Always wanted to go to Portugal but find it never 'fits' into your typical Western Euro-itinerary? Recently I discovered if you can extend your trip by five days, this is all it takes for you to have a taste of this colourful country. Simply split your stay into two and three nights and decide where you wish to stay a bit longer and follow my guide below on how to squeeze in the best of these two popular cities.
Fly -- into Lisbon. Always. I guarantee that you'll have more options of flights in and out, as more airlines service the capital city compared to its southern neighbour. The airport itself is also much more accessible in Lisbon, being only 7kms away from town, whereas Faro airport servicing Lagos is a whopping 80kms away.
Stay in Lisbon -- in Baixa-Chiado which is the old district. I recommend anywhere around Rua Garrett as you will find yourself surrounded by both popular and quaint shopping areas and marbled streets embodying the 18th century grandeur of Lisbon. Excellent places to eat and drink here away from the tourist trail down in Rua Augusta and Rossio Square.
My favourite part of Lisbon is the incredible views over the myriad of faded terracotta rooftops, looking out to sea. The rolling hills of the city are dotted with colourful buildings reminiscent of Cinque Terre, so I believe the view from up above is best to eat, drink and be merry.
My top 3 rooftop bars;
1. ROOFTOP BAR for the best sunset views. Located in Mundial Hotel, 9th Floor. The cocktails are to die for and the restaurant below is equally impressive.
2. TERRACE the small bar at the top of Bairro Alto Hotel for intimate and best views of the April 25th Bridge. Be prepared to wait for a seat.
3. PARK for the trendy youngsters heading out for the night in Bairro Alto, with a fantastic festive atmosphere and tunes to match.
Exploring the rest of Lisbon is best done via one of the many 'hop-on-hop-off' bus services as they do cover considerable distances. They have 2-3 routes, which will see you take in all the majors such as St Georges Castle, Commerce Square, Rossio Square, Monument of Discoveries, Belem Tower, Santa Justa Elevator and more.
Party -- the bohemian district of Bairro Alto provides a winding labyrinth of alleyways of too-small bars, forcing patrons to spill out on the streets. Here you will find every possible type of pub or bar you desire with the lure of free shots from the competing owners side by side. For those wanting the ultimate club experience there is only 'Lux', the fashionable nightclub partly owned by Hollywood actor John Malkovich. Expect to queue.
Eat -- The Portuguese national dish, Bacalhau which is salt cod. You will see it written around in English often as 'Codfish'. If you aren't mad on seafood then do yourself a favour and try the Pasteis de Belem, which is a small kind of custard tart. Excellent after a Piri-Piri chicken dish, which has nothing to do with Nando's. That's South Africa.
Now for the second part of your whirlwind trip, take a bus trip down to the Algarve coast to the beachside town of Lagos. There are two bus companies servicing this popular route, Rede or Eva and they are basically the same. Go with the cheapest price and quickest journey time, which should be around 3.5 - 4 hours. Buy your tickets a few days ahead of time. You will be surprised how quickly the time passes on the journey, taking you over the April 25th Bridge with a good view of Portugal's own 'Christ the Redeemer' statue as you leave the city. There is a toilet located on both buses, they make one stop at a big service station and often there are snacks you can purchase on board as well. The train takes longer and is more expensive. If you are brave enough to hire a car and drive - so be it.
Stay in Lagos -- I would recommend any one of the resorts in the Praia do Porto de Mós district. Here you are a short 5-minute drive out of town (costing you no more than 5-7 Euros in a taxi) or a 25-minute walk. It is pleasantly located on the rugged cliff tops of Lagos with stunning panoramic views. There are restaurants and bars right on the sand with a laidback feel. Praia da Dona Ana beach nearby is regarded as the most stunning of all beaches of the coastline. Set in a scenic location of sandstone coloured cliffs, golden sands and crystal clear waters, you will pass this point of interest on any one of the Lagos sea kayaking or boating tours. Expect to pay the price for hotels surrounding this beach.
See in Lagos -- Both the fish and farmers markets are worth the experience depending what time of the week you are in town. Ponta da Piedade, the famed coastline of caves, rock formations and glowing water, is certainly the number one attraction in Lagos. Best to explore in Kayaks. Praia da Batata is Lagos' main town beach and here you will find endless alleys of restaurants, shops, bars and the Lagos Fortress. The marina district where all-day tours depart from will attempt to sell you on endless activities. Do invest in a small guided boat/sail/kayak tour. Don't do one of the dolphin tours; it's not worth it and there are much better parts of the world to view dolphins in their natural surroundings. Many disappointed tourists come back from hours out on the speedboat having only seen brief, far off glimpses of their fins.
Party -- The streets of downtown Lagos during the night are full of pubs and places to go dancing. Most bars stay open until the early hours of the morning, and there are many English and Irish pubs to get the party started, before moving onto some of the tried and tested such as Bon Vivant, or hostel favourite Three Monkeys.
Eat -- Food? What food? Let's be honest, most of us are only interested in the cocktails in Lagos. However, you will never be short of options for food in Lagos, here you will find Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mediterranean and of course traditional Portuguese restaurants. Fish and chicken dishes at most Portuguese restaurants remain the main attraction similar to Lisbon. The marina plays host to a number of lovely eateries overlooking the boats in the harbour if you tire of the main part of town.
Once you have partied yourself out in Lagos, it's back onto the bus for your journey back to Lisbon. (Use this time to sleep -- you'll need it). From here you can take a taxi costing around 20 Euros back to the airport straight from the bus depo, to continue on with your euro-adventures.