Picture Perfect Portugal
Portugal had a magical, storybook feel to it. It was visually stunning—the buildings were painted in bright colors and covered in tiles, the skies were bright blue and the waters crystal clear. The people were so friendly, the food was delicious, and everything was cheap. Our good friends Kari and Steve came with us, which made the trip even more fun. We were feeling a little burnt out from all of the touring we've been doing, so we decided to focus our energies on eating and drinking, rather than running around touring.
Thursday 26 May
We were originally scheduled to fly out at night, but the airline cancelled our flight and re-booked us on a morning flight. As a result, we had an extra afternoon in Porto and each got €250 as compensation, so the trip was off to a great start. When we landed, we bought metro tickets, but there was a twenty-minute wait for the next train. We were eager to get to our Airbnb and have lunch, so we decided to scrap the metro and instead took an overpriced cab ride. We made up for this with all of our insanely cheap Uber rides the rest of the weekend, but we did feel a bit cheated.
Although small, our Airbnb was big enough for two couples and had been newly renovated and the price was right. The location was perfect – we were able to walk almost everywhere that we wanted to go. Our host, Nuno, was flexible with our flight changes and had some good local recommendations as well.
Estação de São Bento
Initially lunch had been our priority, but we ended up snacking and holding out until dinner. We had been told to visit the train station to see the tile artwork, and were surpised to find that it really was worth visiting. The blue and white “'azulejos” cover the inside of the station and can also be found throughout the city.
From the train station, we slowly made our way down to the waterfront, meandering through Rua das Flores, a pedestrian street filled with shops, cafes and street performers. It was a public holiday in Portugal, so people were out everywhere, enjoying the day. We were immediately struck by the charm and beauty of the city and especially enjoyed the colorful buildings and tiles. The waterfront is a lively area, and we chose one of the many sidewalk cafes to enjoy a jug of sangria and take in the atmosphere. As we were about to cross the bridge we noticed another little café jutting out onto the water, which would have been the best spot to sit.
Ponte de Dom. Luis
We walked across the bridge separating the waterfront area from Vila Nova da Gaia, the area of the city known for its Port houses. Despite being a little crowded, the short walk across is worth it for the incredible views. We had intended to visit some port cellars (we had heard great things about Taylor’s and Burmester), but we were there too late in the day (most places close at 6pm). We instead enjoyed some Sandeman’s port at a restaurant adjacent to the port house.
Funicular dos Guindais
A three-minute, €3 ride up the hill in the funicular was perfect to not have to walk back up the steep hill. The views from the funicular were pretty spectacular too.
R. de Ramalho Ortigão 28, Porto, Portugal
Our Airbnb host, Nuno, recommended a restaurant in the neighborhood known for its francesinha, Porto’s traditional sandwich, or “fat kid food,” as we liked to call it. The dish contains a few kinds of meat, smothered in a red beer and tomato sauce and covered in melty cheese. The restaurant also had a few other (lighter) things on the menu, but the francesinha was certainly their specialty. The place had a lively atmosphere and although we were seated after a short wait, bookings are recommended.
Friday 27 May
Rua Santa Catarina and Mercado do Bolhão
Rua de Fernandes Tomás, 4000-214 Porto, Portugal
After breakfast at our Airbnb, we ventured out to explore Rua Santa Catarina, the local shopping street. We weren’t so impressed with the main street, but the side streets housed several interesting shops with meat, cheese and other specialty items. The Mercado do Bolhão was not nearly as large and impressive as some of the other markets we’ve visited on our travels, but still entertaining and worthwhile. Be careful with the gummies though, and hopefully you won’t accidentally purchase bubblegum flavored ones like we did.
Rua Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto, Portugal
We heard this was one of the most beautiful cafes in the world, so we stopped in for (overpriced) coffees. We were glad we did – although it was re-done in the 1990’s, the café maintains old-world charm and is the perfect spot to reboot.
