Olá e bem-vindos! Quite frankly, as a Brazilian, I had never paid much attention to Portugal before my parents had the idea to spend a week there with my sister and I. In Brazil, the Portuguese people are the target of many jokes and accusations, and although everyone knows this is an exaggeration, this idea of the Portuguese as dumb colonizers and Portugal as uninteresting stays impregnated in many Brazilians’ minds. When I got to Portugal, it hit me how these ideas couldn’t be further from the truth. I fell in love with the Portuguese people, who by the way love Brazilians and our country, and with this small-in-size but great-in-history-and-culture country. I want to go back there and spend real time with this welcoming people, discovering each little corner (cantinho) of their land and ways of life. Since the country is quite small, the ideal way to travel is to rent a car for a road trip, or get informed on bus and train fares, and travel through the charming Portuguese towns! I hope you enjoy reading my experience and tips for those who wish to travel in Portugal.
Don’t hesitate to speak to the Portuguese people, they are extremely open and welcoming. They always seem happy to help or just talk about anything. However, I don’t know if most of them speak English or not, since I had the pleasure to speak Portuguese to them and discover their captivating accent. But don’t be afraid to start a conversation with locals, their kindness may surprise you!
In Lisboa, as a family of four, whenever we were tired of walking, we found it cheaper to take a Taxi or Uber than the Subway or Bus. Although, the best way to get around in the city really is to walk or take a bike.
Whenever you are in a “touristy” restaurant, be careful what you’re charged. The waiter will usually bring appetizers to your table without asking or informing you how much it costs. You may see them on the menu as couverts, which often are expensive and not so worthy of the cost. Remember that it is optional, you have the right to refuse.
As a family of four, we booked an Airbnb in the Bairro Alto of Lisboa, next to the restaurant Pato que Fuma, which I recomment especially for the Pastel de Bacalhau, which is a typical Portuguese dish make from cod fish; you can’t miss it!
I also have a great organic market to recommend, since I had to buy some gluten-free food for my stay at the apartment. It is called Celeiro; the whole city knows it and it’s located near the Praça/Jardim do Príncipe Real. There, I found everything I would need for my 7-days stay.
You absolutely have to walk through Lisboa’s neighborhoods and stop at local cafés and savor local delights. We walked in the Bairro Alto on the cute Rua da Escola Politécnica and its crossing streets, passing through the Jardim Botânico (which was unfortunately closed).
We also walked in the streets of the Bairro Alfama, where you can find the beautiful Castelo de São Jorge. You absolutely cannot miss the castle and its amazing view of the city (see pictures below).
If you walk further south of the castle, there is the indispensable Praça do Comércio also known as Terreiro do Paco (see picture below). The place itself is full of tourists, but there is a beautiful view of the lake and many activities going on. There, we had lunch at a restaurant called Maria Catita, which I recommend! I had an amazing gluten-free vegan dish (which was not so easy to find in most of the restaurants).
Now, pay attention to this. You need to eat a meal at the best restaurant in Lisboa: As Salgadeiras. It’s in the Bairro Alto, and they’re known for their Bacalhau; the typical Portuguese cod fish experience. However, I’m not a fan of cod fish, so I had the Strogonoff de Gambas and it was absolutely fantastic. And you can’t miss their best dessert: Chiffon de Chocolate.
You must go to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. From there, you can see half the city and listen for free to local street musicians playing the typical Portuguese Fado (see picture below).
A great thing to do is to buy a Pastel de Nata in the coffeeshop Manteigaria, sit down at the Miradouro, listen to the music and breathe in the city. It’s a typical sweet delight you can’t miss (see picture below).
If you’re gluten intolerant like myself, you won’t be able to taste the Pastel de Nata, but I found a great sweet snack that’s available at almost every coffeeshop in Portugal; Bolo de Arroz. It’s like a muffin made of rice flour, although there is butter and milk in it; Viva Lactaid! (see picture below)
Also, you have to take a Tuk at least once, it’s part of the tourist experience! It’s like a taxi, except there are no doors or windows, and many are electric; they’re all over the city. If you want to go out at night, you’re in the right place! The neighborhood of Chiado, especially the streets close to the Praça do Comércio, are a great spot. But my favorite one was the Bairro Alto, where young people gather in charming little bars near the Rua do Norte and Rua das Salgadeiras.
