Not everyone’s travel itinerary should be the same. It should be as unique as your interests.
We had people say that no trip to Portugal would be complete without going to Porto. I am sure it would have been lovely and charming, but we don’t drink wine. We thought it would be a wasted side-trip when there was so much more to see and do that aligned with our interests.
Do your research before you go and highlight the Top 3 places or activities that you want to see or do on the trip. Everything else will just be the icing on the cake.
- LX Factory
- Sintra – Pena Palace and the Quinta da regaleira
- Kayak the caves in Lagos
Our trip was for 11 days so you may wonder why we only had a shortlist of 3 places to see. Let me frame it this way. We had other places on our wish list, but if it was bad weather or I had a migraine, it would be no big deal to skip.
OUR 11 DAY ITINERARY (12 Days if you include Flight Travel Days)
DAY ONE: HISTORIC LISBON
We arrived at around 11:30AM, after a direct flight with TAP, and headed straight to our hotel in Historic Lisbon. There are many boutique hotels in the area, but we stayed at the Memmo Alfama in a Superior Room – that if I am being honest, also had a superior view.
We took the afternoon to explore the local Alfama district by foot. We did not do any tours of churches and museums, but there were plenty within walking distance if that was your interest. Instead, we walked the maze of cobble stone streets and took in the character of the historic buildings and of course snapped shots of the yellow trams that climbed the steep hills of Alfama. (I mean, have you even been to Portugal if you don’t have a photo of the yellow tram in front of a historic church?)
DAY TWO: LX FACTORY
After breakfast, the front desk concierge showed us on a map where to buy metro tokens and outlined the route that we needed to take to get to the LX Factory.
The LX factory was an industrial plant from the 1800’s that is now a haven for artists, fashion design houses, restaurants, shops and more. There was something to see around every corner, and you had to look up, down and behind doors so that you didn’t miss any details.
DAY THREE: BELEM
We headed to Belem on yet another bus. In Belem, there are art galleries, museums, forts and monuments. The highlight was the bakery, Pastéis de Belém. We were a little leery that this was just another tourist place with long lineups. Hands down, they had the best Portuguese tarts from the duration of our trip – and we did lots of taste-testing!
DAY FOUR: SINTRA
Pena Palace / Quinta de Regaliera
We got on this bus right from the Train Station in historic Lisbon – https://www.sintra-portugal.com/guides/sintra-bus-434.html Super Easy!
Everything we had read about the Pena Palace was true. Busy, busy, busy. We got there very early and there was already a line-up. Once those doors open, snap your photos quick! It was still worth seeing though, even if just for the gram.
TOURIST TIPS: Arrive EARLY!! By 10am there will be lineups for tickets, so buy your ticket online beforehand. There will be a second lineup to get your ticket scanned to get inside the gates. There is a third lineup to get a trolley ride up to the palace, but if you have the ability, just walk it!! A fourth lineup is for access to the palace grounds and a fifth lineup if you purchased tickets to get inside the palace itself.
In the afternoon we went to the Quinta de Regaliera on a tip from friends and this was definitely a highlight of the day trip. It was an easy walking distance from the main town of Sintra. The eclectic architecture is both Medieval and Classic. You could easily spend several hours exploring the hiking trails, underground tunnels, lagoons and cisterns.
DAY FIVE: LISBON (the city)
The public transit truly is a good system, and we used it to go everywhere. We could have skipped this part of the itinerary, but it was interesting to see the old EXPO ’98 Park with the gondola cars and graphics. We also discovered more street art by one of our favourite artists, Artur Bordalo.
DAY SIX: TRAVEL DAY
We headed to the ALGARVE area. We had booked the bus in advance at https://www.rede-expressos.pt/en You get to pre-select your seats which was great.
It was a 4hr drive to Lagos and gave us a quick glimpse of the changing landscape as we headed to the coast. It worked out great, although it was a bit confusing on arrival as we couldn’t find a taxi, and people were not helpful. It was a very different experience from anywhere else we had been to date, so maybe people were just having a bad day.
We headed to our hotel: Dom Manuel | Charming Residence. If the taxi driver hadn’t pointed out the private entrance to us, we would have missed it on our own. We loved this hotel. It was private, quiet and unique. We could write a blog post just about their breakfast. Tables upon tables of scrumptious food, including but not limited to, fresh fruit, pastries, cheese platters, frittatas, and breakfast tacos.
DAY SEVEN: EXPLORE THE CLIFFS OF LAGOS
We walked from our hotel to explore the cliffs to the south of Lagos. Even though it was October, when traditionally it is a lot cooler, we lucked out with tropical weather.
DAY EIGHT: KAYAK TOUR
We had pre-booked the Ponta da Piedade Kayak Tour on the Get Your Guide website. This tour was a lot of fun, but once again had some bad experiences with other tour guides who were in motor boats that tried to run us over – on purpose! This is one of those activities that is really geared for tourists, so there are a lot of people out there. We had great tour guides, and we got to see some caves, arches and beaches that you could not see any other way.
DAY NINE + TEN: LAGOS
This was our time to relax, so we spent our time hiking the cliffs, strolling the beaches, exploring ruins, and catching sunsets.
DAY 11: TRAVEL Day back to Historic Lisbon.
We had liked the Alfama Hotel we had stayed at earlier in the week so we booked it again for the one night before our departure.
DAY 12: TRAVEL – Flight back to Toronto
We know your itinerary will look much different from ours, but we hope some of what we experienced helps you make decisions on what is best for you. We like to have a busy itinerary that is top heavy, with time to relax at the end of the trip.
We also like to arrive back home on a Friday or a Saturday, so that we have at least one day left of the weekend to unpack, do laundry and start to get the jet lag under control before the workweek starts up again.
Despite there being so many more places to explore in this world, we both felt that we would revisit Portugal again some day.