Lisbon

Lisbon yellow tram portugal

A city rich with history, culture and narrow streets, home to 2.8 million people. In the ‘Age of Discovery’ many ships departed from Portugal’s capitol, including Vasco da Gama’s India expedition in 1498. One who’s visited Lisbon will easily fall in love with the city, as it’s one of the most beautiful in Europe.

Lisbon is a really nice city to walk through, as you will be rewarded for your efforts. When travelling by car, you can park your car at Marques de Pombal. It’s quite cheap and only 2km from the heart of the city. If you travel by public transport you should take the metro to Restauradores or Rossio. From there you can follow the route as per the below highlights.

view over lisbon portugal

Things to see in Lisbon:

Avenida da Liberdade & Praça Dom Pedro IV **

If you decided to park your car at Marques de Pombal you will walk towards the center over the ‘Avenida da Liberdade’, although locals just call it ‘Avenida’. This 90 meter-wide street is one of the most important streets in Lisbon. After some walking you will reach ‘Praça Dom Pedro IV’, one of the main squares since the Middle Ages. You will notice that this part of the city is very ‘alive’ with its many restaurants and cafés, of which some were build in the 18th century. Throughout this whole walk you will get to know Lisbon a little bit better. Keep your eyes out for Fabrica de Nata and the Confeitaria Nacional.

Praça do Comércio ***

You have reached the heart of the city, the huge square right next to the Rio Tejo. Commonly it’s still known as Terreiro do Paço (Palace Yard) because the Royal palace of Reibeira was there, until the great Lisbon earthquake destroyed it in 1755. In the center of the square you will find the statue of King José I, the first statue dedicated to a King in Lisbon. In 1908 King Carlos I and his family were assassinated on this square by members of the Republican Party, who overthrew the Portuguese Monarchy a few years later. There is a lot of history in this square, so take your time to walk around here and take it all in. Some of the other things you’ll find on this square are ‘Arco da Rua Augusta’ and ‘Cais das Colunas’.

Sé de Lisboa **

You will experience that Lisbon is built on 7 hills, and nothing is flat. While walking to the cathedral you will walk pas other, smaller, cathedrals as well. It’s worth stepping in because all have their unique little features. The Sé itself is a National Monument and was built in 1147, although many moderations have been made overtime. It’s not the most beautiful cathedral you’ll ever see, but it’s an important landmark in Lisbon.

Lisbon Cathedral

Miradouro das Portas do Sol *

When you’re walking from the Sé de Lisboa to Castelo de São Jorge you will pass this tiny little square. It’s a nice place for a drink and you have some spots that have a nice view over the east side of the city.

Castelo de São Jorge ***

The Moorish castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lisbon, so prepare to see a lot of people here. The castle dates from the medieval period but the fist fortifications were already made 48 BC! The Romans, Celtic tribes, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Seubic, Bisigothic and Moorish people have all used this hill as a defensive point. It were the Berber Muslim forces who build the fortifications in the 10th century as we know them today. Unfortunately the castle was largely destroyed during the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and renovations didn’t start until 1938. In 1940 the Castle was restored and doors were opened again for the public. Take a few hours to discover the whole area and learn about the rich history of the castle.

Castelo de Sao Jorge lisbon

Mosteiros dos Jeronimos ***

During the Age of Discovery many sailors were at sea looking for new lands. In 1497 Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night here to pray, before departing. Their wives, however, stayed behind and prayed here for their husbands’ safe return. Further development started in 1501 and was finished in 1601. The unique architecture, called Manueline, is the real eye catcher here.

Mosteiros dos Jeronimos Lisbon

Padrão dos Descobrimentos *

This is a monument that was built to celebrate the Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. You can choose to enter the building and climb to the top, but I would only do it if you have enough time on your hands. Walk through the area here as well, as there are some nice gardens here.

Torre de Belém ***

A lot of postcards will show you the image of this place, as it’s iconic to the city. The fortified tower is located close to ‘Mosteiros dos Jeronimos’ and it’s quite easy to walk here, parking is quite hard. The tower was built on a small island in the river but after the earthquake the river redirected and is now on the shore. From the outside you can take excellent photographs, and it’s nice to go in as well. The tower was built as a defence system for the mouth of the river.

Torre de Belem Lisbon

Where to eat :

Pasteis de Belem ***

Don’t be scared of the queue! This place is recommended in all the travel guides, so naturally all tourists must go here. You probably won’t spend more than 10-15 minutes waiting here though, because the people behind the counter are working incredibly fast! To be honest, the Pasteis de Nata here are unbelievably delicious! Take some with you, because they stay nice until the next day (it’s best to heat them up in an oven).

