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5-Day Itinerary For Portugal Including Lisbon, Porto and Lagos For A Budget Solo Trip

Updated: May 24

On my last trip to Europe which came from attending another of my company's all-hands retreat in Budapest, I made a side trip to Poland and Portugal -- the two countries I'd been dreaming of going to forever and couldn't on my two previous Europe trips.

I've covered my 2-Day Poland Itinerary here, but thankfully I could allot a little more time for Portugal, for it's a country that blew me away and made me want to come back for a standalone Portugal trip. But since I had a limited time off, I made the most of my 5 days in Portugal thanks to some nifty planning and time-management.

So here's my 5-day Portugal Itinerary including Lisbon, Porto and Lagos in case you're as strapped for time as I was but still didn't want to miss out on this beautiful country.

Day 1 - Landing in Lisbon, public escalators, fado and nightlife

I landed in Lisbon airport at around 5pm and immediately took a local bus to the closest point to my digs for the night, the curiously titled "this is Lisbon Hostel". It was a little hard to find and they were at least 1000 steps involved to get to the place, but get used to it as entire Portugal is spread across levels of elevation and to access most things on feet, you have to walk up multiple steps or take the public escalators! (The coolest thing I found in Lisbon.)

Before reaching the hostel, I stopped by an immigrant dominant area for a quick dinner of a vegetarian burger and mint tea -- all for $5 - a steal by Portugal's standards.

By 8pm, I was all checked in, freshened up and ready to go. So a couple of folks from my hostel took off and we hit a mini bar close to our hotel in the Alfama district. The first thing that struck me about Lisbon which carried on throughout my Portugal trip is the fascinating tilework for flooring! The streets are not just normally cobblestoned as in the rest of Europe, but with interesting mosaic patterns all over.

Mosaic floors in lisbon

Taking a seat at a tiny table on the narrow road right outside a tiny wine bar, we drank Porto wine right in its origin and then went around the Bairro Alto area, Lisbon's party hub to catch a Fado performance - the traditional music of Portugal which involves a medley of slow melodious songs sung live by a trained Fado singer. Unfortunately our timing wasn't right as there was no Fado event happening tonight, but we did walk around the pub district, wading through the drunk and loud revelers littered in the area.

lisbon nightlife

Through the walk, we spotted the beautiful Bay Bridge and the Belem tower glittering over the beautiful Lisbon coastline. Back in our hostel by midnight, we continued to chat until I absolutely had to crash after the looong day I'd had across two countries!

Day 2 - Walking tour of Lisbon, some more wine with views

As is the norm on all my travels by now, I got on a donation-based walking tour of Lisbon which started at the main square Praça do Comércio. The guide walked us through important historical neighbourhoods, buildings, and apprised us of Portugal's interesting history. For over 3000 years, different civilizations have ruled Portugal including the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Moors and finally the Christians, and that's why Lisbon feels so multicultural with multiple influences in its art, architecture, food and culture. The tour guide took us to the Portas do Sol viewpoint for some stunning views of Lisbon with its red tiled roofed houses by the glittering coastline to the amazing Miradouro de Santa Luzia, a shaded observation deck with beautiful blue tile work all along its walls, live music and the most vibrant atmosphere. The tour ended close to a church which one has an option to go inside, but we just walked around, taking each other's pictures against those tiled buildings, and got a lovely salad and white lunch at a tiny cafe with beautiful views from the terrace.

Walking tour of Lisbon

The azulejos tiled buildings of Portugal

I must make a special mention of the storied tiled buildings of Portugal -that have come to become the most iconic symbol of the country. A large number of the buildings in old parts of the city have facades with these colourful and printed tiles called azulejos in different patterns. While they look like a monotone wallpaper from a distance, come closer and you'll see intricate patterns and bright colours on each individual tile which is like a work of art in itself. Different from the renaissance style sculpture of Italy, the gothic buildings of Spain, and the beautifully detailed architecture of France, Portugal's architecture is defined by two sights - the beautifully tiled building facades and the marbled mosaic tiles!

