Each summer, my husband Brandon and I travel to Europe to serve as staff members with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. Before or after our summer spent with 50+ university students, we like to enjoy some personal travel in other cities/countries in Europe. For years I have been dreaming about traveling to Portugal, and this summer my dream finally became a reality! We spent 6 nights split between Lisbon and Porto, and we absolutely loved the colorful tiled buildings, friendly people, and laid-back vibes. I already can't wait to go back to these cities and discover even more of Portugal someday.
Read on for our 6-day itinerary, with details about day trips, transportation, where we stayed, and more!
Day 1 - Arrival and Exploring Lisbon
I always count the first day of any international trip a 50% type of day. You're tired, jet-lagged, and just getting adjusted to your new environment. I never try to pack in a lot on an arrival day, but rather explore my local neighborhood on foot and take in all of the new sights and sounds (and languages!).
We flew on Air Canada from Pittsburgh to Lisbon with a stop in Toronto. Upon arrival, we made our way via taxi to our hotel, the My Story Hotel Tejo. There are several My Story hotels in Lisbon, but we found this one to offer a good price on Hotels.com (my favorite site for booking accommodations - not sponsored!) and this hotel was in a nice location that is not too far from the action but not too close to it, either. The next most important thing? FOOD. We walked around the corner to what became our favorite spot in Lisbon - Eight, the Health Lounge.
After lunch, we wandered around to see some of the main parts of the city:
Remember the 50% part? We ordered dinner in to our room that night and fell asleep early!
Eat: Lunch at Eight - The Health Lounge, dinner from Vegana Burgers
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: Our own two feet!
Travel Advice: Invest in a hot spot and snag a data SIM card upon arrival to Europe. Providers like Vodafone offer cards that work across the EU, so you can stay connected as you travel from country to country.
Day 2 - Self-Guided Lisbon Art and Architecture Tour
There is SO MUCH to see in Lisbon in the way of art and architecture. We opted to put together our own sort of tour based on what interests us most. Our self-guided tour consisted of the following:
The Pink Street - exactly what it sounds like!
Belém Tower (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument (Monument to the Discoveries)
Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge)
Banksy: Genius or Vandal? exhibit at the Cordoaria Nacional (open through 27 October 2019)
Lunch at Buzz Lisboeta, found in Village Underground
LX Factory (checking out the murals and street art around this area)
Livraria Ler Devagar bookstore
The Castelo de São Jorge
Eat: Breakfast at Eight, lunch at Buzz Lisboeta, Princesa do Castelo for an early dinner and vegan pastel de nata (!!), sunset drinks at Portas do Sol
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: On foot, Uber, + Lime scooter
Travel Advice: Make a list of 10 things you want to see/do in Lisbon and designate your top 5. Work out a plan to ensure you check your top 5 off of your list, but fit in the additional 5 if you can. We didn't end up taking public transportation on this day because it just made the most sense to Uber or walk (the scooters were a last-minute choice!) based on where we wanted to go. Your top 10/5 will be different, so you may use different methods of transportation and build your day differently. No matter what, you can't go wrong with things to do and enjoy in Lisboa!
Day 3 - Day Trip from Lisbon to Sintra, Portugal
An extremely popular day trip from Lisbon is Sintra, Portugal. Less than an hour away via train, Sintra is a colorful resort town known for being a vacation getaway for the royal families of Portugal's past.
I'm planning to share my Sintra trip in more detail in a different post, but here I'll share the highlights.
Chalet of the Countess of Edla - being here felt like being in a storybook! #SnowWhiteVibes and we basically had the chalet to ourselves to explore, a stark contrast to the crowds at Pena Palace.
Parque da Pena - we walked about 30 minutes from the chalet through the park to get to the palace. Not as many people choose this option, and while it was a little more strenuous than we expected at times, it was really lovely and added a nature element to our day. On this walk we saw the Abegoaria and Quinta da Pena, the Little Birds Fountain, and the Temple of Columns before reaching the palace.
Pena Palace - This colorful gold, red, and blue palace is a national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The variety of styles in the architecture and design of the palace represents Romanticism. We paid to enter into the palace, however you can access outside parts for free, and the outside really was the best!
Quinta de Regaleira - One more heritage site on our list in Sintra! This property includes a palace, chapel, and a huge park with fountains, wells, and lakes. It had many owners over the years, and has a few quirks about it too, such as the "Initiation Wells," which never actually served as water sources.
