The first time I visited Portugal was in November of 2015. I was coming off the bender of a lifetime in Barcelona, I was burnt out from Amsterdam, I was broke from London and I was in a prolonged food coma from Paris. Lisbon served as our last destination on an amazing, but lengthy, backpackers trip. I wasn’t aware of how special Lisbon was until we landed. I just knew that it was cheapest to fly home to Boston from Portugal, and the weather would be warm in November. Still, our trip was only 2 days long, and that wasn’t nearly enough time.
Lisbon, Portugal in November 2015
So, when my sister Taylor arranged for us to go on a graduation trip on a budget, I immediately suggested we visit Lisbon. Not only does it make a very inexpensive destination, but its also one of the most photogenic cities in the world. If nothing else, do it for the insta. Since we knew we wanted to do our trip during the second half of May, it was also the safest bet for summer weather in Europe. Not surprisingly, the Newcomb sisters take their tans very seriously.
Porto, Portugal in May 2017
We decided to visit Lisbon, Sintra and Porto– which are the most popular tourist destinations. We would have also liked to have visited the Algarves, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Amanda in Barcelona. Since I have a full-time job, I had to fit this trip in 10 days.
lisboa: endless photo opportunities
Sleeping in Lisboa
HOSTELS: A fairly known fact amongst travelers is that Portugal has the best hostels in the world. I had to warn Kate that this set of hostels wouldn’t represent the ones she’d be staying in for the rest of her life. Not in Paris, not in Australia. Literally, nowhere else. In addition to being 5 star quality, they are really cheap compared to other countries. And while i’ve never met anyone who wasn’t happy with their Lisbon hostel, HOME has won “best medium sized hostel” 4 years in a row with Hostelworld. That’s pretty legit. In addition to being insanely clean and well decorated, the nightlife is poppin’. They have pub crawls every night that are LIT. I’ve also stayed at Yes! Lisbon, and it was the second nicest hostel I had ever seen. Both hostels are in the city centre, and owned by the same woman, so you cannot go wrong with either.
Kate on our balcony at Home Hostel
If you’re backpacking days are over, or you’re on a romantic vacation, accommodation in general is really inexpensive in Lisbon. There are some beautiful airbnbs, and hotels. An average night at the five star hotel Sofitel is under $200. What are you waiting for?
Eating in Lisboa
Last time I was in Lisbon, I fell victim to tourist traps on every corner. If someone told me their restaurant served the best sangria in Portugal, I would give in. Since cod is the most popular traditional dish, I ordered the oily, bland cod… everywhere. I left the city hungry and unimpressed. This time I asked everyone on social media for recommendations, so I could get it right this time. I did, thanks to a lot of suggestions, and now I’m excited to pass them on to you.
Our absolute favorite restaurant in Lisbon is called Stasha. While other cities may out-do Lisbon in cuisine, Stasha was one of the best restaurants i’ve ever been to. My sister Kate and I shared the seafood platter, but the real winner was our appetizer. Pastry wrapped goat cheese salad. I had something very similar in Noosa Heads, Australia, a couple of years back– and I thought i’d never find it again. I could write a love song for this dish. Go here, order this.
(the not so-photogenic) Seafood Platter – Stasha – das Gáveas 29, 1200 Lisboa, Portugal
If you’re dying to try one of famous chef Jose Alvarez‘s restaurants, but you don’t want to drop $$$, visit Cafe Lisboa for lunch. It sounds like a potential tourist trap, but the food is excellent. I got the roast beef and gorgonzola salad and it was really great. They also have outdoor seating, which is key in a city this beautiful
Roast Beef & Gorgonzola salad – Cafe Lisboa – Largo de São Carlos 23, 1200-026 Lisboa, Portugal
For a casual breakfast/lunch spot, especially if you’re staying in HOME hostel (it’s right next door), Nicolau has the most photogenic (and cheap) breakfast menu in Lisbon. This is the kind of place you’d expect to see in New York– but Avocado toast is 1/4 of the price.
Avocado Toast – Nicolau – R. São Nicolau 15, 1100-026
For traditional Portuguese food, you can (and should) visit Cervejaria Ramiro or Zé da Mouraria 2. Ramiro is one of the city’s most popular restaurants for visitors, but with good reason. It came recommended by several people, so choosing their restaurant for our first night was a no-brainer. We had the crab legs, which was equally messy as it was delicious, as well as the prawns and mussels. Though the wait is long, there is coin operated beer on tap, that makes time fly by. Ze da Mouraria 2 was recommended by our Sintra tour guide. It’s family sized, had no english menu, and made for a perfect authentic Portuguese experience.
The octopus from Ze da Mouraria 2
Beaching in lisbon
True lovers of the salt life know that oftentimes city beaches are far from impressive. Don’t get me wrong, as a Bostonian displaced in NYC, I’ll take whatever sand I can get. But it doesn’t mean I’m excited to see 50 shades of winter white legs sitting on bath towels (2 feet next to me.) While iconic beaches like Bondi in Sydney and Barceloneta beach in Barcelona are an exception to the paleness, the huge crowds take away from the natural beauty of the beaches themselves. Portugal, as a country, is basically a giant stretch of beach. You’re never further than an hour away from somewhere really spectacular, and you’re always about 30 minutes from somewhere that is nice enough 😉
In Lisbon we went to Carcavelos beach, which we found to be very nice. They had a cute boardwalk. It wasn’t too crowded. However, the next day we briefly visited Cascais, and it seemed a little more upscale and less like a city beach. I’ve heard Estoril has a lot to offer as well, and the two are just a short walking distance from one another.