Type: Snack
Food quality: ***
Serving time: **
Staff friendliness: **
Price: ***

Confeitaria Nacional **

If you are craving for some baked goods, drop by the Confeitaria Nacional! An old bakery inside the city center of Lisbon with many treats! Bolo do Arroz, Pastei de Nata, or whatever you’re craving for, it’s all good.

Type: Snack and lunch
Food quality: ***
Serving time: **
Staff friendliness: ***
Price: **

Restaurante Taberna Ibérica ***

This place was recommended to me by a local, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. The place offers traditional Iberian small dishes, so order a few and share among each other. The filled mushrooms come straight from heaven.

Type: Dinner
Food quality: ***
Serving time: **
Staff friendliness: ***
Price: **

Figu’s **

When in Portugal follow the rule ‘never eat at a restaurant that’s on the main street’. I broke the rule and therefore had to suffer the consequences. It sounds dramatic but what it really means is that the price was way too high for the quality of food that I got. In conclusion the mushroom risotto was good, but nothing special.

Type: Dinner
Food quality: **
Serving time: *
Staff friendliness: ***
Price: *

*     = poor
**   = okay
*** = great

Places to sleep

Hotel ibis Lisboa Alfragide

To be honest I was surprised by the room. Although it’s definitely not large, the space is being used in a smart way! The bed was great, the bathroom was small but spacious at the same time. They also have free and payed parking spaces, so ideal for car drivers. It’s a bit ‘far’ outside of the city, but within 15 minutes you can be in the city center.

Type: Hotel
Beds: ***
Bathroom: ***
Restaurant: **
Staff friendliness: ***

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Óbidos & Milfontes

Óbidos house

There are loads of things to see and do in Portugal that aren’t discovered by international tourism yet. Two of those places are Óbidos and Milfontes, one is a cute little village located within the castle walls, and the other is the start of beach paradise. 

Óbidos

When driving from Porto to Lisbon you should consider taking a detour to visit this cute little town. The name Óbidos derives from the Latin word Oppidum, which means ‘Citadel’ or ‘Fortified City’. It reminded me a lot of Carcassonne but without the busloads of tourists! The only tourists you’ll find here are day-trips from Porto and Lisbon, usually during the weekend. The town is quite small and easy to walk through, which is good since the town is car-free. You park just outside of the town, close to the Roman Aqueduct. Also, bring some coins for parking.

Óbidos house

Walk around the city ***

First thing you’ll notice when walking through the town are that all the houses are white with hints of blue and/or yellow. The rooftops are all build with orange tiles, which looks beautiful. There are plants and flowers everywhere and decorate the houses in a really nice way. There is basically one main street with lots of restaurants and little stores that sell the traditional touristy handicrafts and souvenirs. Outside of the main street are dozens of small and much cuter streets! Here is where Óbidos shines. Get lost in the small streets and find spots that go lost on the main group of tourists.

Oranges in Óbidos

Walk on the castle walls ***

The walls of the castle are really well preserved. You can climb on them and pretty much walk around the whole village, getting different views along the way. Spend some time up here and enjoy the weather.

Overview of Óbidos

Chocolate Festifal **

If you’re lucky you’ll be able to visit the ‘International Festival of Chocolate in Óbidos’! This festival takes place around March/April and is praised by all Portuguese people I’ve spoken to about this. You pay a small entrance fee and you’re ready to feast on the chocolate goodness!

Óbidos Medieval Market **

Every July the Óbidos castle opens its doors for a traditional Medieval Market. During two weeks the whole town tries to recreate the spirit of medieval Europe. I would recommend this to anyone with kids, they will have an amazing time!

Óbidos wall of house

Roman Aqueduct *

Just outside of the town you’ll find this historic landmark. It’s well preserved and looks beautiful. Just park your car and take a short look, you won’t spend more than 10 minutes here.

*     =nice to visit if you have time
**   =really nice to see and you should visit
*** =a must-see!

Where to eat:

Petrarum Domus ***

A great place to eat something is Petrarum Domus. The entrance is quite small so it’s easy to overlook this place. The food was amazing, staff was super friendly and reasonably priced! I had a Steak Romanoff, one of the best I’ve ever had.

Type: Lunch or dinner
Food quality: ***
Serving time: ***
Staff friendliness: ***
Price: **

Ginjinha ***

Do try the Ginjinha, a traditional local cherry liqueur served in an edible chocolate cup. You can get it pretty much everywhere but ‘A Ginjinha’ seems to be the most popular among the tourists.

