Would I visit Portugal again? YES- in a heartbeat! Find out why below
Portugal is one of the most historic and oldest countries in Europe. I spent 9 days in Portugal at the end of August to the first week in September and I was truly impressed. Portugal is a gem and it recently started becoming more popular. Thanks to Instagram, I noticed an increased number of people visiting Portugal. I thought it looked more beautiful each time I saw a picture- so I decided to give it a shot.
Before my trip, I was researching things to see and do in Portugal. I saw landmarks, castles, food markets and beaches! The list was endless and diverse, so I decided to book the trip. When I started traveling 3 years ago, I would book a trip for 2 weeks and visit 3-4 countries within that trip. With more experience, I realized that I prefer staying in a place for a prolonged period of time, and seeing as much as I can versus country hopping. This is what I did in Portugal. The weather in Lisbon and Porto was generally warm with an average temperature of 83F (28ºC).
To make the most out of a trip to Portugal, I recommend renting a car- it makes moving from city to city easier. It was easy to travel from Lisbon to Porto and back to Lisbon to take the flight back to Chicago because I had a car. Driving in Portugal is expensive though. Renting a car is cheap but buying gas and paying tolls are expensive. I did enjoy the flexibility of having a car. Here is what I did in each city:
My first day in Portugal, I had to shop for clothes because the airline misplaced my bag. One of the main reasons why I enjoy traveling in Europe is because of shopping. This mishap gave me a good excuse to walk around Lisbon’s shopping district- Chiado. Clothes in stores like H&M and Zara are cheaper in Europe, and if you love designer items like Louis Vuitton, they are much cheaper in Europe compared to anywhere else in the world.
Things to do in Lisbon:
Time Out Market
Time Out market is at the center of Lisbon and has many food and wine stalls. It gets really packed because a lot of tourists visit the market, but it is worth the visit. This was the first place where I tried Octopus in Portugal. Octopus is a very popular dish in Portugal and this makes sense because Portugal is a coastal county. I also tried a cheese platter with ham and Portuguese Egg Tarts (Pasties de Nata) which is a very popular pastry in Portugal.
The pink street like the name implies is a street in Lisbon where the street is painted pink. The bars on the street light up in the evening but the street makes a great photo op because of the color.
Lisbon is beautiful! The tram ride gives you a view of Lisbon from another perspective
This activity is very popular among tourists therefore, the line is ridiculously long. Tickets for the tram can be purchased at the metro station in Martim Moniz. Tram 28 starts at the station in Martim Moniz and goes through some major neighborhoods in Lisbon. The tram comes every 10 minutes, so the lines go by quick.
Palacio dos Marqueses da Fronteira
One of my favorite things about Portugal is the fact that the palaces are still intact. One of them is Palacio dos Marqueses da Fronteira. The palace is a little outside of Lisbon but with an Uber or a rental car, it is easy to find. Ubers were quite cheap in Lisbon to my surprise, so this might be a better alternative if renting a car is not an option.
The palace was built in 1671 and it has a beautiful house and a lush garden. I was not able to go into the house because the staff schedules showings earlier in the day, but I was able to explore the garden and the old bath house.
The garden at Palacio dos Marqueses da Fronteira
The design is intricate and filled with sculptures of Kings. Walking through the palace grounds, I pretended I was royalty and had a great laugh out of it. I could not stop imagining photo ops in the palace because of the intricate color, design and how well kept the garden was. I thought it would make a great location for an engagement shoot.
The Belem Tower was named a UNESCO heritage site in 1983. The tower was built between 1514 and 1520, and it was used to defend the city of Lisbon. Belem Tower was packed but I was happy with seeing it from outside. Next to the Belem tower is a memorial which was built to remember the Portuguese soldiers who lost their lives in the overseas war of 1961 to 1974.
Pena Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site in Sintra. This is a whole day activity and I suggest going very early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. I visited at noon and there were SO many people. Regardless of the time you choose to visit, Pena palace is beautiful, colorful and it should not be missed.
There are tour companies and public transportation (Sintra Tourist Bus 434) that goes up to Pena palace if driving is not an option. Driving to Pena Palace is challenging because the roads leading to the palace are some of the narrowest roads I have ever seen in my life. At the entrance of the palace grounds, there is a long line of visitors waiting to purchase their tickets from the machine. I later found out that tickets can also be bought online- I did not know this prior to visiting the palace. I could have skipped the line! Pictures are not allowed inside the palace, but the palace is beautiful inside and out.
