Heather & Kevin’s Guide to Portugal

Kevin and I have spent a lot of time travelling through Portugal, and we often encounter friends and friends of friends who are in search of suggestions for what do while they’re visiting Portugal.

We’ve written quite a few tailored suggestions, and we’ve decided to combine all of our recommendations right here, in one place. Enjoy!

How to use this guide: 

In the first section below you’ll find some general advice about travelling in Portugal. Following that we’ve listed towns are cities that we recommend visiting, along with things to see/do/eat in each city.

The cities are listed in Geographical order from North to South, then West to East.

For each city and restaurant, we’ve also provided a score out of 5 for how worthwhile it is to visit:

  • 1/5 = if you happen to be there, check out these places
  • 2/5 = these are some great places, but don’t travel far to visit this place
  • 3/5 = this is worth it if you’re really interested in this topic
  • 4/5 = very worth adjusting your route for, if you can swing it.
  • 5/5 = get in your car and go now!

Comment below if you have questions about any of the suggestions, or if you have clarifications/new ideas to offer!

Things to know in general in Portugal:

  • Breakfast is hard to come by. The idea of brunch or breakfast being eggs, toast, etc, doesn’t exist in Portugal. Breakfast is an espresso and a pastry. In Lisbon you can get different types of ‘toast’ with a coffee (we’ll recommend below). But in the Algarve, a typical big breakfast is hard to find.
  • Lunch is typically served between 11am and 3pm. If you want to eat between 3pm and 5:30pm, good luck. Most restaurants are closed at that time, but reopen for dinner.
  • When you sit down at most Portuguese restaurants, they’ll put bread, pate, olives, etc on the table. If you eat these, the cost will be added to your bill. If you’re not interested, you can ask them to take it away, no problem.
  • Espumante is the word for Portuguese sparking wine (like Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco). Be sure to try some while you’re there, as it’s rarely found outside of the country.
  • Common greetings include “bon dia” (good day or good morning), “boa tarde” (good afternoon), “boa noite” (good evening).

Exploring Portugal

Sintra and the surrounding area (Northwest of Lisbon)

Lisbon

  • Our score: 4/5
  • Like any place in Portugal outside of Lisbon, you will need your car to explore Sintra. Even if you’re only in Lisbon on your trip, it’s worth renting a car or booking a tour to visit Sintra. We saw all of Sintra & its sites in one day, but it would definitely be worthwhile to split the whole thing into 2 days and stay up there one night.
  • The easiest way to describe Sintra is to list my blog posts about each site. I don’t really have any restaurant recommendations out there:
    • Cabo da Roca (edge of continental Europe) – spend 30 minutes there; There’s also a restaurant here with beautiful views of the ocean.
    • Convento of the Capuchos – Spend at least 1 hour there. Max 2 hours.
    • Moorish Castle and the Palace of Pena – spend at least an hour at each, possibly 2-4 hours at each. The Moorish Castle is a bit of a hike, and the views are stunning. The Palace of Pena has more to see indoors, and also boasts a beautiful set of gardens. You could spend 1-3 hours at each site.
    • Quinta da Regaleira – You could easily spent 2-4 hours here. The gardens are incredible. We went there in the rain which gave the whole experience a romantic, nature-y feeling, but for the sake of comfort, try go to there in good weather. It’s not as historically significant as the 2 castles but it’s much more interesting and surprising to explore.
    • A note on our order of things… Cabo da Roca is on the west coast. Coming towards the interior, Convento dos Capuchos is next closest. The Quinta, the Castle, and the Palace are all roughly in the same area, within “Sintra”. Sintra itself is a town, but we didn’t spend much time there, so cannot make any recommendations.
    • Bring your walking shoes because you’ll be walking and climbing all day long.

Lisbon

2015-04-07 13.58.58
With the famous Lisbon cable car in the background. Worth a ride if you have time available!
  • Our score: 5/5
  • Lisbon is one of my favourite cities to visit. Like many cities in Europe, it is historical and gorgeous. The architecture and the intricate design of its many buildings and squares show the extravagance of its spending at height of thePortuguese empire, and reflect the restrained budgets of modern governments. Keep an eye out for fancy old buildings that are maintained and/or newly restored, and those that are falling apart. In addition to its beauty, Lisbon offers incredible food, people, views, and nightlife.
  • Lisbon is a city built on hills, which is an important part of its design and history. Keep an eye out for its streetcar system and its elevator… both the oldest in the world.
  • You can read about our experiences in Lisbon here, here, here, and here.
  • Overall we love Lisbon because of its beauty, delicious food and wine, and welcoming hospitality.
  • Places we’ve stayed:

    • VIP Executive Arts Hotel – has parking, is close to the airport, in a new part of Lisbon. Not close to the downtown if you’re walking, but a cab to the downtown is around 12 euros
    • Travel & Tales AirBnB – These guys have an apartment building in the Principe Real neighbourhood of Lisbon. The apartment is super gorgeous and they are great guys. They have an office on the main floor of their building and are easily available if you need any help.
  • Restaurant recommendations:

    • Sea Me (4/5) (for lunch) – the classic example of Lisbon cool. At once incredible cool, high quality, and unpretentious/relaxed. Great for lunch.
    • Cervejaria Ramiro (5/5) – This place is AMAZING. It’s famous for it’s amazing selection and quality of seafood. The concept is similar to a food hall in that you grab a seat at a shared table and the servers turn out your order quickly. There will almost certainly be a lineup and wait. We waited for 15 minutes, but your wait could be much longer. We suggest to order the shrimp, the clams, and goose barnacles (percebes). The lobster is also good. Everything there is good. Highly recommend.
    • Faz Gostos Lx (4/5) – This is a great place for higher end fancy Portuguese food, located in a building that used to be a convent. Perfect for a relaxing dinner in a beautiful space.
    • Stanislav Avenida (4/5) – This is a really good Russian restaurant. The pierogies and the steak tartare are our favourites. The service is excellent, and once again the restaurant itself is beautiful.
    • Bistro Edelweiss (2/5)- If you’re in the Principe Real neighbourhood and you’re looking for a restaurant with quality food, this is a good option. As you can surmise, they’re a German restaurant. The restaurant and service are both charming. Portugal is full of places that are overshadowed, yet still interesting and high quality. This is one of them.
    • Mercado da Ribeira (3/5) – In an area historically known for shipping, TimeOut turned a warehouse into a high end food court/food hall. Different top restaurants/chefs in Lisbon have fast food stalls here, so it’s a good way to explore the range of cuisine in Lisbon. As far as dining experience goes, it’s not ideal, but like everywhere in Portugal, they serve beer and wine.
    • Belcanto (3/5) – If you’re interested in fine dining, this is apparently the one to try. We haven’t tried it but it’s recommended by a trusted friend who vouched for its quality, especially given the price.
    • Esplanada Cafe (4/5) – This is a cafe located in the Jardim do Principe Real. It’s a great spot for breakfast, as it’s basically a greenhouse cafe in a park. For a satisfying snack we suggest you order a tosta mista, which is sort of like a grilled cheese open-faced sandwich.
    • Manteigaria (5/5) – Across the street from Sea Me, this is one of the best pastry shops in downtown Lisbon. Stop in for an espresso and a custard tart, and watch the bakers move through the motions of making pestels de nata in mass quantities. Dessert and a show!
    • Cantinho Lusitano: (?/5)We haven’t been here but it’s always been on our list. We always seem to be in Lisbon when it’s closed or very busy. Try it out for classic Portuguese cuisine!
    • The Mill (4/5) – This is a wine bar/snack bar owned by a friend of ours (Madeline) and some friends. You can definitely get breakfast here.
  • Bar recommendations:

    • Pavilhao Chines (2/5) – This place is pretty bizarre. Located in the Principe Real neighbourhood, it’s across the street from a park that offers beautiful views of Lisbon. It’s an old place that boasts a collection of knick knacks that ranges from the mundane to strange-bordering-on-offensive-in-some-cases. There are horribly malformed pool tables in the backroom. If you’re looking for a dark haunt where you can enjoy a beer, this is the place for you.
    • Kiosks (4/5) – there are little kiosks on the streets all over Lisbon. Some have tables and chairs in a little patio area. All serve coffee and pastries, and these are definitely part of Portuguese “breakfast” culture. Most also serve alcohol, and many straight up serve sangria, cocktails, etc. These are Kevin’s 2 favourite kiosk spots:
      • Largo do Carmo (beside a church, near the top of the elevator)
      • Bambu (on Avenida Liberdade, the main boulevard in Lisbon)
    • Pensao Amor (5/5) – This is a really cool bar with a burlesque theme. If you go early in the evening it’s laid back with couches, and comfy chairs, and filled with artists and student crammed around small tables. The cocktails are great and it’s a delightful place to people watch. In the evening it’s a great place for dancing.
    • Clube de Fado (4/5) – While in Lisbon you *definitely* want to go to a Fado bar. Fado is traditional Portuguese music, and it’s unique for its emotional themes and melancholy. Clube de Fado is the best place to go for a show. There’s actually a Moorish well in the corner of the performance room.
    • Be sure to visit a neighbourhood called Bairro Alte where you can climb the steps in the neighbourhood to explore the many small bars and clubs. You can grab a drink at one place and enjoy it as you continue to explore the rest of the street.
  • Sites to see:

    • In the City of Lisbon:
      • Walk around the city to explore the various squares
      • Neighbourhoods you must see, in the downtown, include Chiado and Bairro Alte – these 2 neighbourhoods have great nightlife, with lots of bars, people in the streets, etc.
    • Just outside of the city:
      • Jeronimos Monastery
        • The monastery has a free-entry church you can visit. It’s all in the neighbourhood of Belem. Down the street, you can go to the original Belem pastry cafe, which is where Portuguese custard tarts were invented! There will be a huge line out front for  counter service. Go inside and get table service, and the wait will be shorter. There is a massive seating area inside and the service is quick.
      • Near the Jeronimos Monastery there are lots of other things to see along the waterfront. Give yourself 2-3 hours to walk along the waterfront and enjoy the view.
      • Oceanario de Lisboa – if you’re interested in science and/or wildlife, this is a great aquarium to visit. Well-curated, educational, and lots of fun.
    • You can read all about our Lisbon adventures here, here, here, and here.

Interior of Portugal, Northeast, East, and Southeast of Lisbon

interior

  • Pioadao

    • Our score: 5/5
    • A truly magical place, if you’re comfortable with driving on winding roads. If you’re into driving, then this trip is worth seeing it for the journey and the destination. Read about your trip right here.
    • Piodao isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere, which is certainly why it’s as special as it is. If you’re driving from Porto to Lisbon (approx. 3 hours) and don’t mind adding an additional 3 hours of driving to your trip, it is well worth it. The best route, in our opinion, is to drive southeast from Porto, to Piodao, and then on to Marvao.
    • Piodao is one of the most beautiful and unique places we’ve visited in Portugal. It is a harrowing drive to get to this romantic and stunning little town, which is likely why they were isolated and without electricity into the 1970s. The homes are made of a stone called xist, which looks similar to slate. The town sits in a valley, and there’s nothing quite like listening to the bells of a heard of goats echoing off the hilltops. Highly recommended for a unique adventure.
    • Our visit here was relatively brief. We don’t have any recommendations for food or hotel, but there is a significantly sized hotel in town and what looked like some cute restaurants.
  • Tomar

    • Our score: 3/5
    • If you’re interested in history, particularly European medieval history and the Knights Templar, this is worth visiting. Now a small town of roughly 2000 people, Tomar was once a large and important trading centre that played a central role in some of the most notable periods in European history.
    • The town itself is lovely and quiet, with beautiful architecture. The site that you want to visit is the Convent of Christ, which is famous for being the last home of the Knights Templar in Portugal. With the expulsion of the Knights Templar, the convent evolved under the influence of various subsequent influential groups. It’s one of the better curated sites that we visited in Portugal, and you could easily spend 3+ hours here.
    • We were there for only one night. We stayed at a great Pensao, which is essentially a b&b with Portuguese hospitality (i.e. amazing spread for breakfast, 24/hour check-in). We ate a pretty good dinner at a medieval themed-restaurant, but there are a variety of food options in the city.
    • Also, there’s an aqueduct nearby
    • Distance to Lisbon? and Porto?
  • Marvao

    • Our score: 5/5
    • Another magical place. Marvao is a medieval city on the Eastern border of Portugal, beside Spain. It is a walled city that sits on top of a hill that has been a natural frontier between peoples since the 4th century BCE.
    • If you’re looking for a unique stop on the way from Porto to the Eastern Algarve (or even Spain), this is it. We arrived at night, parked outside of the town and walked in through the walls. We had dinner and then walked around in fog and moonlight. It almost felt like time travelling; it was beautiful and eerie and romantic.
    • In the morning after breakfast we explored the Castle of Marvao as clouds of fog rolled across the Portuguese-Spanish border. You could imagine people experienced the exact same view 1000 years ago.
    • directions/time from Lisbon and then onto the Algarve?
    • You can read about our trip to Marvao here.
  • Evora

    • Our score: 3/5
    • Evora is great if you’re into history and if you’re into food
    • This city has been continuously inhabited for more than 2000 years and thus is home to a wide variety of historical sites, including some ancient Roman ruins.
    • If food is your thing then you’ll want to stop in for lunch at an incredible lunch restaurant that only serves 9 people at a time. “Botequim da Mouraria” is run by a welcoming Portuguese couple. In their small restaurant, there’s bar seating only, which means that you’d best be there early to lineup for a seat, or aim to go on a weekday.