Experience: ***

*=poor
**=okay
***=great

Vila Nova de Milfontes

This small town is the start of beach paradise in Portugal. Milfontes itself isn’t unique really, but rather the best place to use as a fall-out base to explore the surrounding area. With loads of beaches, steep cliffs and great food you are guaranteed to enjoy the area.

Sunset in Milfontes

Beaches ***

You will find a lot of beaches in the area, in Portuguese called ‘Praia’. All beaches look pretty similar so I won’t be going over every single one of them. The beaches are not very big, but changes are that, if you go outside of the high season, you’re the only one there! This part is very popular among people from Portugal, but not yet discovered as much by the international tourists, who only know the Algarve. Most beaches are located right next to an area that’s full of cliffs that go into to see, which is quite a sight! Here is a list of nice beaches in the area:

Odeceixe Beach
Farol do Cabo Sardão
Praia dos Buizinhos
Praia de Zambujeira do Mar
Odeceixe Beach

Beach near Milfontes

Praia do Patacho **

On this beach you can find an old stranded ship. It is a nice area to take a short walk and have a look at the ship. You have a great view on the shoreline and the cliffs and it’s not busy at all. Really nice place to enjoy the weather and area if you want to stay close to the village!

*     =nice to visit if you have time
**   =really nice to see and you should visit
*** =a must-see!

Sunset in Milfontes

Where to eat

Tasca Do Celso ***

Let me start by saying that this was the best dinner I’ve had in Portugal, hands down. For Portuguese standards it’s quite expensive, but compared to other European countries (like Germany or the Netherlands) it’s still very reasonably priced. The place looks really nice from the inside and you definitely feel like you’re in a proper restaurant. I can recommend the Portuguese steak, it was heavenly! The best dining experience in Portugal for me.

Type: Dinner
Food quality: ***
Serving time: ***
Staff friendliness: ***
Price: **

Where to stay

Milfontes Apartment Rentals **

If you want to spend a few days in the area, and are low on budget, it’s a good choice. You get a bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen and dining table. Don’t expect a lot because it’s very basic, but for this price you get more than you may expect.

Type: Appartment
Beds: **
Bathroom: **
Kitchen: **
Staff friendliness: **

*     = poor
**   = okay
*** = great

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Porto

Portugal’s second largest city, best European destination of 2017, city of Port wine and home to the Francesinha. But what makes Porto so special? Is it the food, the history, or the culture? Truth be told, it’s a combination of all of these things. To really discover the city you need to park your car and put on your walking shoes.

Best place to park your car is at Parque da Trindade, as it’s reasonably priced and right at the start of the city center! There’s also a metro stop there, for those who are travelling by public transportation. From there you should really follow the highlights in the order below.

Things to see in Porto:

Avenida dos aliados *

The main street in Portugal which, if you’d keep following it to the south, leads straight to the Douro river. You’ll find some old, important, buildings (like city hall) and statues. A great place to start your journey through Porto.

Livraria Lello **

Why would a book-store be on your to do list? Well, because it’s not a regular book-store, it’s one of the cutest little stores you will ever see! The beautiful wooden stairs and shelves were an inspiration to J.K. Rowling herself, when she was teaching English in Porto!

I have to note that you need to pay an entrance fee of 4 euro’s, but if you buy a book you’ll get it back. Tickets can be bought in a separate building in the same street (last house, on the corner).

Torre dos Clérigos ***

Now it’s time to start experiencing Porto! Torre dos Clérigos is one of the most iconic buildings in the city, you will see it on most of the postcards. You can go up if wanted, but you’re not missing anything if you won’t. This is a must-see, but it won’t take much of your time

 

Palácio da Bolsa **

A world heritage site build in the 19th century by the Commercial association in Porto. Every 30 minutes there’s a tour leaving that lasts for about half an hour. One of the highlights is the room with Moorish designs (Salão Árabe), which contains 18kg of gold!

Igreja de São Francisco ***

Another world heritage site is the church of San Francisco. From the outside it doesn’t look that impressive but once inside you’ll understand why it’s a must see. The display of decorations and gold is just overwhelming and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. You can choose to visit the smaller ‘museum’ as well, but you should only do this if you have time to spare.
Unfortunately it’s not allowed to take pictures inside the church.

Douro river & Ponte Luis I ***

If the weather is good you’ll notice that the waterfront is a great place to relax and contemplate life. Besides the people you can watch the traditional boats sail by, or look at the Port wine factories on the other side of the river. You also have a great view of the Ponte Luis I bridge and can easily cross it from here! Nothing else to do here except relax and enjoy the weather.

