A Review of the Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort in the Algarve Portugal

Hotel Review Portugal Algarve
Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort

We recently explored the Algarve in Portugal for a weekend and decided to base our stay in Albufeira. It was right in the middle of the different districts in the Algarve so it seemed like a great location. During our stay we stayed at the Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort. It touts itself as a five star hotel which seems like a bit of a stretch when compared to five star hotels in other cities like Las Vegas. However, even if it does come a little bit short compared to Las Vegas five-star standards, we still loved this place and would recommend it to anyone.

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Hotel Review Portugal Algarve

Location: B+

The location for hotel is okay. There are some restaurants and bars in walking distance but the most interesting part of the city, which is Old Town Albufeira in my opinion, is about a 45 minute walk. There’s a shuttle bus that runs from the hotel into the town center so that helps but if you stay at this hotel and want to have a good night out with a couple of pitchers of sangria, your best bet is to rely on a cab to get back because it’s going to likely be a long walk.

Hotel Review Portugal Algarve

Service: A+

Extremely friendly, helpful, and courteous. They also all spoke great English and seemed to go out of their way to make sure that everything was okay for us.

Cleanliness: A+

This was probably one of the cleanest hotels we’ve stayed at in any European country to date.

Rooms: A+

The rooms were huge and our studio came with a microwave and stove top and plenty of dishes. The bathrooms were pretty spacious as well. We decided to save some $ and not go with the ocean view rooms but I’m sure those would’ve been great. If you’re coming from the United States, this is the type of room size you come to expect but have a hard time finding in Europe for any kind of reasonable price, so it was great to finally have a room where we had plenty of space to put out our belongings and move around.

Hotel Review Portugal Algarve

Beds: A/B

If you love firm mattresses then you will be in heaven here… however, if you’re like me and prefer a softer mattress it will take a little getting used to. Still, there were plenty of soft blankets and pillows to help out so I slept every well. Also, the beds are huge! I think our bed may have been a California king or something because it was one of the biggest beds I’ve ever slept in.

Hotel Review Portugal Algarve

Bang for Buck: A+

We were able to use an Expedia coupon and get a $50 discount on our hotel so we only paid about $75 for two nights! Compared to other hotels we’ve stayed at in Amsterdam, Paris, and Madrid, this was an absolute steal!  Even without the $50 discount it still would’ve been a great deal for us, given its great location, spacious rooms, and amazing service.

Hotel Review Portugal Algarve

Overall: A

Overall, I highly recommend this hotel and would definitely consider staying there again for our next stay in the Algarve. If you’re interested in staying at this hotel click here to find the latest deal!

Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort in the Algarve Portugal FAQ

What restaurants are at Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort in the Algarve Portugal?

You can find the following restaurants:

Real Cozinha Restaurante
Real Bar & Steakhouse
Atlantic Restaurante-Bar

How far away is Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort in the Algarve Portugal from Lisbon Portela Airport?

The hotel is approximately 2 hours 19 minutes from Lisbon Portela Airport by car.

What is the phone number for Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort in the Algarve Portugal?

The phone number for Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort in the Algarve Portugal is +351289598000.

Should You Drive in Lisbon, Portugal? Probably Not.

Every once in a while, we find ourselves in a sticky situation. A situation where we’re not sure how we got there and would really like to get out. Driving in Lisbon, Portugal on a busy sunny weekend was one of those situations. If you are thinking about renting a car and driving through the streets of Lisbon then please consider the advice in this post.

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Driving in Lisbon

First, let me just say that I didn’t do any of the driving — our car was manual and I’ve yet to teach myself how to work such a thing so my SO Brad handled the wheel while I was busy recording footage out the window with our GoPro. Brad’s a very efficient and experienced driver. In fact, he’s one of the best drivers I know. With that said, driving through Lisbon was still an overall “nightmarish” experience for both of us.

Road to Lisbon Portugal

Arriving in Lisbon

We first arrived in Lisbon from the south, over the 25 de Abril Bridge bridge — you know the beautiful bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s a hell of a way to make your entrance into Lisbon, with great views of the surrounding bay/river. Everything was pretty good up to that point. And really, things were still okay once we made it across the bridge.

Bridge at Lisbon Portugal

Our first destination was to find Pasteis de Belem, so we turned west right off from the bridge. This area in Lisbon was totally tolerable from a traffic standpoint. While I found that they did drive quite aggressively in Lisbon, there wasn’t a very high concentration of crazy drivers or pedestrians in the west area of the city.

Busy street at Lisbon Portugal

We even easily found open parking very near to Pasteis de Belem and were able to park our car and then walk about the area and admire some of the colorful architecture. It was still relatively early, about 10-11am, so the streets weren’t congested too bad, though the line at Pasteis de Belem was already waayyy out of the building.

Buildings in Lisbon Portugal
Buildings in Lisbon Portugal

After we had a little breakfast, we decided to check out the really interesting part of Lisbon: Old Town Lisbon. This is where all of the amazing castles, viewpoints, and awesome hills are. Little did we know, things were about to get really hectic.

