Portugal Highlights: Our Family Vacation to Portugal and Spain

Back in pre-Covid times, when the world was much more carefree and we had the luxury of traveling and exploring new places, my family and I had the pleasure of visiting Portugal. Portugal is a small country on the very western coast of Europe and is only accessible to the rest of the continent by going through Spain, which we also visited on this trip. Portugal may be small, but it is packed with breathtaking views, beautiful architecture, and plenty of fascinating historical sites. While there, my family—my husband, myself, and our three kids—visited popular Lisbon, the famous Algarve Caves, and the small town of Silves, among much more. We then headed on over to a small jaunt in Spain, where we visited the old city of Seville.

Lisbon Portugal

Our Family on the Streets of Lisbon

Living in America, a rather young country by most of the world’s standards, we don’t often get to see such old architecture and witness such ancient history. So visiting Lisbon was a marvel in and of itself. We did what many people do to take in as many sights as we could—we did a walking tour of the city. Lisbon is Portugal’s capitol city; its beautiful pastel-colored, red-roof buildings are situated on hilly land, and if you climb to the summit of any of these many hills, you will be treated to the gorgeous sight of the many beaches just outside the capitol city. While wandering through the city, we visited the Lisbon Synagogue—a historical and lovely sight to see. The outside of the church is bright, white, and angular, but the inside greets you with vaulted ceilings that reach high over your head for several stories. The main corridor is lined on either side by colonnades of Corinthian pillars, and the solemn and reverent sight truly transports you to another time.

Rossio Square Fountain Lisbon Portugal

Ari and Elie in front of the Rossio Fountain in Rossio Square, Lisbon

We then had some fun walking down the Rua Augusta—Lisbon’s biggest and most popular street for shopping. It is something like Manhattan’s famed 5th avenue, but instead of Tiffany’s and Saks, you will find mosaic patterned streets and storefronts in beautiful, ancient buildings so typical in Lisbon. Even so, you will discover some amazing and fun finds here!

Rua Augusta Shopping Portugal

Visiting the shops on the Rua Augusta

We also spent some time in Cascais. Cascais is a resort town on the west coast of Portugal, just west of its neighbor Lisbon. This little town is known for its gorgeous beaches and is found along the Portuguese Riviera—a high-end string of Portuguese coastal villages. The waters are a beautiful turquoise, the beaches are lined with palm trees, and the clustered buildings are beautiful white-washed stucco with matching terracotta tiled roofs. Cascais, and the rest of the Portuguese Riviera, are absolutely worth the visit, and you will fall in love with this beautiful village!

Cascais Portugal Portuguese Riviera

The Beautiful Town of Cascais

Also located on the Portuguese Riviera is the town of Sintra. This small town is a popular destination for people all around the world, and it’s no surprise why! With its breathtaking scenery, picturesque hilly landscapes, and even castles straight out of a fairytale, Sintra should be a stop on everyone’s bucket list. We, of course, took this opportunity to visit the famed Sintra castle, the Pena National Palace. This gorgeous palace was first built in the 1400s, during the middle ages, and has been deemed one of the seven wonders of Portugal. From its perch atop the Sintra Mountains, the castle can be seen for miles all around. Castles are always so fun to visit, and filled with such rich history, and the Pena National Palace is no exception. With its beautiful, vibrant red, purple, and yellow outer walls and turrets, its domed roofs, battlements, and white accents, this palace looks like every fairytale castle we dreamed of as children brought to life.

Sintra Castle Pena National Palace Mountains

The Sintra Castle Pena National Palace

While in Portugal, we also spent plenty of time in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, which is known for its white-sand beaches and warm ocean water. We visited Silves, which holds plenty of historical significance as it was the former capital of the Kingdom of the Algarve until its collapse during the middle ages. While in the Algarve, we stayed at the Monchique Resort, which overlooks the beautiful Portugal coastline. This lovely hotel is nestled in the mountains and was a wonderful way to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities and villages we visited. It was a wonderful place to be able to relax and unwind, surrounded by nature, and be able to escape the exciting city for some time and rejuvenate.

Portugal Hotel

Ari with the staff of the Monchique Resort

Another must-see stop we made in the Algarve was to the Algarve Caves. Even if you do not recognize the name, you most certainly would recognize the site of these famous caves! These caves are situated along the coast, and in some places, the ocean waves lap right into the caves’ entrances, so you can swim or walk in your exploration. The most famous sight within these caves is the large circular opening that opens up to the sky above. The cave itself is shaped like a dome and at the very top is an almost perfectly circular hole, from where the sun shines down. Inside the cave is a sandy beach and the ocean flows in as well, making it a perfect place to visit the beach without the worry of getting sunburned!

Algarve caves

The beautiful Algarve caves

As our time in Portugal came to a close, we made our way over to its neighbor, Spain, and spent some time there. We visited Cordoba, a breathtaking, ancient city filled with history, beautiful monuments, and old sites. While there, we spent a lot of time learning about the history of the town. We saw churches and mosques, synagogues, and even an old Jewish museum, the Casa de Sefarad. The Casa de Sefarad is a beautiful museum filled with enriching and historical exhibits and artifacts—we even saw a statue of Maimonides, one of the most influential Jewish philosophers of the middle ages.

Cordoba Spain

The beautiful architecture of Cordoba, Spain

Finally, we ended our trip by visiting the Spanish town of Seville. Seville is the capitol of southern Spain and is famous for being the birthplace of flamenco dancing. Of course, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity, and during our visit, we saw a real live flamenco dancing show. It was a beautiful sight, to see the dancers move so gracefully and fluidly, while their ruffled and colorful clothes flowed around them. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience! We spent most of our time in Seville just walking around the old city, taking in the sights. Seville has many well-known landmarks, including the Seta de Seville sculpture and the Alcázar of Seville castle. The Alcázar of Seville was built all the way back in the 700s and is a beautiful, historical site that everyone should visit. It has sprawling courtyards and gardens lined with archways that lead into the stunning interior. Inside, you will find mosaics and intricate ornamentations on every surface, and being surrounded by the ancient mudéjar architecture truly does transport you to the past. Just like the Pena National Palace in Portugal, the Alcázar of Seville is truly one of a kind and should be a destination for everyone traveling to Spain.

Alcazar of Seville

Aderet and Ari at the Alcazar of Seville in Spain

Atara Twersky is a TODAY Show Style Icon, and an attorney in Manhattan where she lives with her husband and three kids. She is also author of the popular Curlee Girlee book series, inspired by her youngest daughter. She is the host of two podcasts, Changing the Course and Pension Trends Plus.