattered all over, most decorated with large volcanic rocks. One of the bigger beaches, Armação de Pêra, has the cutest pizza place called L’Oasis Pizzeria Italiana. The owner and his mom are both there every day! We accidentally walked in during siesta (their afternoon nap), so all of the staff was gone, but the owner waited on us and whipped up a couple pizzas and sangrias for us himself! SO good.
You know the beach drill: Stop at a grocery store on the way to the beach to pick up snacks and some sunscreen, then bask in the sun. You’ll feel like a cookie in the oven.
Enjoy this magical place! And drink all the sangria. All of it.