The madness begins

Trolly in Lisbon Portugal

As we began to approach the hilly side of Lisbon, the lanes became narrower and we soon found ourselves navigating a labyrinth of tight corners, alleyways, busy pedestrian crossings, clamoring cable cars, and tuk-tuks. The drivers became much more aggressive in this part of town. We got cut off, yelled at, honked at, and received a bunch of crazy stares as we fought for survival. It was every man or woman for themselves.

The thing was, this seemed like just another Saturday in Lisbon, not too much out of the ordinary. It was stressfull and pretty annoying but we still maintained our composure, at least for a while.

Things became a bit unravelled at one point when we got stuck behind a pile of cable cars that weren’t moving at all. The worst part: we were in the middle of a really busy intersection! Herds of pedestrians were weaving through the intersection, in front of us and in back so we couldn’t move. Cars were laying on their horns. Bells were ringing. People were shouting.

At this point, the honking and defensive gesturing had gone on long enough, so I jumped out of the car and actually started to direct traffic.  Looking like Chris Pratt out of Jurassic World, I stood out in the middle of the street and forced pedestrians to hold and signaled for a line (yes, an entire of line of bumper-to-bumper vehicles that were behind us) of cars  to back the f*** up and  let us get out!

(It’s really too bad I didn’t have the GoPro running for all this.)

The crazy thing is that the people actually listened to me. One by one, the cars slowly moved back. The pedestrians waited patiently. And once there was as little as an inch for us to break free, we darted down some tight roads not even trying to get the GPS to work and just hoped to find somewhere where we would decompress (and maybe chug a pitcher or two of sangria). The only problem was that we needed to stop to do so and so our quest to find parking in Lisbon began.

We drove, and drove, and drove, looking for parking and found nothing! The parking lots were all full. And not just full, but jam-packed to the point that if you entered into a lot it was pretty much the land-of-no-return and you weren’t going to be able to get out. The streets were lined with vehicles for what seemed like miles. And what made it worse is the whole time you’re looking for non-existent parking, you’re also trying to avoid collisions with cable cars and a bunch of drivers who are zipping through the streets like they’re trying avoiding the policia.

A parallel parking spot, on a steep incline, with only enough room to fit a slim stack of Euros between the cars.

Calm area of Lisbon Portugal
A calm section of Old Town

However, we finally did find parking about a mile and a half further from where we were originally planning to park. Even this spot was a challenge. A parallel parking spot, on a steep incline, with only enough room to fit a slim stack of Euros between the cars. Luckily, we squeezed right in, half of our vehicle hanging up on the curb. The entire process had only lasted about an hour but it was the most stressful hour we’d experienced in Portugal by far.

Once we finally got out of our car we made sure to make the most of our time and resorted to walking everywhere so we didn’t have to go through that experience any longer. And while we weren’t able to catch a ride on a cable car, we did very much enjoy walking around the city — it’s definitely a great place to stroll around and with the hills and cable cars clamoring around, it reminded me of San Francisco.

Lisbon Portugal

So that was our driving experience in Lisbon…. I do want to say that we only spent one day driving in Lisbon so it could’ve been just a crazy day or we could’ve just gotten really unlucky and it may not always be so crazy. However, from other research that I’ve done, Lisbon just seems like a tough place to get around in a vehicle. With all that said here are a few pointers if you’re considering driving in Lisbon:

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Try to avoid driving in Old Town

Driving in the Algarve was fine and even driving outside of Old Town Lisbon was okay. Therefore, I recommend that if you must drive in Lisbon, try to park away from Old Town and then make your way into Old Town via cab, bus, tram, or just resort to walking.

Try to avoid weekend driving

It’s very possible that given the beautiful conditions and the fact that it was a Saturday, we were just asking for crazy conditions in Lisbon for driving. I know plenty of other cities that also become nightmares for parking and such on weekends, so maybe if you can swing driving in the middle of the week, it won’t be so bad?

Only try this if you know you can handle it

Only attempt driving in Old Town if you’re comfortable. For some, it may not be as bad of an experience. There are some areas that aren’t heavily congested and are a lot of fun to ride through. And even amidst all the pandemonium, looking back it was still kind of fun so if you like really adventurous stuff you might actually enjoy it a bit. However, if you’re the type who really doesn’t deal well with stressful driving conditions, then Old Town Lisbon is not the place for you to drive because those brief moments of calmness are outweighed by the craziness.

Be aggressive

Be aggressive. This is the only way you’re going to find parking and not have to waste a lot of time getting stuck because of inconsiderate drivers. If you’re from a part of the world where drivers regularly offer to give you room to pull out or to make your life a little easier, that’s likely not going to happen here.

Don’t rely too much on your navigation system

Don’t rely too much on your navigation system. Our navigation system, while rock-solid in the Algarve, was going mad due to the maze of streets we were trying to work through. It proved to pretty much be useless when we got to the really densely populated parts of Old Town. You’re better off relying on manual GPS tracking or even a paper map.