When people back home in India say that old Goa was built by the Portuguese, I now really have to doubt that statement very much! Where in Goa do you have the pinnacle of Portuguese architecture like this?

azulejos tiles portugal

Tram#28 for a cheap and classic tour of the city

Having done my research before I knew that one of the best and cheapest ways to get a leisurely yet incredible local experience in Lisbon is to hop on Tram # 28 which covers a distance of around 7 kms and takes $4 and an hour and half to complete a loop, starting from the Largo Martim Moniz square -- ready to queue up as this tram route is popular with travelers - it took us around 30 minutes of waiting to finally get our turn. The tram covers many historic buildings, viewpoints, churches as well as local residential areas, passing through some of the narrowest lanes, so much so that you can extend a hand out and pull out someone's laundry!

Tram#28 for a cheap and local tour of lisbon
views from the tram

The tram ride was supposed to end in an hour, but it turned out to be much slower and impacted by any issues on the narrow roads, and I ran the risk of missing my bus to Lagos later that night so I cut short my tram ride, legged it as fast my legs could bear across 2-3 blocks, up and down the 1000 steps to take my luggage and run to the train station. I had 30 minutes to go for my Flixbus, and even though I was at the metro, by the time I got a ticket and got into the next train and reached my stop, I would've missed it. So I did the most uncouth and unlike me thing - I just broke through the ticket turnstile without paying for a ticket and tumbled into the train about to leave. After some very tense 30 minutes in the train, I get out of my exit and see JUST my bus thundering away and ready to leave any second. I signalled to the driver to let me in and hopped in like I'd found gold at the end of the rainbow! And I might as well. Because the thing with very short trips like mine, you miss one bus or train, it's not just a financial loss, but the entire itinerary goes for a toss. If I didn't catch the bus to Lagos today, I didn't have another way to get there tonight and another night in Lisbon would've essentially meant cutting the Lagos leg altogether. But thankfully it all worked out, despite my stupid foolhardiness yet again. Passing through some beautiful coast highways after about 3 hours, we pulled into Lagos.

At night, the town wasn't much, except for the familiar mosaic floors.

I walked to my guest house, a little nervous but still Portugal is a safe country and I was checked in to the slighestly weird guesthouse (entrance through a bar!) by midnight.

Day 3: Things to do in Lagos: Boat Cruise to Benagil caves and sunset at Pointe De Piedade

I came to Lagos, a coastal town mainly to visit the stunning Benagil caves -- a natural sensation and a part of the Algarve Caves alongside the emerald coastline of South Portugal.

How to do a Benagil caves tour from Lagos?

To get to the Benagil caves from Lagos, I first booked a "Guided Kayaking Tour To Benagil Caves" online, for about $35, keeping the starting point as Portimao, the closest place to the coast, Then take a $5 local bus from Lagos central bus terminal to Portimao, and while I waited for my bus, I stocked up on some fresh produce at the farmer's market located next to it. Once at Portimao, I walked (2kms) to the harbour area, located my cruise operator here and settled in the boat. Protip: Book a slow or normal boat and not a speed boat cruise to Benagil caves. Only Kayaks are allowed inside the caves, nothing else. After a one hour on the boast as the harbour got further from our eyes, we started seeing some majestic rock formations along the coastline while the guide tried to explain how these caves and cliffs were formed over millions of years. Soon it was time to offload into 2-person Kayaks while our boat stayed on the main sea. The kayak can be sailed to inside caves so we did inside many, before the prized Benagil caves. The Benagil caves seem to have a large hole or opening at the top and a couple of C-shaped entrances so when you're under the cave on the beach, you see the waves coming forth through the "doors" forming a wondrous spectacle that words or pictures can't do justice to.

Cruise to Benagil caves

At some point of the cruise after the caves, you also have an option to dive into the waters and do a quick swim before returning to the deck.

The cruise ended at about 4 pm and this time I took the train from Portimao to Lagos.

Pointe De Piedade for splendid sunset views

In Lagos, I took a bus to a point, and then a 30-min walk led me to the Pointe De Piedade for some stunning views of the beach and the unique rock formations littered all over the coastline. Make sure to get here well before the sunset as the place gets packed and best "view points" get snapped up! Bring a mat and some wine with you and have the most stunning picnic as you see a brilliant orange-pink sunset over the coast.

