Portugal Travel Tips… Sharing Our Trip to Lisbon, Sintra, Porto and the Duoro Valley!
Portugal!!! So excited to be sharing so so much today from tips to do’s and don’ts to MUST SEE’S and MUST EAT’S from our ten day trip to Portugal last week. I’ve gotten so so many questions about our travels over the last two weeks so I thought I would compile the answers to most all of them right here!
First up, WHY PORTUGAL? As you may know if you’ve been following along for a bit, I LOVE to travel and I LOVE Europe. I know there are lots more continents and countries I would love but there’s just something about Europe that’s felt “safe and homey” to me over the last six years the girlies and I have been internationally traveling solo. Just far enough away to feel like a huge adventure with my then four and nine year old but also manageable enough to feel like I can tackle four plus weeks there “alone”. And since that time, after traveling to so many Western European countries, I’ve fallen more and more in love with EVERYTHING. From the cultures to the food, the people, the history, the beauty and even the “challenges” that come with travel. I quite honestly want to check off every single Western European country now with John and hopefully my girlies although they’re getting older and I know our Summers are nearing an end. SNIFF SNIFF. So longest answer ever short, given that John and I had never traveled to Portugal together and it’s the shortest flight to Europe and their Covid restrictions were mega easing, Portugal it was! John had never been and I had been for about six hours fifteen years ago on a cruise. I’d seen their beautiful capital Lisbon for just long enough to know that I wanted to see and experience more.
Do you plan your own travels and if so, where do you begin? 1,000% YES! And I love every second of it! This question is one that I will share in much much more detail on an upcoming post with tips on traveling to Europe in general but in short, I always have and I always will. I’d say I began years ago just in following so many travel pages on Instagram and always looking at travel on my discovery feed on IG and slowly just saving or committing places to memory that looked interesting or dreamy. Plus, like I said I just really want to see it ALL in Western Europe so all of the countries are on my bucket list at some point so it then just becomes a matter of where exactly and what do we see and do there. Once I’ve nailed it down to a place, I search away! And honestly, blogger life aside, I end up right where you are! On someone’s travel blog reading about their adventures. Once again, all biases aside, I find that reading someone’s personal experiences is far better than any “online magazine’s” travel round-up of the best places to see and the best things to do. I’ve found that if you skim over a dozen or so country/area posts you can get a really good general feel for what the consensus is on what is a must and what’s maybe overrated and worth a skip. I very very very much love a good, off the beaten place, magical “secret spot” and I feel like you can sometimes only find those on personal posts and not so much on “Top 10 Portugal” lists.
Hotels or Airbnb’s? Depends on several factors! I am ALL about a good Airbnb and we almost always solely book Airbnbs for our Summer trips but since we did two night stays in each place, I booked all hotels. I think if you’re staying 2-3 nights or less and/or feel uncertain about an area, choose a hotel! Otherwise I think Airbnbs can be a great choice. They are usually more spacious, more homey and have washers/dryers!
Where to Stay? I am going to boldly generalize Europe although I haven’t been to every city and every country of course but form my experience I say always stay in the “old towns”. I’ve found that most every city has an “old town” and a “new town”. It seems like most all of the old towns are the dreamy, “touristy” (in a good way) spots and the new towns are the business districts.
Cheap Flights and Travel Reward Tips? I shared ALL of my tips and tricks RIGHT HERE!
Why Do You Pack Only Carry-On? I am a self described packing freak! After spending lots of time overseas on long stays, I have become somewhat of an expert at packing light. I shared all of my tips and tricks RIGHT HERE! I think sometimes people confuse my obsessed with packing on carry-ons with simply not wanting to check a bag. Yes, not having to check a bag is great for lots of reasons… you can pass right by check-in at the airport and download your boarding pass online, you never have to worry about lost bags AND you don’t have to wait at baggage claim. HOWEVER, that’s only a small part of the reason I try so hard to pack light. In fact, we only packed carry-on plus our oh so fabulous MUST HAVE under-seater and John came home saying he wants to pack even lighter for our trip to Europe this Summer. Reason being, it is sooooo difficult to lug bags around Europe. It is sooooo difficult to get from place to place via small European Ubers/taxis, via trains, via small puddle jumper planes and everything in between with tons of bags. The streets are mostly cobblestone in Europe, elevators are few and far between and the list goes on. Convinced yet 😉
Should I rent a car? Hard. Freaking. Question. I will sum my answer up by saying that unless you are driving the countryside LOTS, do not rent a car. The European train system is AMAZING and connects so so so many places. I feel the even the tiniest of random cities have a train station. I won’t say the train system is easy and unintimidating BUT it is light years easier than maneuvering and parking a car in a big-ish city. Let’s just say that when most of those roads were built, they weren’t made for cars and they certainly weren’t made for mass parking!