10am-7:30pm (closed Sundays)*
R. das Carmelitas 144, 4050-161 Porto, Portugal
We didn’t know you had to buy tickets to enter this old and famous bookstore, so we were confused about the line of people by the kiosk across the street. The line moved quickly and the €3 entry fee was worth it to us. Again, the interior is beautifully preserved and is a wonderful place to look around (and it wins bonus points for inspiring J.K. Rowling in her writing of Harry Potter).
Café Ancora D’Ouro O Piolho
Praça de Parada Leitão 45, 4050 Porto, Portugal
We were eager to take advantage of the sunshine, so we ate lunch around the corner at a café that had a ton of outdoor seating. We tried traditional cabbage soup, which was interesting, but besides that the food wasn’t too memorable.
Rua das Flores
Us girls wanted to come back to explore the cute shops on the pedestrian street Rua das Flores, so we left the guys at a café and enjoyed the various craft, jewellery and souvenir shops.
R. das Flores 298, Porto, Portugal
We originally had our sweet tooth set on Santini, a small gelato chain that has locations across Portugal, but we were uninspired by the flavors when we got there. Instead we went over to this chocolate shop, sampled delicious truffles and chatted with the friendly salesman, who gave us some Porto suggestions.
Tram to Foz
We wanted to check out Porto’s beaches, and also to ride the historic tram. We got the tram from Infante by the Ribeira and took it to Passeio Alegre in Foz. It was a squeaky – but beautiful—ride along the water. We walked along the water for a bit, but it wasn’t the most scenic of beaches. Apparently Foz has some cute and delicious restaurants, but we couldn’t find them and ended up taking an extremely inexpensive Uber back to the center of town for dinner. Our Uber driver was super chatty and gave us the lowdown on how locals live in Porto.
R. da Madeira 222, 4000-433 Porto, Portugal
If you’ve been reading our blog, you’re probably getting sick of us saying that a meal is one of the best ones we’ve ever had, but this meal truly was spectacular. This tapas-style restaurant serves generously sized small plates (i.e., enough for each of us to have more than one helping) at fantastic prices. Highlights were the portobello mushrooms, goat cheese salad, carpaccio and peanut foam dessert (still not sure what it is, but it was delicious!). Seven dishes, two desserts and two bottles of wine only set us back €88. Definitely make a reservation because this place was packed.
Saturday 28 May
Drive from Porto to Lisbon
We planned a few stops on our drive from Porto to Lisbon and were hoping for a sunny day, so we were feeling bummed and got a slow start when it was rainy in the morning. We picked up our rental car and as we drove out of the city, the rain slowed and the clouds cleared.
Our first stop was a beach town about 30 minutes outside Porto. There was a strip of café’s and restaurants, so we picked one for a snack and coffee. We then walked around to enjoy the colorful striped houses, which seemed right out of a storybook. It was too cold and windy to sit on the beach, but we still enjoyed the views.
After a two-hour drive, we arrived in Sintra, an adorable town with cobbled streets and little shops and cafes. Sintra can also be visited as a day trip by train from Lisbon. In addition to the Pena Palace that we visited, there are two other palaces in the national park– the Moorish Castle and the Palacio Nacional de Sintra. We would have liked to explore the town more, but we were short on time and eager to get to our next stop.
Avenida Dr. Miguel Bombarda, nº6, Sintra, Portugal
We ate lunch at Café Saudade, which served a simple but delicious menu. The bolo do caco (garlic bread that originates from the Madiera islands) was especially tasty.
9:45am-7:00pm (last entry at 6:15pm)
Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal
Friends warned us that the lines get long for this attraction, so we were worried when we got caught up in traffic in Sintra. As we started driving up the mountain towards the palace, we were confused about the parking situation. We stopped at the ticket office part way up, and they were nice to call up to the top to see if there were more spots, so we were able to park in a small lot right near the entrance to the palace (there were also spaces available by the ticket office).
It’s a hilly and stunning walk through the national park to get up to the palace. The views from the top were spectacular, and we were all glad with our decision to purchase the tickets for the ramparts and park only (it costs extra to go inside). The palace is brightly colored and covered in ornate tiles and carvings. We've seen many palaces over the past several months, and this was our favorite by far (and we didn't even go inside!). We had thought about doing a hike up to the Cruz Alta, the highest point in the park, but it was getting late and we had to return the rental car by 7pm. We spent about an hour there but could have used more time.
