13 months
Jun 25:
luis & simao
Jul 5:
woeful tunes
Jul 10:
clean clean clean
Jul 17:
diary of a boogie board
portugal gallery
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one of several sandy coves (this one frequented by locals) south of town
Lagos, Portugal; Jul 19, 2005

the low down

Overall: Portugal is one of the most laid-back European countries. It’s not too fast, not too slow, safe, clean, convenient, and easy to get around. The people are casual and unpretentious and we felt very comfortable as soon as we arrived in Lisbon. Better yet, we continued to feel relaxed and at-home in the other towns that we visited.

What we did: We spent two weeks in Lisbon, lazing in cafes, recharging our batteries and restocking supplies. We took a too-short day-trip to Sintra from Lisbon, and then went south to a tiny beach town called Zambujeira Do Mar. We spent our last week soaking up the sun with all the Brits in Lagos.

Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon

Essentials: Like most European cities you can get pretty much everything you’re looking for here.

Food: In general, the food is tasty and not too expensive, especially compared to the rest of Europe. Eat fresh fish at local restaurants and try the pastries! If you’re adventurous, the squid is delicious and fresh. Grilled chicken is a good alternative for the not-so-brave.

People: Laid-back, friendly and fun like the friends we made (see portugal: luis & simao), though a bit more conservative and less immediately affectionate than their famously outgoing Brazilian counterparts. Overall, the friendliness of the population makes this a great place to visit, but watch out for the grannies if you’re trying to get on a crowded tram in Lisbon; they will not hesitate to push you out of their way!

Cost of Living: Although cheaper than the rest of Europe, we were still hit by the bad exchange rate. Prices seem to be about on par with San Francisco.

Daily budget: A dinner for 2 at a local restaurant with house wine is around 25 Euros. Staying in rented rooms (not hotels) outside of Lisbon is 25-40 Euros per night for two people. Cheaper or more expensive options are certainly available, but places in this range seem to be easiest to find and a reasonably good value.

Exchange rate: $1 USD = 0.8 Euros

What's fabulous: The super-clean streets (see portugal: clean clean clean), easy public transportation and good food at fair prices.

Weather: It’s off-season now and it’s mild, sunny and warm most days with rain only once in a while. Also, the beautiful days are really long; the sun sets around 9:30 pm!

red roofs cover the seven hills of Lisbon...

Getting around: Public transportation in Lisbon and between cities is easy to navigate, comfortable and fairly cheap. In Lisbon specifically, there are cheap taxis (Mercedes!) and several tram lines to take you around all of the city’s seven hills. Between cities, buses and trains are the way to go (depending on your destination). The schedules are fairly flexible and convenient.

Difficulties: Lonely Planet guide book 2005 – it’s terrible! Even though it was supposedly updated only a few months before we arrived, we found a lot of things wrong or completely out of date.

Random translations: Compared to the Brazilians (who also speak Portuguese), the Portuguese speak like they’ve got a mouth full of marbles so it’s more difficult to understand them if you’ve only learned a few phrases.

Specific places we visited/things we did:
  - Praca dom Pedro IV (locally known as Rossio): A nice, big touristy plaza with many cafes, shopping and restaurants. You’ll probably find yourself passing through here to get to lots of places.
  - Miradouro de Pedro de Alcantara: A narrow park with a lot of benches and a nice view of the city. It’s a must-see if you’re a fan of bougainvilleas.
  - Castelo de Sao Jorge - Nice views of the city, clean restored castle, almost worth it to go just for the bus ride up the narrow, steep streets
  - Columbo Mall (near Colégio Militar metro stop): we heard the goal was to build the biggest mall in Europe so we had to check it out. We just wandered around, looked at shops, watched a movie, ate and shopped for groceries at what HAS to be the largest supermarket in Portugal (it’s called Continente and puts Costco to shame).
  - Museu Calouste Gulbenkian: Very nice museum showcasing the amazing collection of only one person. He collected all types of art, including Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Armenian, Chinese, Japanese, European and some Contemporary.
>> Recommended activity/restaurant: Fado at Fermentacion Restaurant <<
This is a Fado restaurant in the old part of Lisbon below Resto with good food and singing (see portugal: woeful tunes for more details). Unfortunately, we can't tell you exactly where it is, though we can tell you it's worth the effort!
>> Recommended restaurant: Primavera do Jerónimo <<
address: Tv. Espera, 34; phone: 21 342 04 77
This is a nice place in Bairro Alto that serves traditional fare. Our friends Luis and Simao brought us here for a good “locals” dinner and we went back a second time on our own.
Quinta de Relaleira

- Overall: What a beautiful place! We went for a day trip from Lisbon, but we wish we had stayed for a few days. Walking around the city is romantic and relaxing. It's a tad touristy, but there are a lot of interesting things to see and do. And some of the architecture is amazing.