Covid Restrictions? First I will say only take my word here for what it is and ALWAYS do your own research. Things change what seems like daily but from our experience Portugal was fairly lax with Covid restrictions. They allow either a vaccine card or a negative Covid test for entry and then you’ll just need another negative test to enter back into the states when you head home. For that, I ordered these “at home” tests RIGHT HERE that are accepted by airlines and they were a LIFE SAVER!!! We did them on my laptop (you do need a laptop) in our hotel room right before we left and the negative results were sent to my phone immediately! Each test takes 15min to complete and they connect you with a live person to scan the codes on your tests and walk you through it. It was SO EASY!
Now for our trip!!!
After reading lots of articles and blogs, I chose four, two-night stays starting in Lisbon, Portugal and heading north. It seems the synopsis is that there are two Portugals vacation-wise… the north and the south. The north is cities and mountains and vineyards while the south is coastline and beach! I probably would’ve chosen the south quite honestly but the time of year we went wasn’t ideal for that.
Our adventures began in Lisbon, Portugal which was our fly-in city. It is the capitol of Portugal and their largest city. I tend to not love love big cities overall at least as much as I do the more quaint, dreamy little spots but Lisbon was quite fabulous. Definitely worth a stop! I feel like two days was plenty for us but we didn’t have a huge checklist of sites we had to see. We simply strolled and ate and drank and then ate again.
We stayed at Dear Lisbon Palace LINKED HERE and we LOVED IT! I always look at reviews to see if people say the location is great because I feel that can be everything for a great stay! And really everything for a short stay! They also have A/C which is not always the case in Europe! Here is a peek at their lobby and our room…
And here’s a peek around town…
It’s hard to say what areas I would recommend seeing in particular. We really enjoyed just meandering the streets all around our hotel, the main square and the waterfront. Lots of the little stores we stopped in including the “Lisbon in Blue” store as well as the plate wall were on our walk up to the Castelo de S. Jorge. We actually walked up there twice over our two days and ended up not actually going inside because the line for tickets was a little long. I’m sure it was fabulous and worth doing though! We honestly just enjoyed shopping and walking and eating a drinking along the way.
Our favorite restaurants were Tapas N’ Friends which had the CUTEST outdoor atmosphere (ask to sit outside out back) and Rocco Restaurant both of which were right around the corner from our hotel. Rocco is much more of a high-end dinner restaurant but the food was so so good and the decor is INSANELY BEAUTIFUL!!!
Another MUST in Lisbon is the Time Out Market. It is very close to the waterfront right across from the train station. It’s like a modern food court with lots of yummy food and drinks! We sat at the bar and one of us would randomly get up and grab a snack or two at a time from an array of tiny walk-up restaurants while we were sipping drinks. It was a fun lunch spot for sure!
During our two days in Lisbon, right after we had lunch at the Time Out Market, we hopped aboard a train to head to the city of Cascais for a few hours. Advanced tickets were NOT needed! We simply walked up, got our tickets and got aboard a train shortly after. I think they said the trains run to Cascais every 15-20 minutes until at least midnight. Double check that though! The European train system is THE BEST and such a great way to see more of the cities/countries there!
Cascais is a coastal resort fishing town just outside of Lisbon and it was beautiful! We walked and shopped and ate and drank (shocking!) and had the best time! Definitely worth a stop!
After our two nights in Lisbon, we got an Uber back to the Lisbon airport to pick up our rental car for the remainder of our Portugal travels and headed to the AMAZING city of Sintra!
Quick Car Rental Heads Up… As I chatted about above, renting a car in Portugal can be a little iffy. I am very glad we did so for our journey BUT DO NOT RENT AN ELECTRIC CAR! I REPEAT… DO NOT RENT AN ELECTRIC CAR! I had no clue I had done so (totally my fault) and we spent/waisted a TON of time looking for charging stations and charging our car. Let’s just say that for every 2-2.5 hours we drove, we had to charge it for THREE HOURS! Those are exact numbers and not an exaggeration whatsoever. I am sure electric cars are great for a lot of things but they are not great for road tripping.
I also want to warn you that parking and maneuvering around Sintra is a bit difficult. I can’t say that I would change having driven there but I did wonder if it would be better to train or Uber to Sintra and then come back to the airport for a rental car after that city BUT you would be backtracking a bit. John said he would advise doing what we did but just MAKE SURE your hotel has parking! Once we got to our hotel and finally found a spot out front, they parked it for us at their parking deck for the remainder of our stay.
In Sintra, we stayed two nights at the Sintra Boutique Hotel LINKED HERE and once again, LOVED IT! I had read lots and lots of reviews prior to our trip and my main objective was to find hotels in great locations and this one was JUST THAT!
Sintra is an absolute MUST! It is the dreamiest, most magical little city and we had THE BEST TIME meandering the streets the two days we spent there. In my opinion, the city needs more than a day trip like some of the travel companies in Lisbon advertise but I also think two nights is PLENTY to see and do all the things.
