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You never plan on staying long in Portugal – isn’t it just random bit of land next to Spain? But you go and, before you know it, weeks have passed. The locals are extremely friendly and the entire country just has a certain vibe to it that makes you want to live there forever. When it comes to the cities of Portugal the two main destinations for travellers are Lisbon and Lagos. These two cities are polar opposites, so expect everyone you meet to have different views on Portugal.

I arrived in Lisbon with no expectations because most travellers told me to either spend only a couple of nights in Lisbon or not to bother going there at all. I’m one of those people who will try my hardest to convince you to be open to the incredible city, as eight nights later I struggled to leave. Upon arriving at the bus station, I hopped into a taxi with one of the most amazing people I had ever met. The taxi driver was such a delight. He drove me around the city for a little longer without putting the meter on, wanting to show me some of the main sights of Lisbon and share his love of the city.

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You never plan on staying long in Portugal – isn’t it just random bit of land next to Spain? But you go and, before you know it, weeks have passed. The locals are extremely friendly and the entire country just has a certain vibe to it that makes you want to live there forever. When it comes to the cities of Portugal the two main destinations for travellers are Lisbon and Lagos. These two cities are polar opposites, so expect everyone you meet to have different views on Portugal.

I arrived in Lisbon with no expectations because most travellers told me to either spend only a couple of nights in Lisbon or not to bother going there at all. I’m one of those people who will try my hardest to convince you to be open to the incredible city, as eight nights later I struggled to leave. Upon arriving at the bus station, I hopped into a taxi with one of the most amazing people I had ever met. The taxi driver was such a delight. He drove me around the city for a little longer without putting the meter on, wanting to show me some of the main sights of Lisbon and share his love of the city.

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You never plan on staying long in Portugal – isn’t it just random bit of land next to Spain? But you go and, before you know it, weeks have passed. The locals are extremely friendly and the entire country just has a certain vibe to it that makes you want to live there forever. When it comes to the cities of Portugal the two main destinations for travellers are Lisbon and Lagos. These two cities are polar opposites, so expect everyone you meet to have different views on Portugal.

I arrived in Lisbon with no expectations because most travellers told me to either spend only a couple of nights in Lisbon or not to bother going there at all. I’m one of those people who will try my hardest to convince you to be open to the incredible city, as eight nights later I struggled to leave. Upon arriving at the bus station, I hopped into a taxi with one of the most amazing people I had ever met. The taxi driver was such a delight. He drove me around the city for a little longer without putting the meter on, wanting to show me some of the main sights of Lisbon and share his love of the city.

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Of course, now we have to discuss food and all the things you MUST try in Portugal! You will find a few hot dog stands surrounded by absolutely nothing else in a few of the main streets, and when you pass one you should definitely stop for a bite. The hot dogs are huge and the toppings all spill out because the bun is stuffed to the rim – absolutely delicious!

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I’m still carrying on about food, but you really can’t visit Lisbon without taking the trip to the Buddha Sushi Buffet. It’s located a little away from the centre of town but it’s definitely worth the trek (Rua Sao Pedro De Alcantara 65-69). Just picture two large tables piled high with mouth-watering sushi, one large table filled with hot fried food like spring rolls, samosas and vegetables and another table filled with fruit. Not only that, but you also have the option to choose a selected amount of items from the menu. What’s the catch? No catch – it’s all for only €7.90 per person.

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As I mentioned earlier, Tram 28 is famous in Lisbon. Some people will take Tram 28 up the steep hill through the Alfama district but I recommend a good walk up the hill to explore the neighbourhood and check out the incredible street art in the surrounding streets before being rewarded with a gorgeous view of the red rooftops and the Se Cathedral.

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As I do with all major cities, I suggest jumping on the free walking tour to check out the main sites and get a vague awareness of what the city has to offer. Lisbon is one of those cities that you can get lost in and end up in the weirdest but most beautiful places.

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If you have an extra day and want to see more of Portugal, it’s a great idea to head on the ‘We Hate Tourism Tour’ for something a little different. The tour goes for seven hours and includes a light Portuguese lunch, wine, Pastéis de Belém and pick up and drop off at your hostel all for $AUD69 (€48) per person. The price is a little up there for the normal budget traveller, but it really was a fantastic day with a great group of people.

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The tour guides are incredible and the stop in Belém for the very popular and delicious Portuguese tarts was a highlight! The village of Sintra is a twenty minute drive from Lisbon (or an easy ride train ride if you go there solo) and is the home of amazing castles, palaces and natural gardens such as Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleria.