Remember where you’re parked

Take extra time to remember where you parked if you ended up finding a parking spot in some random side-alley among the maze of streets. It’s really easy to lose track of where you parked in those areas. And if you just really want to park in the one of the lots close to the famous lookout points located around the city then my suggestion is to make it to Old Town at like 8am and stake out your parking spot so that you can have it for the the day (assuming you can park there that long).

I hope I’m not making it sound like the Portuguese are A-holes because they were absolutely great people with an amazing culture. I think their driving, which was crazy to us, is simply “just the way they do things.” They’re not trying to be rude to you, so try not to take offense when you get cut off by car after car who feel no need to use their turn signal and just enjoy your time in Lisbon. After all, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, even if driving there is a bit absurd.


The Top Five Best Beaches to Visit in the Algarve, Portugal

Whether you have one week or only a weekend to explore the Algarve, you’ll find that you’ll have plenty of time to see some of the top beaches. On our recent trip to the Algarve we really only had about one full day to get out and explore but I felt like we were able to see many of the top sights there. We’d just spent months living in the cold and cloudy UK and the sun in southern Portugal felt like a warm slice of heaven every day we were there, especially at the beaches.  So here’s a breakdown of the top 5 best beaches to visit in the Algarve (the first two destinations aren’t exactly beaches but they are coastal destinations worth your time!).

National flag of Portugal

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1. Farol do Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent)

Cape St. Vincent is a stunning sea cliff area where instead of jumping into the water, you’ll just be amazed by the sheer beauty of the landscape. The Greeks and Romans actually believed this place to be sacred for hundreds of years; in fact, the Greeks actually built a temple there that they dedicated to Heracles. It was here that they believed the sun sunk from the sky and marked the edge of their world. It’s a fascinating feeling to look out from these cliffs and imagine that millions of people before you once thought that this marked the outer bounds of their existence….

Dramatic cliffs at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
Dramatic cliffs at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente

This cape was also a place of war, where pirates plundered from Holland and France. More buildings would likely still be standing here but the famous earthquake of 1755 is said to have flattened the area. Still, there’s an interesting lighthouse to check out that was built in 1846.

Red lighthouse at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
The Red lighthouse at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente

This was the first place that we stopped at on the edge of the European continent and it was our first glimpse of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. A heavy layer of grey clouds hovered overhead as we made out way from sunny Albufeira and with the coastal winds picking up, it was pretty cold at this spot so be prepared for winds and bring an outer layer. Also, be careful navigating around the cliff sides, they can be pretty treacherous at times, not to mention high at about 75 meters!

2. Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress)

This place is just a few kilometers south from Cape St. Vincent so it’s a must-see if you make it to the area. This is the only destination not 100% free but entrance into the fortress was only €3. This is the place where Prince Henry the Navigator built his famous school of navigation. Some of the most famous and well-respected mariners, astronomers, cartographers, and ship builders convened at this place to construct and learn how to navigate ships during the period known as the Age of Discoveries.

Cliffs outside Fortaleza de Sagres
The cliffs just outside of Fortaleza de Sagres

The fortress was originally built back in the 15th century but had to be rebuilt in 1793 after it was destroyed — not by earthquake — but by Sir Francis Drake back in 1587. It’s a cool structure to roam around and ponder the history of some of the greatest explorers of all time. One of the cool sights is the 39 meter wide wind compass that has been partially restored known as the “Wind Rose.”

The Wind Rose at Fortaleza de Sagres
The Wind Rose at Fortaleza de Sagres

I recommend walking around the trail that follows along the outside of the peninsula where you can stand among the most southwestern point of Europe and look out from the cliffsides. You’ll likely comes across several local fisherman perched out on the edge of these cliffs trying to catch some tasty sea bass.

Paved trail at Fortaleza de Sagres
Paved trail at Fortaleza de Sagres

There’s also really intriguing geology around the area with rocks scattered about that kind of give off an otherworldly feel.

Rocky terrain Portugal
Interesting rocks

Once you make your way back to the entrance of the fortress you can ascend to the top of a mound that sits over the entrance gates and catch a better view of the wind compass and other surroundings.

Outside fortress at Fortaleza de Sagres Portugal
The outside of the fortress at Fortaleza de Sagres

3. Praia De Dona Ana

After you get your history fix and battle the likely cold windy conditions found on edge of the continent it’s time for you to head back east toward some more laid back beaches. One of the best views in the entire Algarve has to be Praia De Dona Ana!

Portugal Algarve Praia De Dona Ana
Praia De Dona Ana

There’s a small parking lot right by the beach that surely is taken up during peak season but at other times of the year will likely still have spots open. From the lookout point, you’ve got great photo opportunities of the clear, blueish-green waters and golden sea stacks.