Arrival in Lisbon
It’s about a 30-minute drive from Sintra to Lisbon. The Uber ride from the car rental drop off to our Airbnb near Chiado was slightly terrifying, driving up and down the windy, hilly streets of Lisbon. We were again shocked at how cheap the ride was—a mere €7 for about 30 minutes of travel.
Our Lisbon Airbnb wasn't as newly renovated as the one in Porto, but it was much larger and had an interesting layout. It was conveniently located and we were able to walk to many places. We didn't actually meet our host, Ana, but she was flexible on our arrival and had stocked the flat with Lisbon travel books.
R. Dom Pedro V 89, 1250-093 Lisboa, Portugal
From our Airbnb, we walked up to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a lookout point over the city. We then went for drinks at Pavilhao Chines, a quirky bar inside an old grocery store that has toys from the World Wars on display. It feels a bit like you’re at your great aunt’s place with way too many collectables stuffed into the antique cabinets.
10am-12am (Sunday-Wednesday), 10am-2am (Thursday- Saturday)
Av. 24 de Julho 49, Portugal
We wandered down the steep hills of Barrio Alto to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, but it was late already and the line was long. We ended up at the Time Out Market, which was perfect. Each of the 30+ permanent stalls has another brick and mortar location in the city, and there’s a wide variety of cuisines available. The Thai food was okay (skip the curry but get the dumplings), and we enjoyed a great steak sandwich with foie gras. We went back to the market the next night to try the local delicacy - sardines.
Sunday 29 May - Lisbon
When we told our Uber driver we were headed to Belem for its famous pastries, he told us about all of the other things the neighbourhood had to offer. The road was closed because of a race, so he conveniently had to drive by the monuments in the area and we decided to get out and walk around. The Torre de Belém is a tower with nice views of the city. We arrived at 10am right as it was opening, so there was a huge line and we didn’t feel like dealing with the crowds. We then walked along the water to see two monuments dedicated to the age of exploration, the Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho Monument (a replica of the first plane to cross the ocean in 1922) and Padrão dos Descobrimentos. We then went by the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a monastery that houses Vasco de Gama’s tomb and is credited with originally creating the delicious “pastéis de nata,” or custard tarts that Lisbon is famous for. Again the line was long and we were hungry. It’s beautiful building from the outside, and we've heard the inside is nice too but don't know firsthand!
Rua de Belém 84
Pastéis de Belém is known to be the best spot to taste the city’s infamous custard tarts, so it was obviously a top priority for us. We were worried when we again saw a long line outside the bakery, but the line was just for take-a-way, and we were able get a seat right away in a nice indoor/outdoor courtyard. We were pretty hungry, so in addition to the tarts, we also ordered a sandwich (mediocre) and mini chicken pie (delicious). The pastries, pastéis de belém (their version of the pastel de nata), were so delicious that Becca had to order another one. There's a big window in the kitchen where you can watch the staff baking. By the time we left, masses of tour busses had arrived and the place was a zoo. It seems like the tour groups go to the monuments first and then come to the bakery, so we’d recommend doing the reverse.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we took a train from Belem Station to the beach town of Cascais. It was an easy 30-minute ride along the coast, and we’d definitely recommend the trip if it’s nice weather. Cascais has a couple of small sand beaches but is mostly a jagged rocky coast, so we imagine it's crowded in summer.
Boca de Inferno
We walked along the cliff wall to Boca de Inferno and saw incredible views. It took about an hour to walk there from the station and back to town, and the trip was worth It.
R. das Flores 10B, 2750-348 Cascais, Portugal
Even after the long walk, we were still feeling full from breakfast but wanted fresh seafood while we were at the beach. We sat outside and shared some grilled seabass and the fish carpaccio, which was delicious.
After lunch, we walked around the small town and checked out the shops. We then walked along the boardwalk for about twenty-minutes until we reached Estoril, the next train station back towards Lisbon. We stopped at one of the boardwalk bars for a drink and some fabulous people watching. While it wasn’t warm enough to sit on the beach, it perfect for walking.
