Finding the Good Stuff in Lisbon and Madeira, Portugal
Disclosure: I was extended complimentary stays at the hotels mentioned in this post. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Two weeks ago, I took a weeklong vacation to Lisbon and Madeira (without my kids!). Below are my tips for a week in these two locations in Portugal. Of course, my review has a focus on healthful food, eco-friendly highlights, and wellness activities.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
I was fortunate to be invited to stay at two super luxurious hotels in Lisbon: The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon and The Olissippo Lapa Palace. The rooms, restaurants, spas, and services at each of these hotels was absolutely top-notch.
For a lower-priced accommodations in Lisbon, I would consider PortoBay Liberdade (which is still a five-star hotel), Casa Balthazar, or Martinhal if you are traveling with kids.
What to Do in Lisbon
There is so much to do in Lisbon that I found myself wishing I had a full week to explore. That said, four days was enough to get a good feel of the city. What follows are the activities I would consider “must-dos” for a first trip to Lisbon.
Take a Tuk Tuk Tour to See the Major Sites
As in any European city, there’s so much history and beauty to see in Lisbon, and we did 2-hour tuk tuk tour in order to see much of that. If I could do it again, I would definitely do a longer tour, as this wasn’t even enough time to see all that this city had to offer. Our tour driver was an absolute wealth of knowledge, so if you go to Lisbon, you should check out Tejo Tourism, and definitely request Hugo!
Our tour took us through the charming, maze-like Alfama area, including stops at Castelo de Sao Jorge, the Se cathedral, and the Portas do Sol viewpoint.
For our second hour, we headed over to the Belem district, with stops at Torre de Belem and Jeronimos monastery.
Listen to a Fado Performance
You shouldn’t leave Lisbon without taking in a fado (the classic mournful Portuguese music) show. Everyone seemed to agree that Clube de Fado was the best place to see authentic Fado talent, and it didn’t disappoint. We opted to simply go for drinks (which you can do after 10:00 p.m.–but make a reservation!) because the food isn’t supposed to be very good.
Shop in the Unique Stores & Markets
I’m not a huge shopper when I travel, but….
We found adorable baby clothes, natural skincare, cool art, and more at the vendors stands set up outside at Time Out Market.
I bought a bunch of unique gifts at Real Slow Retail Concept Store and the 21pr Concept Store next door.
We loved stumbling upon Loja das Conservas, an entire store dedicated to tinned fish. (You’ll find lots of sardines in Lisbon).
See Some Amazing Art
There are several art museums worth visiting in Lisbon, but my favorite was the Berardo. It was manageable in size, meaning you can get in and out in an hour, but still home to pieces from some of the greats, like Dali, Picasso, and Warhol.
Take a Day-Trip to Sintra
If you go to Lisbon, a trip to nearby Sintra is a must; it’s less than an hour from Lisbon by train or Uber (we Ubered and it was only 30 euro), and is one of the more beautiful places I’ve been. See below for my recommendations in Sintra.
Where to Eat in Lisbon
I wasn’t blown away by Portuguese cuisine overall, but there were definite culinary highlights during my time in Lisbon, which included:
1) The weekend brunch at the Four Seasons.
There is just no way I can convey how incredible this brunch was, and these pictures definitely don’t do it justice.
2) This poke bowl in Time Out Market.
There was also a cute organic gelato stand called Organic Break in the market.
3) Organic pizza at In Bocca Al Lupo.
There were loads of veggie options, and great salads, too.
4) Ceviche at A Cevicheria.
You obviously have to like raw fish to eat here (there isn’t anything else on the menu), but if you do, this place lives up to the hype.
5) Late-night falafel in Bairro Alto.
I admit it–a few hours after a my dinner of raw fish at A Cevicheria, I was hungry again. My friends and I were checking out where the young people party in Lisbon, which is on the streets of the Bairro Alto neighborhood.We stopped at a little spot called Atlantic Kebab, where I gorged on a really delicious falafel wrap.
The rest of our meals in Lisbon, including dinner at Palacio Chiado and desserts at Clube de Fado, were just okay. One of my friends loved the famous tart de nata from Pasteis de Belem, but it was too custardy for my taste. (Note that the line at Pasteis de Belem was crazy long, but our tuk tuk driver had a special touristic pass that allowed him to skip the line.)
Wellness and Fitness in Lisbon
If you are looking for top-notch workout facilities in Lisbon, then you should stay at The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. I’ve never seen a more impressive fitness setup in a hotel, including a rooftop track with city views and pilates reformer machines.
I didn’t do much working out in Lisbon, but I did indulge in a ton other of self-care. The spas in both hotels exceeded my expectations.
At the Four Seasons, the Seven Hills of Lisbon massage was truly the best I’ve ever experienced, complete with foot scrubs and a face and head massage I haven’t stopped talking about.
At Lapa Palace, I had a custom facial with products all scented with only essential oils that left my skin markedly glowy.
Both hotels featured saunas, steam rooms, and pools (inside at the Four Seasons and outside at Lapa Palace).
Highlights from Sintra
As I said, you should definitely make time for a day trip to Sintra–in fact, I wish I had spent much more time there than I did.
Everyone is in love with Sintra it seems, and Lord Byrone famously called it “glorious Eden.” I’ve seen a European castle or two in my day, and the Pena Palace was perhaps the most beautiful to date.
We started at the palace and then took a tuk tuk tour down to the village, which had a number of charming shops.
If I could do it again, I’d spend the night in Sintra, definitely at the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais, where we had a beautiful lunch and a tour of the grounds and rooms. It was old-school luxury at its very finest.