Getting from Lisbon to the Algarve

  • We did this drive a few times. The best option is to map it out on Google Maps, but select the “avoid highways” option. This will get you on a rural highway that goes up the western Portuguese coast, in particular an amazing drive through the interior or the Algarve and into the Alentejo (a very provincial, farm filled region of Portugal). There are some really gorgeous sites and views to be had along here, along with an amazing seafood restaurant.
    • Stop for lunch at Restaurante Azenha do Mar
      • Address: 7630-564 Azenha do Mar, Portugal
      • This restaurant is one of our favourites in the Algarve
      • Our best advice is to order the crab and the percebes (goose barnacles) if they have them.
    • Read about our roadtrips here and here.

Places to Visit in the Algarve (Ordered from West to East)

algarve

  • Sagres

    • Our score: 2/5
    • Sagres is a coastal town, and is the most south western point of the continental Europe. There is a fort there you can see, but there’s almost no educational information on site. The views from the coast are worth it, but if you’re keen to learn history, study up before you go (most Portuguese museums are low on information in this way)
    • Restaurant recommendation: A Sagres
      • This places serves incredible fresh seafood dishes
      • Order the special of the day…
      • Good things we had here: Clams are a must, percebes (goose barnacles), a fish/shrimp stew with pasta, and of course, their grilled sea bream.
    • Read about our trip there.
  • Carveoiro

    • Our score: 4/5
    • Faro is east of the centre of the Algarve. Alte is pretty much in the centre. As you go more west, towards Sagres, you’ll go through Carveoiro. It’s a gorgeous seaside town. I’ve only been there for dinner, but Kevin has been in the day and he says the beaches are beautiful.
    • Restaurant recommendation: Joao Marques’ restaurant “Terroir Wine Bar” Address: Estr. do Farol 103, 8400 Carvoeiro, Portugal.
  • Silves (Northeast of Carveoiro)

    • Our score: 3/5
    • Silves was a majorly important site and city back when Portugal was under Moor-ish control, and after that time as well. Silves is a wonderful and historic town, and it boasts the Castle of Silves. Well worth seeing!
    • Castelo do Silves (the Castle of Silves) is a beautiful place to visit. The museum is fairly informative and the castle itself is open enough that you can explore as much of it as you’d like. Naturally, it also contains a cafe where you can enjoy the sunshine and a beer while sitting in a castle that’s over a thousand years old.
    • Read about our trip to the castle here.
  • Alte

    • Our score: 5/5
    • Alte is a small town in the interior of the Algarve. Kevin’s grandparents are all from within 10km of here, and his grandmother currently lives there (this is where we stay when in Portugal). There is actually a hotel here, up in the hills, if you’re interested (Hotel d’Alte).
    • It’s famed as one of the most “traditional” or “typical” villages in the Algarve. In addition to being a really cute town, it also has a stream running through it, with public pools and spaces built in/along the stream that runs through the town. These are called the “Fonte Grande” and “Fonte Pecana”
    • Things to do:

      • Walk around the town and take photos of the beautiful buildings and cobblestone streets
      • Check out the churches, one of which is 500 years old
      • Go to the Fonte Pecana and then walk from there to the Fonte Grande.
    • Places to eat:

      • Agua Mel Cafe (4/5) They make the best pastries in town, and the best espresso. They make a pastry that is specific to Alte, called the “pastel d’Alte”. They also bake a lot of the pastries served at local restaurants. Along the back of the restaurant is a large balcony that offers stunning views of the valley.
      • Fonte Nova Snack Bar (5/5) – This is our favourite place toOrder whatever is the special. Do not even open the menu. The food is insanely good and well priced. The owner is ‘Ze, and his son is Tiago. Both have known Kevin his whole life.
      • Marreiros (5/5) – This restaurant is located just outside of Alte (37.276088, -8.228469). Carlos is the name of the owner his restaurant offers one of the best (and best value) meals in the Algarve. All meat and veggies are organic, bred by him. The food is so delicious and such a good deal. It’s a true local experience and a great showcase of the relationship between Portuguese cuisine and the Algarve landscape.
      • Read our blog posts about Alte: here, here, here, and here.
  • Central Algarve – Interior 

    • Because Kevin and I stay with his grandmother in the central Algarve, we also eat and beach in this area. The interior of the Algarve is full of beautiful country roads and scenery and often roaming herds of farm animals. It’s also home to some truly excellent restaurants!
    • Places to eat:

      • Restaurante Veneza (5/5) – This is one of our favourite restaurants in all of Portugal. The proprietors are wine dealers in addition to running an excellent restaurant. It’s completely unpretentious, and beautiful. You can eat in front dining room, or in the back in the ‘garafeira’ – Portuguese for ‘bottle storage room’. The food is best described as high end Portuguese comfort food. It’s warm, delicious, and thoroughly portioned, with many plates served family style. The wine selection is also unmatched. Their port wine collection is one of the best in Portugal.
      • Ramires (5/5) – This is our go-to spot after a day at the beach, located in a little town called Guia. Ramires is essentially a bbq chicken food hall. Order the chicken piripiri, french fries, and tomato salad, along with a bottle of vinho verde (green wine). We promise you’ll be satisfied.
      • Restaurante Antiquarios dos Leitoes (2/5) – If you’re in the area, this is a really good local, traditional restaurant, that serves BBQ pig. The food is delicious and the service is great. Similar to Ramires, the formula for ordering food here is: pork, french fries, salad.
      • Pizzeria Casavostra (1/5) – We don’t recommend this place super strongly, but if you’re craving something more North American, and if you’re interested in seeing what upper middle class Portuguese people think is fancy to spend their money on, you could go here.
  • Central Algarve – Beachside

    • The Algarve has one of the longest uninterrupted beaches in the world, so if you’re looking to beach in the Algarve then you have plenty of options. For the sake of convenience, Kevin and I visited beaches in the centre of the Algarve. Below are some of our favourite beaches and beachside bars:
    • Restaurante Pedras Amarelas – this was our go-to small beach. Their beachside bar is second to none for its easy laid back vibe.
      • Address: Praia de Galé, 8200-428 Guia – Albufeira, Portugal
    • Praia Gale – this is a large beach beside the small beach at Pedras Amarelas (above). If you like long walks on the beach and spending time where the locals go, this is the beach for you.
    • Restaurante Evaristo – This beach is quite small and its restaurant is pricier than most. However, the restaurant offers great food and it sits right beside the ocean. This is a great place to visit if you want to watch a sunset while enjoying a glass of wine.
      • Address: Praia do Evaristo, 8200-903 Albufeira, Portugal
    • Praia dos Pescadores in Albufeira – This is one of the most famous beaches in the Algarve. Albufeira is a popular party town for young British tourists, and the beach is always packed with tourists and locals alike. There are many bars and clubs in the Algarve, and after bars close there are often club events on the Albufeira beaches.
    • Praia Sao Raphael – This beach is tucked in behind a neighbourhood of expensive time share homes. It’s in a relatively small cove, and it’s one of my favourite beaches. The restaurant there makes unbelievably fresh and delicious seafood. Highly recommend! It’s also a great place to try paddle boarding.
    • Praia da Falesia: This beach is the most eastern of all our options. It’s famous for its beautiful red cliffs, and is another great beach for long walks and spending time with locals. This beach is near the towns of Vilamoura and Quarteria, which are where you’ll find many wealthy Portuguese tourists.
  • Loule (pronounced Low-lay)

    • Our score: 3/5
    • Loule is a regional city. It’s smaller than Faro, but bigger than most other towns in the Algarve. The downtown is full of beautiful old buildings, the most notable of which is the Market. It’s worth a visit for a few hours of shopping. Read this blog post to learn more about Loule.
    • Restaurant option: Avenida Velha (2/5) – This traditional Portuguese restaurant is quite very old, and run by an older couple. It’s not always open, but head upstairs to check it out, and eat there if it is!
  • Faro

    • Faro is the capital city in the Algarve
    • It’s a great place to explore, with lots to see.
    • Some restaurant recommendations:
    • Columbus Wine & Cocktail Bar – a great bar on the waterfront in Faro
    • Papparazzi – Italian food, which isn’t really what you want when in Faro, but if you’re craving it, this place is pretty good. Good prices for lunch.
    • The Palacio do Estoi is very close to Faro
  • Palacio do Estoi

    • Our score: 2/5
    • This palace is located in the town of Estoi, up in the hills North of Faro. It’s an old private palace that is now a boutique hotel.
    • As a tourist can walk around to explore their open rooms and gardens, and then have lunch on their patio. The view goes all the way to the ocean, and it’s a the perfect romantic spot to order a bottle of vinho verde (green wine) on the patio and enjoy the sunshine. Read about our time there in this blog post.
  • Olhao

    • Olhao is a fishing town along the coast in the Algarve, just East of Faro. It’s well known for it’s fresh fish, which is the primary reason we would recommend visiting there. If great seafood is your thing, then you should visit Olhao.
    • Places to eat: 

      • Restaurante Casa De Pasto Algarve (5/5) – This is one of the most famous restaurants in Olhao, in addition to being one of the oldest. If you go, order the ‘skate’ and the razor clams. They are not for everyone, but if you like experimenting with new foods, give it a try! As it’s a more traditional family run restaurant, expect service to be slow.
        • Address: Praça Patrão Joaquim Lopes 18, Portugal
      • Tapas e Lendas (3/5) – This restaurant is geared at younger people, and takes a modern/fusion approach to making Portuguese “Petiscos” (like tapas but bigger portions). When we were there they also had some kind of cauldron-related dinner theatre.

