This time last year I was getting ready for a relaxing girls trip over the Labor Day holiday with my cousin who lives in Sweden. Even though we’re on opposite ends of the globe, we’ve been intentional about meeting up periodically for our beloved “cousin trips” around the world — the benefits of having a like-minded cousin who values travel and experiences just as much as I do! Our last trip together was New Orleans, Louisiana and we had a blast, so this time we picked a place on the other side of the pond to meet up and she suggested Portugal!
While Portugal wasn’t high on my list, I’m always willing to explore a new place or country which is why I didn’t mind going along with her suggestion. Also, Portugal was beginning to pop up on my radar as more and more travel influencers, bloggers, and friends were making their way here and their colorful pictures of Lisbon were enough to peak my interest!
Although the trip planning started with the two of us, we quickly added a couple more cousins (from Cali) to join us and it officially became a proper Girls Trip!! With 4 bonafide travelista’s on this trip, the planning process was super easy; everyone gave their input, we shared links and resources on our group chat via WhatsApp and we were all on the same page when it came to having a mix of adventure and relaxation on this trip.
Side note: you should always decide to go on a trip for yourself first, regardless of who’s coming, and if you’re lucky people will join you but that should never be the deciding factor.
We had 5 days to explore and ended up splitting our time between Lisbon and South Portugal, also known as the Algarve. As a result, we got to enjoy the sites of the city and the slower pace of Portugal’s beach towns. Now more than ever it seems like everyone I know is making their way to Portugal so I wanted to share my quick highlights of what we covered and all my favorite parts.
For the purposes of our trip, to relax and re-connect with cousins, Portugal overall was a wonderful experience. However, I will say I was a bit underwhelmed by Lisbon. I know there’s plenty that I didn’t get to see given the time restraints but sometimes the excitement for a city just isn’t there for me.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely things I loved about Lisbon, like the delicious pastries and how friendly the locals were but as a whole, the city lacked something for me. I’m not sure if it was the slower pace of the city (which is odd for a capital city) or the time of year we went but I felt like Lisbon has been overhyped in my opinion. I still managed to have a good time and compile my Top 10 things to Do and See in Lisbon (see below) and I hope it helps you if you’re planning to visit.
On the other hand, my favorite part of our trip was the Algarve which I knew very little about prior to visiting. The South of Portugal with its beautiful beaches stole the show for me and if I were to return to Portugal, I would spend more time here for sure and visit other cities like Porto. I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit both Lisbon and the Algarve for myself; we walked away feeling well rested and that’s really what we came here for, mission accomplished.
Quick Trip Details
- Month: September
- Length of Stay: 5 days (Saturday – Wednesday)
- Holiday Weekend: Labor Day
- Transportation: Train & Uber available
- Key Phrase: “Obrigado” means “Thank You”
Part 1: Guide to Lisbon
Our first stop on our Portugal Girls Trip was Lisbon, the Portuguese capital that’s gaining more and more attention from tourists and quickly becoming a go-to destination with beautiful weather, friendly people, and one of the more affordable European countries to visit. We coordinated our flights to arrive in Lisbon at the same time and after I found my cousin Ruthie (the other two were already waiting for us at the airbnb) we hopped on the train into the city for brunch with my cousins friend. We ate at Choupana Caffe, a clean and modern cafe located near the Saldanha subway station and little did we know we’d be back here for breakfast/pastries almost everyday for the remainder of our trip, it was that good!!
We were lucky to have a couple of locals show us around and offer recommendations to make the most of our trip and so far, our first stop did not disappoint. I’ve never had so many pastries and sweets in my life and because of Choupana Caffe and Lisbon overall, I’ve officially developed a sweet tooth. This is not ideal given I’m in my 30s and my metabolism is slowing down but I guess when you’re in Lisbon with your girls, live it up!!
Below I share my top 10 recommendations of things to see and do in Lisbon, check it out!
Lisbon is very small and easy to get around by train, bike, or on foot. We also used Uber often to get from place to place and spent less than 10 Euros on each trip. While we stayed in a cute Airbnb in the center of Lisbon, near Old Town, you can stay pretty much anywhere in the city and get around effortlessly. Given the methods of transportation listed above, I don’t recommend renting a car if you’ll just be staying in Lisbon but when you’re ready to head south to the Algarve or take a day trip to Sintra, you may want to rent a car then.
One thing for sure is that you’ll be doing a lot of walking! Lisbon is a colorful city built over seven hills so bring comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk up and down the cobblestone streets. Lisbon is a city that reminds me of San Francisco with all the steep hills and there’s even a red bridge that looks like the Golden Gate Bridge.
