Decide an itinerary for one week in Portugal is a dilemma. Country so beautiful and varied deserves more attention. For its first visit I chose four most popular places, and to my benefit I was accompanied by someone who lived in Portugal several months and showed me the best.
Symbol of Portugal are azulejos―tiles of various shapes, textures, and colours. You’ll find them inside and outside. They are in rooms, or walls outside. They could be decoration, but also telling a story.
Porto felt like the city where people go chill and enjoy life. They lay on the grass in the park, go cycling along the coast, walk on Ponte Luís I., gossip in pastelaria, or surf in the ocean.
For coffee and pastry lovers is Portugal like dream country. Just ask uma cimbalina in Porto, or uma bica in Lisbon, and take with it pão com chouriço, or their traditional dessert Pastel de nata. Be careful with that, it’s addictive. Close to our hotel was Vale Doce Padaria e Pastelaria, which was full all day long. The most famous café in porto is Majestic Café.
After breakfast rich on carbs is ideal to explore Porto. I recommend to omit public transport and enjoy the city on your feet. You’ll be surprised what you find. The river bank of Douro, neighbourhood Sé, Vitória and Santo Ildefonso are gorgeous. You can also visit famous library Lello, just buy your ticket in advance. You’ll avoid waiting in hundreds-metres-long queue.
We also rented an e-bike and spent a day on the Atlantic coastline. The weather was beyond our expectations and we stopped every few metres just to enjoy view, or take a picture, or let the waves splash salty water on our face. Children were screaming of happiness, fishermen catching fish, surfers waves, guys playing football, people just walking or drinking coffee. R. Heróis de França is street with all seafood restaurants. We came there in the last minute before they closed after lunchtime. We chose tavern Antonio, but I believe all serve delicious meals.
Coimbra is student city. It’s lively, cheap, and full of young people from around the world. University campus takes almost half of the old town area. In the city are scattered university canteens where you can have student menu for 2,40€ which constists of soup, main dish, dessert, and drink. Non-students pay more, but, no one asked.
First week of May students celebrate the end of academic year with a week-long festival Queima das Fitas. It’s massive event, people go to streets, sing, play, dance, and drink!
The oldest church in town is Sé Velha, but I give thumbs up to Igreja de Santa Cruz. Its courtyard looked after rain like real movie scene. Glowing green grass, water dripping, and chilly air.
For breakfast we went to pastelaria Visconde, and had posh dinner in restaurant Sete where I ordered salad from raw cod and tasted Vinho Verde, which was really good. Unfortunately, this wine is still in the shade of Porto wine.
Botanical garden belongs to university and in the recent years went through remarkable makeover. I felt like I’m in royal gardens.
If you ask Portuguese to choose between Porto and Lisbon, they’d probably go for Porto. Of course, Lisbon is bigger and busier, but the places I visited were as pretty as in Porto. Different, but magic and unique. If you have at least 2 days for Lisbon, it’s worth to visit Alfama, Bairro Alto, Santa Maria de Belém and Almada.
...is the oldest part of Lisbon with all the colourful houses in the labyrinth of streets. There’s plentiful of landmarks and churches. We chose the one with the best view. Igreja de São Vicente de Fora has 5€ admission fee which includes access to interiors and rooftop where you can enjoy 360° panorama of Lisbon.
Admirers of street art will love Lisbon. If the wall is missing azulejos, then it’s painted with some mural. Caracol da Graça is zigzag staircase decorated with dozens of masterpieces telling story or reflecting modern world.
...or Old town is vibrant part of Lisbon with the bars, restaurants, shops, and crowds. On Praça da Figueira is market with the products which are very hard to resist. Cheese, ham, meat, sweets, fresh bread, or sangria. My favourite was bread with prosciutto and cheese which melted after heated. So simple, so delicious. Many of traditional Portuguese bars are now replaced by those fancy ones where people come to take a selfie with rainbow drink. On Praça Dom Pedro IV behind the scaffolding we found traditional pub where you can get cold beer and something to eat. A Tendinha do Rossio is there decades and the guy behind the bar is working here 20 years. We had a nice chat but he sadly mentioned that this bar became tourist attraction. Tourists come here, take a picture, and leave.
Elevador de Santa Justa is the elevator connecting different levels of the city. It was built in 1902 and on its 100th anniversary recognized as national monument. This unique elevator still works and takes hundreds of people every day.
Lisbon is famous for its trams and funiculars. I didn’t take any, but I enjoyed watching them. Since the city is hilly, Funicular da Gloria and Funicular Lavra connect elevated points like the elevator, so people can get effortlessly up the hill.
If I could tell you one bar where you should go, it would be Pavilhão Chinês. This bizarre place decorated with old toys is literally like fairytale. And if you want to see its interior, you have to sit down and order something. The prices are bit higher but imagine drinking beer in the museum of toys.
Rio de Janeiro is not the only one where Jesus with opened arms dominates over the city. You can get to Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei from the port Cais do Sodré, viaCacilhas, where you need to transfer on the bus. Almada is something like Jersey in New York City―cheaper. Admission fee is 5€-6€ depending on the season, and there is elevator to take you up.
Santa Maria de Belém…
...is another popular quarter in Lisbon with historical landmarks like Torre de Belém, Jerónimos Monastery, or memorial to discoverers Padrão dos Descobrimentos. well-known we remember from the history class were Vasco de Gama and Fernão de Magalhães. If you fall in love with Portuguese souvenirs like me, they were cheaper in this neighbourhood.