 

 

 

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Tips & Tricks for Stress-free Travel

On a trip a few years ago, a friend saw our hotel room, and teased us about how it looked like we’re quite settled in, because our stuff was absolutely everywhere. I assured him with an oft-heard Heather Page refrain: “don’t worry, I have a system”. But the thing is, I totally *do* have a system.

After years of travelling together, Kevin and I have some fairly solid steps we follow when planning a trip. Keep in mind that we don’t have kids, and rarely travel in big groups, both of which would add their own type of stress. Below follows our tips and tricks for travelling well together:

Tools

  • Agoda.com: this is the site of choice for booking accommodations when travelling in South East Asia. There are tons of listings for hostels and hotels, and they usually have really good flash deals/discounts. Outside that region, we do most of our booking through Booking.com, Airbnb.com, or SkyScanner.net
  • GoogleMaps: Probably the most important tool that we use. Kevin has an Android phone, so he’s able to pre-load maps. How? He views the whole geographical area on the map, and then types “ok maps” into the search bar, and clicks “enter”. This downloads the whole map onto his phone, so he can access it without wifi, allowing us to navigate with only his GPS. Pretty darn convenient. You can also star locations on GoogleMaps (on the phone or in your browser), and it will remember them.
  • TripAdvisor:  When we were in South East Asia, I was constantly on Trip Advisor. Before we headed to a new destination, I’d go through the top 30 listings or so, and look at locations near our hotel. From there, I’d make a list of places worth checking out. The value of the site varies by region. I didn’t find the reviews to be helpful at all in Europe, but South East Asia they helped me find some real gems.
  • Wikitravel: a real-life travel guide to cities written by fellow travelers. This advice on this site tends to be realistic, honest, and super practical. Some articles are  better than others, but Wikitravel is a great, simple resource for answering questions about cell phone service, neighbourhood dynamics, and transit.

Habits/Systems

The most important thing, that I cannot stress enough, is that for Kevin and I, travelling has become a serious team effort. We both do research that we share with each other, and we each execute different parts of our systems. A lot of our strategies are things that one of us learned or came up with separately, and then brought to our collective system of travel survival. Anyways, here are some things we do to keep ourselves in order.

Habits: 

  • Cash: When we travel, always make sure we have at least a bit of cash. That way, we can exchange a bit of it in the airport and enter a country prepared.
  • SIM Cards: One of the first things we do is purchase new SIM cards, get them into our phones, and then save each other’s new phone numbers. This is a big one for safety and convenience depending on where you’re going and whether you’ll be able to use your own phone on arrival. If you can’t, then research ahead of time so you’ll know when and where to get a SIM card.
  • Bring a pen: This is simple but super useful. When flying into a new country, you have to fill out paperwork. They’ll give you this paperwork on the plane, but they rarely have writing utensils. If you don’t have a pen, you either have to borrow a pen from a neighbour, of you have to wait until you get to the airport and use the pens there. By bringing a pen, you save yourself a ton of time going through Passport Control/Customers. Essentially, be prepared and get to the front of the line.
  • Know what you’re doing and where you’re going: Don’t wander out of the airport looking lost or confused. Know where you need to go, and have studied a map well enough to know what direction it’s in. This isn’t the most important thing of all time, but it’s a good rule of thumb for keeping safe and not getting ripped off.

Systems: 

Packing our suitcase

  • Packing clothes: I usually end up packing a variety of clothes, many of which I’m conscious of wrinkling (unless, of course, I just leave all of Kevin’s dress shirts in our closet, in which case wrinkling is the least of our worries). The best strategy I’ve followed so far is to just roll things up: dress pants, dress, shirts, etc.
  • Packing non-clothing items: It’s all about Ziploc bags. I can never have enough Ziploc bags: the medium and large sizes. It’s a great way to keep the suitcase clean while also keeping things organized, and knowing where things are. On top of that, it makes re-packing that much easier when getting ready to leave. Combined with my 2 makeup bags, it’s my best system yet:
    • Makeup bag: larger products that will mostly be used only by me, like large makeup stuff, hair products, bobby pins/elastics (in their own smaller bag, of course), contact lens solution. Toothpaste and toothbrushes usually go in here as well.
    • Medium Size Ziploc Bag: Anything remotely medicinal. This includes Advil, bug repellant, Tiger Balm, polysporin, band-aids, medical tape, cough drops, Imodium, among other things
    • Large Ziploc Bag: Things Kevin uses. This includes his infamous hair wax, baby powder, nail clippers, a comb, asthma puffers, and anything else he might look for over the course of a trip.
    • Other Larage Ziplock Bag: this one rarely has much in it. I usually keep 1 additional bag available while I’m packing. As I wrap up, I sometimes notice a few random items that I’ve forgotten, and I’ll toss these in the bag. The purpose here is to pack small things without losing them in the process. By tossing small but necessary random items into a bag, they become less lose-able.

