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Portugal is everything you love about Europe—historic cities, fairy tale castles, sun splashed beaches, sidewalk cafes and sweeping vineyards—all arranged in an easy-to-explore and remarkably wallet-friendly package. If you’re looking for an unforgettable getaway in Western Europe—without the big budget so many other European countries demand—Portugal is for you.

RELATED: Budapest is the best budget city in Europe and here’s why

Lisbon

lisbon, portugal

Even without its unpretentious (but wildly delicious) food scene and lively neighborhoods, Lisbon could get by on looks alone: Buildings clad in colorful azulejo tiles are arranged around pretty squares while cobbled streets twist past ancient churches, boutiques and pastry shops on their way up the city’s steep hills. Even the sidewalks, with their ornate black and white designs, are works of art.

Eat
El Bulli alum Jose Avillez has created a new concept at Bairro de Avillez, several casual restaurants, each of which focuses on a different style of Portuguese cooking, all housed within a single soaring space. Try Portugal’s famous percebes, or goose barnacles, at Cervejaria Trinidade, a boisterous seafood-centric gastropub located in a 19th-century monastery.

Sip
Sample a trendy white port and tonic at the Sky Bar, which overlooks the city from its perch atop the Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade. Tucked into a side street in the shadow of St. Jorge’s Castle, Wine Bar do Castelo celebrates Portuguese wine with dozens of by-the-glass choices.

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Tram 28, which clatters along its route in vintage 1930s cars, delivers what is arguably the most atmospheric tour of Lisbon. Hop on at the bountiful Campo Ourique Market, continue past the Baroque Basilica da Estrella to the hip Chiado neighborhood, then on to Alfama, Lisbon’s most historic district.

Sintra

Sintra, Portugal

For centuries, Portuguese royals and wealthy families spent holidays on this hill-strewn plateau; today, their former estates have been combined to create a massive park dotted with castles, crisscrossed by footpaths and anchored by the pretty village of Sintra.

Eat
Puffy almond-scented travesseiros and creamy queijadas are at their sugary best in Sintra; try them at centuries-old Casa Piriquita. For more substantial fare, head to A Raposa, where dinner starts with rave-worthy bread and, if you’re lucky, might end with an impromptu fado performance. In between there’s carpaccio freshened with citrus, squid ink risotto and other updated classics.

Sip
Though better known as a restaurant, tiny Taberna Criativa is also a welcoming wine bar. Locals flock to Bar Saloon Cintra for inexpensive drinks and a wide selection of Portuguese craft beers.

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The view from the sentry lookouts of the 9th-century Moorish Castle is worth every sweaty step. Further up the mountain, King Ferdinand II built the storybook Pena Palace on the site of a 16th-century monastery, mashing together the old and the new. Within the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira, discover a fairyland teeming with grottos, waterfalls, hidden pathways and magical spaces.

Cascais

Cascais, Portugal

Just 30 minutes from Lisbon, Cascais might just be the European beach town of your dreams. Overlooking a yacht-speckled bay, the city charms with stunning beaches, a laid-back vibe and a surprising cultural heart.

Eat
Local seafood and mountains of fluffy coriander rice come with a gorgeous view of the bay at the polished Maria Pia Seafood Lounge. It’s all about color at the rooftop Café Galeria House of Wonders, where the brightly painted walls match to the colorful vegetarian buffet of Mediterranean dishes.

Sip
Set in the seaside Farol Hotel, Bar Farol is a sophisticated choice for a pre-dinner cocktail. The beer is cold and the beach drinks—margaritas, mojitos, caipharinias—are delicious at Bar Praia da Rainha, which is parked right on the sand.

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West of Cascais, Guincho Beach is a reliable break that attracts surfers of all levels; in town, the Museu Condes de Castro Guimares’ fanciful turrets and collection of rare books are reminders of the region’s history as a wealthy retreat. Nearby, Rua Frederico Arouca is lined with small local shops and galleries.

Porto

Porto, Portugal

Porto may lack Lisbon’s grandeur, but it more than makes up for it with dazzling sights—lacy bridges, elaborate architecture, waterfront cafes—that appear as if by magic around every corner. And maybe it is magic: Rumor has it that many of the settings former resident JK Rowling created for the Harry Potter series were inspired by Porto.

Eat
Nosh on petiscarias, or Portuguese-style tapas at the new Euskalduna Studio; Cana Verde serves Portuguese comfort food in a cozy room decorated with traditional azulejo tiles.

Sip
Fancy cocktails at RIB Bar arrive on witty tableaus inspired by the origin of their ingredients. Porto’s oldest coffeehouse, A Brasileira, has been restored down to the floor tiles; it’s a glamorous space for coffee or something stronger.

Play
Although Port wine is actually created in the Douro Valley, its spiritual home is in Porto. Tasting rooms in Vila Nova de Gaia will help you appreciate the sweet elixir. Afterwards, stroll across the Pont Luis I, which was designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel, then head to Porto’s lively riverfront for a drink.

Douro Valley

douro valley, portugal

The world’s oldest established wine region is also one of its most beautiful: High mountains stippled with curved vineyards plunge into the Douro River as it winds through green valleys. Train service from Porto to Regua makes the trip easy.

Eat
Castas e Pratos serves contemporary Portuguese cuisine in a renovated train station in Regua. Have lunch on the outdoor terrace at Quinta do Seixo, where you can toast the sweeping view with a retro bottle of Mateus, one of the company’s brands.

Sip
Established in 1738, Quinta da Pacheca produces 30 different bottlings of Port and dry wines; taste as many as you dare in an outdoor patio shaded by sycamore trees. Known as much for its contemporary architecture as it is for its wines, Quinta do Vallado offers everything from basic tastings to blending workshops.