Mercado da Baixa
I accidentally stumbled upon this market in Lisbon on the way to eat lunch after visiting Pena Palace. The market is filled with food stalls which offer sausages, wine, sandwiches, sangria, cakes and cheese. It is not as popular as timeout market, so it is not so touristy.
Pri Pri Chicken
I am adding this dish as something to do in Lisbon because Pri Pri Chicken is one of Portugal’s most famous dishes. It has roots in Angola and Mozambique and the famous fast food chain, Nando’s serves Pri Pri chicken. Fun fact: Nando’s was founded by a Mozambican. Places to eat Pri Pri Chicken in Lisbon:
- A Valenciana (my favorite)
- Frangasqueira Nacional
I did not want to visit Porto initially because of the 3 hour drive from Lisbon but I am very happy I did. Porto is a coastal city in Northwest Portugal and it is famous for colorful buildings, good wine and good food. It is also Portugal’s wine central, and famously known for its Port wines. I drank my share of Port wine in this beautiful city and my heart was full. If you are wondering what Port wine is, it is wine which is produced with distilled grape spirits. The grapes from Port wine are grown exclusively in the Douro region of Portugal.
Things to do in Porto:
Mercado Bom Sucesso
Mercado Bom Sucesso is a food and drink market in Porto. I ate my fill of sandwiches, pasta, cheese and beer at the market. I walked around the market trying several food items and I visited the bookstore by the entrance after I stuffed my face with food.
Cable Car at the City Center
The cable car can be found at the city center and the view from the cable car is amazing! I remember seeing the orange roofs Portugal is famous for and also seeing how vast the city of Porto is. A round trip ticket cost 9 euros which is cheap for a cable car. In some cities, a cable car ride can cost up to $20 or more round trip.
Graham’s Port Lodge
This lodge is at the hilltop in Porto’s city center. The best way to get to Graham’s Port Lodge is by walking or driving because it is at the top of a hill. I rented a bike to get up to the lodge and it was the worst idea because it is so difficult pedaling up the hill. I ended up dragging the bike up the hill but coming down was a breeze.
Having too much fun while wine tasting at Graham’s Port Lodge
Douro Valley (Quinta das Carvalhas Vineyard)
A rental car is very crucial for this activity. Douro valley is about 2 hours drive from Porto. Douro Valley is the home of several vineyards who grow their grapes at the valley. Wines can only be called Port wines exclusively if they come from Douro Valley. The Port wines which I had at the Graham Lodge for example is from Douro Valley. Apart from the wine, the valley is special because it is very scenic. The grape vineyards that line up the hill and the water that runs through the valley makes creates a very beautiful view!
I visited Quinta das Carvalhas vineyard which offered wine tasting and a self-guided walking tour of the vineyard. The walking path has arrows which serves as guides through the vineyard, and I enjoyed the self-guided tour because I did not feel rushed. I tasted 10 different types of wine in Quinta das Carvalhas- 5 port wines and 5 regular wines.
Another way of getting to the Douro Valley is by taking a boat tour but it could run as high as 80 euros per person.
Sao Bento Railway Station
I particularly loved this station because it is filled with Azulejo which is a painted blue tile found mainly in Portugal and Spain. This tile gives the train station character and it makes it worth visiting.
Walking Around the City Center
I walked around the city for a day and I was very impressed by the buildings, the architecture and the Azulejo (blue tile) which can be found around the city. Porto holds so much history and walking around made this apparent.
Beaches in Porto
My favorite beach is Praia de Matosinhos because it is huge so there is enough space for everyone. The water on Portuguese beaches gets VERY cold but I enjoyed it because the cold water was necessary for cooling off in the heat. Parking can also be found on the road close to the beach but pay attention to the signs because some of the parking spots need to be paid for.
Livraria Lello Porto (JK Rowling Bookstore)
I did not visit this bookstore because of the lines but it is said that when J.K Rowling, the author of Harry Porter, lived in Portugal from 1991 to 1993, she was a loyal customer at this bookstore. It is also said that the design of the bookstore inspired the architecture of the Flourish and Blotts bookshop where students in the Harry Potter series bought their books. From looking at pictures, the inside looks beautiful and it looks like it is worth a visit early morning or late afternoon when the crowds are less.
Here is my list of great places to eat in Porto:
- A Cozinha do Manuel (fave- cheap, cozy and feels like home cooked food)
- Rua- Tapas and Music Bar
- Zenith Brunch & Cocktails Bar
- Bacalhau (Arrive at 6pm in order to get a seat outside)
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