Algarve Portugal Praia De Dona Ana
Praia De Dona Ana

The beach also look irresistible but because temperatures were still a bit cold, we held off from swimming. If you happen to be visiting the Algarve in the summer, especially on the weekend, then you better get here early because this is one of the most busy beaches in the Lagos area.

4. Praia De São Rafael

Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael

We caught this beach right at sunset and it was one of the most relaxing scenes I can recall from my entire stay in Europe. What was also great is that there was nobody around whatsoever. We were able to hop around the lush sea bluffs for over an hour, exploring little crevices in the sides of the cliffs and opting for photos without seeing a soul (other than a few fisherman perched in the distance).

Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael
Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael
Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael

There is a restaurant/bar located right on the beach that looked like fun  but we opted to stay perched on the edge of the cliffs in solitude. Climbing around these cliff areas is exciting but again just make sure that you exercise plenty of caution when you attempt this because it’s a pretty long drop all the way down.

5. Benagil Beach, Faro, Portugal

Bengail Beach is a must stop. The beach area is nice and all but the reason that you want to come to this beach is for the awesome sea cave tour that you can embark on! You’ll be darting through grottos and catching glimpses of color-changing seas as you zip through the sea stacks along the shore.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour
Benagil Beach Sea Cave Tour

The highlight of the boat tour is catching the famous Benagil Sea Cave. Try to allocate about an hour total if you’re planning on doing a tour and check out the link above if you’re interested in finding out more for information on the grotto tour.

Benagil Sea Cave
Benagil Sea Cave

The “secret beach”

There is a secret beach called Praia do Carvalho (ssshhh…) in the Algarve that is accessible via a cave and it is just west of Benagil Beach. We saw this beach from our boat tour and were not able to actually go down on the beach but it looked like a really cool secluded beach that you could check out!

Remember, we saw all of these top five beaches in one day and still had time to settle down for a bit and enjoy a couple of great meals, so even if you only have one or two days in the Algarve you can still see plenty (just get an early start)!


Looking for more information about Portugal? Check out where to eat in the Algarve and find out how to work the toll roads!

Foods and Drinks You Must Try in Portugal!

Portugal is a great country to visit for foodies, especially if you are into a variety of different seafood dishes. Here are 8 foods and drinks that you must try if you visit Portugal. (These were found in both the Lisbon area and the Algarve and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding them in either region.)

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1. Grilled Sea Bass

Grilled sea bass Portugal

The first thing to know about ordering fish of just about any type in Portugal is that you will have to pick out the bones. On top of that, you will sometimes have the skin on the fish as well (this is uncommon in most American restaurants – we usually don’t do bones or skin). We ordered grilled sea bass twice (once in the Algarve and another time in Lisbon) and the latter time, the fish came out with the skin. We’d never tried skin on fish before but it wasn’t bad at all! In fact, the grilled sea bass boasted an amazing, juicy texture that was full of flavor — I definitely recommend you trying it if you’re making you’re way to Portugal.

2. Salted Cod (Bacalhau)

Salted cod Portugal

This is the national dish of Portugal and so it’s also a must-try while you are there. I had some very tasty cod at a cafe in Lisbon, near one of the famous overlooks. While I enjoyed the fish, they definitely don’t hold back on the salt at all. I know I ordered salted cod but I just didn’t expect it to so salty that I couldn’t even finish it. So if you’re a salt person, you can’t go wrong with the fish but if salty foods aren’t your thing, maybe stick to some other dishes. Just know that the Portuguese claim that there’s over 365 to 1,000 different ways to cook their cod so you might be getting something a little different each time you try it.

3. Tapas

Tapas Portugal

Most people think of Spain when they hear someone mutter something about tapas but don’t forget that Portugal has some amazing tapas that you can find as well! We had one of the best tapas plates in the Algarve while we were in Portugal. It had a little bit of everything: octopus, crab, shrimp, squid, etc. but it was one of the best meals we had during our European trips!

4. Pastéis de Belém

Pasteis de Belem Portugal
Pasteis de Belem Portugal

This dish at this specific place is sort of a rite of passage when you visit Portugal. The custard dishes are very good and if there’s one place to try them it’s here. Don’t be too intimidated if you show up on a weekend and there’s a huge crowd – it actually moves pretty quickly because this place is used to dealing with the crowds. I was slightly disappointed to hear that they only had one flavor variety for the dish but in a way it kind made it appeal a bit more to me in a classical sense (I think you can top them with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon). They stuff the pastries in a cylinder for you to take on the go so you can always order more than you think you can handle, though the eggy centers of these pastries are very rich!

5. Green Wine (Vinho Verde)

Vinho Verde Portugal

For me, green wine or Vinho Verde was more of something that we just had to try. Before you get too excited just know that “green wine” isn’t actually green. Green refers to the type of grapes used in the winemaking process so your “green wine” could actually be red or white. These grapes used are younger than the ones typically used producing wine and that’s what gives off the light and slightly sparkling taste. I’m not much of a fan of white wine and that’s the type of vinho verde we ordered so I can’t really rave too much about it. However, if you like drier wines with a bit of a tartness then you’ll probably fall in love with this stuff.

