Portugal is a country that history buffs will enjoy. From Alfama to Time Out Market, Lisbon is defined by the collision of old and new. You will end up spending your days wandering the city and learning about its rich history. While there, try to take a day trip to Cascais to enjoy the views of the Atlantic Ocean which has heavily influenced many aspects of the country's culture, including its cuisine. Be sure to try salted cod and grilled sardines - Portugal's national dishes. Make your way up north to the medieval capital city of Porto and enjoy the country's wine region. Do note that a lot of places across the country, including tourist attractions, are closed on Mondays.
Morning: Start your day with a free walking tour of Lisbon. The morning tour usually starts at 10am at Praça Luís de Camões and is 3-4 hours long. Double check the website for logistics. The guide will take you to many of Lisbon’s main attractions including the Praça do Comercio, Arco da Rua Augusta, and Alfama — giving you a great overview of the city.
Afternoon: Spend the afternoon on the west side of town. Check out the Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument, Belém Tower, and Jerónimos Monastery. Be sure to stop by Pastéis de Belém and try their pastel de nata. The line for the bakery is usually pretty long, but it moves fast.
Evening: Explore the Bairro Alto neighborhood and grab dinner there. If you are looking for a more high-end dinner, make a reservation at 100 Maneiras otherwise there are plenty of great restaurants to choose from. Later on, explore the nightlife scene in the area. Many of the bars are small, so people tend to socialize on the streets of this neighborhood, making for a unique experience. Try a pastel de nata shot before the night ends!
Morning: Head to the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa for sweeping views of Lisbon. Try to go when it opens so that you avoid a long line. Afterwards head to the National Tile Museum to learn about azulejos — the traditional ceramic tiles you see on buildings around Portugal. You can take a taxi or public transportation to get there.
Afternoon: After the National Tile Museum, head to Alfama — the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon. Wander through the narrow cobbled streets, stopping by the shops and grabbing lunch at one of the cafés in the area. Head up to Castelo de Sao Jorge. Tickets to enter the castle cost 10€. There are discounts for children, young adults, seniors, disabled people, and Lisbon residents. Afterwards, head back into the main part of town where you can walk around and check out the shops.
Evening: Head to the Cais do Sodré neighborhood. Be sure to visit the Igreja de São Paulo, Pink Street, and Jardim de Roque Gameiro. Take a ride on the Elevador da Bica before heading to Mercado da Ribeira and grabbing dinner at Time Out Market. Afterwards, head to Bairro Alto to grab drinks and watch a fado show at Tasca do Chico. The show at Tasca do Chico typically starts at 9pm and last roughly an hour. There are several other places to catch a show — be sure to make a reservation in advance to guarantee a spot.
Morning & Afternoon: Take a day trip to the beach town of Cascais which is about an hour away from Lisbon by train. Spend a couple hours exploring the Cascais Citadel and Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães before heading to the beach. We spent time at Praia da Conceição and Praia da Rainha, spending most of our time at the latter as it was a smaller beach. Head to the town center to grab lunch or a snack at one of the many cafés.
Evening: Take the train back to Lisbon in the evening. After freshening up, head to the Rossio neighborhood. Grab dinner at O Marques, a small family restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese food and is fairly cheap. It was recommended to us by our guide from the walking tour we did on the first day. We got the the Bacalhau (cod) as our meal and flan for dessert. We have heard great things about their other fish dishes. After dinner, head to Sem Rival to try Ginjinha, a liquor made of cherries.
Morning: Get an early start on the day you visit Sintra as there is plenty to see. Sintra is known for its many historic palaces and castles. The town is fairly easy to get to from Lisbon — just hop on the commuter train (green line) and ride for 45-60 minutes until you reach Sintra. Once there, you can take buses to each palace or walk. Your first stop in Sintra should be Monserrate Palace and its botanical gardens. This was probably my favorite palace. Afterwards, head over to the Sintra National Palace (we just viewed this from outside) and grab lunch at one of the restaurants in town.
Afternoon & Evening: Spend the afternoon touring Pena National Palace and Castelo dos Mouros. If you have time, visit Cruz Alta for a panoramic view of Pena Palace and the surrounding gardens. You can even visit Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Portugal, to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. It is about a half hour drive from Sintra. Head back into town for dinner and then take the train back to Lisbon.