(See below pictures of the Ruelas and buildings of the city)
Belém, a neighborhood of Lisboa, is also a center of many attractions. Unfortunately, it was raining and crowded with tourists when we went there, but we still enjoyed it. The Torre de Belém and the Padrão dos Descobimentos are truly worthwhile! We also visited the creative contemporary art museum, Museu Berardo, and unsuccessfully tried to have lunch at the museum’s famous restaurant and café, Este Oeste. Instead, we walked through the neighborhood and found a great and very inexpensive place to eat, which I highly recommend. It’s called Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, and it’s what we call in Portuguese BBB (Bom, Bonito e Barato), meaning that it doesn’t cost much, the food is good and the place is nice. Also in Belém, there is the Monasteiro dos Jerônimos, where I promise that the long line of tourists to get in will be worth it! (see picture below)
The Elétrico of Lisboa is simply part of the city’s landscape, though it is not imperative that you go inside; the line was long, it cost a lot and it’s unpleasantly crowded. It is much beautiful seem from the outside (see picture below).
I have another restaurant to recommend: Café no Chiado. It’s simply delicious, although it is a bit costly. We had dinner there on December 31st, so I don’t really know what their regular menu looks like but the food is amazing!
There’s also another place you should visit, the Praça do Rossio. It’s such a happy and open place, there was live music and lots of people around (not necessarily tourists, which I appreciated!).
Cascais and surroundings
Cascais is a town close to Lisboa, the cutest suburb I ever visited. You must visit the Citadela, a fortified palace in the seaside.
Not far from there, there is the absolutely astonishing Boca do Inferno, where the cliffs and chasm make a breathtaking landscape (see picture below).
From there, you should also visit the Cabo da Roca, the place in Europe that is the furthest to the West. Once again, you simply can’t miss this view (see the first image of this post and the picture below).
This town is absolutely gorgeous. There, you must walk up through the forest for no more than half an hour to visit the Castelo dos Mouros (see pictures below). Of all the Portuguese attractions, this is the most indispensable. There, you can learn about the history of the Moors in Portugal and breathe in the nature.
When in Sintra, you have to eat at the famous Pastelaria Piriquita, a coffeeshop where you can eat the local Travesseiro (once again, gluten. Once again, I ate a delicious Bolo de Arroz).
Although the town is full of tourists, it is simply beautiful and the little streets will remind you of another time (see picture below).
Porto is a beautiful coastal city, but as it is significantly smaller than Lisboa, you can walk all around it, though the city and its buildings are visibly less taken care of than Lisboa.
The famous store A Vida Portuguesa in Porto is a very interesting place to visit and buy souvenirs from. After going there, we went to the interesting Estação São Bento and Praça da Ribeira. We also went to the Mercado do Bolhão, and ended up being a little disappointed with it. However, it is located in a cute neighborhood, where we walked around.
You have to cross the Rio d’Ouro in order to get to Vila Nova De Gaia, a touristy but very cute city. There, you can visit the caves where the Porto wine is aged, such as Sandeman, and there are multiple wine-tasting tours!
What I Missed But Will Go Back to Visit
In Lisboa, I want to come back to see the Museu do Design e da Moda (MUDE) and the Museu Nacional do Azulejo. Also, we didn’t have enough time to get lost in the city and explore the smallest and less touristy bairros, which seem cozy and charming. Also, next time I will definitely stay at The Independente Hostel, in front of the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. It is perfectly located in the city and I have heard so many great things about it.
We also wanted to visit the small towns during our road trip between Lisboa and Porto, but simply didn’t have enough time. I noticeably heard great things about Óbito, Braga and Guimarães.
In addition, there are the known towns of the South of Portugal, with amazing beaches during the summer. As we didn’t have much time and it was winter, we didn’t get to go there, but it’s definitely on my list.
When back in Sintra, I wish to visit the Castelo de Pena and Palácio de Sintra.
When back in Porto, I wish to visit the inside of the old bookstore Lello & Irmão. It was so crowded we didn’t want to wait in line.
Summing it up
If you have never been to Portugal, what are you waiting for? It’s an amazing place, full of history and an interesting culture. Although I would have loved to stay more and want to go back, seven days were enough to have an overview of this beautiful country.