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!
Buongiorno! Here we are at the very last stop on our Heritage Honeymoon - Benevento, Italy. This is the city where my husband's family originated, and it's not far from Potenza, where my maternal grandfather came from. Benevento is inland from Naples, and it is by no means a tourist destination - which made it both exciting and complicated to travel to. But honestly, we were up for the challenge, and the opportunity to visit someplace so meaningful outweighed any complication.
We ended our trip to Split, Croatia and flew to Rome, Italy. There are several SPU>FCO flights, which made that route most convenient. From Rome, we took a Trenitalia train from the Roma Termini station to Benevento. This required a lot of planning in finding the best train times that would work with the flight times, but we were able to create an itinerary that worked. Trains in Europe and Italy in particular are frequent, fairly reliable, affordable, and safe. We opted for first class (which wasn't expensive at all!) on the way to Benevento and it was a very pleasant 3-hour trip.
The fact that Benevento is not made for tourists made it the most authentic travel experience I've ever had. We really felt like locals by the time our stay was complete! What was so charming about the city was that it was modern only in the necessary ways. Otherwise it was like we stepped back into a simpler time, between the ancient ruins, tight cobblestone streets, hanging clotheslines, and the silence and absence that occurs during siesta time mid-day. If you ever find yourself in this Italian city, I hope you'll reference my recommended to-dos and to-eats below!
All in all, our mini trip to Benevento was a relaxing way to end a whirlwind Heritage Honeymoon, and it brought us even closer to our roots, which was the core goal that we wanted to achieve. This city may be unknown to tourists and travelers but it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Where will you go where no one else does? What can you discover about yourself through travel? If you are interested in planning your own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, I would love to help. Click here to learn more.
And if you're interested in reading about the other stops on our Heritage Honeymoon, please check out the links below!
Stop 1: Cardiff, Wales
Stop 2: Zagreb, Croatia
Stop 3: Split, Croatia
Thank you so much for following along in our journey.
Ahh, Split, Croatia. This was a stop added onto our Heritage Honeymoon purely out of the desire to go somewhere coastal in one of the countries that our ancestors had come from. I had been hearing more and more about Croatia and we decided that it would be the perfect country to explore, both inland with a quick trip to Zagreb, and on the coast with a visit to Split. We found the perfect tour that began in the capital city, traveled through the country with a stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park, and concluded in Split.
We fell in love with Split and I now think of it as one of my favorite places. Most of why it's so charming to me can't be explained; it needs to be felt. But I'll share about our favorite experiences here in the hopes to inspire you to one day visit and feel it, too!
Another tip: Avoid the restaurants along the Riva promenade - they're more touristy and less authentic.
Spending a few days in Split was relaxing yet exciting, and while we felt like we were on vacation, we also got a chance to feel like a local, staying in an apartment and going to the supermarket, cooking meals, doing laundry, etc. The ability to walk to so much was so welcomed, and not once did the city feel unsafe or uncomfortable. If you have the chance, get yourself there. And soak in all the sunshine for your soul that you can find in Split.
The second destination of our Heritage Honeymoon was Zagreb, Croatia. I learned that my family from Croatia lived just outside of Zagreb, so I was extremely excited to get there. We had a less-than-perfect arrival (our plane was delayed leaving London because it had been struck by lightening on its way to London, and then our baggage took forever to arrive once in Zagreb) but hey, we all know that travel isn't perfect! We, and our bags, made it safely, and I knew it was a good sign when "I Got You Babe" was playing in the taxi on the ride to our hotel. We checked in and went straight to the bar for food! We only had the following day to explore the city before we traveled onward, so we made the most of it by seeing, doing, and eating as much as possible. Check out the list below for everything I recommend for a quick 24 hours in Zagreb.
Outside of all of this, one of my favorite experiences in Zagreb was seeing my very Croatian maiden name, a name I will probably never see on much of anything ever again at home. It was on a car plate because there is a dealership group by that name just outside of the city. Are they family? I'll probably take a Heritage Holiday to find out.
We didn't get a chance to have too many meals in Zagreb, but here's what we liked best:
If you couldn't guess, we stayed at the Esplanade. It's a remarkable building that's in just about every list of best hotels in Zagreb. Opened in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express, the hotel has become known for housing famous guests ranging from movie stars to politicians to music artists. It was a mix of beautiful and creepy that made us feel fancy and important, even if just for a day.
