When you think of the perfect trip, there’s probably plenty that comes to mind. Maybe it's a perfect beach, a perfect surf break, perfect hike or meal. The idea of ‘perfect’ is undeniably subjective. But when you summarize everything that could potentially make a trip ‘perfect’, there are few places in the world that check basically every box. One of those places is Portugal. A country that has thousands of years of history, is coastal, has picturesque beaches on one end and vineyards on the other, hundred-year-old cities in the centre and some of the best food you’ve ever had. Portugal is perfect. In addition to all these qualities, the country is relatively safe, most locals speak many languages, roads are easy to navigate, there is art EVERYWHERE, you can surf on basically the entire coastline, the sun shines 300 days a year and it's a relatively inexpensive country to visit.
We planned a road trip around the country. We visited lots of cities and beaches but what you're reading here is the best of the best - if its mentioned, you can rest assured that its worth the trip.
The trip began with a flight from Toronto to Lisbon — seven and a half hours direct. Lisbon is a major European city but still small enough to familiarize yourself in a handful of days. We planned on driving the country but you definitely don't need a car in Lisbon the same way you don’t need or want a car in New York. The transit can take you everywhere and if it doesn’t, you can take an Uber almost anywhere for under €10. In Lisbon, we stayed in an area called Barrio Alto — this is the ‘party’ area with all the nightlife and restaurants. If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, I would recommend Principe Real — this is a bit more upscale, we stayed here on the tail end of our trip in a hotel called 1869 Principe Real, one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
In Barrio Alto we stayed in a hotel called Le Consulat, absolutely beautiful hotel right in the centre of the neighbourhood — I highly recommend this place. Aside from being right across the street from Manteigaria, debatably Portugal's best Pasteis, the entire city is easily accessible from here. It’s a great home base.
Portugal is known for its baked goods and seafood — so make sure to make the most of these while you’re here. There is a place called Timeout Market around the corner from Le Consulat that is foodie heaven. It's a massive market with micro versions of the city’s best restaurants all in one place. You can’t visit Lisbon without going here. Some of the other must tries include Sol E Pesca, a Bourdain spot (bless his soul) known for canned fish meals, A Cevicheria, Decadente, Prado and a bunch others that are listed on the map below. Sol E Pesca is on the street where all the nightlife is — it’s easily identifiable because the road is painted pink. Around the corner is a place called Park, a bar on the top level of a parking garage. This place is incredible. Go early and snag a table. Another must-visit spot in Lisbon is LX Market. This place is pretty cool — a massive market just on the edge of the city full of bars, restaurants, bookstores and vintage shops. Another must see/do while in the city. If you’re in town on a Sunday, make sure to visit Feira da Ladra, a massive flea market that goes for blocks. There's nothing like thrifting in a an old European city.
From Lisbon, we grabbed a car and started driving south to our first stop, Comporte — a wealthy beachside town about an hour from Lisbon. It's basically just a nice beach with a cool restaurant called Comporte Cafe. Not a ton to do in the town but there are apparently some amazing hotels here like Sublime Comporte which was unfortunately not available when we were passing through. It's a nice stop but the beaches get even nicer as you continue driving south.
Continuing down the coast we entered Alentejo which is famous for food and wine. You can literally pull over at any place on the highway and have one of the best meals of your life. That's what we did at Gulli Bistrot. A random stop in Aljezur that was surprisingly delicious for a highway pitstop.
Keep heading south and you get to a town called Sagres — which is referred to as the ‘end of the world’. Take a look at it on a map and you’ll see why. Sagres is a surf town on a tiny peninsula at the south end of Portugal. A lot of expats here, great surf breaks, cafes and restaurants. Definitely worth spending a night or two. We spent a full day at Praia De Beliche — absolutely one of the nicest beaches we’ve ever seen — hidden caves and grottos and very few people around.
From Sagres we continued down the coast which turns eastward toward the Algarve. There is so much good to say about the Algarve but, like, the beaches holy shit. It’s hard to believe these are right in the heart of Western Europe. I'll let the pictures do the talking here but just know there is not a coastal town in the Algarve that doesn’t have a jaw-dropping beach. I know because I literally went to every single one. Porto Covo, Aljezur, Faro, Carvoeiro, Lagoa and tens of beaches in each town. There's too many to name but they are all unbelievable. If I had to pick one beach you absolutely cannot miss I would go with Bengal or Praia da Marinha (yes I know this is two beaches but they both have hidden grottos you've got to swim up to). These hidden grotto beaches are wild, they have holes in the ceilings that blast beams of light onto tiny pieces of the beach hidden from the world. You’ve really never seen anything like this — check out the photos. For restaurant and hotel tips, see the map at the bottom but who even cares about food, the beaches wow.
From the Algarve, we headed north. Our was to get to Porto with a couple stops along the way. If I were to do this trip over, I’d probably fly from the Algarve right to Porto. Only reason being is I wish I had more time in the North.
We stopped in Evora first. It has a Roman Temple, incredibly beautiful architecture and great restaurants — it’s also a UNESCO world heritage site. We stayed in a dreamy hotel called Evora Olive. You don’t need more than a night here but definitely worth the stop if you’re driving north.
From Evora, we headed toward Coimbra, another stop on the way to Porto. It’s beautiful and has a famous library that is apparently one of the oldest in the world. The town is quiet and beautiful and has great food but we probably could have spent an afternoon here rather than a night.
We eventually made it to Porto which was definitely a highlight of the trip. It's a hard place to describe. If you were to call Lisbon the ‘New York of Portugal’, Porto would definitely be the Paris. This is where you make a baby. Super romantic and beautiful city built up and down hills and on a river lined with restaurants and bars. I really wish we had more time here. A truly magical place. We ate at a few amazing restaurants like Miss Opo (wow), Taberna d’Avo (wow), O Paparico (wow) just to name a few. It's probably a good time to mention that Portugal has 30 Michelin Star restaurants. You can stumble into them without even knowing. There are ones that can cost under €30 for a meal. Also, make sure to find some good Churrasqueiras, they’re everywhere.
There is a street in Porto called Travessa De Cedofeita. There's a tiny little cafe called Cubik. Go there and grab brunch and a coffee. Walk the streets around here. This is one of the cooler areas in Porto. Lots of artisan shops, cafes and vintage shops. This area was a highlight.
Our last stop was in Peniche. This was sort of a last minute idea. Peniche is not really a big tourist destination. It's a little surf town in Portugal and just north of Lisbon. This town is surreal, it's like a little fishing village with lots of surf, a bunch of cool shops and restaurants but hidden surf breaks all over. There's a little beach called Praia de Belial with a strip of sand that connects the main roads to a beach town. The connecting road has one-way traffic with ocean tide coming right up to your car. We ate a restaurant in the little town. The guy taking our order literally are fished the food out of the ocean hours before he served us (Taberna do Ganhão, see map below). There is a hotel called Surfers Lodge just up the street. Behind the Lodge, there is a dirt path. Drive down this path and wind up at a pretty wild hidden surf break.
All in all, you can probably tell I really liked Portugal. Each city seemed more impressive than the one before it. If you’re looking for more tips, feel free to reach out to me directly. I could have written another short essay about this country but I tried to keep it short and sweet. There's plenty of places I've travelled to and thought, “One day I'll live here” but Portugal seems the most realistic as its affordable, has so much to offer, not that far from home and has lots and lots of surf, everywhere. It is, in so many ways, the perfect excellent adventure.