10 Things to See and Do
1. Try Pastel de nata
Have you really visited Portugal if you leave without trying this famous pastry? I think not. Portugal’s signature pastry, Pastel de nata, is a creamy egg tart/custard that when done right is super delicious. I tried these egg tarts three different times while in Lisbon but be warned, not all Pastel de nata’s are created equal!! My favorite place to get them was Choupana Caffe (see below) but you can also check out the original recipe at the Pastéis de Belém bakery.
2. Indulge in all the Croissants at Choupana Caffe
Not only does Choupana Caffe have the best Pastel de nata’s in town (from what I tried), their latte’s pair nicely with any one of their pastries! From day one we could not get enough of their croissants and avocado toast, I highly recommend going to Choupana Caffe for brunch everyday because why not?!
The most popular croissants are the Nutella and red velvet croissants. My cousin developed a serious addiction for the red velvet croissant and even made sure to bring one back with her to Sweden! Then, she realized she needed to get herself together after her vacay was coming to an end and her healthy lifestyle was calling her back, so she decided not to indulge. But… while you’re in Lisbon, eat all the croissants you can, YOLO!
3. Hop on Lisbon’s Iconic Trams
Okay, so Lisbon’s trains (funiculars) are what I came for! First off, I love trains and when they are as cute as the one’s in Lisbon, I couldn’t wait to hop on one and take a short trip up the hill. And let’s be real, I also needed a picture for the ‘gram!
Lisbon was giving me all sorts of San Francisco vibes, so it makes sense why they’ve incorporated these trams throughout the city to help with transportation up and down these steep hills. Many of the trams are super old and the most iconic one is “Tram 28” which has been working its way up the steep, cobbled roads and into the old Alfama district for many years.
4. Spend the Day at the Beach:
A beach day sounds like a no brainer and luckily Lisbon has several beaches to choose from nearby. We ended up at Costa Da Caparica beach, just under a 30 minute drive from central Lisbon, where you’ll see colorful fishing boats propped up on the sand and local families enjoying the water. We had a lazy day at the beach with access to restaurants and cafes and ended the day with a beautiful sunset. Perfect day-trip if you ask me.
Some other beaches to consider are Cascais beach (more touristy) and Carcavelos beach.
5. Learn about Lisbon’s African Roots Tour
Lisbon is a known as a “city of immigrants” and the opportunity to “see the city through the eyes of an African immigrant” was very appealing to us as we are also immigrants from Africa, East Africa to be exact. We had every intention of doing this 5 hour Airbnb tour when we first arrived in order to better understand the influence of African culture in Lisbon through music and food but we just didn’t have the time.
While we weren’t able to fit it into our itinerary, it came highly recommended by my cousin’s friend (another African) who lives in Lisbon and so if you have the time, I encourage you to check it out, especially if you have an interest in learning about the intersection of African and Portuguese history and culture.
6. Santa Luzia Overlook of the Tagus river
Views on views on views! For amazing views of Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood and the Tagus river, you must visit the view point of Miradouro De Santa Luzia. Here you’ll find orange rooftops of Alfama houses, a beautiful terrace, and in the center of it all, the Santa Luzia Church, a quaint church with blue and white tiles, a bright red door, and a colorful garden.
7. Get Lost in Lisbon’s Alfama District
I highly recommend getting lost in the oldest part of Lisbon known as Alfama! This little village is known for its steep hills, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings. With every turn there’s something new to explore and we enjoyed walking around a neighborhood that has so much history and character.
8. Bike Along the Tagus River
Whether you want a workout or just want to coast, I highly suggest renting (or borrowing) a bike and cruising along the Tagus River! Why? Because if you’re like me, you would never make it up these Lisbon hills on a bike and so you’ll probably enjoy the flat road along the river a lot more! You’re welcome!
We had a blast walking and biking along the river and letting the wind rush through our hair. Check out Lisbon Bike Rentals (www.lisbonbikerentals.com) and select one of their electric or manual bikes for your next adventure. I honestly love this mode of transportation when I want to explore a new city or just take in the beauty of my surroundings, not to mention it’s sustainable!! So do the environment a favor and hop on a bike and explore Lisbon!
9. Explore Shops and Restaurants in the lively Barrio Alto Area
The best part of a girls trip is that there’s enough of us to split up if needed depending on our interests. And so we did just that! While we did just about everything together during the day, half of us wanted to go out and explore the bar scene and the other half of us were ready for bed around 9pm, ha! So, whether you want to grab a bite to eat or check out the bar or club scene, Barrio Alto is where it’s at.
10. Explore Lisbon’s Vibrant Street Art
Lisbon is full of colorful historical buildings and on top of that there’s plenty of street art which I love. You can’t miss it so just walk around and take in all the colors of the city!
And that wraps up my experience with the girls in Lisbon but stay tuned for Part 2 of our Portugal Girls Trip as we head south to the Algarve!! Trust me when I say, it gets better!!
Have you visited Portugal? What are your thoughts on Lisbon? Let’s discuss!