Manageable Unpacking

  • Okay. We packed the suitcase, made it swiftly through the airport, and arrived at the hotel. What’s next? Some preparatory unpacking
    • Step 1: Sit the suitcase on something (a suitcase holder, or a bench, a chair, anything will do) and open it up
    • Step 2: Take out the dress shirts and pants, unroll them, and hang them up. Most hotels have at least 3 hangers. If they don’t, go ask the front desk for hangers. 3 is always enough to layer all Kevin’s shirts and pants in the closet, to avoid wrinkling. If there’s an extra couple of hangers for my dresses, that’s a bonus.
    • Step 3: Release the bags! I open the bags and move all related items to the right place. My makeup bag goes straight for the bathroom, along with half the stuff in the “Kevin” bag. The other bags sit in the suitcase, piled beside stacks of shirts and pants. All shoes are removed and placed near the entryway.

Other tips

  • Check the bed sheets and mattress for bed bugs. Not sure of strategy here. This is a Kevin-led process
  • Make sure the air conditioner works. You can also open the air conditioner and clean out/dust off the filter for max A/C. Again, not sure of strategy.
  • Get your electronic chargers out and ready, so they’re already there when you need them. There’s nothing worse than forgetting to charge your phone because you were in a foreign space. If you need an adapter and don’t have one, sort that out right away. Ask the front desk, as they usually have spares, and if they don’t, they can point you to the nearest convenience store to pick one up.
  • Check the WiFi and make sure it works. If it doesn’t, start figuring out where the nearest good WiFi spot will be. Pre-travel research is super helpful in this case.
  • Keep photo copies of your passport with you. If you have a travel visa, get a copy of that as well.
  • Don’t let the front desk keep your passport. When you check in, they’ll want to take a copy of your passport. From my experience, this is usually non-negotiable, though sometimes they’ll accept a drivers license. If they ask to just keep it and give it back to you later, insist that they instead make a copy right away. Make it clear that you don’t mind waiting, and you won’t leave without it.
  • Be mindful of the weight of your bag, and repack as needed. This is especially important if you’re travelling with a non-rolling suitcase and/or going somewhere that rolling isn’t always an option. We always travel with backpacks, which we use to carry heavier items.
  • Be patient with each other. Travelling is stressful. Be forgiving and be willing to help the other person, because in the long run it will make everyone’s travel experience better.

That’s all I can think of for now. Did I miss anything? Have questions? What other strategies do y’all follow? Comment away!

Our Guide to Lisbon

Lisbon is one of my favourite cities to visit. Like many cities in Europe, it is old-timey and gorgeous. The architecture and the intricate design to many of its buildings and squares show that it once was an extremely wealthy power, but has since declined. Keep an eye out for fancy old buildings that are looking good, and those that are falling apart.

Worth noting:

  • Lisbon is a city built on hills, which is an important part of its design. Keep an eye out for its streetcar system and its elevator… both the oldest in the world.
  • You can read about our experiences in Lisbon here, here, here, and here.
  • Breakfast is hard to come by anywhere in Portugal. The idea of brunch or breakfast being eggs, toast, etc, doesn’t exist in Portugal. Breakfast is an espresso and a pastry. In Lisbon, there are a few more options, and in most cafes you can get different types of ‘toast’ with a coffee (see below) 
  • Lunch is typically served between 11am and 3pm. If you want to eat between 3pm and 5:30pm, good luck. Most restaurants are closed at that time.
  • When you sit down at most Portuguese restaurants, they’ll put bread, pate, olives, etc on the table. If you eat these, the cost will be added to your bill. If you’re not interested, you can ask them to take it away, no problem.
  • Espumante is the word for Portuguese sparking wine (like Spanish cava or Italian prosecco). Be sure to try some while you’re there, as it’s rarely found outside of the country.
  • Common greetings include “bon dia” (good day or good morning), “boa tarde” (good afternoon), “boa noite” (good evening).

Places we’ve stayed:

  • VIP Executive Arts Hotel – has parking, is close to the airport, in a new part of Lisbon. Not close to the downtown if you’re walking, but a cab to the downtown is around 12 euros
  • Travel & Tales AirBnB – These guys have an apartment building in the Principe Real neighbourhood of Lisbon. The apartment is super gorgeous and they are really great guys. They have an office in the base of their building and are easily available if you need any help.

