Jaillan Yehia

5 days In Portugal: 5 Places To Go

Written by Jaillan Yehia

Post Categories: Continents | Europe | Opinion | Portugal

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Postcards of Lisbon

Postcards of Lisbon

My first ever post-university package holiday all by myself was to Portugal. I loved holidaying solo and both the concept of solo travel and Portugal itself have done nothing but grow on me over the years.

In fact I’ve been visiting Portugal for decades, so when I realised I’ve now been on 5 separate visits to the Iberian Peninsula’s West coast nation (6 if you include the juice retreat detox holiday on The Algarve) I thought I’d put together a brief guide to my 5 top Portugal highlights.

From the the slow-paced rhythm of the beautiful Alentejo to the distinctly relaxed yet fun holiday vibe of its easy to reach coastal resorts, Portugal has a lot to offer.

Maybe you’re lured in by Portugal’s long coastline too. Or the sleepy rural idyll of the country’s farmland-filled interior might be more your style. Perhaps you relish the buzz of Portugal’s picturesque cities?

Whatever the case, these are the top 5 places I think you should seek out in Portugal  –  all of which I’m longing to revisit.

5 days in Portugal, 5 Places To Go

1 Lisbon

Sunset views of Lisbon from one of the city's miradouros

Sunset views of Lisbon from one of the city’s miradouros

I will admit here that the first time I visited Lisbon I had some qualms about it – the city is absolutely breathtaking by any measure, and packed with culture, incredible viewpoints (known as miradouros) and upbeat nightlife, but somehow a combination of bad weather, run down neighbourhoods and a lack of food options outside mealtimes conspired to leave me a little disappointed.

Instead of writing it off though, I headed back a few years later, and I’m so glad I gave Lisbon a second chance.

Fast forward a few years and the culinary scene had exploded, the city had been cleaned up, and (sensitive) regeneration was to be found around every corner, along with the jaw-dropping views with which the city is synonymous, meaning Lisbon now makes the perfect European city getaway which I would choose in a heartbeat over both Paris and Barcelona.

Why I loved it (and think it should be on your itinerary for 5 days in Portugal):

Pasteis de Belem Portuguese custard tart on a plate in Lisbon

Pasteis de Belem Lisbon

The quaint yellow trams, the cobbled streets and architecture, the flea market finds, the breathtaking cityscapes, the heady atmosphere – yes they’re all amazing. But there’s one other inescapable reason to be sweet on Lisbon: the legendary Portuguese pastries Pasteis de Nata at Lisbon’s Belem bakery which are a reason to get on the plane all by themselves.

2 Sintra

Sintra Palace in Portugal

Sintra’s Pena National Palace, snapped from the hills

Usually visited as a day or overnight getaway from Lisbon, Sintra is a short 40-minute train ride away from the Portuguese capital, but it is also a world away. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that arriving in Sintra is like stepping into a fairytale.

A Unesco World Heritage site, most famous for its incredible palace and historical connection to Lord Byron, Sintra makes the perfect forested antidote to urban Lisbon on a short break.

It’s also a lovely place to unwind and enjoy some Portuguese specialities such as Ginjinha – a sour cherry liqueur, often served in an edible chocolate cup.

Why I loved it (and think it should be on your itinerary for 5 days in Portugal):

Sintra buildings in the sunshine

Sintra in the sun

Sintra has been delighting visitors for years – myself included. It’s not often that I would take the same excursion from a city twice, but I wouldn’t visit Lisbon without popping over to Sintra. The setting is incredibly memorable, so I would definitely recommend allowing at least a morning or afternoon for Sintra as part of your 5 days in Portugal.

The only downside about Sintra is its (deserved) popularity, so it can be prone to being packed. My advice from experience is to hire your own set of wheels if at all possible, so you have the freedom to visit outside peak hours (and ideally outside peak season entirely) – meaning you can really slow down and enjoy the place at your own pace.

3 The Algarve

Portugal beach

5 days in Portugal? Spend at least 1 day on the beach!

The Algarve has a special place in the affections of us Brits as the perfect Portuguese holiday location. It’s blessed with year-round sunshine, plentiful sandy beaches and golf courses, and of course the ease of accessibility from UK airports helps make it a popular choice for families and groups.

One of the things that’s most appealing about this stretch of the Portuguese South coast is that it caters to every type of holidaymaker – if you’d like a relaxed week in a villa with your kids, you can hide away in the hills surrounded by nature, but if you want a bit more buzz, or to be near the nightlife you can find any type of hotel in the area, from palatial all inclusives and big resorts to boutique accommodation and b&bs.

If you’re planning 5 days in Portugal, are flexible on your itinerary, and want to combine some city and beach action, it’s worth checking prices and times on flights to Faro as well as Lisbon and Porto.

Why I loved it (and think it should be on your itinerary for 5 days in Portugal):

feet in a pool at a villa in Portugal

Can I live here please?

The Algarve was the scene of my first ever grown-up solo holiday, and I will always treasure the sense of freedom I felt when, after snapping up a last-minute low-cost week in the sun on Teletext I realised that I could go anywhere the wind blew me, and the world was my oyster. That love of travel has stayed with me  – and changed my life.

If you’re looking for the perfect starter holiday as a solo traveller, the Algarve is a pretty safe bet.

4 Porto

Porto, cityscape, Portugal

Porto is Lisbon’s little sister, slightly more rough and tumble and a bit later to the tourism party, but that’s probably because it was busying itself with all that Port-making and local wine producing so the city had quite enough on its hands anyway.

The city has a charming river, which gets greener and cleaner the farther out of the city you venture, but the inner city exude a modern buzz, and being a university town, there’s always a party going on somewhere.

Why I loved it (and think it should be on your itinerary for 5 days in Portugal):

The riverside in Porto, Potugal

The riverside in Porto

I have a tendency to love a second city, the underdog if you will. I like Sao Paolo more than Rio, Aarhus more than Copenhagen, Stavanger more than Oslo  – you get the picture. While I loved Lisbon, there’s something even more exciting about Porto, let’s face it the youthful atmosphere and spill-onto-the-streets nightlife doesn’t hurt.

So I’d really advise you to try and fit in a night in Porto to see a very different side of Portugal.

5 The Alentejo

Are you the kind of traveller who likes to uncover an unsung hero, a secret destination, and get that feeling of discovering somewhere truly special. The Alentejo region of Portugal, will give you all this and more.

The area isn’t what that’s especially popular with tourists, but a smattering of them find their way here every year, and the rewards are pretty special.

From cork farms and sleepy villages to whitewashed churches and rocky coastlines, authenticity is the name of the game. The Alentejo is also a photographer’s dream.

Why I loved it (and think it should be on your itinerary for 5 days in Portugal):

Sunset at a Beach at Zambujeira do Mar

Beach at Zambujeira do Mar

Whether it’s a city break or a beach holiday that is on your wishlist, Portugal has you covered, but The Alentejo is definitely the part of Portugal for those seeking an off the beaten path destination that you’ll be raving about at dinner parties for years to come. This region even has its own answer to Stonehenge, something very few travellers to Portugal will ever have the chance to see.

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