6. Chicken Piri Piri

Piri Piri Chicken Portugal

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Portuguese cuisine is chicken Piri Piri. The chicken we had with Piri Piri sauce was great. Full of spice and flavor. Although the Piri Piri peppers used to marinate and bast the chicken originated in South Africa, you can find Piri Piri sauce bottles and menu options just about anywhere in Portugal. We wanted to really expand our horizons so we didn’t eat it more than once but I don’t think you can go wrong with this dish while in Portugal.

7. White Sangria

White sangria Portugal

We tried some great white sangria (or sangria blanca) in the Algarve. Every place that we tried the more traditional red sangria was also pretty good as well. I also enjoyed seeing sangria on tap as I thought that was pretty cool but the best stuff was always the pitchers full of chopped berries and fruits that you knew were fresh and required a little bit of work to put together.

Fun Fact: As of January 2014,  the European Union only allows sangria made in Portugal or Spain to bear the name “sangria.”

8. Steak and Eggs

I’m not sure exactly how traditional this meal is to the Portuguese but I saw it on menus at a few different restaurants. Since breakfast isn’t really a big deal in Portugal it can be a little difficult to find hearty breakfast options at restaurants. We came upon a place outside of Lisbon where we ordered steak and eggs for a nice brunch that filled us up. You might not be able to find it at many cafes around breakfast time but it’s a good option if you’re in the mood for something a bit more familiar while staying in Portugal.

Need more info on visiting Portugal?

Find out how to work the toll system from Lisbon to the Algarve or find some great places to eat in the Algarve!

A Guide to the Tolls in Portugal: Lisbon to the Algarve

The toll system in Portugal is still a little confusing to me even after going through it this past spring in 2015. I heard from numerous sources that there were different rates and ways to pay while planning our trip yet when we arrived to rent our car it seemed that a lot of that information was wrong.

So here’s what you can expect when renting a car while trying to get from Lisbon to the Algarve.

Renting a car at Lisbon Airport

First thing is renting the car. We found the rental procedure at Lisbon Airport to be pretty straight forward. We went with Avis and the staff for them was very helpful and spoke pretty good English so there weren’t really any hiccups in the process.

Also, for Avis, we didn’t have to take a shuttle or anything to get our car because the garage is right there by the airport so that was nice and that appears to be the same for other car rental companies.

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Get the transponder

When renting your car with Avis be sure to tell them that you want the transponder in your car.

I recall there being a small fee for having the transponder put into the car and a small daily fee as well but from my understanding the alternative routes for paying would’ve been to find some random post offices or pay shops to pay the tolls or some other means that we weren’t fully clear on.

The only thing we were clear on was that the transponder would allow us to be charged as we travelled and then we would pay one final fee at the end (though the bill takes about a month to hit your credit card). Thus, going with the transponder seemed like the most convenient way for dealing with the tolls.

Toll transponder Portugal
The transponder.

Note: There may be easier ways for you depending on your routes and destinations, but I’m simply stating what worked for us to get us from Lisbon to the Algarve in a relatively simple way. Quite frankly, every other way of paying sounded like a headache compared to this way.

How exactly do all the tolls work?

While we understood how we would pay for what we would be charged, I still wasn’t clear on how all of the tolls worked. When I asked Avis how much we should expect to pay, the staff member just told me that it ranged from like €1-€20 — a pretty drastic range.

When I pressed with more questions, she attempted to explain how it all worked but it wasn’t really getting across. It ended up being one of those slightly awkward scenarios where you just kind of act like you understand what the person is telling you for the sake of moving on to your next destination.

Freeway in Portugal

Once you get your car you want to think about your route and how the tolls are going to add up for you. I’m pretty sure that each toll works in a different way depending on your location.

Unlike in most areas in the United States, where you pay the total toll once you pass through each toll gate, on the highway to the Algarve you first drive through an entry gate that begins the “toll” for your charge and then once you pass through an exit gate — depending on how many miles you’ve traveled — your total will then be calculated based on the distance.

(I think this is how it works based on how we were charged, so you might want to make sure for yourself.)

Here’s a helpful link with a breakdown of charges you can expect on major routes.

You should be able to see the toll fee light up on the screen as you pass through but not every toll showed the total. Also, if you go the transponder route you’ll pass through the lanes on the left, under the green “V” signs each time. I’m not sure how the other lanes work at all.

Toll road Portugal

Getting from Lisbon to the Algarve via Highway A2

If you travel straight from Lisbon to the Algarve via A2 you should expect to be charged right around €20!

To get to the Algarve from Lisbon we took the A2/E1 highway, which is one of the most popular toll highways. We knew we would be getting charged but we didn’t realize it would be about €20!

The alternative to taking the A2 highway is to jump on the IC1 (on the west) but when we input that route into our GPS it added almost 2 hours to our route.

