Before the pandemic hit I had a rule that birthdays should be spent abroad somewhere hot so in December 2019 I escaped the British cold and flew to Portugal. If you are looking for a winter getaway from the UK then I highly recommend the short flight to Portugal. Weather-wise it did rain some days but other days saw the temperatures rise to 25 degrees.. on Christmas day!
How many nights: 12
How we got there: Flew via EasyJet from Liverpool airport to Faro. Took just under 3 hours
Where we stayed: Stayed in an Airbnb in Armação de Pêra. The house was a good size, with a pool, and was within walking distance of a supermarket, which is always handy when staying in an Airbnb. The beaches were about 20-minute drive away.
Getting around: We hired a car via Expedia and went with the rental company Centouro, as it had the best reviews. You get a shuttle from the airport and it was pretty easy to pick up and return the car. One thing to note, you do need a car in the south of Portugal but driving is a bit intense so brace yourself!
What to see and do
There is so much to see and do in Portugal, it really depends on how far you are willing to travel and what you enjoy. You can even make a short trip to Spain, which is exactly what we did!
Faro was about a 40 min drive from our accommodation and as the capital of the Algarve, the old town makes for a nice visit. Parking is free and near Igreja de Santa Maria, aka the Cathedral de Faro, and Municipio de Faro. You can spend several hours here walking around the town soaking up the architecture and visiting the cathedral and church grounds.
Silves is another great town in the Algarve to explore for a day trip. The town is built on a hill so brace yourself when it comes to driving around the area, especially as you approach the Castle. Again, parking is free!
There are plenty of cobbled streets to explore in the center of Silves, which includes a small square with a town hall and plenty of shops selling local products and handcrafts. I stumbled across a great art studio and some cute bakeries so I recommend you walk around the wider area. As I had gone around Christmas there was also a Christmas market to explore too!
The Castle of Silves is the most famous landmark of the town. Built between 8th and 13th century it is the best-preserved castle in the Algarve. It is situated on the highest part of the town and is worth the walk uphill, with a stopover at the nearby cafe (their coffee is great!). The entrance fee to the castle is € 2.80 and it is worth it if you like history and want to take in the panoramic views over Silves and the surrounding areas. It was raining when I went there but still was worth a visit.
Other points of interest in Silves include Gothic cathedral, called Sé de Silves, the archaeological museum near the castle and cathedral, the roman bridge and Cruz de Portugal.
Day trip to Spain
We decided to do a day trip to Spain. It came about as we had originally decided to go visit Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which is a scenic fishing port however after arriving there wasn’t loads to do so we thought we would do the 50-minute drive across to Huelva Spain, and visit the Monasterio de la rabida.
Huelva is located in the southwest of Spain and is famous for being the location from which Christopher Columbus sailed off for his first voyage to the ‘new world’.
If you like history and soaking up nice architecture then this is the spot for you. The Monastery has an entrance fee of €3 and once you are in there is loads to see with the various artwork, chapel, and of course you learn loads about the history thanks to the audio guide.
The surrounding area of the Monastery has a nice scenic walk and some other historical attractions. All in all, you can spend several hours here!
Next time I would certainly get an Airbnb and spend a long weekend in Huelva and Seville, as the cities are not too far!
The beaches in Portugal are gorgeous so you can’t visit the country without spending a fair amount of time soaking up the beautiful beach views. If the weather is good then I recommend you pack a book, water, and some snacks and make your way to the beach. Given we had rain, we had to trust the weather forecast and plan our beach days on the days it was sunny. The rainy days were spent exploring the city aspects of South Portugal.
Praia da Marinha is the typical Algarve cove with clear turquoise waters surrounding limestone cliffs and rock formations. You have to walk the cliffs before you get down to the beach and there is a trail to do so, it’s a nice walk but it can get steep so that’s something to be cautious of if you have specific accessibility requirements.
Other beaches nearby include Praia de Benagil (well known for Kayaking), Praia da falesia, Marinha Beach, and Praia de Albandeira which are worth a visit!
Praia do Vale do Olival is the beach we spent Christmas day on and with the sun hitting the turquoise waters it was a treat!
Can’t help but make a visit to the shops, whilst abroad and I can say the Portugal shops did not disappoint. Most have free parking and are easy to navigate. I would recommend the Norte Shopping mall !
So there you have it, my quick summary of my trip to Portugal!