Portugal Summer Travel tips please
April 21, 2009 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Wife, 4 yr old and self want to explore Portugal for 8-10 days in mid July. Would appreciate your recommendations for eats, drinks, beaches, places to stay and mode of transport. Our budget is in the range of U$200 - $250 per day. One attractive option is to hire a camper van, though that would chew most of our daily budget. Thanks!
posted by lapsang to Travel & Transportation around Portugal (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I only spent a couple of weeks in Portugal, many years ago, but I did enjoy wandering around the old part of Sagres, and there are some excellent beaches. The rest of the Algarve, even then, was getting awfully built-up and tourist-campy, but there are still some nice spots.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:07 PM on April 21, 2009

If I remember correctly Portugal has a very developed bus system, which is the preferred means of communication above train/planes. But hopefully someone more knowledgable than me can confirm/correct that.

What I really wanted to tip you about, if you are in the Lisbon area, you should check out Sintra. It is a mountaineous castle-area near the coast, with Narnia-esque ruins of old Moor forts and picturesque Disney palaces. All on steep and woody hills with magical forests. I am pretty sure myself as a 4 year old would absolutely love to explore it. (Myself as 30 did at least)

Your 4 year old mileage may vary..

Note: Some of the ruins and castles "close" around 6 pm. Be there early and remember water. If you are in Lisbon, it is a 40-50 minute train ride away. Also, the coastline between there and Lisbon is beautiful, lots of sandy beaches and nice places.

Pena Palace
Moor Castle
posted by gmm at 1:46 AM on April 22, 2009

Best answer: Along with Sintra, I really enjoyed Obidos (another link), Coimbra (another link), Porto, Braga, and Peniche. Cascais has nice beaches a little bit out of town, much nicer than the beaches in the town. It is a nice upscale and touristy town in its own right and a quick drive along the coast from Lisbon. I didn't find Aveiro to live up to its claim of being the Venice of Portugal. In all, I preferred the north of Portugal. I drove from Porto out to Miranda do Douro and while there is nothing to do in Miranda do Douro, the drive in and out is fantastic.

The one hotel that was charming enough to recommend it by name is Pensão Astória in Porto. It is nearly impossible to find, parking is tight for even the smallest cars, but it is charming and in the Ribeira district (which is where you want to stay in Porto). In Peniche, I stayed in one of the two (fairly cheap) hotels right on the harbor which I can recommend because it is in the heart of town and we had a beautiful view.

I would suggest renting a car and staying in hotels because it will be cheaper and allow you to explore the cities better and interact more with locals. The city streets and alleys can be quite tight, so a smaller car is preferable. The highways are first rate, but the rural routes are much more fun to travel and see the country. That said, outside of major cities be prepared to use your Portuguese traveling terms. Buy a guide book and learn how ask the basic questions.

For dining, be prepared to adapt to the Portuguese schedule somewhat. Delicious espresso and pastries from little cafes for breakfast. A hearty lunch and late dinner with Portuguese wines.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 3:12 AM on April 22, 2009

As far as the Algarve goes, Carvoeiro and the beaches around it are still relatively unspoiled.

Portugal is very easy to drive around, even the motorways are comparatively quiet and it's generally a pleasurable experience. As mentioned above there is a decent bus service, but I would recommend hiring your own transport.

My only other advice is eat as much local food as you can. Bacalhau, cozido, fresh sardines, alcatra. Seafood rices and soup. The Portugese steak prepared in red wine is incredible.
posted by fire&wings at 3:28 AM on April 22, 2009

Oh, and mid July will be searingly hot in the south, so plan accordingly.
posted by fire&wings at 3:29 AM on April 22, 2009

I'd second recommendations for Sintra and Porto. I'd also definitely say give yourself at least three days in Lisbon as it's a pretty fantastic city. If you are travelling about and are looking for regional accomodation, I'd strongly recommend using http://www.manorhouses.com/ to book - either the Pousadas or the manor houses. Pousadas are basically government run former castles, monasteries, palaces etc. now run as hotels, while the manor houses are spectcular private houses. Both are surprisingly cheap. We stopped at http://www.manor-houses-portugal.com/porto-douro/amarante-casa-de-levada.html which is approximately $75 a night and provided stunning views, accomodation and hospitality.

(That place is in the Duoro valley which I also highly recommend if you want scenic, out of teh way Portugal)
posted by Hartster at 3:37 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Damn too slow... all great suggestions above.

Obidos is great; there's often something happening. The medieval festival is good; outdoor opera or theatre is also good.

I know Peniche too well probably, not so interesting unless you surf. There is a very strange little chapel at the end of the cape at Remedios. About as far West as you can go in mainland Europe and there's an old wooden mummy/fetish/relic in a semi-subterranean chapel. Peniche is often cooler than even a few miles inland. (So obscure there's no interweb linkage)

Sintra really is wonderful. It'll take a few days. Also cool. Lots to see.

Lisbon will take a few days. We stayed in Cascais, it's much less frantic and more relaxing than the city centre; there's a train every 20 mins into the centre of Lisbon. The Gulbenkian museum is well worth a visit. Great collection of stuff. Dont bother with the aquarium but your 4 year old may like the Santa Justa Lift. Can be hot.

Stay in hotels.
Hire a car (dont get anything huge).
Drink Port.
Dont buy fish by the kg in restaurants.
You might want mosquito nets.
You definitely want superstrength sunscreen.
Check bills & prices (taxis and restaurants can overcharge)

Erm, it's hot:-
Get up early, retreat inside to avoid the midday heat and make up time at night (dinner normally starts about 9 and goes on till 11 or 12, then there's port time).

Have a good time!
posted by BadMiker at 7:49 AM on April 22, 2009

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