Junes Destination - Portugal
Portugal has increased significantly in its popularity over the past two years. With colorful cities, picturesque rocky beaches, rich history with palaces, it’s easy to understand why. It’s quickly topped the list of many travelers, including mine. That’s why June’s dream itinerary is Portugal.
Days 1-3 Lisbon
The easiest city to fly into the capital. Lisbon is a city rich with history - recent archaeological finds have shown that people have inhabited this area since 8the century BC! With so much history, be sure to always have your eyes open for some jaw-dropping architecture. First thing to do in the city is to get the Lisbon card. This includes transportation, entrance to museums, and only costs about 40 Euro. Taxis are readily available throughout most of the city and Uber is also an alternative. For your first night, enjoy exploring the city near the hotel. Lisbon, and all of Portugal is pretty walkable. Go to a bar for a shot of Ginjinha. This is a portugese liqueur made by infusing ginji berries (sour cherries) in alcohol and adding sugar and other ingredients. It’s served in a shot form with a piece of fruit in the bottom (which you are supposed to eat, but don't have to).
For breakfast on your first full day visit the famous Pasteis de Belem bakery for a pastel de nata (or egg tart). It’s a creamy, flakey egg pastry filled with custard and then dusted with cinnamon. Now, you CAN find this all over the city, but the original (and probably the best) is found at Pasteis de Belem. However, there is usually a long line here, so get there early (it opens at 8am), and sometimes it’s easier to get a table than to get a takeaway box.
Then it’s off to the Jeronimos Monastery which is the final resting place of Vasco da Gama. Vasco was the first European explorer to reach India by sea, thus connecting the West and the East. The Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in 1502 and is an eclectic blend of Manuelian, Gothic and Moorish architecture.
Picture used with permission from Homeroom Travel
In the Belem section of Libson, there is a cluster of museums and art galleries easily walkable. There is the Berardo Collection Museum which has art from the 20th century to the present. The National Coach Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Archeological Museum, and even a Planetarium.
Picture used with permission from Homeroom Travel
For inspiration on where to eat in Belem, check out here. If you don’t want to sit in a restaurant, you can pack a picnic and sit by the Tejo river. It’s a peaceful river where some locals go for fishing.
After lunch visit the Belem tower. This tower is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the early 16th century. It served as a fortress and as a port from which explorers departed to explore India and the East. Another monument to the explorer period is the Padrao dos Descobrimientos. You can also take the elevator in this monument to a viewing platform for views of the river and Belem area.
For dinner, one of the most recommended restaurants and wine bars is the Enoteca de Belem - which is right near Pasteis de Belem. You do need a reservation for this restaurant as there are only 16 tables. It’s vegetarian friendly and has a whole wine bar! Then get a good night’s rest at the hotel for another full day exploring the city.
At the heart of the city is Praca do Comercio, a large plaza facing the Tagus River. On your way there, enjoy the shops and restaurants along the Rua Augusta. Cross under the Triumphal Arch to the Praca. Look around at the intricate detail of the arches and buildings. In the early hours, the Praca is mostly empty except for locals going to work. At night, the Praca becomes lively and crowded.
Head East to Lisbon Cathedral, built in 1147 is a National Monument. It’s the oldest place of worship in Lisbon and thus is one of the most significant monuments in the country. Head north to a medieval castle for panoramic views of the city - the Castelo de S. Jorde. Plan on about an hour to explore the castle grounds.
Take a break and visit A Ginjinha, for another quick drink of the famous beverage. This bar is famous as Anthony Bourdain visited it and highly recommended it. There’s a few restaurants here, the only ones not recommended are the McDonald’s and Burger King.
After lunch explore Rossio District. At the center of the district is the Praca Dom Pedro IV. Dom Pedro IV was Brazil’s first emperor and there is an impressive statue of him, surrounded by patterned, decorative cobblestones and intricate fountains. The Praca comes alive at night since the National Theatre is at the far end.
