Hi everybody! Happy Monday! Today we’re trying something new, and talking about travel!
I’m back in the US after an amazing vacation in Portugal (see my last post for some background and some fashion)! My best friend from childhood, Olivia, and her husband, Brian, are living in Lisbon right now, and they pulled out all the stops to show me this amazing country they currently called home.
I had such an incredible time driving up the coast of Portugal and exploring Lisbon that I wanted to pass along the itinerary they created, and a few tips we have after finishing this amazing week. There is so much to see and do in Portugal that we just scratched the surface, but at least it’s a place to start.
I flew into Lisbon International Airport where Olivia and Brian met me. We rented a car and headed straight out from there.
Obidos: a small, medieval town about a 50 minute drive north of Lisbon. Worth a stop for an hour or two to walk the castle walls that encapsulate the town. There’s a medieval festival there in July and August that, if you have the right timing, is definitely worth a visit. Fascinating doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
Coimbra: Another hour and a half north of Obidos. Home to one of the oldest universities in the world. Walk to the top of the hill to find the University Visitor Center. Be sure to visit the Armory, Great Hall of Acts, the San Miguel Chapel, and definitely don’t miss the old Library, which I found most impressive of all. It is truly amazing (but does have a sad “no pictures” rule).
Aveiro: Known as “the Venice of Portugal.” Small enough for a quick stop on the way north, but rich enough you could happily spend a few days here exploring. Take a ride on the “moliceiros” boats through the canals and make sure to try the typical pastry of the region – “ovos moles”. Drive outside of the city center to visit the beautiful beaches and check out the “palheiros” houses painted in bright stripes that were traditionally fishermen’s shelters. Also recommended that we didn’t have a chance to do is to tour the small fish market (Mercade de Peixe) and try Salpoente restaurant (call ahead to make a reservation).
Porto: Visit the Clerigos Tower and climb to the top for beautiful views of the city and river. Stop by the Livraria Lello, a bookshop that was founded in 1906 and called by some the most beautiful bookshop in the world. It is rumored that J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Harry Potter started at this bookstore, and you can buy all of the Harry Potter books in a number of languages here. Definitely don’t miss the Palacio da Bolsa. The tours are guided, so stop by earlier in the day to reserve space in an English speaking tour. Highly recommend this one. And then walk through the shops and streets of the Ribeira area down by the waterfront. Walk across the Maria Pia bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (of the Eiffel Tower) to visit the Port wineries on the far side of the river. The walk back on the upper level of the bridge is beautiful at night.
Braga: The Bom Jesus du Monte, located just outside the city proper, is the must-see of Braga. The cathedral is beautiful, but my favorite part was the incredible staircase. You can climb up and down it or ride the tram either direction for a few euro. Head into the center of town for lunch and then take a stroll around to some of the historical attractions. Braga is roughly a 3 and a half hour drive from Lisbon.
Lisbon: Wake up early to beat the line and catch the Tram 28 for a tour of town. Load your metro card beforehand to enable a quick hop-on. Hop off the Tram 28 at the Basilica de Estrella and take a peek inside. The garden next door is very pretty and worth a stroll. Make sure to hit up the statue of Marquis de Pombal, and walk to the top of the adjacent Edward 7th Hedge Maze park for a beautiful view of the city. Do not miss the Castle of Saint George. Walk the grounds and climb the walls for some beautiful views. Lisbon has distinct painted tiles that are everywhere in the city. If you like them, the National Musuem of Azuleju is worth a visit. Interesting history and some beautiful mosaics. My favorite meal of the trip was in Lisbon at Taberna Sal Grosso. It is delicious, authentic, and very affordable. Be sure to show up just as they open for lunch to get a table, or call ahead to make a reservation.
Sintra: We did Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon. A very tiring but very wonderful day trip. Take the train from Rossio station for 5 euro round trip. My favorite attraction was the Moorish Castle. We hiked up to it (roughly a 50 minute hike, doable in Converse but probably not shoes less substantial than that) or take a bus one or both directions to the top. Climb the walls and enjoy the little garden in the middle. Stop in the mini museum before the castle entrance to watch a well done video on the history of the castle. Next, stop by the Palacio de Pena. This palace is straight from a Dr. Seuss book, and has some truly amazing architecture and decor to see. I highly recommend buying your tickets to these two attractions online (here) during your train ride to Sintra. No need to print out the tickets – they can read them directly from your phone, and it will save you some relatively painful lines. Make sure to also stop by the Quinta da Regaleira to tour the fascinating grounds and walk through the mansion. The architecture is in the ornate Manuelin style, and the owner was a Mason. The grounds feature beautiful gardens, underground secret passageways, and a Masonic initiation well, to name a few. Make sure to try the two typical pastries of the region – “travesseiros” and “queijada”. They are delicious. Also highly recommended is Monserrat, but we ran out of energy to conquer this one. Next time.
Belem: Another day trip (or half day trip) from Lisbon. Take the train from Caisdosodre station for 2.50 euro roundtrip. The Jeronimos Monastery is the don’t miss here. The architecture is amazing, and it features a room that compares world, Portuguese, and Monastery history all together on a timeline. It’s really well done. We didn’t make it to the Tower of Belem or the National Coach Museum, which both come highly recommended, but we did take a stroll up the hill to the Botanical Garden of Ajuda, which was absolutely stunning. Also don’t miss the typical pastry here – “pasties de nata”. You’ll know where to get them by the long line of people (but don’t worry, they’re worth the wait). We paired our trip to Belem with an afternoon at the Costa de Caparica beach to get a last dose of vacation sunshine.
A few general tips:
- If you are a student, bring your ID card. The discounts are usually at least 50%, and are almost universally an option.
- Air conditioning is few and far between. If this is important for you, definitely check if the places you’re planning to stay are AC equipped.
- Bring a water bottle. There are a lot of places to fill up for free.
- A lot of restaurants are closed during parts of the month of August. If your targeted restaurant is far afield, its worth a quick phone call to make sure they’re open.
So, there you have it. Big thanks to Olivia and Brian for planning this amazing itinerary and waiting patiently while I took and asked them to take millions of photos. I hope you all enjoy your future trips to Portugal! In the mean time, I need a vacation from my vacation…. :)
Thanks so much for stopping by!