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Thinking of Heading to Portugal? Here Are The Recommendations You Need

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

For our February break trip, three of my girlfriends and I wanted to go somewhere slightly warmer where we could get a bit more sun than what we are used to in Scotland, so we picked Portugal as our travel destination. We decided to go to southern Portugal to have a bit more of a relaxed experience for the first half of the week, and then to go to Lisbon to get a bit more fun city-life for the second. In this article, I’m going to tell you all about our experience and give you some recommendations in case you are planning a Portuguese journey of your own!

We took an early morning flight to Faro, landed in the late morning, and took a car arranged with our hotel to get to Olhão. Olhão is a smaller fishing city, just outside of Faro. It is a summer town, which made it a little odd to be there in the off-season as various amenities were closed – such as public bathrooms and some restaurants outside of the city. It was nonetheless more relaxing to experience the town at a less crowded time and at the lower prices of the off-season.

We stayed at the Pure Farmosa Concept Hotel, which had a perfect location just outside of the main streets of Olhão. The atmosphere of the hotel was modern and beachy, with a reception team that was unbelievably kind and helpful. The rooms were beautiful and had doors that opened for fresh air. We chose rooms without balconies, but the top of the hotel was a lounge with a pool and bar, so we spent a lot of time relaxing there. We would go up every morning when it was empty to do yoga as the sun was rising, and at night time, we often got drinks from the bar to watch the sunset. Although it was too cold to swim, the top deck was wonderful to have access to. The hotel also had a daily €12 buffet breakfast with plates of fresh fruit, lots of delicious pastries (including pastel de nata!), coffee, and fresh squeezed orange juice.

One thing my friends and I noticed about Portugal, is we never had a bad meal. One of my favourites was a Mexican restaurant we went to called Hola Torito, which had the most delicious vegan tacos and a wide selection of margarita flavours. Pizza na Pedra and Cestaria were some more delicious options we tried as well. Make sure to peek into bakeries while you visit, the Portuguese know their pastries! We had some of the most buttery, fluffy, and delightful desserts throughout our trip.

In terms of activities, we took a few boat trips out to various islands. The first was a ferry from Olhão to Armona Island. Although the island was mostly closed for the off-season, I enjoyed a wonderful walk along the long, empty beach, collecting the colourful shells I passed. We took another island trip from Faro on a tour to Cabo de Santa Maria. Once again, they were not as lively as I’m sure they are during the summer, but the beaches were nonetheless beautiful. Be sure to pack a coat, especially for trips during the winter months or during trips later in the day; my friends and I regretted just wearing our blouses as soon as the sun began to go down!

The second half of our trip was in Lisbon. We took the bus, which was super easy, and comfortable, and took about 3 and a half hours from Faro. Our accommodation was an AirBnB in Santa Maria Maior. The area was wonderful and full of shops and restaurants while being a 5-minute walk from the Praça do Comércio. One of my favourite activities that we accidentally stumbled upon while exploring the first day was watching the sunset from the waterfront. It was a great opportunity for people-watching and a band played as the sky turned rosy.

Obviously, there was some great food in a city like Lisbon, and it was easy to get overwhelmed. To start off my recommendations, the combined favourite meal of the trip was Leonetta. We went during the “Aperitivo Hour” at 18:30, which I would highly recommend as we got a free appetiser with our drinks! The pasta was some of my friends’ favourites that they have ever tried, and we all spent the rest of the trip raving about it. The atmosphere in the restaurant was wonderful and the service was unbelievably prompt. Next, I would say to go to Time Out Market. I’m convinced food halls are some of the best places to find the most delicious food in a city. I had the best vegan burger at Marlene Viera’s stall. There were lots of delicious options of local fish dishes, sandwiches, Asian fusion, and desserts at the market. We got the most incredible and over-the-top donuts from Crush Doughnuts (if you go I highly recommend the crème brûlée donut). My final favourite was Cafeh Tehran which is an Iranian café with some great dishes.

In terms of activities, there was a never-ending list of things to do, and we probably didn’t brush the surface in our 3 and a half days there. In addition to watching the sunset on the water, one of my favourites was going to Castelo Sao Jorge. This is by no means a niche or underground activity, but the views, gardens, and beautiful ancient walls of the castle made the € 7.50 student ticket worth it. I also loved walking along Parque Eduardo VII, which had a great view of the city below. My final favourite activity was going to the LxFactory. Although it was a little outside of town, it was a super cool area and would be a great place to get drinks and food while shopping to spend part of an afternoon.

We went out one of our nights while in Lisbon. We happened upon a burger restaurant called A Cultura do Hamburguer after seeing a sign outside for € 6.50 margaritas during happy hour, which ended up being where we spent much of the night. The place looked lively, so we sat in at the bar to get drinks, which were delicious. During happy hour, they gave us free chips and garlic aioli with our drinks. We ended up spending a few hours there enjoying the ambiance and talking with the friendly staff but finally left to continue our night. We spent a much smaller length of time walking around the Bairro Alto area, popping in and out of bars, but we had a great time. As a group of 4 girls, we all agreed we felt quite safe.

I hope that my Portugal recommendations can help you out if you are planning a trip to the area and need a little guidance of where to start! And if you go, I hope your trip is as wonderful as mine was!

Katie Gretter

St. Andrews '25

I'm a 2nd year student at the University of St Andrews studying International Relations. I'm interested in environmental policy in particular. I have always been a strong intersectional feminist and loved the empowering feeling of going to the Women's March throughout the years. Her Campus is a great way to reconnect with these feelings of support within a group written by women for women.