Sintra and São Martinho
There is a train to Sintra operating from Rossio station and the price for ticket is 2,25€. I recommend to set off earlier in the morning to see as much as possible. If you have more time, use Hop On Hop Off offer and see even more places where you’ll get quickly and easily. We chose top two landmarks and it took us the entire day.
Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira (admission 6€) is the five-storey residence decorated with gothic facade which is classified as UNESCO monument. Construction began in 1904 and the buiding was locally called The Palace of Millionaire Monteira, after its owner. Gardens on the slope above the palace raised on the popularity. The residence is private property but since 1998 opened to public. On the site is church, and in the gardens are lakes, fountains, caves, wells, and also aquarium which was out of order during our visit.
Palacio Nacional da Pena
Palace was built by king Ferdinand II in the middle of 19th century and should serve to royal family as the summer resort. Over the years it became dully and gloomily looking building which changed to its current appearance only in 1996. Firstly, people’s reactions to such vibrant colours weren’t positive, but nowadays it’s an unique architectural masterpiece. One part reminds medieval European castle, while other side looks like dome of mosque. You can see the palace even from Lisbon if the weather allows it. Palacio da Pena is also under UNESCO and is one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal.
Besides tourism, it serves president and government for official events. You can get here with Hop on Hop off bus, or with regular one from Sintra―bus 434 (6,90€ spiatočne). Admission fee to palace and gardens is 14€.
Jardins do Parque da Pena are large gardens under the Palacio da Pena. King’s instruction was to bring here varied sorts of plants from lands afar, like sequoia from North America, cypress, magnolias, Chinese gingko, ferns from Australia and New Zealand. Footpaths in the park create labyrinth connecting two entrance gates. The park is huge, so reserve sufficient time to explore it.
- Spanish and Portuguese should understand each other like Slovak and Czech. Let’s say.
- They have a lot of „sh“ a „u“ in pronounciation. There is no rule when to say „s“, and when „sh“ (e.g. Vasco de Gama = pronounced as Vashco de Gama).
- To me, Portuguese sounds like Romanian.
- If you have Spanish basics, after some time you’ll start to see the similarities and understand.
- Never learn Spanish and Portuguese at the same time. You will not kill two birds with one stone, but the stone will return and hit your head.
Originality in souvenirs
- I found Portuguese souvenirs the prettiest. Stylish, elegant, colourful, and you’ll most likely find them in the locals‘ homes.
- Their products are unique, and I mean I’ve never seen such products from cork or tiles. Just set your budget, they are not cheap and you might want to buy everything.
- Most surprising for me was that you can made from cork anything: shoes, aprons, backpacks, bags, postcards, magnets, chopping boards, wallets, even bicycle!!!
Gastronomy in Portugal
- Už po prvom dni som označila Portugalcov za gastronomických barbarov v čom som sa ďalšie dni len utvrdzovala.
- Their traditional meal is Francesinha = Toast bread with ham and sausage, fried egg on top, and all this soaked in tomato sauce with fries.
- Bacalhãu = cod which can be prepared different ways (typical is Bacalhãu a Brás).
- High percentage of Portuguese’ diet consists of pastry, bread and meat. Favourite method of preparation is frying. Seafood is popular as well, but you can’t afford it every day. I recommend Arroz de polvo which is octopus rice and delightful and lighter meal.
- K hlavnému jedlu si viete objednať aj šaláty, najlepšie tie zmiešané, kde bude trošku zeleného, paradajok, či cibule. Žalúdok sa vám určite poďakuje.
- Tak ako u nás na svadbách pred 20 rokmi, v Portugalsku je stále veľmi obľúbená kombinácia ryža + hranolky.
- If you struggle with choosing your meal, many times the daily menu is the best choice. Just ask for Prato do dia (daily menu), or Sopa do dia (soup of the day).
- Portuguese usually consume dinner with a bottle of Vinho = wine (Vinho do Porto, Vinho verde).
- And not just wine is popular. Their well-known beers are Super Bock and Sagres. You can ask from 0,2l to 0,5l glass of beer. Beer of 0,3l or less is called uma imperial, orum fino (on the north). Classic 0,5l is uma caneca.
- If you go to pastelaria orpadaria, these phrases and words might be useful:bola/bolinha de bacalhãu (fried cod ball), coxinhas (had shape of cone), misto (mixed), empadas (like little punnets), rissoís (pockets), pão com chouriço (bread with chorizo).
- V Portugalsku si dávajte pozor na čas, aby ste nevychytali mŕtvu hodinu medzi obedom a večerou, mnohé podniky vtedy nevaria (reštaurácie na turistických miestach áno).
- Prices for intercity trains are higher, but depends on the type of ticket. Speed trains are more expensive, but if it makes 1-2 hours difference, it’s worth it. For this type it’s better to buy ticket in advance, especially during holiday or peak hour. For instance, we went from Porto to Coimbra during Easter and the speed train tickets were sold out.
- I was very satisfied with trains in Portugal. We didn’t use bus, because normally they weren‘t cheaper and the travelling time was longer. I’d say between the cities the trains are the best choice.
- Transport within the cities was also very nice, for instance ticket to Sintra costs 2,25€. Night bus to Lisbon airport was 1,50€, or in Porto 2,00€. Very affordable fares.