Morning: Take a bus or drive to Porto in the morning. The journey takes 3-3.5 hours.
Afternoon: Porto, a coastal city in northern Portugal, is famous for its production of port wine and has many port wine cellars sprinkled throughout the city, especially in Vila Nova de Gaia. One of the must-dos in Porto is visiting these cellars and going wine tasting. We visited 4 or 5 cellars and would recommend Sandeman, Adriano Ramos Pinto, and Espaço Porto Cruz (not a cellar, but it is where they do their tastings). The views from the rooftop of Espaço Porto Cruz were really nice and you could also get food here. We found it hard to finish all of our tastings as port wine is really sweet. After our tastings, we walked across the Ponte de Dom Luis (bridge) and walked along the Douro River. We stopped by a café with outdoor seating to enjoy the views over a glass of dry wine and a cheese platter.
Evening: After dinner, head into town near Aliados if you want to enjoy some of Porto’s nightlife. The area near Rua dá Fabrica and Rua da Conceição has many fun bars. We also happened to be in Porto during Queima das Fitas — a large festival for students enrolled in universities in Porto. We witnessed a huge parade of students wearing costumes (similar to the cloaks seen in the Harry Potter movies), dancing with canes, and riding around in party buses. It was cool to see the local community also participating.
Morning: Spend the day exploring Porto’s main attractions. Start the day by visiting Chapel of Santa Catarina, Mercado do Bolhão, and the Church Santo Ildefonso. Walk to Café Santiago F to try Porto’s famous dish, Francesinha. Francesinha is a sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a thick spiced tomato and beer sauce. It is typically served with french fries. It is very heavy and between the two of us, we still couldn’t finish it! You can also try the Francesinha at Café O Afonso, which is a bit farther away from the center of town.
Afternoon & Evening: After lunch, walk off the sandwich while checking out Clérigos Church and Bell Tower, Misericórdia Church, and Livraria Lello. On your walk over from the café, try to pass by the McDonald’s on Praça da Liberdade — it’s the most ornate McDonald’s we have ever seen (the food seems to be the same). Livraria Lello is an ornate bookshop that supposedly is where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. You have to buy a ticket to enter, but it can be applied as a discount to any purchase. If you really want to visit, I suggest buying a ticket in advance. Afterwards, head to Bolsa Palace, the Monument Church of St. Francis, and if you have time, the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal.
Portugal is a Schengen area country. US and Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter Portugal for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes. They must have a passport that is valid for at least six months. Citizens of other countries should check their country’s official resources to determine their visa requirements.
The official language of Portugal, and the most commonly spoken, is Portuguese. Portugal uses the Euro as their currency. As of September 2020, $1 USD equals 0.84€ EUR (or 1€ equals $1.18). Try to take out cash so that you can easily pay for tickets, entrance fees, and souvenirs in small shops. Most of the places we ate at accepted credit cards.
The best time to visit Portugal is March through October so that you can avoid the winter season. While summer is the most popular season to visit the country, spring and fall (March through May and September through October) are excellent times to visit as the weather is still warm, but the summer crowds are not present.
Both Lisbon and Porto are fairly easy to get around by either walking or taking public transportation. Cascais and Sintra are both easy to reach from Lisbon by train. Cascais is a small town that you can walk around in. Sintra requires a lot of walking. I suggest taking the buses from palace to palace to save time.
We took a bus to Porto which took roughly 3.5 hours and a train on the way back which took just under 3 hours. The train was more comfortable and was not that much more expensive, so I would recommend taking that over the bus.
Fado is a form of traditional folk music popular in Lisbon. The music is melancholic and is characterized by mournful lyrics about darker elements of love and sadness that are accompanied by string instruments like the guitar or mandolin. Often times, the songs are about the life of the poor, death, or the sea.
There are several places in Lisbon where you can watch a fado show. We enjoyed the show at Tasca do Chico. Unlike many other establishments, you do not need to purchase a dinner package at Tasca do Chico. But you should make a reservation in advance to guarantee a spot (this is true of most fado establishments).
Pastel de nata is a sweet egg tart treat that can be found all over Lisbon. You will find yourself trying these from various cafés throughout your stay as they are deliciously addictive. Head to Pastéis de Belém bakery if you want to try the original recipe and be sure to pick some up to take home with you.