From my childhood, I have taken vacations with family around the country, but my passion for traveling couldn’t be contained by national borders. Working long shifts as a nurse provides scheduling flexibility to go on frequent adventures- which I take full advantage of! I most often travel solo as I have yet to find equally travel-obsessed and flexible friends, but I am constantly on the lookout for travel companions I can drag along! I brought two girls I met while traveling to Italy and Greece along with me for this trip, but I would have also enjoyed it solo. I was drawn to Portugal for the culture of vibrance and diversity of terrain (mountains, city, beach..). Portugal is also a great option for backpacking on a budget- it’s much more feasible than destinations such as Iceland or Switzerland (though they’re worth the splurge, in my opinion!).
Here is my itinerary- I hope it inspires you to soak in the rich experiences of Portugal yourself!
Days 1 - 2: Porto
Our Airbnb was called “Mouzinho 244 Ap1 by PORTO-HOUSES AND SUITES” and it was ideal- super central, safe, private, and very cozy!
My friends joined late so I ended up staying alone and exploring Porto myself and I felt very comfortable doing so. Here’s what I recommend: Dom Luís I Bridge, Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral), Capela das Almas, Avenida dos Aliados, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, Parque da Cidade do Porto, São Bento Railway Station, Monument Church Of St Francis, Lello Bookstore (the wait was long- go early!)
Day 3: Tomar
This Airbnb was spacious, private, and only $77 a night. Exactly what I was hoping for!
Tamar to do: I recommend Convento De Cristo and Castelo De Tomar (pics 6-8), Aqueduto dos Pegões, Igreja de São João Batista and Church Santa Maria dos Olivais. I’ve also heard good things about Seven Hills National Park
Days 4-6: Lisbon + Sintra
We stayed in Lisbon at “Lisbon Brother's Rooms”, which was a safe, no-frills hostel centrally located and included breakfast. We got a 4-bed private room, which is a great way to save money!
Lisbon to do: Tram 28 (pic 1), Se Cathedral (Lisbon Cathedral, pic 2), Torre de Belém (Belem tower, pic 3), Alfama District, Rossio Square, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and I’ve heard the Feira da Ladra (giant flea market) is great!
Sintra to do: Poço Iniciático (the Initiation Wells) in the Quinta da Regaleira, Monserrate Palace, Pena Palace (my favorite, pics 3-6; note: you have to get there before 5 to get a tuk-tuk bike taxi up the hill to the castle!)
Days 7 - 8: Lagos
This Airbnb was my favorite on the trip- and less than $50 a night! We could easily walk to the beaches and local restaurants
Lagos to do: Praia do Camilo Beach, Ponta da Piedade, Praia da Marinha, Praia Do Carvalho, Praia de Benagil (cave tour- totally worth it!).
Some things I want to do next time: Lekki Conservation Centre, Lufasi Nature Park, and a kayak tour
Days 9 - 11: Seville, Spain
In Seville, we rented a room in a woman’s apartment that is no longer available. But there are so many other amazing options to stay that it makes me want to go back!
Seville to do: Torre del Oro (pic 1), Casa de Pilatos, Plaza de España (pic 2), La Giralda, Royal Alcázar (pic 4-5), Convento de Santa Paula or Santa Inés, Barrio Santa Cruz, Maestranza Bullring (world’s largest bull ring, pic 7), and Maria Luisa Park (pic 8-9)
Food recommendations: Bodega Santa Cruz (tapas), Jalea Real, Horno de San Buenaventura (bakery), Los Gallos (flamenco dancing bar), Bodega Morales (winery)
You cannot experience everything in a city in just a couple of days. My goal for this trip was to catch major highlights of Portugal in various areas, and I felt that the length of this trip was good enough for that. That being said, I always wish I could travel longer and you can certainly see more if you stay longer- or skip Seville! I definitely would have loved to stay in Lagos on the beach for a couple of days more.
I pack light and prefer to travel with a 60L backpack in Europe because of the difficulty of riding trains and walking on cobblestone streets with a suitcase. My trip was in early May and therefore it was very warm- so I mostly packed shorts, skirts, and sandals. Don’t be like me- pack good walking shoes. Walking 5 miles a day on cobblestone in non-supportive sandals is cute- yes, but also painful. I’ve learned that Birkenstocks are a great shoe to travel in because they’re popular in Europe (so you don’t look like a tourist) and they also have decent support (break them in first!). I value local culture and do my very best to respect those around me. That being said, Portugal does not have a cultural modesty like some nearby countries (i.e. Morocco), so you can feel comfortable wearing that new bikini you bought last year before COVID ruined your plans. And bring sunscreen!
I’m very laid back. I love trips where I just book hostels and train tickets as I go and have no itinerary! But since I planned this trip for myself and two others, I opted for the more organized methodology on this one. I planned and booked about 8 months in advance, but I don’t think you necessarily need that much notice. I always start with my flight. One way I save money is by finding flights to anywhere in Europe for <$500 and then getting cheap flights from that location to where I want to go (or just plan my whole trip around where has a cheap flight at the time). For Portugal, I flew round trip to London for $450 and spent a few days exploring there as well!
We met some locals that helped guide us when we were lost one evening and only came across friendly Portuguese natives throughout our travels. When I travel solo, I choose to stay in hostels, not only to save money but also to meet other travelers. Unfortunately, with finding friends to travel with, you often have to sacrifice the freedom of choosing to sleep in a room with 10 strangers (for some crazy reason not everyone finds this concept appealing). I think Portugal would be a great place to meet other like-minded travelers, but I did not get to experience that on my trip. I do recommend writing down some key phrases in Portuguese- I speak some Spanish and thought I’d be able to get around but the similarities in language were less apparent than I had anticipated and only about half of the natives I met spoke English.
So cheap, so tasty! Do not miss pastel de natas! They’re a signature pastry in Portugal and I ate them every day and long for their creamy yet flaky goodness. Drink all the sangria you can- a full pitcher was only $8-$10 and made in-house with fresh fruits. Lastly, tapas are gold here and allow you to try a variety of foods in smaller servings! I’m a vegetarian so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve been told the seafood is fresh and worth a try as well.
I just loved seeing the rich history of Portugal. The bright tile work, friendly locals, delicious food, and ease of travel made this one of my top backpacking experiences to date! I loved being able to see so much in such a short amount of time- and the Eurail is so easy to use there! Finding ways to get the best experience possible while being frugal is a challenge I adore, and Portugal is an amazing option to do just that. I think Portugal could be a good option for first-time backpackers as it is inexpensive and the train system is amazing, but I would have google translate or a comparable alternative ready as not everyone you will encounter in Portugal will speak English. Let me know what you think, and share pics if you get to go!