Well, guess who is FINALLY getting around to her Portugal posts? Better late than never, right? Things have been really crazy (in a good way) around here but I finally sat down to write a few posts!
Since I have had so many questions about our trip to Portugal, especially why we went and what exactly there is to do there, I wanted to make a full travel guide to help you with your next trip! This is pretty much a breakdown of what to do if you have about a week in Portugal.
What To Do
Castelo de São Jorge. This is the best place to get a view of almost all of Lisbon. Built in the 11th century by the Moors and later used by the 1st king of Portugal, the castle is one of the most iconic sights in Lisbon. You can walk along the ramparts, climb the stairs to see the amazing views, and see peacocks. Yes, there are peacocks just wandering around the castle grounds. Did you know they fly? And sit in trees? And scream like cats? No?? Neither did I!
If you have time, hike to the castle instead of taking a taxi or the tram. It takes you through the heart of Lisbon, and there are plenty of miradouros, or look out points, along the way!
To reward yourself for the climb up, you can stop at ‘Wine With a View,’ a little cart that sells wine by the bottle or the glass, which you can enjoy as you wander the castle grounds!
Jeronimos Monsatery. Belem is a must-see neighborhood on your trip to Lisbon! It sits right on the water at the entrance to Lisbon harbor, so you have beautiful views coupled with incredible monuments. The monastery, which is pretty hard to miss, is massive. Pro-tip: there are two lines to get in- one for the monastery itself, and one for the chapel. We hopped in the monastery line, wandered the grounds, and then, as we were exiting, the line for the chapel was almost non-existent! We jumped in, and waited maybe 5 minutes to see the chapel. It’s beautiful, but if you only have time for one, see the monastery!
Monument to the Discoveries. Another major point on Belem’s skyline, the discovery monument juts out over the river, and features sculptures of every explorer important to Portuguese history, with Prince Henry the Navigator at the helm. Inside the monument, which is across the street from the monastery, there is a temporary museum and an elevator that takes you to the top, where you can look out over all of Belem.
Tower of Belem. We didn’t actually go inside the tower, as the line was veeerryyy long, but it’s worth getting a photo! The tower was originally built as a fortress in the 16th century to prevent attacks against the city, but now serves as a tourist attraction.
Sintra. I’ll be doing a separate post about Sintra, but here’s the short version- just outside of Lisbon, Sintra is a fairytale town made up of several castles and palaces. It is the perfect day trip from Lisbon and was one of our favorite places!
Museu Nacional do Azulejo (Tile Museum). By far, one of my favorite places in Lisbon. If, like me, you are obsessed with anything blue and white (which, let’s be real, you probably are if you are planning on visiting Portugal), then this is the place for you. Set inside an old monastery, the museum features tiled walls, a tiled church, tiles from all over Portugal- basically, it’s tile-lovers heaven!
Pictured: me, plotting how I can steal all of these and tile my entire home.
Even the outside of the museum looks like my Portuguese dream home!
National Coach Museum. This seems sort of random- a museum dedicated to coaches? This museum was just opening the last time I visited Lisbon, and I was curious to visit. When we popped in after wandering past, it turned out to be free admission, so we couldn’t pass it up! The coach museum ended up being a hidden gem- even if you have no interest in horse and carriage history, the coaches themselves are beautiful, and it’s a part of history we don’t often think about.
How To Get Around
Portugal is walkable, but very, very hilly. Wear comfy shoes and prepare to work your leg muscles for a few days! If you are just sightseeing in Lisbon, you can pretty much walk everywhere. If you are heading pretty far away, such as Belem or Cascais, you can take a cab, as they are very cheap throughout Lisbon!
For day trips, Portugal has a train/bus system that is pretty extensive. We hopped on a train to Sintra (with a few minor difficulties buying our tickets) and it dropped us off right in the middle of town with no problems. The trains run pretty often, just make sure you don’t miss the last train back to Lisbon if you are coming from out of town!
Where To Stay
We stayed in an AirBnB to get a more authentic feeling- our apartment was beautiful, but like most old buildings in Europe, didn’t have an elevator, so we got our work out in for the day climbing 5 flights of stairs!
Our apartment view.
What To Eat
Pasteis de Belem. While in Belem, you have to visit Pasteis de Belem. Pasteis, or pastel de nata, are egg custard tarts, usually served with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. The Pasteis de Belem is one of the oldest shops selling pasteis, and certainly the most famous. Don’t be scared by the line outside- that is only for to-go orders! Head inside, find the hostess, grab a table, and enjoy your pasteis and an espresso!
Sr. Vinho. We knew we wanted to see a fado show in Portugal, but we didn’t want it to be too touristy. Fado is a type of music where the songs are incredibly emotional. There are tons of fado shows all over the city, but I had read about Sr. Vinho in a Dallas Morning News article, of all places! Pro tip: most fado shows are only on the weekends- we happened to visit on a Saturday night by chance! I would recommend making a reservation for Sr. Vinho, as it is tiny and very popular (for good reason!). When we arrived, totally clueless about what we were getting into, we asked for a table. Leo spoke in Portuguese the whole time, and we’re pretty sure that’s the only way we got in the door, because there was one table left! We settled into our table for the most incredible meal and night of entertainment. During the performances, which are about every 30-45 minutes, everything stops. No talking, no eating, the waiters do not come to your table- everyone is focused on the music (and if you aren’t, someone will come and make sure you do!). If you are going to see a fado show, treat yourself and make a reservation at Sr. Vinho. While it is a little more expensive than most places in Lisbon, it is still cheaper than most ‘nice’ restaurants in the U.S., and the cost of seeing the show is absorbed into your meal.
Erin and I split the sea bass for 2, and it was heavenly.
The Wine Cellar. This isn’t a must-see place, but we stumbled in looking for a glass of wine and a place to get out of the rain. We ended up tasting a couple different wines that you could only get in Portugal, and devoured this cheese plate. Honestly, 75% of the food we consumed was wine and cheese! Isn’t that all you need?
Sala de Corte. I couldn’t remember the name of this place and had to look it up on the map! This is another place where you need a reservation- we went on our second-to-last night and were told the wait would be nearly 2 hours. So, we vowed to come back early the next night, and showed up before it opened! Sala de Corte is a meat-lover’s dream; we ordered several different kinds to share along with appetizers and a bottle or two of wine, and left fat and happy!
Have any questions about Portugal or Lisbon? Comment and let me know, and I’ll add them to the blog!