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After lunch, we were taken through the Sintra Magical Woods and in the direction of Cabo da Roca – the westernmost point of mainland Portugal and continental Europe – ‘where the land ends and the sea begins’. We had the opportunity to look out at the amazing view at Roca Cape and we felt like we were on the edge of the world. Lastly the tour stopped in Cascais (it’s lovely to go there to enjoy the beach), where we lay on the beach, went for a swim and enjoyed their finest natural ice cream by the water.

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Most people head south from Lisbon to Lagos, which is very similar to Ios, Greece. Think beaches, drinking and partying until the early morning. By the time I reached Portugal it was no longer peak season and quite cold, so Lagos was not ideal. I formed a great group of friends in Lisbon, and instead of heading down south we decided to explore a smaller town up north, Peniche. Peniche is known for its surf beaches, so any surfing enthusiast must put this town on their bucket list.

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Even if you’re not into surfing, Peniche is a great little town to explore for a few days. Try to book your stay at GeekCo hostel: the prices range from $AUD25-$30 (€17-€21) depending on which days you stay. The hostel has a funky interior, free breakfast and wifi and plenty of surf boards, bikes and skates to go around. The hostel is small, the staff is fantastic and it feels like a little family. We all cooked together, drank red wine together and stayed up late playing card games and talking.

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We spent a couple of days walking along the misty coastline towards the lighthouse as well as up and down the beach through the small villages. There are some great long walks to be taken – ideal for relaxation after some crazy days in Lisbon or Lagos. I really hope to go back to Lagos in the summer, as I know I would enjoy it. But I’m so glad I wandered off the beaten tourist track to discover something new with the fantastic people I had met.

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Little Travel Gypsy Editor, Olivia, went to Lagos in early August 2013. She says: the bus from Lisbon to Lagos was extremely easy to find and navigate and cost around €20 for the four hour journey. Getting out of Lagos was another story. Because I had come to Portugal through Spain, I chose to fly out to London, however, the closest airport is in Faro, over an hour from Lagos by train. This wasn’t a major issue because I snagged a cheap Ryanair flight, but I wish I had come armed with that information.

Choose where to stay in Lagos based on what you want to get out of it: if you’re after super-crazy-fun-party times full of tactical munting, sloppy hookups and debauchery, go for Rising Cock Hostel. Drunken Aussies of the world unite. Much as I like my party times as crazy as the next traveller, I wanted a little more diversity so I chose Old Town Hostel Lagos (averages €25 per night in peak season). Though it was not the most modern or the coolest hostel, the staff members went above and beyond trying to ensure that everyone felt included and had a good time. I never lacked for a fun group of people to go bar hopping with. Going out: there are trends in Lagos just as there are everywhere else. Bar hopping with someone in the know will ensure that you go to all the right places. Though to me, anywhere with a drink special and a dance floor is the right place! The party starts late, so be prepared to come home as the sun comes up.

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Lagos itself is beautiful: the town centre is filled with street vendors selling everything from art to hair wraps (I got one, I am a super tourist) and the sun is always shining. It was still bloody hot in mid-August, so the beach is a must. Some of the clearest, bluest water in the world. Even if you’re hungover, there’s so much to do in Lagos. Try kayaking in and out of the caves along the coast. The tour guides will take you where no swimmer can go, including a private beach (beware of the boat tour guides – they will mow you down because YOLO). Take beautiful walks along the coastline, go out for brunch Aussie-style or rent a bike for the day. Lagos is what it is; just embrace it and you’ll love it.

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Travelling to and from Portugal is easiest via bus from Spain. Most people take the direct train route, but when comparing the prices buses are easily the cheapest option. If you have an Eurorail pass train prices will be reasonable, but for those of you who don’t the train is a little longer and almost three times the price. You have a few options when coming from Spain via overnight bus: Madrid to Lisbon: €40 with Eurolines. Madrid to Porto: €46 with Eurolines. Seville to Lagos: €20 with Eurolines. Seville to Lisbon: €37 with Eurolines.

When I first went to Portugal, I couldn’t have anticipated how much I would actually enjoy my time there. I was in San Sebastian, Spain, with hardly any money left and was thinking of booking my flight back home to Australia. I left a window of two weeks to find something else to do when someone suggested I spent my remaining time in Portugal. I really wish I had heard about this beautiful country sooner so that I could have planned to be there in the summer to discover more of what the country has to offer. Please make sure you leave enough time for Portugal; I thought two weeks would be more than enough but I fell in love too quickly and the time just flew by.

by Chanel Sudarski