Whether that was accurate or not we were a bit short on time and sunlight so we opted to take the quickest route to get to the Algarve.

Car navigation

While the tolls can be a bit confusing and stressful the good news is that the drive down to the Algarve is a very scenic drive even on the A2.

I suspect that the smaller highways may have been a bit more scenic but I can’t verify that. If you’ve never driven in Portugal be prepared for a lot of people speeding down the interstate in their little cars.

We didn’t have any major issues with them but you’re bound to come across several of these people who fly by at reckless speeds and never use their blinkers (turn signals).

A2 highway Portugal
Scenic hills along the A2

Tolls on the A22 Road in the Algarve

So once we arrived to the Algarve we jumped from town to town for the weekend.

We decided to use the A22 road (the toll road of the Algarve) instead of the free highway that runs roughly parallel to that road for the same reason as before: we were trying to see a lot of different spots in a short amount of time and the alternative route would’ve cost us a couple of hours overall of driving time.

Also, I was told that the free highway was poorly maintained and even worse, poorly marked, making it much more difficult to navigate so consider that.

I believe that the tolls on the A22 work differently than on the E1. These tolls charge you flat fees as you pass through their gates that are much cheaper and range from €0,50 to €2,00.

Here’s a breakdown of the fees charged on the A22 road.

As you can see, the fee charged to you depends on the class of vehicle you are driving and can vary by up to €1,50 depending on the location of that gate you are driving through.

How much do the tolls cost to travel from Lisbon to the Algarve roundtrip?

The final amount we were charged was: €55.

Keep in mind that this included the round trip from Lisbon to the Algarve and also several trips hopping around the different beaches and towns in the Algarve for a couple of days.

The one drawback to the transponder is that you are putting trust in the rental company to get your charges correct. Apparently, there are stories of people getting screwed over by the car companies but I don’t think that happened in our case.

I think it was safe to assume that we were charged correctly and I only would’ve questioned the charge if it had been a pretty outrageous number. Still, it’d be a good idea to calculate a rough estimate before you get charged so you can get a sense of what you will be paying.

Again, I can’t say for sure how all of the different tolls work in Portugal. It is a bit confusing and a bit stressful for outsiders to deal with. However, if you are planning on traveling from Lisbon to  the Algarve then I highly suggest that you go with the transponder and expect to pay around what we payed for a couple of days worth of exploring.

Now that you know how the tolls work in Portugal be sure to check out the best sea cave tour in the Algarve and also where to eat in the Algarve!


The Best Sea Cave Tour in the Algarve: Benagil Sea Cave

Benagil Sea Cave in the Algarve is a true natural wonder. It’s a sea cave with a natural occurring oculus that towers over its own secluded beach. At the right time of day the Sun casts light through this dome, illuminating a stunning scene that anyone visiting Portugal should try to see. You may not come across a lot of articles on the tours offered to this site so here’s a look at what you can expect if you end up visiting the Benagil Sea Cave in the Algarve.

(If you want to get more details on visiting the Algarve then check out Lonely Planet’s pocket book for the Algarve.) 

Finding the beach

The first step is just getting to the beach. After loading “Benagil Beach” into your GPS try to select the route that appears to follow along the main roads as much as possible. We ended up venturing through some really tight back roadways and actually had to reverse out a few times because there wasn’t enough room for two cars to get through. So just be prepared for some very narrow roads as you approach the beach.

Once you arrive in the beach area there’s not really much room to park. It seems that everyone just parks along the street on an incline and we did just that.

Parking near Benagil Sea Cave
Parking near Benagil Sea Cave.

There are a couple of restaurants at the beach (we didn’t try) and there’s a snack bar right on the beach. We had a couple of sweets from there and the sangria that comes on tap just to hold us over for our tour (what’s a grotto tour without a little sangria?). There are also public restrooms at the beach so if you’re in need of a light snack and a bathroom break, you’ll be covered when you arrive.

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Booking a tour

To book your tour you have two options.

First, you can simply walk up to the little stand right in the middle of the beach area (you won’t be able to miss it). We showed up about 15 minutes before 1pm, which was perfect. The next tour was heading out at 1pm and there were still a couple of open slots for us to jump on board. However, that was in the off-season.

If you are visiting in the summer then I recommend booking online. Thankfully, you can now book online! Click here to make a booking on SeaBookings.com!

The boat is a little small and only carries about 8 passengers at a time but you won’t be squished which is great. The tours usually last 30 minutes to one hour and cost about €17.50 per person. (This might be different in peak season when they may offer more tours and have more boats on hand so keep that in mind.)