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar *

Only if you have time to spare it’s nice to cross the bridge and visit this unique round monastery. The round shape of the monastery was built to the likes of the Santa Maria Redonda church in Rome, but covered by a hemispheric vault with a narrow balcony. You’ll also have a great view of the city from the garden of the monastery.

Sé do Porto ***

A Roman Catholic church that should be on the top of your things to see in Porto! It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the area and a historic landmark. Beautiful from the outside and from the inside! It’s also nice to visit the small monastery next to it. Be warned though, there will probably be someone who wants to take a picture of you and then try to sell it when you go out.

Mercado do Bolhao *

On your way back to the car, and you have time, walk through the market of Bolhao. It’s nice to just walk past the stands and see what they have to offer.

 

*     = nice to visit if you have time
**   = really nice to see and you should visit
*** = a must see!

Places to eat:

Piolho ***

If you’re feeling hungry it’s time to go to Piolho (the official name is “Café Âncora D’Ouro”) for an authentic dish from Porto, the Francesinha! It looks like a croquet monsieur with sauce, but it’s totally different. It’s basically bread, steak, egg, cheese, fries and some sauce, but the outcome is awesome! You can get a Francesinha pretty much everywhere in Porto, but people recommended Piolho.

Type: Lunch
Food quality: ***
Serving time: **
Staff friendliness: **
Price: **

*     = poor
**   = okay
*** = great

Places to sleep:

Hotel mar azul **

A great place to spend the night if you are coming from, or going to, Porto by car. There are some public parking spaces around the area, but there’s a chance that you need to walk for a few minutes. The hotel feelds a bit old, but you get good value for your money. The restaurant is okay at best, I would suggest finding a different spot in the town center.

Type: Hotel
Beds: **
Bathroom: **
Staff friendliness: **

*     = poor
**   = okay
*** = great

Douro River & Valley

Douro. A beautiful region in the north of Portugal that is renowned for its Port wine farms. The endless wine terraces, on the many hills, are one of the most stunning things I have seen in Europe. The river starts in Porto but the wine region really starts near the town Peso da Regua, and continues to the Spanish border. That’s about 60-Kilometers of wine fields!

A Portuguese colleague recommended me to go to the Douro region, according to him it’s ‘the most beautiful part of Portugal’. As you can imagine I was a bit sceptic about that statement but, after checking out some photos, I figured that I needed to give it a shot. After driving, and hiking, in the Douro region for a full day I got why he was convinced of this. First of all, it’s totally undiscovered by international tourists, so you feel like you have discovered a small piece of heaven that nobody knows about! Secondly, the wine and olive farming terraces give the hills in this area this little bit of extra beauty. It’s a bit like the rice terraces in Asia, but for wine. And in Portugal. I haven’t seen all of Portugal yet, but I have yet to see an area in Portugal that is more beautiful than Douro. Maybe even in Europe.Port wine in Douro

Things to see in Douro:

São Leonardo da Galafura ***

If you’re driving from Porto or Vila Realyou should go directly to this ‘ miradour’. You’ll get treated to one of the best views in the region. Go to the top of the mountain and you’ll find a small church with inscriptions of a famous Portuguese poet, so bring your dictionary. Take a moment and enjoy the view.

Pinhão **

Have some lunch, visit a Quinta, or take some pictures at the old train station. You have now seen the first bits of Douro but the most beautiful parts are still to come. The best Quintas (wine farms) are in this area, so keep that in mind while driving here. Quinta das Carvalhas and Quinta do Bomfim appear to be very good.

Pinhao in Douro region

There are some points where you should stop and enjoy the view (from west to east)
Miradouro de São Salvador do Mundo ***
Miradouro do Douro **
Alto das Vargelas **

Castelo de Numão  ***

In the middle of nowhere, or, what the Portuguese people will call, Numão. Here you’ll find the ruins of a castle that you can enter for free and even climb (not recommended). I can guarantee that you’ll get confused when driving into town because you need to drive through streets that you can’t imagine leading to a castle. Keep a close eye on the signs (sometimes well hidden) and follow your instinct! Once there you’ll find no place to park your car, but chances are that nobody is there anyway. You can just park it alongside of the entrance and it should be fine. I was the only one there, so I could take the time to discover the castle walls on my own. Really nice stop to get out of the car, take some pictures and enjoy the peace that surrounds you.

Castelo Numao

Other places you might like to visit in Douro:

Vila Nova de Foz Côa ** – If you book in advance you can visit an archaeological site. Because I didn’t know I needed to book a tour up-front I couldn’t experience it for myself, .
Torre de Moncorvo ** – nice place to drive by and make a quick stop at the medieval church.
Miradouro do Penedo Durão **
Barca D’Alva ** (next to the Spanish border)

If you make it this far, I would recommend to take the EN325 back to Torre de Moncorvo. Because, you will drive through the heart of the Douro Valley NP, which is completely undiscovered by mass tourism. Beautiful green hills, authentic small villages, no tourists, what more do you want or need? Douro has totally blown away my expectations and I will definitely come back for some more exploring and wine tasting!

