Lisbon has always been on my bucket list and I finally ticked it off this summer. I’m writing this article while listening to Portuguese fado, which is definitely reviving a feeling of nostalgia. Probably because Portugal is a nostalgic country itself. Nostalgic about a glorious past and a victorious era, the pride of which can still be felt through the many impressive maritime landmarks scattered around the country, attracting thousands of tourists every year.
“An irresistible charm” is probably the best expression I could use to describe Portugal. The city fascinates through its minimalism: its cozy streets, its red-tiled roofs, its Gothic architecture, its hippie bars, its graffiti walls, its romantic sunsets, and a sense of art that is incredibly injected in every detail.
If you’re looking to cover the best of Portugal from Lisbon to Porto, here’s a perfect roadtrip itinerary for you:
Start in Lisboa…
…and stay at nowhere but “The House”. I had a great experience in this cute little guesthouse, which enjoys a great location in the heart of Lisbon, away from the noise. Francisco is a great host and will always be ready to answer any questions you have.
Things not to miss in Lisboa:
The Oceanario, which is a very modern aquarium located in the new part of Lisboa. I would recommend visiting the temporary exhibition entitled “Underwater forests” by Takashi Amano, which lasts till September 2017. A truly magical experience. The permanent exhibition is less of a must.
Visit Belem for:
– The “Torre de Belem”: the fortified tower that constituted an essential part of Portugal’s main defense system, classified by UNESCO as “Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
– The “Pasteis de Nata”, which originates from Belem and is a traditional sweet to die for!
– The “Monasterio de Jeronimo”, an impressive religious building also classified as World Heritage Site.
Leaving Belem, you should definitely stop by LX Factory – the highlight of my stay in Lisboa! Formerly a fabric factory, the space was repurposed into a street of hipster restaurants and bars, vintage boutiques and libraries that you simply can’t get enough of! I recommend checking every store on the street, and definitely trying the great food and sangria in any of the bars.
PS: make sure to visit the cultural and historical landmarks before 6pm as most of them close between 5 and 6.
Alfama is where you want to spend most of your time because here is where you will find the real soul of Lisbon. Take Tram 28 (a super cool experience but watch out for pickpockets!) and get down in Graça to start your tour. Walk up and down the hills of this “barrio” and get lost between the pastel-colored buildings and the cute little streets of Lisboa. If you happen to be there on a Saturday, you should absolutely pass by the flea market that takes place every Saturday in the area.
Do not leave Alfama without visiting the St. Georges Castle. Dating from the medieval period of Portuguese history, the castle is located on a hilltop and offers a breathtaking view on the center of Lisbon and the Tagus river.
Another moving moment for me in Alfama was visiting the Fado Museum. A superb journey tracing the story of Fado from the day it was born, beautifully depicted by documents, paintings, and art installations, and enlivened by the performance of the greatest fado singers, whom you can listen to on the device you’re handed when you check in.
Alfama counts endless restaurants and bars where you should definitely enjoy a bite while listening to live fado. I wouldn’t be able to recommend a particular place as they all offer more or less the same; you can just walk the streets and choose whatever you fancy.
Night recommendations in Lisboa:
– You can’t miss the Pink Street and Barrio Alto where all the excitement happens at night. In Pink street, I recommend having a bite at “Povo” restaurant, which happens to be right next to Pensao Amor, once a brothel and now a bar with a unique hipster cachet that you should absolutely not miss.
– Palacio Chiado: once an art university, today a get-together of great restaurant-bars in a stunning setting where everything is kept the same. Enjoy a great bite and the best gin cocktails while mesmerizing at the beautiful architecture and the masterpiece wall paintings!
– For a romantic fine-dining by the river, I highly recommend “Monte Mar’, a delicious fish restaurant.
– If you want to shake those legs and party till dawn, you should go nowhere but “LUX”, a world-class club that hosts the biggest DJs in the world of electro and house music.
– “The Park” or “Topo” for a nice rooftop sunset drink.
Your next destinations in Portugal and around Lisboa would be the towns of Cascais and Sintra. You do not have to rent a car as they’re both quite close to Lisboa and it’s very easy and cheap to use public transportation.
Cascais is known for its golden coastline and its beautiful beaches. The city also offers fantastic food as well as many natural and architectural sites. However, if you’re short on time, I recommend you go straight to “Gincho”, a beach that is a bit farther than the others but where you have the chance to find more locals than tourists. If you love surfing, you’ll find your paradise here as this beach tends to be more windy than others. And don’t forget, you’re swimming in the Atlantic so be prepared for that thermal shock!
Cascais has also a lovely town center that you should absolutely take the time to discover. Have a relaxing walk after the beach in its cozy little streets where you can find so many shops, restaurants and bars. Let’s not forget that Cascais is a former fishing village and offers panoramic views over the sea and a scenic promenade by the river.
An Italian ice cream place that you should try while in Cascais: Santini.
Side note: On your way to Cascais from Guincho, I recommend you stop at this beautiful spot called “Boca de Inferno” (Hell’s Mouth). The name might be scary but it’s a rock formation definitely worth visiting. More info about it here.
Your roadtrip should dedicate another full day for Sintra. Take a train from the Rossio station and head to one magical town in the mountains of Portugal. Known for its tropical weather, its marvelous historic mansions, its pastel-colored villas, and its stunning castles, Sintra is a journey back in time to another Portuguese era.
The two castles not to miss during your tour: Qinta da Regaleira and the Penal National Palace.
Also, do not leave Sintra before trying their famous “travesseiro” (cinnamon dessert), which you can find at a shop called “Periquita”. Simply delicious! The town offers also cute little restaurants where you can stretch your legs and enjoy a good bite of “pulpo” (octopus), “baccalau” (salty codfish), or “arroz de mariscos” (seafood rice), the most famous dishes around Portugal.
Your final destination would be Porto to end your trip on a high note. You can either drive or take the train from Apolonia Station (the trip takes 3 hours).
Oh Porto, Porto… Where can I start? I haven’t seen or tasted sweeter than your wine, your romantic sunsets over your river, and your rich Douro valley that left the sweetest taste in my mouth…
I loved your Lello Library, one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal that JK Rowling drew inspiration from to write her Harry Potter series.
I loved your Gaia city by the river where friendly restaurants await to offer us the best seafood and best melon I’ve ever tasted!
I loved visiting your wine cellars facing Gaia, especially one of your oldest ones, Calem, where your sweet wine is enjoyed on the live tunes of romantic Fado.
I loved your friendly atmosphere and my first free walking tour experience in your city, which was so entertaining and interesting!
I loved visiting your Douro Valley and immersing myself in the magical world of wine in the heart of your vineyards!
For your free walk tour bookings, contact Simply b free tours: +351 92 742 98 70 / www.freetoursporto.com
For your Douro Valley day trips, contact Living Tours: +351 800 200 989 / www.livingtours.com
Other landmarks to see in Porto:
- Bento train station
- Casa da Musica (a must!)
- Centro de Photographia
- Torre dos Clerigos
- The beautiful Gothic cathedrals
Typical dish in Porto:
Francesinha (get prepared for an explosive dose of proteins! Recommended to share)
I hope you liked this post. If you wish to add any comment on this review or ask any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch! Oh, and one more piece of advice, avoid Portugal in the month of August as it tends to be very hot and crowded! All other months should be good to visit.