As soon as you strap your life jacket on  and step into the boat you’re off! We went on a perfect day. The tide was pretty low, the sea was calm, and the sky was about as clear as could be. It was probably about 70°F/20°C and after living in the cold UK for the past few months, it was such a relief to be back in the sun and this warm nostalgia took me back to my days living in California.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour

The boat ride

We sped in and out of countless caves and alcoves all along the coast. Many of these caves were much larger than I thought they’d be. Watching the ocean’s green waters glimmer along the ceilings of these caves was stunning and not really easily captured with photographs. Other things not captured are the sounds and smells of the sea caves. As you enter into these dim chambers, the scent of salt water intensifies and the sounds of waves crashing into the rocks echo. The boat’s motor goes silent as do all of its passengers as they admire the scenery. It’s really an enchanting experience, especially the first few times you enter into the caves.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour

With the ocean as calm as it was on the day we visited it was hard to imagine how these placid waters had carved out these alcoves so deeply, but our guide assured us that during winter storms the waves often hit the ceilings in these caves! In one of the grottos a massive chunk of rock had obviously fell from the ceiling and was sitting right in the middle of the cave like its own little island. I certainly wouldn’t want to be around these caves in those kind of conditions.

We sat in each cave for only about 20 seconds before zipping out of the grotto at full speed and riding out into the sunny ocean in search of the next cave (often located right next door).  The most thrilling part of the tour was when our boat headed directly for a little opening at the base of the cliff that looked no bigger than a few feet high from the water’s surface. Not only did we go straight for it but our guide gunned it so we shot through this tight opening and into the darkness without a clue of what was in front of us. Luckily, a large cave opened up and we were all safe but not before experiencing a good thrill. Check out the video of that here.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour

Beautiful sea stacks and golden cliffs

Apart from going in and out of the caves, it’s a really cool experience to get up close to these massive sea stacks and to get such great views of the beautiful golden cliffs of the Algarve. Sea birds swoop down from the high cliffs and fisherman stand perched on the edge of these sheer cliffs overlooking the clear green waters as you make turn after turn of beautiful coastline. I didn’t see any fish but the water was very clear and you could often see the bottom a few feet down if you looked.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour
Algarve Sea Cave Tour
Algarve Sea Cave Tour

Once you enter through these dark portals the dim interior of the cave feels almost like a cathedral and they’re beautiful as well. The walls and ceilings are washed with different tones of green, gold, grey, and purple and some of them even have holes poking through their ceilings where the sun shoots through like laser beams. A lot of them had their own little sandy beaches inside that resembled little hidden coves that made me just want to get out, lie down on the beach, and forget that we were going to be heading back to the cloudy UK in 24 hours.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour

Color changing water

Another amazing sight inside was watching the water change color. As you approach the mouth of the caves from the inside the sun hits the water just right and illuminates it in a deep emerald green like a light glowing under a bubbling a hot-tub. It only lasts for a few seconds and once you pull out of the cave it’s back to its bright bluish-green color. This was one of the coolest effects to me and I kept trying to photograph that look as much as possible.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour

The famous Benagil Sea Cave

After exploring numerous sea caves on the western side of the beach we then made our way back over to towards Benagil Beach to check out the most famous of all the sea caves of the Algarve. I’m not sure if the cave has its own name and I’ve only seen it referred to as “Benagil Sea Cave” so if you’re looking for it that’s probably the best name to use to search for it.

Benagil sea cave

The most intriguing shot of this cave is actually taken from inside the sea cave on the sand. However, we we didn’t dock or anything inside the cave and I had to settle for the outside perspective, which was still quite stunning. I’d tried to contact a few people known for dropping off photographers in this cave for about an hour at a time and letting them photograph away but I didn’t have any luck. If I wasn’t lugging around my expensive DSLR and would’ve been content with just getting GoPro footage I definitely would’ve considered just swimming to this cave because it’s just next door to the beach. If you’re a strong swimmer and conditions are calm, you can definitely think about making the swim (though it’d probably be best to have some kind of floating device with you just in case).

Anyway, we stopped here for about a minute and the guide let us shoot away. I was on the outside of the boat and towards the back when we arrived at the cave, which gave me a pretty obstructed view of the cave. This made me worried because this was the cave I was most excited about photographing and it seemed like I wasn’t going to be able to get any decent shots. So I just starting shooting like crazy and hoping that one of my shots would come out. Thankfully, a few of them did!

Algarve Sea Cave Tour

Photographing the sea caves

Photographing the sea caves on these tours is not easy. If you’re like me and shoot manual with a DSLR you’re going to have to be on your “A” game. The first concern is the lighting that changes abruptly and dramatically, forcing you to change your settings within seconds before your boat departs. In addition to the lighting challenges, you have the boat rocking away to the rhythm of the waves. This makes any kind of slow shutter attempt basically impossible to handle without significant motion blur to your images. My strategy was to take every photo with multiple exposures and to just keep firing away! It worked some of the time and failed most of the time, but I took so many photos that at least a few of them came out okay.

Oh yeah — be sure to protect your camera. Our guide liked to spice things up by making some sharp turns and sending sea spray showering over us. Luckily, I’d remembered to bring my hat and was able to shield my camera from the salt water by placing it like a baby in my lap.

A sea cave tour in the Algarve is a must-see attraction! While I’d probably prefer a kayak tour over something like this, it was still a fantastic way to spend an hour exploring the Algarve coast!

