I’m home, and almost fully recovered from the jet lag! The last two weeks we were on vacation in Amsterdam and then various spots in Portugal. It was fantastic. I know quite a few have been following along with my updates on Instagram, but I wanted to do a proper recap of the whole trip.
We had a rocky start to the trip because our flight was canceled. Thanks KLM. They gave us no reason at all, so I’m hoping we’ll at least get some money back once they finally look at our claim. We were rescheduled for a non-direct flight the next day and lost our first 24 hours in Amsterdam. Cool.
We had a red-eye flight and arrived in Amsterdam on Saturday. Our prior plan was to take it easy the day we arrived, but we now had to pack in a whole lot more into that first day. To make things even better, when we checked-in to our hotel, they told us they were expecting a big storm to hit the next day. That meant we really only had Saturday to explore the city, at least the outside parts.
Museums, Canals, Stroopwafel, Repeat
We had previously booked tickets to the Van Gogh museum, so that was the first thing we had to do. It’s excellent, and I highly recommend it if you go to Amsterdam. My knowledge of art is limited, so I find museums that focus on one artist much more manageable. Seeing their progression through their career (an unfortunately short career in the case of Van Gogh) makes it much more enjoyable.
After that, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets of Amsterdam. It’s such a unique city: the canals, the beautiful old buildings, and so many bikes. The streetscapes are almost chaotic, but everything works, and it feels so lively. I love that about Europe. We went to a street market, ate fresh stroopwafel, and stopped for a beer and early dinner. Then we went straight to bed because it was the middle of the night for us.
The next morning we went to the Anne Frank House. It feels strange calling it a highlight of the trip, but it was. Walking through the house where Anne and her family hid during the war was so impactful, and the tour is so well done. It’s heartbreaking to see things just as they left them. There are still magazine cutouts glued to the walls in her room.
After that, we checked out the floating Bloemenmarkt. It’s full of touristy stuff (so many wooden tulips) but is colorful and doesn’t take much time. Next up was a daylight walk down the Red Light District. It’s definitely an experience! The weather was starting to turn, so we headed inside for lunch at Vegan Junk Food Bar. Neither of us is vegan (and the bf is meat lover), but I’d heard good things, and we stumbled on it. It was seriously delicious. I will be craving their loaded fries for the rest of my life.
Last up was the Rijkmuseum. Initially, we were going to give it a pass since it sounded huge and overwhelming, but because the weather was trash, we needed something to do inside. It is huge and overwhelming, but it’s also fascinating. If museums and art galleries are your thing, then you will be in awe, if not, then I’d pass my time wandering the canals if you aren’t going to get blown away.
I would absolutely love to go back to Amsterdam when it’s warmer. We were prepared for cold weather but not for gale-force winds and rain!
We got lucky, and our flight out of Amsterdam actually left. There were a ton of cancellations and flight delays from the storm, but we got out with only a short delay and made it to Porto, Portugal.
Porto ended up being my favourite stop on the trip. It’s not a huge city so you can easily walk everywhere. And we did! We walked 40,000 steps in the two days we were there. If wandering around beautiful old cities is your thing, then you will fall in love with Porto. The cobblestones and the tiled buildings are so charming. And the food…delicious! I love fish and seafood, but I don’t get to indulge as often because I live in the middle of the prairies. In Portugal, it’s everywhere, and it’s fresh and cheap.
Our hotel in Porto was also my favourite (and the cheapest) of the trip. We stayed at the Casa dos Loios Guesthouse which is a converted 16th-century building. It’s beautifully renovated but still has all the charm and had the most delicious free breakfast.
I found that Porto isn’t a hub for the typical ‘things to do,’ it’s more about exploring and taking in the architecture. The big positive on that is that it’s free. You aren’t paying to get into museums, galleries, tours, etc. The two things we did pay for were the gondola (which is across the river) and Livraria Lello. Livraria Lello is a gorgeous bookcase (very instagrammable) that has ties to Harry Potter. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, but I do love me a good bookstore. Apparently, JK Rowling spent a lot of time there when she was writing Harry Potter, and the library inspired parts of the book.
Other highlights were eating charcuterie and drinking sangria down by the river, walking across the Dom Luis Bridge, and taking in the views from the Monastery of Serra do Pilar. If you are there on a sunny day then catch the sunset from the monastery!
Big city time! I was surprised that Lisbon isn’t that big. The population is about 500,000, only slightly over half the size of Edmonton. It’s Europe though, so it’s much denser and feels a lot busier. To get to Lisbon we took the train from Porto. Easy, cheap, and efficient. My number one tip for Lisbon is to bring comfortable shoes. You will be walking, and it will always be either up or down a hill.
Lisbon has an endless list of things to do and see, so I’ll share my favourites. You have to eat at the Time Out Market. It’s an indoor market filled with food vendors, really good food vendors. They have every type of food you can dream of, and you can drink. I wish there were something like this in Edmonton!
It’s worth taking a trip to Belem to see the tower, monastery, and get the original pastel de nata (the traditional Portuguese custard tarts) from Pasteis de Belem. You can catch public transportation to Belem, but I found it kind of confusing. There are buses, trams, trains, and the metro, so figuring out which one Google is telling you to take isn’t the easiest thing. We also found they don’t exactly run on schedule, so be patient. On the way back from Belem, you can stop at LxFactory, which is a kind of market with unique stores, restaurants, and art displays. It’s a cool stop but super hipster.
If you want traditional Portuguese food, then I recommend Restaurante Floresta das Escadinhas. It’s small and busy, but they have amazing grilled fish and seafood (get the octopus!)
Finally, we headed down South to spend the last few days of our trip in the sun. We rented a car in Lisbon and drove to Carvoeiro, a small beach town on the southern coast. Here we stayed with my parents who have spent the last couple of winters in Portugal. They rent a condo that conveniently had a second bedroom for us to crash. The weather was perfect; sunny and 20+ degrees every day. Perfect for Canadians looking to escape winter! This time of year Carvoeiro is quite quiet, but it gets super busy during the summer months.
The whole southern coast of Portugal is stunning. We drove West to Sagres and could not even believe the views.
Ending our vacation in the Algarve was the right call. We were able to relax for a few days after exploring cities for the rest of the trip. We flew back to Amsterdam from Faro, spent one night at an airport hotel, and then caught our flight back to Edmonton. Not canceled this time, hooray!
In short, yes. Europe is never a cheap trip, but Portugal is relatively cost-effective when you compare it to the rest of Europe. We did book our flights on a seat sale, but flying from Canada to anywhere in Europe is never going to be cheap and was by far the largest expense. Accommodation in Amsterdam was not cheap, but in Portugal, it was affordable. And obviously our accommodation in Carvoeiro was free, which saved us quite a bit. We for sure could have gone cheaper for hotels, but I like to stay in decent places. There will be no sharing bathrooms for this girl!
Except for a couple of meals with my parents, we ate out almost exclusively. Our Amsterdam and Porto hotels included free breakfast, but all other meals were at restaurants/cafes. Both the bf and I enjoy eating out and trying new food, so this isn’t something we’re willing to sacrifice when traveling. We bought a few small things to bring home, but food was where we spent our money.
I’m a quality over quantity kind of traveler. I’d rather take fewer trips and splurge on them than take more cheap trips.
Have you ever been to Portugal? Are you planning to visit? If you want more specific details just let me know!
This post was proofread by Grammarly.