Restaurant recommendations:

Writing and re-writing this list for friends and family is almost painful because Portuguese cuisine is just so good. Every time I review this list I start looking at flights to Lisbon so I can go back all over again.

None of these places would be described as budget friendly, but relative to other capital cities, the price quality of Portuguese food, particularly at these places, is top notch.

  • Sea Me (for lunch)
  • Across the street is my favourite place to buy Portuguese tarts
  • Cervejaria Ramiro – this place is AMAZING. Has amazing seafood. Shared tables because it’s so busy. There will almost certainly be a line up and wait. We waited for 15 minutes, but your wait could be longer. Order the shrimp, the clams, and goose barnacles (percebes). Lobster was also good. Really, everything there is good.
  • Faz Gostos Lx – This is higher end fancy Portuguese food, in a building that used to be a convent. Very good food and service, in a beautiful setting.
  • Stanislav Avenida – A really good Russian restaurant. The pierogies are good, and so is the steak tartare. They speak great English, and the service is really good. Go for lunch or dinner.
  • Bistro Edelweiss – a pretty good German restaurant in Lisbon. In the Principe Real neighbourhood. Good food, great service.
  • Mercado da Ribeira – in an area of the city that’s revitalizing, TimeOut turned a warehouse into a high end food court. Different top restaurants in Lisbon have kiosks here. Not incredible, but an interesting variety of fast foods. One of the more budget friendly option in this list
  • Belcanto – I haven’t been here. It’s a michelin star restaurant that a friend of mine went to and loved.
  • Esplanada Cafe – this is a cafe located in the Jardim do Principe Real – great spot for breakfast. Sit down in what’s basically a greenhouse cafe in a park. Order a tosta mista… sort of like a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • The Mill – a wine bar/snack bar owned by a friend of ours. You can definitely get breakfast here.

Bar recommendations:

  • Pavilhao Chines – this place is pretty bizarre. Drop in for a drink to check out all the knick knacks they’ve collected here. It’s pretty hilarious.
  • Kiosks – there are little kiosks on the streets all over Lisbon. Some have tables and chairs in a little patio area. All serve coffee and pastries, and these are definitely part of Portuguese “breakfast” culture. Most also serve alcohol, and many straight up serve sangria, cocktails, etc. These are Kevin’s 2 favourite kiosk spots:
    • Largo do Carmo (beside a church, near the top of the elevator)
    • Bambu (on Avenida Liberdade, the main boulevard in Lisbon)
  • Pensao Amor – A really cool bar with a burlesque theme. Very laid back with couches, etc. You can chill out and have a drink. Great cocktails. This is a fairly unique place, and there are many other late night spots nearby.
  • Clube de Fado – while in Lisbon you *definitely* want to go to a Fado bar. Fado is traditional Portuguese music, and it’s unlike anything else. This is the best place to go for a show. There’s actually a Moorish well in the corner of the performance room.

Sites to see:

  • Jeronimos Monastery: You can pay to go inside the whole thing, or just see the church for free. Be sure to walk along the outside of the building to appreciate the detail of the carvings on the wall. This monastery and the many surrounding sites, all in an area known as “Belem” are about a 40 minute walk from the main core of the city, so you may want to take a cab to get there.
  • The original Belem pastry cafe (near the monastery): This is where Portuguese cream tarts were invented! There’s usually a big line out side. Instead of waiting there, go inside and get table service, and the wait will be shorter. The cafe is quite large, so just head inside and find a seat.
  • Near the Jeronimos Monastery there are lots of other sites to walk around and see, including the “Monument of the Discoveries” and the “Tower of Belem“, which is over 500 years old.
  • Anywhere you are, put on your serious shoes and walk around the city to explore the various squares. Walking in Lisbon can be tough due to the hills, but it’s a small enough city that you can walk just about anywhere. 
  • Neighbourhoods you must see, in the downtown core, include Chiado and Bairro Alte – these 2 neighbourhoods have great nightlife, with lots of bars, people in the streets, etc.
  • The Lisbon Oceanarium is also quite cool, and worth checking out. It’s in a modern area of the city, so you will likely have to cab there, but it is worth it.
  • Be sure to walk down to the waterfront to see where Portuguese exploring ships used to dock for royal pomp and pageantry after a long trip. Don’t eat in the restaurants on the square by the waterfront though, because they’re mostly tourist traps.

Lisbon is a great city, full of great people. We spend the majority of our time there walking around, eating delicious food, and drinking Portuguese wine. If you like any of those things, then you’re sure to love Lisbon.

For more stories on how you can have fun in Lisbon, check out our blog archive on Lisbon.

Enjoy!