If you’re still looking for a great place to stay in the Algarve, check out my review of the Grande Real Santa Eulalia Resort!


Where to Eat in the Algarve, Portugal

While planning for our upcoming trip I constantly read reviews about how touristy the Aglarve was and how we wouldn’t be able to find authentic Portuguese cuisine. However, after eating at a few places this past weekend I think that the food scene at the Algarve is fantastic and appeared to have plenty of places for some fairly authentic selections. Here’s a review of four places we ate  and drank at over the past weekend and what you can expect from those restaurants.

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1. Gran Via Tapas Bar (Albufeira)

After learning that our #1 restaurant was going to be closed for the entire weekend, we had to get out and find an alternative for our first night in the Algarve. So we dropped into the Gran Via Tapas Bar for a couple of beers (€3.50 for a large beer) and to get some good dining recommendations. The owner of the bar was quite the character.

He was extremely friendly with a love for 80s music and didn’t hesitate to show off some of his interesting dance moves. After offering us a couple of complimentary shots and chatting it up a bit, he recommended that we try out the restaurant below. I suggest dropping into this bar just for a couple of drinks  and maybe enjoy a little bit of 80s music. If you do want to grab a bite I did see them serving up some pretty delicious-looking and smelling trays so it might be a good idea to stick around for some tapas.

2. O Zuca (Albufeira)

We were referred to O Zuca and I couldn’t have been happier to try out this restaurant. It was cheap and the food was of very high quality. Brad had the grilled seabass for €11 and I went with the piri piri chicken €7.50. Both were exceptional! The seabass was perfectly seasoned and the piri piri chicken was great as well. (If you’re new to this region and coming from the United States, be prepared to deal with fish and chicken bones at pretty much any restaurant you go to.)

For two beers and the two and our meals it was only €21.70 and was one of the cheapest options we came across in the Algarve.

Grilled seabass with potatoes
Grilled seabass
Piri Piri chicken with french fries
Piri piri chicken

3. Bahia Beach Bar (Lagos)

This “beach bar” is also a restaurant with great food and beautiful open surroundings located right on the sandy beach. You walk across a boardwalk to access the bar (don’t get it confused with the bar right next door) and once you walk in you’re greeted by very friendly staff and servers.

Table and chairs on beach

For drinks we went with the white sangria for €13 a pitcher. It was my first time with white sangria so I didn’t have much to compare it to but I loved it! It was very fruity but still stronger than some of the other sangria we’d had and was full of different flavors and apple and orange slices along with berries.

White sangria Portugal
White sangria
White sangria Portugal
White sangria

As for food, we actually had our best meal of our entire trip here. It was a tapas platter for two for only €19.90. The tapas platter comes with seven different types of tapas and they differ day-to-day depending on the day’s fishing haul and the chef’s choice so you don’t always know what you’re going to get but I don’t see how you couldn’t love the tapas here.

Tapas at Algarve Portugal

Our platter had chorizo, steak, zucchini, squid, octopus, homemade hummus, mushrooms, peppers, olives, prawns, crab, and some kind of amazing cheese. With or without bread, these items were cooked perfectly and packed with flavor, especially the crab and the octopus. We’d just been blown away by tapas in Madrid about a moth ago but these were even better than the ones we’d tried in Spain!

Tapas at Algarve Portugal

4. Prazeres Restaurante (Albuferia)

I’ve decided to start including the places we weren’t completely fond of in addition to the great restaurants. Because we had so much success with out first recommendation we decided to take the word of some more locals to find another great restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t live up to the hype.

I ordered the shrimp and squid kebab (€13.50) just to try something a little different and Brad went with the tuna steak (€12.50). The tuna steak was cooked a bit too much in my opinion and soaked in the juices so much that it seemed to have lost its tuna taste. It just wasn’t very good. My shrimp and squid was okay but nothing very special.

Tuna steak at Algarve Portugal
Tuna steak
Shrimp and squid kebab at Algarve Portugal
Shrimp and squid kebab

We also decided to try the “green wine” that’s a Portugal speciality. (The wine’s not actually green but made from “green” grapes that aren’t fully ripe, hence the name.) I probably should’ve tried the red wine version but nonetheless we went with the white wine. It was okay and interesting to try but again didn’t really blow me away.

Vinho verde at Algarve Portugal
Vinho verde

We walked away from this restaurant with a €43 tab and not really too impressed with our meals. I don’t want to bash this place because the food wasn’t terrible, just not very good. Also, the service was great and the place does have plenty of good reviews on Trip Advisor and from locals so we could’ve just caught it at the wrong time.

I don’t profess to be an expert on authentic Portuguese cuisine but from my traveling experience you can often get a sense of how local the foods are by the atmosphere in the restaurants and by talking to your servers about the foods offered. To me, all of these places felt pretty authentic and at the very least the first three places were some of the best eating and drinking experiences we’ve had in Europe so I give them a ringing endorsement.