The Skylark Way

How To Do Portugal Right

By: Peter J. Frank

We keep seeing more and more interest from clients about visiting Portugal, and it’s easy to see the reason why. Make that reasons, plural: It’s one of Europe’s most easy-going and affordable destinations. Lisbon’s old-world charm is intact but there’s also an exciting contemporary design scene. The food is fantastic (exceptional seafood, succulent, Alentejo pork, sweet custard tarts called pasteis de nata) and the wine even better. Abundant sunshine warms Portugal’s many beaches—Lisbon has more sunny days per year than Athens.

So how to do it right? Here’s what we usually recommend:


We suggest spending your first two or three days exploring the historically and culturally rich capital. Lisbon has brightly painted architecture clad in ornate tiles, a robust food scene and bustling nightlife. Don’t miss a meal at Mini Bar, from rising star chef José Avillez, or at Bica do Sapato, an ever-fashionable spot on the riverfront. Afterwards, enjoy a cocktail at Silk, a rooftop bar with one of the best views in town. During the day, visit the Tile Museum, stroll the Alfama and Baixa neighborhoods and head just outside town to Sintra.

Where to stay? At the top end, Bairro Alto is a five-star boutique with a central location—ideal for a walking city like Lisbon—while the palatial Four Seasons Hotel Ritz is set on a hill a bit away from the heart of town. The contemporary Memmo Alfama has a strong focus on design in a more off-the-beaten-path location. For a more affordable option, the Pestana Palace is close to the waterfront and most of Lisbon’s iconic sights.


Portugal’s beaches are stunning, so plan to spend at least two or three days on the water. Most people think summer in Portugal means the Algarve, but there are alternatives that are just as beautiful and easier to get to from Lisbon.

The Algarve 

The oceanfront region in the south of Portugal—a short flight or (longer) train ride from Lisbon—has always been a popular vacation spot for Europeans: sun-soaked beaches and terrific food, but the nightlife can feel like Spring Break. If you go, steer clear of the backpacker-swarmed towns and choose a more secluded resort as a base for day trips. Vila Joya is at the top end, with a Michelin-starred restaurant. The Conrad Algarve or Vila Vita Parc are better choices for families.

Cascaís and Estoril

As an alternative to the Algarve, consider these neighboring beach towns, popular with Lisbon residents as weekend getaways. They’re around 45 minutes from the capital and have more sophisticated nightlife than the Algarve. In charming Cascaís, a former fishing village, we like the Farol Hotel or the Albatroz. In Estoril, which has a Monte Carlo vibe, we recommend the 1930s-era Palacio Estoril. For a resort option, Penha Longa, run by Ritz-Carlton, is up in the hills and has golf and a spa.


About 1.5 hours south of Lisbon, going towards the Algarve, is Comporta, which has been described as the Portuguese Tulum (or its José Ignacio or Ibiza or…), attracting the wealthy and stylish with its gorgeous landscape and rustic-chic villas. The Sublime Comporta is luxurious and relaxed, with a spa, restaurant and access to deserted beaches. There’s also a pair of design hotels, the spare Casas na Areia and the more activity-focused Cavalos Na Areia, both designed by Manuel Aires Mateus, who had an installation at the 2012 Venice Biennale.


We like to wrap up a trip (or if you’re short on time, replace the beach portion) with a visit to this dramatic landscape of verdant valleys and vineyards stacked on cliffs leading down to the Douro River. A short flight or three-hour drive from Lisbon, this is where most of Portugal’s delicious wines are produced (and not just port!), so vineyard visits are a must. A bit further north, the main city of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with historic architecture and delightful shopping streets—and the superb Serralves Museum, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Álvaro Siza. Kids in particular will love stopping at the Livraria Lello, a bookstore that inspired Harry Potter’s library at Hogwarts.

The best place to stay directly in town is the boutique-style, movie-themed Hotel Teatro. More luxurious is the Yeatman, just across the river from Porto (and therefore with fabulous views), with a strong focus on wine and food. In the countryside—but within day-trip distance of town—is the Six Senses Douro Valley. It has an incredible spa and can organize hikes, cruises and wine tastings in the valley.

If you’re interested in exploring Portugal—and there’s a lot more than this to explore!—get in touch with one of our agents. We’ll be happy to share our expertise and put together an amazing trip for you!