My sisters (Taylor left, Kate right) are so pretty, its ridiculous.
Must See: Sintra
When I announced to the the online world I was planning a trip to Lisbon, it was recommended several times that we take the trip to Sintra. It’s onne of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal, and for a good reason. Sintra is a tiny picturesque town full of castles and hills. There was a lot of hype surrounding this day trip, and I truly believe it lived up to it. Best described as a fairytale, the question won’t be whether or not you’ll find something insta-worthy– it’s how will you ever choose what to post? It’s less than an hour outside of Lisbon, very close to the most western point of Europe, which you have got to see.
also see: the most western point of europe
porto: the perfect combination of old & new
Sleeping in Porto
Hostels: In Porto we stayed in a small hostel called Spot. When we first walked in, we thought that it had the potential to top Home. For one, we stayed in a room that was only for 3 people (score!!) In many ways it looks more like a spa than a hostel. Hardwood floors, white walls, white beds, white linens. There is a terrace area that is large and well maintained, and an awesome kitchen & lounge. The only downside was that there is no air conditioning in the rooms. Porto is known as one of those kinds of cities where most people don’t have AC, but we were unlucky to run into a heat wave when we visited. Small hostels make it much easier to make friends, and our social lives were thriving during our two days at Spot. Our first night we convinced a group of 10 strangers to come do karaoke with us. On our last night, we bought ten bottles of wine from the hostel bar and played Pangea with all our new hostel friends. Sh*t gets wild.
Myself and Taylor at Porto Spot. I’m wearing an Elizabeth& James bag, Old Navy pixie pants and Steve Madden Slides.
Similar to Lisbon, hotels and Airbnbs are also very inexpensive! Porto would make a great romantic destination. My sister fell in love in 48 hours here with a Kiwi (NZ) with the prettiest blue eyes anyone has ever had. Kate and I fell in love with a tall hot graphic designer from San Francisco. He was an easy boyfriend to share since he, like us, likes guys. Everywhere I turned in Porto was somewhere I’d like to stare off at, drinking a 3 euro bottle of wine with someone I loved. I hope to come back here with Ben.
EATING IN porto
While Lisbon’s food scene has some serious gems, the food in Porto is without a doubt better. Just 3 hours north by train, Porto is the undisputed food capital of Portugal. We were only there for a weekend, but I found two spots that I would highly recommend.
Our first night in Porto we went to a spot called Conversas Vadias. A place like this would be packed in any other city. Not only was the menu inexpensive, but they also have a 5 star rating on Tripadvisor. The cuisine was a fusion of Portuguese and Japanese favorites, with clear inspiration from the northern region of Portugal (they love pork.) Because of our lengthy order (the whole menu x 2), the chef came out to warn us about the amount of food. Never underestimate a group of Americans abroad. We ended up ordering second servings of the chicken fingers and dumplings.
Ceviche -Conversas Vadias – do Comércio do Porto 128 253, 4050 Porto, Portugal
Our second dinner Porto had the kind of Hogwarts atmosphere you look for in Porto. After all, it was the city that inspired JK Rowling to design the school of wizardry in the first place. As you’d expect from a restaurant that is over 160 years old, the food is much more traditional. Restaurante Flor Dos Congregados was recommended by Lonely Planet (my favorite site to get lost on. ) Fun fact, it is still owned by the same family that started it. For an appetizer, you must indulge in a cheese and ham plate, as well as the chorizo (which is not to be skipped.) For an entrée, I recommend the veal. We went here with a group of six for a “splurge” meal, and we only ended up spending about 20 euro per person– we left very drunk on wine, and completely stuffed. It’s a truly authentic old world Porto experience, one i’m glad I had.
The (delicious but not photogenic) Veal – Flor dos Congregados 11, 4000-114 Porto, Portugal
Porto Squad at Flor dos Congregados
Beaching in Porto
In Portugal, the beaches close to Porto and Lisbon are far less crowded than other cities i’ve visited. Just a short Uber ride away, you can enjoy sandy beaches and minimal tourists. You’re still an hour or so away from discrete cove beaches, but if you’re looking for an easy day trip outside of the city, sans car, your options are vast.
Kate and I on Matosinhos beach (Porto) May 2017
Although we only had the opportunity to visit Matosinhos beach in Porto, we were really excited by it. Like the food, the city continued to blow me away, quickly becoming one of my favorite cities in the world. There is something magical about Porto. Although Lisbon is equally photogenic, Porto felt like a storybook.
Post dedicated to the Newcomb sister’s new BFF Audrey Ward. We met Auds in our Lisbon hostel, where we took a day trip to Sintra together and then convinced her to follow us to Porto. She’s so rad that she changed her travel plans just to hangout with us 🙂 Somehow, after a lot of wine, our persuasion skills proved strong enough to convince her to join us in Barcelona (where we’ll cover next.) Our trip wouldn’t have been the same without the only souvenir we picked up the whole trip, this chick. As Mario would say, you a dime plus 99.