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Portugal

Updated: Aug 4, 2023


Shira pictured in Porto or Oporto

Oporto, Portugal:

The dreamy city. Porto or Oporto is the second largest city located on the north-western coast of Portugal. The city is famous for its port wine although ironically no port wine is produced in Porto. It’s produced in the Duoro Valley close to the Portugal/Spanish border. Nevertheless, the city of over 200,000 inhabitants has an irresistible charm that’s hard to not be smitten by.


Arriving from the Airport:

Porto’s airport is well connected to the city via the purple Line E metro. Tickets are €2 each way plus an additional €0.50 to purchase the travel card.


Porto Transport Card
Porto Transport Card. It costs €0.50 and is reusable for all transport in Porto.

Going to and from the airport requires that you get a Zone 4 ticket. Transfers take about 30-40 minutes to the city center. However you should allow for more time as there are frequent delays.


I nearly missed my flight to Mallorca because of 20 minute train delays. The metro system in Porto is above ground and looks more like a tram than an actual metro. It only goes underground for select stops.


Where to stay:

I stayed at the Canvas Atelier Hostel located near the Campo 24 de Agosto metro stop. It also is less than a 5 minute walk from Oporto’s bus station. This hostel was lovely. It was about $15USD a night and included free breakfast.

The hostel is a large house that has been converted. There are curtains and small lights on the bunk beds so that guests feel a sense of privacy during their stay. AirBnbs are also reasonably priced in Oporto and are definitely a good option if booked well in advance.


Things to do in Oporto:

  1. Free Walking Tour Starting your trip with a free walking tour is a great way to orient yourself in any European city. I opted for the Sandemann’s free walking tour. We met opposite the Clérigos tower and toured the entire city of Oporto for about 2.5 hours. The tour was excellent. One interesting fact I learned on the tour is that many of the wineries in Oporto are ran by British multinational corporations. The tour guides gave food recommendations and also helped me orient myself in the city and decide what I wanted to visit next.


Best Eateries in Oporto:


Vegetable Soup
Vegetable Soup. Novo Mundo restaurant. Porto, Portugal.

Cod with potatoes
Cod with potatoes. Novo Mondo restaurant. Porto, Portugal

Cod

(Bacalhau in Portuguese) is absolutely delicious! I had a three course meal at Novo Mondo a typical Portuguese restaurant that was centrally located.

I had vegetable soup, cod mixed with potatoes, strawberries, and coffee all for €8. For the main course there were several options that included pork, chicken (sold out), and grilled bream.

The cheapest option was the pork and chicken (€6). I would have opted for the chicken had it not been sold out but I’m glad I went with the cod since it is typical to Porto.

Franceshina

The word translates to little french girl. It is not a french girl, in fact it is a sandwich filled with all types of pork meat and egg on top.

I don’t eat pork so I did not try it, but I have heard that it is really good. Portugal in general loves pork so if you are a meat lover, Portugal is the place to be.

If you are like me and prefer to stay away from red meat there are plenty of fish and vegetarian options to keep your belly full on a budget.


Port wine


Shira pictured Port Wine tasting at Porto Augusto’s.
Port Wine tasting at Porto Augusto’s. Twenty minute tour cost €5 and included trying 4 port wines. Gaia, Portugal.

Port wine in Porto is endless and it is delicious. It also happens to be quite strong. Although it is sweet, a typical port wine has between 18-20% of alcoholic content.

Personally, I love port wine and prefer the sweet taste to most bitter wines. There are several port wine cellars in Gaia, which is where you’ll need to go if you want to do a port winery tour. It’s a simple walk over the Luis I bridge (Ponze Luis I) and there you’ll see all of the wine cellars.


I did a 20 minute tour (€5) at Porto Augusto’s. I opted for this tour because I knew I’d learn the basics of port wine and retain the information.

Most tours at the wine cellars last around 1.5-2 hours and range in prices from €12-€15. If you decide to travel during the summer or travel in large groups, book ahead if possible.

Otherwise, you can just show up at the wine cellar and do the next available tour, most wine cellars tours run every 30 minutes.


Nightlife:

This is one thing in Porto that I did not get to experience. I arrived in Porto on a late Sunday evening and left on a Thursday afternoon.

I did not have a chance to visit any clubs, but I have heard great things about the nightlife.

It is clear that the city has a lot going for itself and has a lot of culture. Be sure to do more research on this before going to make the most of your experience.


Lisbon:

Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal and is recognized as a global city.


Shira picture doing Free walking Tour of Lisbon in Lisbon, Portugal.
Free walking Tour of Lisbon. Lisbon, Portugal.

Arriving to Lisbon

I arrived to Lisbon via a Rede Expresos bus from Porto that took 3.5 hours. The bus dropped me off at the Lisbon Sete Rios Railway station. The ticket was €34 roundtrip. You can buy tickets at bus stops, but I recommend purchasing them online to avoid wait times.

Lisbon’s airport is well connected to the city and you can easily get to and from the city on the metro. You’ll need to purchase a Viva Viagem reusable transport card (€0.60).


transport card
Travel card is €0.60 and is valid for use on all transport in Lisbon and nearby cities like Sintra.

