Travel Bucket List is perhaps the most familiar term with travelers and explorers, and I am no different than the rest. On my bucket list Portugal was always amongst the top 5 places I wanted to see in my life. So, in the summer of 2018, along with my best friend Bianca, I decided to make a short trip (6 days) to this country and visit two of its most important cities, Lisbon and Porto.
I took a flight from Munich, my friend traveled from Budapest. Our plan was the following: Arrive in Lisbon, spend 3 days there and visit Porto thereafter. While reading a couple of reviews on Portugal, we observed that most of the travelers wrote that one day is enough for Porto. However, we found out that IT IS NOT TRUE! Hence, do not believe every review you read on the internet. We found Porto to be amazing and I could spend even more than a week there.
During travels Couchsurfing is our most preferred option for stays. Apart from providing free accommodation, I believe it also provides us a chance to meet local people and get to know their culture closely. Owing to last minute vacation planning, we had no luck finding a fellow Couchsurfer in Porto this time. However, one of my friends could help us because he knew a nice man in Porto, who hosted us for 2 nights (It was a very positive experience, we can’t be grateful enough to you, Tiago :). When it came to accommodation in Lisbon, we found a nice budget hotel in the city center. We loved this old, authentic building where we had a kitchen too and can highly recommend it to every budget traveler like us.
The historical city of Lisbon is quite charming, with its hills and trademark old trams. The city is unnoticeably big enough, with a lot of small squares and narrow streets (mainly in and around the center). We walked along the city but never felt it to be too crowded. For first-timers in Lisbon, it is recommended to be based close to the historic city center like Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto or the Avenida da Liberdade. Lisbon offers a rich and varied history and an exciting nightlife, so you will never be bored.
Here is our list of THINGS TO DO IN LISBON:
– Traveling with the old yellow tram 28. The number 28 Lisbon tram passes through the popular tourist districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela. Traveling by this tram was like stepping into a time machine and going back to the 1930’s. Beware of pickpockets though! Unfortunately, I was not careful enough, so I lost a precious 100 Euros. 🙁
– Belém tower: Unfortunately, we could not go in because of the long queue, but we really enjoyed drinking coffee with a view of the River Tagus at one of the many Cafeterias next to the tower.
– Elevador de Santa Justa: The Elevador de Santa Justa is one of the city’s most famous sights. Its special structure and the amazing view from the top, make it one of the city’s busiest tourist attractions. But I have to be honest, it is very difficult to find the right time to go upstairs because the line is long. It is better to try it early in the morning or late in the evening. So that is the reason I skipped this attraction but my friend went up so she can tell you everything about it ☺
– A nice evening stroll to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos or the Monument of Discoveries, an iconic monument located on the banks of the River Tagus in Lisbon. The structure is dedicated to the explorers who helped establish Portugal and celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery or Age of Exploration. Located on the opposite side of the Jerónimos Monastery, it offers an amazing view of the April 25 bridge, Lisbon’s most notable landmark. This massive bridge resembles that of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and connects Lisbon on the north bank with the districts of Alameda on the south bank.
– Bridge Vasco da Gama is named after the famous 15th-century explorer. This immense cable-stayed bridge across the Tagus River is eleven miles (12 km) long and punctuated with more than seven miles of bridges and viaducts. It is the second longest bridge in Europe.
TIP: if you want to discover the city, you can buy a ticket at yellow bus company.
You can take three tours in a panoramic bus and one tour in a historical tram using one ticket which is valid for 48 hours. You can get on and off as much as you want. We enjoyed it very much, just hop off somewhere and get lost in it. This is the best way to discover a city apart from walking around.
Daytrip to Cabo da Roca from Lisbon
There is an abundance of natural beauty, historic towns and sunny beaches surrounding Lisbon. You can visit Sintra, Cascais or as we did, the amazing Cabo da Roca as a daytrip.
Cabo da Roca is part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, one of 13 natural parks in Portugal. Tourists flock to the area to see the Atlantic coast and its dramatic cliffs overlooking sandy beaches. Possibly it is one of the most photographed landmarks in Portugal and the westernmost point of Europe, or, „End of Europe” as it was known in former times. The varied facets and smalls details of the coast makes it worthy to be photographed.
It’s easy to travel by train in Portugal, so we decided to make a stop between Lisbon and Porto at a city named Coimbra, away from the typical tourist hotspots. It is a nice, small city with an imposing university square and friendly people. Ideal for a day-trip.
We arrived in Porto – the capital of the North – early in the afternoon. In the first minute I felt that it is something different as Lisbon, not better or worst just different. My friend didn’t agree with me but for me Porto was a bit similar like Budapest because of the river and the bridges, historical buildings but without smog and trash and too many people. This city is a mix of old and new, a modern city with classical charm. Walking in the old streets, staring at the buildings and watching the river from one of the nice bridges is something special. Cost of living in Porto is amazingly low, which made me seriously consider learning Portuguese and moving to this city someday.
What we really liked in Porto:
Porto’s riverside quarter is a magical labyrinth of narrow, winding streets, zigzag alleyways and arcades. We loved getting lost in these small, medieval streets. Porto's riverside quarter, known as the Ribeira, is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in1996. The Dom Luís I bridge is a true icon of the city and a marvel of 19th century engineering. The bridge spans across the River Douro between Porto on the north bank and Vila Nova de Gaia on the south bank. It was designed by German architect Téophile Seyrig, a business partner of French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Originally meant for road traffic, now the upper part carries the Porto metro and a pedestrian walkway, while the lower deck is for road traffic
and pedestrians as well.
One of the best things that you can do in Porto is winetasting. From Ribeira, cross the D. Luís foot bridge and you’ll see the wine cellars. Choose one and enjoy the Port wine while watching the river with the boats and enjoying the sunshine.
The Santa Catarina street is where you should head for shopping in Porto. This pedestrian street in the high part of the city begins in Batalha square, where you can see the church of San Antonio de los Congregados.
If you are both a traveler and a Harry Potter fan, you have to visit the Lello bookshop which inspired some of the Harry Potter stories.
A visit to Porto is never complete without tasting one of its most iconic dishes, the king of sandwiches, the Francesinha. This dish was created by Portuguese immigrants to France. Francesinha is made with bread ham, Linguiça (a Portuguese sausage), steak or roast beef, everything covered with melted cheese and a special tomato and beer sauce. Most of the times it’s served with a fried egg on top and French Fries that you can dip in the sauce. The best places are full, so it is worth to make a reservation in advance.
After such an amazing experience, we could do only two things: buy a bottle of Port wine and check our calendar to schedule our next Portuguese vacation.