Often called 'The Venice of Portugal', Aveiro is about 45 miles south of Porto along a sizeable lagoon. Colorful boats ply these gentle waters, lending a romantic atmosphere to a region that's bursting with historic architecture.
The gondola-like moliceiro boats are a bit larger than their Venetian counterparts—and a bit cheaper too at $10 to 12 per ride. Gliding past the open-air Nouveau Museum and colorful fishing cottages on a sunny day is the ultimate relaxation.
When it comes to value for money, you'll find it in Aveiro. Tuck into a sandwich at a local padaria for $5 or savor a sumptuous seafood lunch for two, for $35, with drinks. A modern, one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a terrace offering sea views can be had for $785 a month. Utilities will run you about $150 a month, and a monthly transport pass is $45.
Beautiful coastal beaches are about eight miles away. Costa Nova and Barra are the two most popular beach towns, reachable by the local Transdev bus for $2.60. It's easy to spend the entire day here, swimming, trying different water sports, and dining on seafood straight from the boats.
Don't miss Aveiro's excellent museum, the iconic fish market, the 15th-century cathedral, and the Sao Jacinto Dunes, a nearby wetland system that'll keep any birdwatcher happy.
Positioned near Portugal's westernmost point, Peniche is only 60 miles north of Lisbon. World-class surfing beaches, magnificent sunsets, a cliff-top fort, and fresh seafood are just some of its attractions.
A 20-minute speedboat trip takes you to the Berlingas Islands, a rugged natural wonderland where you can snorkel, hike, laze on pristine beaches, enjoy a glass-bottom boat tour, or check out the resident puffin colony.
The best beach in Peniche is Praia dos Supertubos, where a unique tubular wave plays host to international surfing events. For non-surfers, there's a wide, sandy beach, sports fishing facilities, and decent nightlife.
Although Peniche's population is less than 30,000, you won't run out of things to see or do here. Grab some surfing lessons at Baleal Beach, catch the sunset at Cabo da Roca, check out the big water park, or visit the fortress dating back to 1557.
Local fish restaurants are some of the most authentic in Europe—you'll find them on Avenida do Mar down at the harbor. One regional specialty you shouldn't miss is caldeirada, a scrumptious Portuguese seafood stew.
If you're settling in for a longer stay you'll find serious bang for your buck here. Recently, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, totally renovated apartment near the beach was available for a shade under $500 per month. In Peniche, you could easily buy groceries, dine out, use local transportation, and enjoy the various entertainment options on offer for less than $1,400 a month.
Towns along Portugal's southern coast range from the peaceful to the brash and touristy, with everything in between. Tavira, not far from the Spanish border, falls into the former category. If you're looking for a genuine Portuguese experience in a mesmerizing setting, Tavira fits the bill. Sitting in a café with a plate of arroz de marisco (seafood rice) at your elbow while watching the tranquil Gilhao River flow past the Ponte Romana stone bridge is Portuguese living at its most chilled.
Tavira offers some of Portugal's best weather. Ideal months for a visit are May, June, and October, with average temperatures falling between 68 F and 77 F. In July and August, the warmest months, the average temperature peaks at 82 F.
The wonderful thing about Tavira is that even though it's a city of 25,000 inhabitants, it's surrounded by natural, undeveloped areas and retains a semi-rural feel. It's tailor-made for strolling, with castle ruins, detailed mosaic wall tiles, centuries-old wooden doors, and an intriguing Arab quarter to marvel at along the way.
A centrally-located, two-bedroom, two-bathroom, furnished apartment here rents for $900 a month. Move a little farther from the heart of town and a three-bedroom, sea-view villa can be found for $790 a month.
Location-wise, Tavira is hard to beat. Faro International Airport is just 30 minutes away by car and Spain is even closer in the opposite direction. I found Tavira one of most affordable spots in the Algarve, with eye-popping beaches, brilliant day trip options, and some of the friendliest locals in Portugal.