Top Things to do in Lisbon:

  1. Free walking tour: Starting your trip with a free walking tour is a great way to orient yourself in any European city. In Lisbon, there are many companies that offer free tours and you can pre-book online. I opted for Lisbon’s Chill Out free walking tour. The tour took 3 hours and went through several neighborhoods of Lisbon. Lisbon is a huge city and deciding what to do and where to go can be overwhelming. This tour helped me figure out where to eat at the last minute and also left me wanting more of the city.

  2. Ride Tram 28: The entire tram route takes about 45 minutes. During the day the tram can get crowded so considering opting to ride the tram at night.

Pro tip: Buy your tram tickets at any metro station. If you bought a day pass, know that trams are included in the price already.


Note:

  • If you buy the ticket on the tram, you’ll pay nearly double the price.

  • You can also buy Lisbon transport cards at stores that have a red “Pay shop” sign on them.

Best eats in Lisbon:


Pastel de nata

It’s a cream based pastry that has a sweet flavor. It’s absolutely yummy!


Bifana

Bifanas are pork sandwiches popular in Lisbon. I don’t eat pork but have heard that they are delicious? If you eat pork, it would be a great meal to have for lunch.


Fish

I had delicious cuttlefish (chocnos) for dinner in Plaza de Graca at a restaurant name Sateli’s. The cuttlefish was grilled to perfection. If you like fish Lisbon is the place for you.

Pro tip: Oporto has better cod (bacalahu) than Lisbon. When in Lisbon opt for cuttlefish or bream.


Transport:


Metro

Lisbon has a metro system that is well integrated to the city. The metros are small and not the nicest looking but it is fast and reliable. A 24 hour day pass (€11.05) also includes unlimited access to Lisbon’s metro. Otherwise, per ride you’ll have to pay €1.50 per trip.


Lisbon’s nightlife:

The downside to only spending 24 hours in Lisbon was that I couldn’t explore the nightlife.

My free walking tour stopped in the Alfama neighborhood in Lisbon where there was a live band playing music. I joined in on the fun and danced in the street.


Fado

There are also restaurants that combine dining and live music (fado) for an entertaining experience. These restaurants tend to be pricey and in the words of my tour guide

“You are paying to see the music not for the quality of the food.” There is live music in a lot of places in Lisbon and you can walk by or eat near a fado restaurant to enjoy the experience. I don’t think it’s necessary to eat at a fado restaurant but I’m sure it’s a great cultural experience.


Sintra:

Sintra is the most popular day trip from Lisbon, Portugal because of the beautiful palaces the city has. The two most famous ones are Palacio da Pena and Palacio Nacional de Sintra.


Arriving to Sintra

The train ticket from Lisbon to Sintra is €4.50 round trip. You cannot buy tickets in advance for the train and there really isn’t a need since there are always available seats.

From the Lisbon Sete Rios Railway station trains to Sintra leave every twenty minutes. The trip lasts about 30 minutes and drops you off at the only train station in Sintra. You will use your Viva Viagem travel card for the train.


Arriving to Palacio da Pena

Outside of Sintra’s train station you can catch bus 434 which goes to Palacio da Pena, Palacio de Sintra, Train station, and the Moorish castle. A round trip ticket for the 434 bus is €6.90. For unlimited access to the 434 bus (unnecessary) you’ll have to pay €10.

My advice is to go to Palacio da Pena when it opens in the morning. You can then spend the rest of the day exploring the rest of the grounds of the palace and the Moorish castle if you want.


For your return trip, the 434 bus makes stops at the National Palace of Sintra and the Sintra train station. The walking distance between the national palace of Sintra and the train station is 20 minutes.


Shira pictured at Palacio da Pena. Sintra, Portugal.
Palacio da Pena. Sintra, Portugal.

Pro tip: Palacio da Pena lines are extremely long and you can easily lose a whole day by waiting in lines just to see the inside of the palace.

You can explore the terraces of Palacio da Pena without waiting in line and have someone hold your spot while you take pictures. Once your spot holders are near the front rejoin the line to see inside of the palace.


The price of Palácio da Pena is €14.50 if purchased at the Palace (Do not do this, you’ll be stuck in another long line) or €13.30 if you buy online. The palace is on the pricey side and it only makes sense to purchase the ticket if you are going to visit both the palace and the rest of the grounds.


Pro tip: Pack your lunch and have a nice picnic in the gardens of the palace.

Sintra is definitely a tourist destination so I recommend not going in the summer. I went in April and the lines were really long.

You’ll need one full day (8 hours) in Sintra, to see everything, but the Palace and the exterior grounds can definitely be done in 4 hours if you are short on time.


Conclusion: If you are visiting Portugal you should visit Porto and Lisbon. Not only are they the two largest cities in Portugal they are both charming. Portugal is often seen as the forgotten little brother to Spain – much to the world’s detriment. The country has a unique culture and a lot to offer.


Pro-tip: Most people start in Lisbon and work their way north to Porto. I did the opposite. Flying to and from Lisbon was surprisingly expensive so instead I used Oporto as my base for traveling.

I flew to Oporto stayed for 36 hours, took a bus to Lisbon & Sintra, explored for 24 hours and then I headed back to Oporto for another 2 days. It was a jam packed schedule but I absolutely loved it and would consider it my best trip of 2019.

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