Depending on your time left and when you’re in Lisbon, head southwest for dinner or sunset views of the city. There’s two places for breathtaking views (only made better with a sunset) in this area - the Elevador da Bica and the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. The Elevador da Bica goes from sea level up to old town. It gives you a different perspective and is used by both locals and tourists. Lisbon has a few miradouros (or lookout points) but this one is known for the sunset views. You can bring a drink or get one from a local bar.
Get dinner at Madame Petisca - delicious tapas and typical Libson views, what’s not to love?
Day 4: Sintra
Sintra CAN be done in a day, but if you love palaces, you can spend a LOT of time in Pena Palace. If you like to explore, give yourself another day here. The Pena Palace is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. On a clear day you can see the palace from Lisbon. You can also do a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon via train if you don’t want to spend the night in Sintra.
If you want a break from palaces and history, Sintra is also near Sintra-Cascais Natural Park which has some walking trails near beaches, viewpoints, and small villages. On the southern cliffs of the park you can even spot some fossilized dinosaur footprints. Cabo da Roca, a part of the park, is the most western point of mainland Europe - so when you look over the Atlantic ocean, the next land would be America.
Since it’s on the coast, Sintra has some delicious seafood - check out Inconum for octopus, scallops and clams!
Photos of Pena Palace used with permission from Flight to Somewhere
Day 5: Obidos
Obidos is a perfect example of a Portugese walled town. It was presented to the Queen of Portugal as a wedding gift, which has given the town a legacy of pride. You can walk the walls around the town, explore the cobblestone streets, and visit the fishing port of Peniche. The restaurants are family-run so you’re guaranteed a delicious traditional dish.
At sunset, head west toward the Penich peninsula for a breathtaking sunset. Get some rest tonight for an early drive tomorrow.
Day 6: Coimbra
Heading north to Coimbra, the first stop is the Mira de Aire caves. These caves date back 150 million years and are the largest caves in Portugal. These caves are also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Portugal and it’s easy to see why. There are guided tours every day (scheduled based on visitors arrivals) so that you don’t have to worry about getting lost.
After a few hours in the caves, continue north and stop for lunch in Pombal. The city is famous for its role in Portugal politics. There’s the Castelo de Pombal to explore and a few religious sites to explore including Igreja Matriz de São Martinho. For more to see in Pombal, visit here. The reason it’s a stop on our road trip is because tourists don’t congregate here. It’s local pride and local food you’ll find. Traditional Portugese restaurants will have couves migadas on the menu as a side dish. It’s finely chopped cabbage cooked with beans then plating it with a slice of bread.
Photo used with permission from My Path In the World
After you get your fill of food, continue north to Coimbra where you’ll spend the night. Coimbra is the fourth largest city in Portugal and has a rich archaeological history dating back to the Romans. This history is evident in its aqueduct and cryptoporticus (or covered corridor). Fun Fact: Coimbra was the capital of Portugal from 1131 to 1255, and some of those buildings still remain in tact. In the Middle Ages, the city evolved into a cultural centre and remained so through the Renaissance.
You can visit the Monastery of Santa Cruz, which is the final resting place of Afonso Henriques, the first Portugese monarch. The Old Cathedral of Coimbra has such intricate details in the alter that it’s also worth a quick stop. Probably the most well known and recognized building in Coimbra is the University. It was established in 1290 and was permanently relocated to coimbra in 1537, thus making it one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world! It’s less crowded in the afternoon, which means it’s the perfect time for a tour!
Before you’re too hungry for dinner, get in line for the food at Ze Manel dos Ossos. When there is a line of locals for a restaurant, you know it’s good. You also know it’s local food when there isn’t an English menu available - this is where Google Translate comes into play. It’s in a hidden alley, it’s a tiny restaurant, and it’s raved about!
Day 7-9: Forests and Porto
Forests aren’t exactly what I think of when I think of Portugal, but the National Forest of Bucaco is not one to be missed. It houses over 250 species of trees and shrubs, some of which are hundreds of years old. There are a number of walking trails that you can take to explore the forest. There’s more than just trees in the forest - there’s lakes, fountains, and even monk-made chapels.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon. Ruins have been found in the city that date back to about 300BC. Now it’s well known for port wine, ceramic tiles in a variety of colors, and mouthwatering desserts.