Rua da Boavista 16, Lisboa, Portugal
For dinner we went back to the Mexican restaurant that couldn’t seat us the night before. We arrived around eight and were seated quickly. Be prepared to wait because a line formed shortly after we arrived. It’s a simple, delicious and cheap taco menu.
Monday 30 May
Daily at 10:00, 11:00 and 14:00, lasts 3 hours Meet your guide by the Camões Monument in Largo de Camões
We felt like we’d loaded up on Portuguese culture (read: food) but hadn’t yet done much learning, so we opted for our usual free tour. It was a great way to get to know the neighborhood we’d been staying in. Our guide glossed over some of the history that we had wanted to learn, but overall tour was still good.
Lisbon’s Tram 28 is famous for taking visitors up through the windy, hilly streets of the city. Riding it feels (and sounds) a bit like you’re on an old, wooden rollercoaster. It was quite crowded when we were on it (midday), but was still a fun way to ride up the hills. We got off around the Portas do Sol viewpoint, but wish we had ridden higher up to the São Jorge Castle. We had been told the castle is a waste of money and not to bother, so we instead walked around the Alfama neighbourhood.
R. Adiça 58, 1100-603 Lisboa, Portugal
On the day we visited, this tiny restaurant was rated number two in Lisbon on TripAdvisor (at the time of writing it had dropped to number four), and we completely understand why. After waiting about twenty-minutes for a table, we were seated in one of four tables inside the seemingly-makeshift shack. We were instantly overwhelmed by amazing smells. The small chalkboard menu changes based on what they have available, and the team of three cooks right in front of you (often calling out from the kitchen when they forget what you ordered). The salads and seafood were so fresh and delicious. Our favorite thing may have been the octopus and tomato salad, which they gave to us complimentary as an apology for mixing up our order. We got to chatting with one of the chefs/ waiters/ hosts (they all do a bit of everything) and he said they’ve only been open a few months but business is booming. It's a casual spot, perfect for lunch.
Magnum Pleasure Store
R. Trindade 13, 1200-108 Lisboa, Portugal
We hadn't eaten ice cream all trip, which is so unlike us. The previous morning we had noticed what we thought was a make-your-own-Magnum bar shop, so we were excited that we had an hour to kill before the airport. For €3 each, we were able to make custom Magnum ice cream bars -- they give you a vanilla ice cream base and then you can pick the kind of chocolate for the topping (milk, dark, white), four candy sprinklings, and a chocolate drizzle. We highly recommend the black raspberry crunchies (London and New York also have pop ups this summer!). A delicious end to a fabulous trip!
On every trip we share our rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight), and bud (what we're looking forward to).
Rose- the walk to Boca de Inferno (Becca), dinner at Tapa Bento (Josh)
Thorn- not having enough time in Sintra (Becca), not being able to get Mexican food the first night in Lisbon (Josh)
Bud- Matt and Liz's wedding! (Becca), that and real beach time in Santorini (Josh)
If you go... things to know
Getting around. Both Lisbon and Porto have public transportation systems, but we opted to use Uber because rides were so cheap (€7 for a 30 minute ride across town in traffic. Most of our drivers were also quite happy to tell us about the city, doubling as tour guides. Porto was also very walkable, although hilly.
Where to stay? Since Porto is so small, anywhere within walking distance of the waterfront would be fine. Lisbon is much larger and more spread out. Our location near Barrio Alto seemed convenient for us. If you're planning a longer trip, you may want consider spending a night or two in Sintra.
How much time? A day and a half was plenty in Porto. If you want to see all of the palaces in Sintra, two days are recommended. If you only want to see one, then a day is fine. We had two full days in Lisbon and felt like we could have used a third, given we used one of them for a day trip to the beach.
What else is there to do? Since we were feeling a bit burnt out of touring and wanted to spend time with friends, our focus on this was eating and drinking. We skipped many of the typical tourist "attractions," like the churches, museums and lookout towers, although both cities have plenty if that's what you're looking for.
*Opening times and meeting points are subject to change -- double check before you go!
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