Andrew and I always have a problem when we go to a new country, and the problem is we want to see EVERYTHING during our short little American vacations. So we always try to do a lot of pre-planning before take-off to strategize the right amount of sightseeing (and sleeping). For Portugal, we basically wanted to see the entire country in a week, which is kind of crazy. Looking back, we really fit a lot into 9 days. And man oh man would we have loved to linger in every spot. So if you are lucky and have a few more days to fill - I would say any of these places are worth tacking on some extra time.
Land in Porto, Portugal. Explore Porto
Explore Porto, Foz
Tour of the Douro Valley
Drive to the Algarve, lunch at Evaristo, check into hotel
Relaxing beach day, explore Tavira
Trip to Praia da Marinha and the Bengali Caves
Explore Lagos, head to Lisbon
Ok, so it was a little aggressive. We just had SO much we wanted to see. If we had it our way, we would have at least another full day in each place - but we don't want to get greedy. To be honest, we loved every single second of this trip. Even the driving wasn't really a pain, the roads are so well marked and surprisingly not busy at all. Here are a few random tips that will help getting around this country without issue:
Like most European countries, tipping is usually 10% of your bill for meals, and around 1 - 5 € for bellboys, etc. We also applied that same gratuity to our housekeepers in our hotels (1 - 5 € per night).
LEARN A FEW PHRASES
Andrew and I both had years and years of language courses (although we both wish we had more) in Spanish and French, so we can typically find our way around countries without issue. We were so embarrassed at ourselves on the plane ride over that neither of us knew any Portuguese! We quickly did a few hurried lessons, but we felt silly for overlooking this key part of planning. Every single person we ran into spoke English - but we always try to make an effort to speak at least the pleasantries in the native language.
At home, Andrew and I are always on the early bird schedule when it comes to eating out, but on vacation we warp into these fabulously chic late night diners, and that fit well into the Portuguese time line. Most people don't even think of eating dinner until 9pm, which gave us so much extra time to explore in between meals. Not that we plan our days around meals or anything...(we do).
Because we obviously need to discuss this very important part of traveling - wine. Portugal has some very interesting and delicious wines, but don't turn your nose up at their "table wines". I feel like that's a looked down upon phrase in most of the world, but in Portugal, it literally means wine they want to serve the table. They are often VERY good and very inexpensive.
WHEN TO GO
I really believe there anytime you can get to another country is a good time, but as with most of the warm tourist spots in Europe - we've heard that July and August are absolutely nutty in some sections of the country. We went in late May, and although there were some crowds - we were able to easily navigate with minimal lines, etc. Crowds and lines might be my biggest anxiety-inducer of all, so traveling in the off season is right up my alley. The weather was absolutely perfect too - I can't imagine how hot it must get in the middle of the summer (but you always have the beaches!).
rental car TRANSPONDERS
What is a transponder you ask? It's like an little easy pass that attaches to your windshield. This is extra important in Portugal, because they have little tolls that pop up on the middle of the interstate without even a warning (meaning you can't avoid them). If you don't have a transponder, you have to find the local post office to pay your tolls. Which kind of sounds awful.
GetTING TO THE ALGARVE
We drove from Porto to the Algarve one morning, and when we told people we were doing this they looked at us like we were crazy. It's about 4.5 hours, and we just figured it was like driving to Vermont, so we were surprised by people's reactions. But the drive was honestly SO easy. You basically follow one single highway (A1) all the way until you reach the "Welcome to the Algarve" sign. So although it's a long drive, it's rather painless - mostly with good company.
So much more info coming your way! Stay tuned to for the city by city guides!