Pointe de piedade sunset views lagos

At Lagos downtown, I walked around the buzzing piazza area with tons of restaurants, wine bars, and souvenir shops. I bought a tote bag, a scarf, a keychain and many others in the now familiar Portuguese tile pattern and a cutting board that's an actual azulejos tile inlaid in a cork board! (Cork is the other big material in Portugal thanks to all the wine stoppers you need!)

Day 4 - Onwards to Porto

Next morning, I took an early morning 6-hour Flixbus to Porto. This bus has a one hour stopover in Lisbon so I used that time to quickly visit the nearby "Iberian Lynx Cat" sculpture, a 250-feet high statue made out of trash by artist Bodolio, who specialises in recycled art! A cool thing to look at when you have some time near the station.

At around 4pm, I finally reached Porto, my last destination in Portugal.

Porto took over where Lisbon left. Maybe it's do with the fact that I think I finally stayed in the best hostel of my life in over 10 years of staying in hostels!

I know I shouldn't make it public and make it harder for others to get a bed in this hostel than it already is, but I think the hostel deserves it. Guys, Sandeman Hostel in Porto is the best damn hostel you'll stay in your life!

Right from the location the Vila Nova de Gaia on the banks of the Duoro river with a great view, it's an actual winery with cellars located closeby. (Actually most guest houses in the Nova De Gaisa area are wine cellars) to its welcome coffee and croissant on the house to the barrel-shaped beds, it doesn't get better. But it does, come night and the hostel serves free wine to all the guests so you don't really have to go anywhere and you can sit on its long table with the other guests, read a book (they have a huge selection) at the cushy seating area with plush couches, or just sit by the window with the stunning view of the harbour ahead.

So that's what I did. Instead of rushing to go out, I lingered in the hostel and take it all in. How lucky was I to be having this moment, in a beautiful country, having seen and done so much in the last one week, and closing in on the end of a great trip in the most stunning place.

sandeman hostel porto

However at around 6:30pm, I got out of my reveries and walked around to catch the sunset from top of the iconic Ponte De Dom Luis, a double-deck metal arch bridge made by the same architect as the Eiffel tower (and the location of the famous "Ananya Aditya" leaked pap pics many years later.) At a height of around 500 feet, the bridge affords great view of both the Villa Nova De Gaia and Porto river banks with many wineries and restaurants buzzing on each side. Watch out for the metro trains that also run over the upper deck of the bridge, though they are very slow and give adequate warning!

Sunset from the Ponde De Dom Luis Bridge, Porto
Sunset from the Ponde De Dom Luis Bridge, Porto

I did walk around the tourist markets, again marveling at the beautifully tiled buildings, the ones in Porto even grander than the ones in Lisbon, and finally ending up at an open square cafe with live music surrounded by those beautiful baroque tiled Portuguese buildings. Portugal had already become my favourite country at this point.

porto at night

Day 5 - Sao Bento Railway Station

The next day, I heard some bad news from back home about my dog which ended the trip for me right there. I couldn't believe my luck. Just as I was celebrating the fact that I was in a such a beautiful place, I heard the worst news of my life. Suddenly, Porto meant nothing.

I knew I still had a day to drag through and there was nothing I could do about the situation so I just forced myself to go out. I went back to the top of the Ponte bridge, sat on the lawns and listened to the soulful music of a solo female guitarist, eyes full of tears. When I couldn't take it anymore, I walked the bridge again crossing over to the other Porto side, waking around with no particular destination in mind. I ran into the famous São Bento railway station again, touted as one of the world's most beautiful train stations, and deservedly so. The interior walls and ceilings are said to have used 22,000 azulejos with intricate blue murals depicting moments in the country's history and scenes from rural areas in the country.

sao bento railway station porto portugal

Everything around me was blurring and I just wanted to be back home. I got back to Nova Gaia by noon and got a much-recommended vegan buffet dinner from a "daTerra" (100% vegan chain in Portugal) kiosk in a mall located just 5minutes by walk.

Then, I sat at the hostel window, sad that this trip was ending like this but I had to be back home.

Day 6 - Early morning flight out to Barcelona

I checked out early and immediately walked to the Ponte De Luis train station to catch the first direct metro to the Porto Airport to make it to my 7am flight to Barcelona.

My Portugal trip was over, but I knew I'd be back home, in a happier time someday, and for much longer.


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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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