- Quinta da Regaleira: at first glance this looks like one of many castles we've seen, but this building and the surrounding grounds were built in the 20th century by Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, a rich doctor, as an architectural and environmental project for himself. The grounds are extensive (including some symbols from the Knights Templar) and have many secret caves and entrances.

- Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish castle): Another nifty castle with amazing views of Sintra.

- Pena Castle: Yet another castle. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to check this one out, but it looked very interesting from a distance.

Zambujeira do Mar:

  - Overall: A small, sleepy beach town on the west coast of Portugal where a lot of Portuguese go to take a break from the city. It’s (yet another) super-clean town (see portugal: clean clean clean) with just a couple of restaurants and a few places to stay. All the action is centered in the square right by the beach where people (little kids included) stay up until all hours of the morning. Oh, and the beach of course, though the water was kinda' cold when we were there (see portugal: diary of a boogie board).
>> Recommended accomodation: Artesanato Santos <<
location: After you get off the bus, walk towards the beach to the main square and you'll see this store selling beach goods (the same woman runs the store and rents the rooms). The rooms are simple, but a good value, and the owner is so nice! Unfortunately she doesn't speak much English, but enough to rent the room.
lots of restaurants crowd lots of streets in Lagos

- Overall: We debated whether we should go here since we heard it’s full of Brits, but we decided we needed to check out what all the hype was about. Well, there’s beautiful weather and many sheltered and unsheltered beaches lining the coast, but it doesn’t feel like Portugal so much since everyone speaks English and the plazas are full of British pubs. But, if you’re looking for a sunny and easy destination without language barriers then this could be your place. There are lots of hotels (50+ Euros) and rooms for rent (35+ euros/night). To further dive into our impersonation of normal tourists, we also went to the Slide and Splash waterslide park which was pretty fun (20 Euros each through hotel discount).

Check out the portugal gallery for pix of all the above!

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


How wonderfully you describe my people and my country (Portugal) -- You've undoubtly captured the charm and simplicity that makes Portugal what it is -- a fun place to be. You were able to take me back to the place I love and long to go back to (currently living in the US), thank you. Safe travels and thank you for bringing the world to the rest of us.

--Marilyn S. (New Jersey, USA - originally from Lisbon, Portugal); Jun 4, 2007


The Restaurant Nilo, located in the charmer "baixa of Lisbon" (Rua dos correeiros # 217-219; phone: 213427810), near the beautiful "Rossio" and "Praça da Figueira," in a street with more than 20 restaurants, difference of the others to clearly have delicious Portuguese typical food, with fresh and quality products to prices very in account, with an honest and effective service.

I think to return there in Easter to eat the delicious rice of seafood and the codfish or perhaps taste one of the typical "dishes of the day" like "cozido à Portuguesa" or "feijoada à transmontana". And last but not the least, to drink the delicious portuguese beer "sagres"... Greetings and have a good travel!

--Pepe (Lisbon, Portugal); Apr 9, 2007

Thanks for the tip - we'll go there next time!

Susan & Grace; Apr 20, 2007


This site is great - have been trying to decide where to vacation this spring and am now sold on Portugal! Great pictures and fabulous descriptions!! How do you locate apartments?

--Maggie (Illinois, United States); Feb 10, 2006

Glad you're enjoying the site! In terms of apartments, we usually just kinda' figured it out when we rolled into town. You usually have a wide range of choices, from cheap hotels to guest houses to private rooms in people's houses. Sometimes just hanging out in the town square (of the larger places) you'll be approached by women renting rooms. In the smaller towns, there are signs on a lot of people's houses and you can just go up and knock. And of course, there are always hotels if you get frustrated with the private rooms.

Susan & Grace; Feb 14, 2006


Thank you for your update about Portugal and for the nice words you wrote about my country, I'm living in Germany but I'm portuguese actually and it was a pleasure to read your discription from some parts of Portugal and from the portugueses.

Please do your best in order to don't let us wait for the rest of your adventures, it's always fascinating.

If you ever think about to come to Europe again and visit Hamburg/Germany just write me please. It will be a pleasure for me to have you as my guests and show you a litle bit around.

By the way the bridge in Lisbon that looks so similar with the Golden Gate has already been used in some low-budget american movies instead of the real one. I remember for instance one movie from the american director Samuel Fuller called as far as I remember " Street of no return" with Keith Carradine and Bill Duke.

--Henrique (Germany); Jan 22, 2006

Thanks so much for looking at the website and for writing to us. That is so funny about the bridge being used in a movie already! It must be so much easier to use the one in Portugal than the one here in SF. We really enjoyed Portugal and would love to visit there again one day. And thank you so much for your offer for when we visit Germany! We'd love to travel again soon and will definitely look you up if we're in the area.

Susan & Grace; Feb 4, 2006