The absolute MUST in Sintra is to visit the Pena Palace of Sintra. We took an Uber to the entrance and then purchased our tickets online. We only had to wait thirty minutes for the next open time slot but it seems like maybe during busier seasons it might be a good idea to book a little bit ahead of time. The Palace was UNBELIEVABLE!!!
After we toured the Palace, there were lots of taxi drivers waiting outside the gates so we took one down to the Dona Maria Restaurant suggested by our driver and the views were AMAZING! A definite MUST!
That evening we ate at the most precious little local spot called Tasca Saloia and the food was AMAZING! The service was incredible as well! I would HIGHLY suggest eating here during your stay.
Another excellent meal we had was at Incomum suggested by our hotel concierge. It was actually our first meal in Sintra and the area around this restaurant was another fun walking/shopping/dinign area as well! It’s a wee bit off the beaten path of where our hotel was but not far at all. Definitely worth a stop to this area! I got scallops and there were sooooo good!!!
My last pick for restaurants in Sintra is Tacho Real. I can’t say the food was our favorite ever BUT the ambiance is stunning and the Sangria was fabulous!
Oh and one last thing! I won’t suggest the restaurant I ate this at BUT one of the traditional dishes in Portugal is called Bacalhau à Brás and it’s soooo good! Sounds crazy because it’s cod, egg and shoestring potatoes but it’s DELISH!
Here are a few peeks around Sintra…
After leaving Sintra, we started driving north toward Porto, Portugal for our next two night stay. Along the way we stopped in another dreamy little hilltop town called Obidos for lunch (and to charge our car) and OH MY GOODNESS IT IS ADORABLE!!! I’d looked at several stops for our three hour drive north and over and over again everyone kept suggesting Obidos. I’m not sure I was able to accurately capture the magic of this little town but here’s a few pictures from our afternoon there. Oh and we had THE YUMMIEST pizza while we were there that at XII Apostolos that John still hasn’t stopped raving about. This city is absolutely WORTH A VISIT! Not more than for a few hours though…
John’s Tee / Jeans / Shoes
I’m including this city simply because I’d seen it on a few Portugal lists and I almost even booked a night here! I am so glad I did not though because we stopped here for lunch and to charge our car and it was cute but in my opinion, not really worth a visit. Much busier and more modern aside from a few cute side streets.
Porto, Portugal! About a three hour drive north of Sintra, after our stop in Obidos, we made it to Porto! Porto is a hard one for me. We didn’t dislike it AT ALL but we also did not LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. I’d say we liked it and maybe even liked it a lot but not near as much as the other cities we visited. I was so surprised about that because everyone kept saying that Porto was so much better than Lisbon but to us, it was a bit dirtier and we had a few sketchy-ish moments walking back from dinner one evening. Just being 1,000% honest!
What I will say though is that we LOVED our hotel! It was UNBELIEVABLY STUNNING!!! We stayed at the Torel Palace Porto LINKED HERE and I have quite a few pictures below of the exterior, our room and the back outside area of the hotel.
Oh and let’s not forget the lobby area I shared on stories as well! O. M. G.!!!
One thing I will also say about Porto is that there was some FABULOUS Italian restaurants!!! I know, so random. Maybe we were a bit over Portugese food LOL but they were sooooo good!!!! The first was La Ricotta. One of my very favorite meals of the entire trip!!! I mean, look at the size of John’s shrimp!!!
The one area that we did enjoy was the waterfront area. The food was hit or miss along this waterfront strip because it’s very touristy and the shops were okay-ish but the views are stunning! We also took a quick water taxi across the water and did a wine tour at Sandeman. That was very neat and fun!
Duoro Valley, Portugal
THE DUORO VALLEY! This city was by far my very favorite and I only wish we’d stayed much much longer. I had actually gone back and forth about even visiting this area because it was a few hours off the beaten path but it was ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT!!! I think loving it as much as we did does depend on a few things. If you love go-go-go, I’d choose the other cities to spend more time in. If you like some relaxing, quiet laid back, wine drinking time, you’d LOVE Duoro!
The Duoro Valley is Portugal’s wine country. It spans along both sides of the river with the most incredible stone terraced hills on either side creating a STUNNING backdrop! We stayed at The Vintage House Hotel Duoro LINKED HERE and once again, LOVE IT! Like I said though, I did TONS of research on hotels before booking them. I will also say that for this area in particular, I don’t really have anything to compare it to because everything is so spread out that we did not even see another hotel. Some are up high in the mountains and then ours was right on the river. We were able to walk a good bit into town, along the rover and to a few restaurants which we loved. We were also walking distance to the train station which we didn’t need. Here’s a peek at our hotel…
Pinhao Train Station…
We had two dinners while in Pinhao and both were our favorites of the trip! The first was Cozinha da Clara and the second was The Writer’s Place (pictured here)…
We also did one two wine tastings while in Pinhao and our favorite was at Quinta do Bomfim…
John’s Tee / Shorts
P.S. Portugal has soooooo much good Sangria and I am officially HOOKED!
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XOXO, Brittany Palazzo