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Learn fun facts like how Port wine was created (by mistake!) at the Douro Museum in Regua; the museum shop is packed with well-priced ceramics, jewelry and other items made by local artisans. In Covelinhas, Quinta dos Murcas offers tastings and guided hikes through the vineyards.

The Algarve

algarve, portugal

With its bluer-than-blue water, tidy fishing villages and cove beaches tucked into craggy rock formations, the Algarve is where the Atlantic does its best impression of the Mediterranean. Although the region has begun to peek out from under the radar, you can still find quiet strands and bargains galore.

Eat
Located in a former art gallery in Lagos, Cacto serves a delicious assortment of dishes that ranges from curry to garlic prawns. Octopus is a regional specialty of the village of Santa Luzia; try it at Casa do Polvo.

Sip
Friendly Symbiosis shakes up creative, well-priced craft cocktails in Faro’s hip Albufeira neighborhood; after perusing the shop and gallery at Mar d’Estorias, head upstairs to the rooftop terrace for drinks and snacks with a view of Lagos’.

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Set on dramatic bluffs that form the southernmost point in Europe, the 16th-century Fortaleza de Sagres, or the Fort of Sagres, is rife with history, views and a bit of mystery. Submarine Beach (Praia Do Submarino) was named for the giant rock formation just off the coast that resembles a partially submerged submarine.

Tagged: International

Katie McElveen

Katie McElveen

Katie McElveen

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If you’re looking in the mirror and wondering when it’s time you finally take the plunge and book your first trip overseas to Europe, then yes, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, you’re the smartest of them all!”

2015 is definitely THE year to travel.

Related: 7 breathtaking cruise ports around the world

While the strength of the U.S. dollar increases, you’re literally getting more bang for your buck. The Euro is down and that means all of your European expenses subsequently are too! Things thattake up a majority of your traveling expenses such as transportation, accommodation, and food will all be less than it was last year.

The exchange rate is in your favor, America.

Now that you’ve picked a date, and you’re all set for your first European getaway, I’ve compiled a list of the cheapest destinations that I’ve experienced while gallivanting through this amazing continent. While there are plenty more suitable candidates, these are the ones I enjoyed the most.

5. Nice, France
This gorgeous coastal city on the French Riviera is not only a 4 train ride away from Monaco (which hello, who doesn’t want to go there for a quick day trip to drool over things you can’t afford and breathe the same oxygen as the affluent), but it’s also incredibly scenic. From the hilltop views, to the promenade, your camera will be in Heaven. With the varied cuisine, you can easily eat well for under 10 a meal.

The view of the Promenade from Castle Hill!

The view of the Promenade from Castle Hill!

4. Granada, Spain
Granada is one of the few cities where you get free tapas with your drinks! I’ll say that again — FREE TAPAS! Quick reminder, tapas are mini portions of food to satisfy temporary cravings. We call them appetizers in America.

These tapas can range from plates of rice, to croquettes, to a large meatball, and other variations of Spanish-influenced foods.

So your beer, which is already €1 on average, now comes with a plate of rice. So for the whopping price of €2, you could have two drinks and two plates of food. There are some places who even increase the portion and amount of food with every drink you purchase. Seriously Granada, you’re a walking dream for a budgeter’s heart. Get over here and let me love you.

Enjoying my large meatball and bread!

Enjoying my large meatball and bread!


3. Athens, Greece
Despite what the news outlets want you to think about the whole situation with Greece’s debt and failing economy, think about it, they need tourism now more than ever! So please don’t let the media scare you into thinking you should avoid Greece by any means!

Athens, despite its graffiti-filled alleys and streets, is still one of the most historically-beautiful cities the European continent has to offer, and if you’re looking for ways to support their economy, then come and spend your dollars here! As many banks are temporarily out of business, just be sure to have enough cash on you to last you through your time there. That being said, always stay alert for pickpockets! You can read more tips about that in general here.

P.S. Gyros will be your best friend.

Standing atop of Acropolis Hill!

Standing atop of Acropolis Hill after having a glass of wine or 5.

2. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon just might be my favorite city in Europe. I’m in denial because my heart belongs to Barcelona, where I lived for an entire year. But Lisbon truly has it all. The food, museums, and free open air festivals make it such an attractive city for your wallet.

There are also gorgeous baths, markets, and parks to really experience an authentic atmosphere. The people are super friendly and even though you won’t know a lick of Portuguese, your eyes won’t have any problems reading all the prices under €5 that you’ll see on the menu.

Lisbon

1. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Barthelona. Oh how you have my heart. Barcelona is a top destination for Erasmus students, gap years, vacationers, and everyone else in between because of its wide variety of everything from affordable living to free Wi-Fi in most public parks and streets.

Barcelona does a great job of looking out for its tourists. After all, they do make up a large percentage of their economy, so they find ways to accommodate and cater to their needs.

While this may include street vendors selling you 1 cans of beer to casually drink on the metro before arriving to the local bodega or free concerts in parks, you can always count on a city like Barcelona to make an extremely fun, affordable, and unforgettable getaway when crossing the Atlantic. Every day feels like a walk through a museum as you take in the gorgeous scenery from the architectural genius of Antoni Gaudí, whether at La Sagrada Familia or strolling through Park Guell.

Barcelona is simply NOT to be missed!

The view from the top of Montjuïc Park.

The view from the top of Montjuïc!

CTIXblog CTA _ cheap of the week

Tagged: Beach, Cheap Tips, Destinations, Family, Food & drink, FREE!, International

Gloria Atanmo
Gloria Atanmo is an adventure-junkie currently on a 2-year jaunt through Europe after booking a one-way ticket. She enjoys discovering the unequivocal education of travel, risks, and hustle. Follow her journey on Instagram (@glographics) or her blog (www.TheBlogAbroad.com).
Gloria Atanmo

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