Grave at lookout in Douro

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Sintra

Mansion on Quinta da regaleira in Sintra

Sintra, Portugal. One of the most famous parts of the country, located right next to Lisbon. With its green and steep hills, historic castles, fairytale gardens, and colorful palaces, Sintra is one of the highlights and must-see’s of any trip to Portugal.

In all of my travels I have never come across a place like Sintra and its surroundings. The beautiful hilly landscape, right next to Lisbon, looks like a piece of heaven that was left on earth. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to spend more than a day here, but at least there more for me to discover! There are a few places to park your car somewhat close to the ‘attractions’. But keep in mind that in the high-season it’s very busy, and you probably won’t be able to find a parking spot that easily. So consider taking the hop-on-hop-off bus.

What to see in Sintra:

Palácio da Pena ***

A Romanticist castle (19th-century) that constitutes one of the major expressions of this era in the world. When you enter the garden (park) you immediately understand that it’s not just the castle that is worth the visit. Trees were planted from all over the world and has resulted in one of the most extraordinary parks in the world. Magnolia, Chinese Ginkgo, Sequoia trees, you can find them all in the park. You can either hike to the castle, while walking through the gardens, or take the shuttle bus for a few Euro’s (it’s quite steep). The castle is quite something, with it’s many colors and odd looks, it doesn’t look like anything I have ever seen before. Once inside you get a good look at how people used to live in that era. Wooden furniture, beds, large hallways, tables that are all ‘dressed-up’, it all looks very authentic. To be honest, for me, the inside of the castle wasn’t as interesting as the outside. From the inside it looked just like any other ‘ modern’ castle, and once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Palácio da Pena in Sintra

Cabo da Roca **

About a 20-minute drive from the town of Sintra, you will find a gorgeous view of the ocean. It’s a bit out of the way but if you have the time I really recommend you going here. The lighthouse, cliffs, rocks, sea, they’re really stunning. On a sunny day I think it would be the most amazing thing to relax and walk around. If you decide to take the detour you get to see more of the National Park, which is quite amazing! Don’t take the same road back, I could recommend taking the N247-3 back to the Moorish castle or the Pena castle, which should be your next stop. You will drive on a curvy road, through forests and hills, and it’s so much quieter! Initially I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go here, because it’s not considered to be one of the top highlights in Sintra but, since it was a very misty morning in the hills, I diverted to this mist-free area anyway. Lucky me!

Cabo da Roca in Sintra

Castelo dos Mouros ***

The historic Moorish Castle, built in the 8th and 9th century during the period of Muslim Iberia. It was the central place in a territory that was primarily agricultural, and was necessary to protect its population. After the conquest of Lisbon (1147) the castle surrendered voluntarily to Christian forces. It truly is a great place to visit, not only if you like history or castles, but also to get a great view over the area. You can learn a thing or two about the Portuguese history too! Basically you climb on the castle walls and you can go left or right, both will give you different views. Keep in mind that it’s a bit of a climb to reach the top, but nothing you can’t handle. And the view is worth it.

Castelo dos Mouros

Quinta da Regaleira ***

Funny enough one of the things I liked the most in Sintra wasn’t on the top of my own to-do list. Quinta da Reguleira is basically a very strange, yet intriguing, garden, made by someone who has way too much money on his hands. Mansions, caves, a church, a well, statues, it’s all there. Given the size of the ‘garden’ it’s truly a unique experience. The mansion is also known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire”, which is based on the nickname of its best known former owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. He was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies. I have to say, job well done, as it’s one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever visited.

Quinta da Regaleira

Other things in Sintra:

The town of Sintra itself is a worth the visit as well. You can get amazing pastries at Casa Piriquita (try the ‘travesseiros’), or go for some great food to Dom Pipas. You can also visit the ‘Palacio Nacional’, were you can learn more about the history, or enjoy the buzz on one of the seats on the main square.

I did all the above AND drove to Peso da Régua (4-hours) on the same day. Although, admittedly, I shouldn’t have done the latter. It does prove that you can do all the highlights in one day, depending on the time of the year. Ideally you’d need two days to really enjoy this area to the fullest, if you want to take it easy and relax a bit as well.

* = nice to visit if you have time
** = really nice to see and you should visit
*** = a must see!

Quinta da Regaleira

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