The wonderful thing about Porto is that it’s honest. It’s not fancy just because it’s a city. It’s imperfections are celebrated- the abandoned buildings are decorated with beautiful azulejos (or painted tin-ceramic tiles). These tiles seem to breathe life into these buildings and help create the character of the city.
The first day in the city should be spent getting acquainted and enjoying the mix of architecture and history. Start at the Porto Sao Bento - the train station - and admire the 20,000 azueljos that make up this beautiful station. Make your way northeast towards the Mercado do Bolhao. On your way you’ll pass the Majestic Cafe, which is worth a pop in for a cup of coffee. The Bolhao Market opened in 1914 and is probably the liveliest and most popular areas of the city. Many of the shops have not been modernized and maintain the old look. You can find flowers, meat, fish, fruit, and handmade products in the shop.
For lunch there are places in the market, but you are also near the “most beautiful McDonald’s in the world”. Even if you don’t eat here, it’s worth a pop in for the crystal chandelier and stained glass windows. Then it’s off to Liberdade Square (or Freedom Square). The square and the avenues connect most of the city. It also houses famous statues, such has a 10 meter bronze statue of Pedro IV riding his horse.
Photo used with permission from My Path In the World
Continue through the square to the Torre dos Clerigos, or Clerigos Tower. This icon of Portugal is a tight climb to the top but worth it for the 360 degree views of the city. This may not be for the claustrophobic since you have to stop sometimes to let people pass heading down!
For the final stop of the day, about a block north, is the Livraria Lello, which is considered the most beautiful bookstore in the world, and for good reason. The store was built in 1906 and the architecture and art is all literary-inspired. Fun Fact: this bookstore is said to be the inspiration for Dumbledore’s office in Harry Potter!
Grab dinner near the library, and enjoy a late night out at the Rua da Galeria de Paris. There are bars and clubs throughout the entire street. The locals prefer to grab a drink and hang out outside so they can move from one bar to another. The street really gets crowded after 11pm.
The second day should be spent in the artsy Ribeira section of town. You’ll find some tourists here as it has grown in popularity the past few years, and for good reason. This UNESCO site has pastel-colored houses surrounding narrow alleyways on hillsides. In the center of Ribeira is the Porto Cathedral, one of the city’s oldest monuments, dating back to the 5th-6th centuries. It’s free to go into the Cathedral, but if you want to visit the monastery and courtyard, there is a small fee.
Once you’re finished at the Cathedral, head to the back of where you’ll find the Barredo Stairs. These stairs connect the upper area of town with the Ribeira neighborhood and is one of the oldest areas of Porto. Enjoy the back alleys, views of the city, and beautiful colors of this as you make your way down. Walk the shops and look for local artisans work to take home.
For lunch, head to Bacalhau, it’s on the Douro River and specializes in seafood dishes, such as shrimp porridge. Then walk along the riverfront to the Ponte Luis I Bridge, a double decker arch bridge. If you’re afraid of heights, you can also take a train across.
You’ve technically left Porto at this point and entered Vila Nova de Gaia. If you’re not tired of churches and 360 degree views of the city, visit Serra do Pilar monastery. It’s still used for the Serra da Pilar Artillery Regiment to this day - and two young men in army fatigues will lead you up the spiral staircase. You can look over the succession of bridges over the river and over the wineries.
For the final night of the trip, it’s time for the best Port wine to celebrate! What’s Porto without port? (Of course I wouldn’t judge if you’ve been drinking port this whole time - it’s your vacation!). There’s plenty of places to do port tastings in the city, but one that has been recommended is Graham’s Lodge. The tour is informative and the views are breathtaking. The food is expertly paired with the wine as well!
I hope you enjoy your trip to Portugal - this is a quick road trip from Lisbon to Porto - but remember Portugal has so much more to offer a traveler!
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Credit for some content and photos goes to three blogs who let me use their photos for this blog & have a lot more information about Portugal - check them out!
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