After a long but amazing day in Sintra, we headed back to Lisbon to relax and pack for the next section of our Portuguese holiday.
Eat: Breakfast at Rossio Station, lunch on the rooftop cafe in Pena Palace, dinner at daTerra
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: Train, tuk tuk, on foot, and local car service
Travel Advice: Because of the popularity of Sintra, tourists are greeted by a swarm of tuk tuk and taxi drivers upon exiting the train station. Even with a few hired rides throughout the day, we did A TON of walking - so be prepared for that if you add Sintra into your Portugal itinerary!
Day 4 - Travel Day: Lisbon to Porto by Train
Though our time in Lisbon had come to an end, it still felt like we had gotten a nice sense of the city and had a variety of experiences. We checked out of our room in the morning and left our bags with reception while we snagged a last lunch at Eight before making our way to the main train station.
Upon arrival to Porto, we hopped in an Uber to get to our hotel - Selina Porto. This was our FIRST hostel experience, y'all. And it was great! Granted, we opted for a private room with a private bathroom, but it was so fun to be amongst other young people in a social environment. Selina was styled BEAUTIFULLY - very hippie chic - and our room had only what we needed, nothing extra. You can find a Selina in other cities, mostly in South America, but there are a few in Europe!
But let's get to the highlight of our day - having an incredible meal at O Oriente no Porto, including a traditional francesinha - but vegan! A francesinha is basically a sandwich packed with a lot of meats and cheese, covered in a tomato and beer sauce. The vegan version had tofu, tempeh, vegan cheese, and a tomato sauce blanket that was so delicious. We had the sweetest waitress and sat alone outside watching the sun set as we enjoyed our meal and complimentary hot mint tea, sourced locally from their garden.
Eat: Breakfast at Eight, lunch in the train station, dinner at O Oriente no Porto, drinks at Selina
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: Uber, train, on foot
Travel Advice: While my job consists of precise planning and organization, this personal trip did not - as in we didn't have train tickets for Porto ahead of time. We had traveled to and from nearby cities in other European countries and it was always easy to get a ticket day-of. Lesson learned on this day, as we had to wait for a later train in order to get two regular tix. No problem though - we explored the massive train station and got caught up on some work to-do's in the downtime. But for future trips, I'd plan my train travel farther in advance to avoid any time wasted.
Day 5 - Discovering Porto + Port Wine Tasting
I found Porto to have so much charm. It was lively and loud, but also quiet and relaxed. We spent our first full day just exploring - not assigning ourselves a strict itinerary or schedule. After brunch we literally just started walking around with no particular direction in mind. We wandered through an artisan market, and we eventually made our way over to Gaia - the town across the Douro River accessible via the Dom Luiz I bridge. Keep scrolling for the highlights!
Admiring the azulejos (handpainted blue tiles) of the Igreja do Carmo
Exploring the Ribeira neighborhood, right along the Douro River
Walking across the Dom Luís I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia
Cálem port wine tasting
Eat: Brunch at Zenith, snack at the Mercado Beira-Rio market, dinner at O Oriente no Porto (yep - we loved it so much we went back for a second meal)
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: On foot, all day!
Travel Advice: Give yourself one day to explore with no official plans. Remember that traveling is NOT about the photos - it's about experiencing the incredible things that different places offer to us.
Day 6 - Local Gems and Tourist Attractions in Porto
Today was all about checking two major attractions off of our list: the São Bento Railway Station and the Livraria Lello bookstore.
The São Bento station houses an incredible 20,000 azulejos tiles telling the stories of Portugal's past.
Livraria Lello has been named "one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world," and for good reason. The architecture is stunning - most notably the staircase and the ceiling - so much so that it's said J.K. Rowling got a little inspo for Hogwarts from the bookshop when she was living in Porto and a regular patron.
Eat: Brunch at Nola Kitchen, coffee break at Selina, dinner at Hand Go pizza!
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: On foot
Travel Advice: A lot of travel bloggers wake up before the sun to get the perfect shot or to access a place before the rest of the crowds. This is not my move, boo. But I find that visiting places at normal times is totally okay. Sure, the train station and bookstore were both crowded as hell, but that's really how they are. I think it's better to have an authentic experience than a staged one!
Whew! You made it all the way to the end of this article. Thank you for reading! I had such a sweet time recounting my experiences in Portugal, and I hope you have the chance to get there someday. Please feel free to contact me with any questions about anything that I mentioned here!