If I return to Sintra, I will definitely book a treatment at Anantara Spa, at the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais. All the spa treatments are natural, the space is stunning, and they offer “Wellness Hour” specials of 25% off every day from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The reason I didn’t spend the night in Sintra is because I had a flight the next morning out of Lisbon. I said goodbye to my girlfriends and met my husband at the airport, where to took a 90-minute flight to Madeira Island.
Where to Stay on Madeira
One of the most luxurious hotels on Madeira, The Cliff Bay, generously extended an invite for my three days on this magical little island.
If you want to stay at a more affordable and very kid friendly resort on Madeira, I recommend the four-star Suite Hotel Eden Mar, which features suites with kitchenettes and pools/activities for families.
I was also intrigued by the brand new five-star Les Suites at Cliff Bay, which includes access to all the amenities at The Cliff Bay, but you stay in luxurious century-old homes.
Where to Eat in Madeira
Most of our meals in Madeira happened right at our hotel, The Cliff Bay, since we had the half-board meal plan (breakfast and dinner). The buffets changed daily, and offered lots of fresh, produce-heavy options. You also could choose to order a la carte, but we never did because the buffet was always tempting.
Other meal highlights in Madeira included:
- Lunch at Taverna Madeira.
I didn’t eat the prawns you see here, but everything else we ordered at this low-key spot was vegetarian. (Here is a list of other great vegetarian restaurants in Madeira.)
2. The tasting menu at Il Gallo D’Oro.
The Cliff Bay Hotel is home Il Gallo D’Oro restaurant, which recently earned its second Michelin star. The tasting menu is a worthy splurge, especially if you are there on a Wednesday night, when dinner is served over the ocean.
Wellness & Fitness on Madeira
Madeira is a hilly island, with tons of opportunities for hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. Doing a levada (waterways) walk is a must, and we loved the lookout point at the end of the easy and short walk in Ribeiro Frio.
The pools and spa at The Cliff Bay offered lots of relaxation and toxin-free pampering (the spa uses the aforementioned Espa products). I also took a fun pilates class on the last morning of my stay, and water aerobics was being offered the day we left.
What to Do in Madeira
There are lots of driving trips you could take while visiting Madeira, where you can take half-day hikes or visit charming fishing villages. Because we only had a couple of days on Madeira, we only took one taxi trip of about 40 minutes to get us to a place where we could hike along a levada.
We spent the rest of our time either relaxing oceanside at the hotel or walking to various activities in Funchal, the only city on Madeira.
Some highlights are captured in these photographs.
The Bottom Line on Lisbon and Madeira
Portugal is an awesome country to visit, and–believe it or not–I found myself wishing I’d had my children with me on this trip, since it also felt like a very kid-friendly place. I didn’t take advantage of TAP airlines stopover program, but that makes another vacation to Portugal even more appealing.
Please share your own experiences in Portugal in the comments below. And if you want to read our reviews of other clean travel destinations, click here.
Maia, Founder & CEO
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These both look wonderful. I hope Portugal will be my next vacation and I will make a point of seeing about reserving at both the Four Deasons and Cliff Bay
These hotels look amazing! I am dying to go to Portugal and this is exactly what I need to plan my trip there. I would love to stay at the exact same hotels! The grounds are beautiful and the pools look like they were amazing to swim in.
I’m so glad you were able to take this trip away and enjoy yourself. Thank you for posting such a wonderful detailed post about your stay and I can’t wait to start planning my trip there soon!
I have been dying to go to Portugal and this basically gives me an itinerary! Everything looks so thoughtful, beautiful and lovely! Thank you for this detailed and personal share of what looks like an incredible trip!
So happy you got to take this trip. And now want to go even more then before to Portugal too. Thanks for all the recommendations. I love hotels, but the ones you recommended take it to the next level. Like really make it a vacation vs a trip!
ha, yes my husband and I always discuss the difference between a trip and a vacation. This was def the latter!
Wow so many great tips! Portugal was already high on my wishlist of places to visit but it just went up a few notches from those beautiful photos! Do you have any pics of the Pena Palace?
This is super helpful, as I often find it’s difficult to discover health and wellness options in exotic travel destinations! Also surprising to see that some of the hotels like Cliff Bay even provide nontoxic bath products. Since you say it’s actually kid friendly, maybe I’ll consider bringing my little ones there next year 🙂
Yes! Cliff Bay was a home run, and Madeira an underrated island!
The Four Seasons has never let me down. Looked absolutely stunning! I will definitely look into it for my visit to Lisbon next year! p. s. Your friends are objectively gorgeous! How do you do it?? You are known as your own best advertisement for healthy living. 😉
well, thank you thank you. We are referred to as “the bingles.” 😉
What an amazing trip! It’s so nice to have time away with friends and then with your husband in such a beautiful place. You deserve it!
I have friends who are planning a trip to Portugal and I’m going to send them your recommendations.
P.S. I went to Portugal years ago and got into a huge fight with my now husband over those tart de natas…
He didn’t think it was worth it to wait in the line and of course I had to have one, but guess who ended up loving them?!? I love that your tour guide was able to skip the line for you!
Our tour guide was truly the best!
Thanks for posting this. I’m planning a trip to Portugal and definitely plan on checking these places out. Both hotels look fantastic.
This trip looks amazing. We’re planning on Portugal and Spain next spring and will definitely be looking into those hotels. Side note, where can I find that stunning pink and purple floral caftan?
haha, she got it on Instagram I think. I’ll let you know you love it:).
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