Our next destination from Zagreb was Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Rather than flying there, we opted for a tour through Portal Travel Agency in which we were picked up at the Esplanade in Zagreb (at which time we loaded our suitcases onto the tour van), toured through the country with a few hours stop in Plitvice Lakes National Park, then dropped off in Split. In our opinion, this was the best way to travel between the two cities!
It poured rain the entire day, which made our photos from Plitvice Lakes less-than-glamorous, but the advantage was that the park was less crowded, and still just as beautiful! There are 16 lakes to explore via wooden pathways, surrounded by waterfalls, limestone, and genuine, untouched nature. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you can't swim in the lakes. This is a must-see during a trip to Croatia, and one that you will never forget.
Here is a link to the tour that we booked in case you want to go for it yourself! Stay tuned for more about our stay in Split. And for help planning your very own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, click here.
The Island of Rhodes and the city of Rhodes will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the last destination on the Forum-Nexus Study Abroad itinerary each summer, which is how I first came to know this beautiful place. Rhodes may not be as well known as Mykonos or Santorini, but it still has a ton to offer. Here are just 7 reasons to add this island to your travel bucket list:
1. You can get to Rhodes easily by plane or boat from Athens. Flights arrive in the Rhodes Diagoras (RHO) airport, which is small and sometimes crowded, but easy to navigate. Because the island is so small, you’ll never have to be in a taxi too long on your way to your hotel. The Sheraton Rhodes Resort is where I’ve always stayed and it’s a 20-minute cab ride from the airport.
2. Old Town is full of medieval history. The main areas within the city of Rhodes are the Old Town and the New City. To get to the center of Old Town, you must traverse through three medieval stone entrances that twist and turn (so that enemies could get lost or literally run into a wall on their way in and it would slow them down). There is an entrance facing the sea and an entrance facing the land, as Old Town is now met by a marina of private ships. Take a tour to learn about the history and preservation of the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and then spend some time exploring on your own. If you’re looking for a dinner spot, Sissitio has a romantic atmosphere, detailed cocktails, and a variety of yummy dishes. For more modern shops and nightlife, New City, or “New Town,” will be your go-to.
3. Sun + Sand + Sea. The entire island of Rhodes sees mostly sunny days, and the summertime is hot but not overwhelming. There are plenty of beaches to relax on and ocean to play in. Many resorts like the Sheraton have their own private piece of the beach with chairs and umbrellas available at no extra charge. Depending on the beach, you can find beautiful rocks in different colors, and above the beaches are hills and mountains that make for really amazing views.
4. You can find every type of water sport at Faliraki Beach. Faliraki is a short ride from the city of Rhodes known for its water park and plethora of water activities. Whether you prefer to jet ski, slide, or rent your own boat for the day, you can find it at Faliraki. While at Faliraki, I rented a motor boat with friends for a few hours and had the chance to visit several coves in the Aegean Sea. The water was clear, it was the perfect temperature, and the boat had just enough shade, too. It was my favorite day while in Rhodes! If you’re interested in renting a boat, you can probably find one day-of (we did) but I recommend reserving one in advance just in case. Peter’s and Manolis are two companies that will rent you a boat that you can drive without a guide.
5. Lindos has the classic Greek island look you need. When you think of a Greek island, you might imagine hillsides of white buildings, bright flowers, and sparkling water hugging the beach. The beaches in Rhodes might disappoint in this aspect, but the town of Lindos won’t. In Lindos you can get lost in the alleyways of shops and restaurants, then make your way down to the beach. You’ll get a perfect view of the ivory buildings on your hike up to the Acropolis and temple of Athena, too.
6. It’s really hard to have a bad meal on the island of Rhodes. Traditional cuisine like grape leaves, tzatziki and pita, baba ghanoush, and moussaka can be found just about anywhere, and everything is absolutely delicious. To compliment your food you might try a local beer – Zythos. Mythos, or Alpha. Coming from an American background, I love to experience the care and consideration in the way other cultures prepare and present food, and Rhodes is no exception.
7. You’ll see an incredible sunset every night. Having the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Greek meal while watching the sun set beneath the Turkish mountains (Turkey is visible across the sea from the Sheraton Rhodes Resort), taking it all in from the beach, or even watching from the balcony of my guestroom, made every day just a little bit better than it already was.