City-Hopping Around Portugal: Lisbon, Sintra and Porto, Done Differently

Alex Mellon / © Culture Trip
Alex Mellon / © Culture Trip
Photo of Josephine Platt
Commissioning Editor3 January 2020

Culture Trip brings you City Loops, Done Differently – the trending multi-destination routes for 2020 with a twist. Deep-dive into the culture of a destination and discover how to get the most out of your itinerary, from what to see and do to what to tuck into and where to stay.

Time it right to sidestep flocks of tourists (avoiding July and August), and you can get into the groove of the Portuguese happy-go-lucky pace of life in just five days.

Starting out in Portugal’s capital of Lisbon, getting around this Southern European country can be either a train, bus or plane affair. Expect fado music, port wine and pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) to make frequent appearances on this trip…

Lisbon offers old-world charm and bountiful sunshine | © Boris Zhitkov / Getty Images


A few things spring to mind with Portugal’s capital: classic yellow tram carriages (known as remodelados), Pombaline architecture (distinguished by a mixture of Classicism, late Baroque and Art Nouveau) and the fado music you come across in so many of its pubs, cafés and restaurants.

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  • A classic yellow tram makes its way along a sleepy Lisbon street under the noonday sun | © CEZARY ZAREBSKI PHOTOGRAPHY / Getty Images

    Soak up art at Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

    Map View
    Qing Dynasty ceramics and Flemish tapestries are among the treasures at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
    Delve into the treasure trove that is Calouste Gulbenkian Museum | © laura zamboni/Shutterstock
    A collection of over 10,000 pieces, the works at Calouste Gulbenkian Museum range from European art to Egyptian sculptures, Greco-Roman art to Modernist paintings. Masters such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet and Van Dyck are part of this private collection, which is set in the picturesque Gulbenkian Park.

    Stay at Hub New Lisbon Hostel

    03-Hub New Lisbon Hostel-booking

    Situated in the northern end of Bairro Alto – meaning you can stumble back after drinks at the nearby Park Bar Lisbon – Hub New Lisbon Hostel is a great place to connect with fellow travellers. With a large projector screen to watch movies, a ‘pool’ filled with 70,000 plastic balls, and an artisanal cocktail bar, it’s all about socialising.

    Everything you need to know


    A UNESCO World Heritage site for its traditional castles, monasteries and villages, Sintra is a place of romance – so much so that it’s known by many as the Capital of Romanticism in Portugal.

    Pena National Palace has a look all its own | © Marco Simoni / Getty Images

    Explore Pena Palace

    Building, Monastery, Park
    Map View
    Palacio da Pena Sintra is set high on a wooded hill and framed by folly-dotted botanical gardens
    Scale the heights of Iberian Romanticism with a visit to Pena Palace | © Luis Elvas / Alamy Stock Photo
    Sintra’s star attraction, Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena) is the stuff of fairytales. The Romanticist castle, built in the 19th century, is unique for its vivid paint job: saturated red and yellow hues dominate its exterior. On a clear day, look out for it from Lisbon.

    Refuel at Harko’s

    After you’ve wrapped up exploring, Harko’s is a great place to grab a bite to eat. A Japanese restaurant, it specialises in soup with tofu and leeks, yakisoba yasai noodles and sushi.

    Nothing refreshes quite like a Japanese meal after a time in the hot sun | © d3sign / Getty Images

    Stay at Lawrence’s Hotel

    In keeping with Sintra’s picturesque feel, Lawrence’s Hotel is a charming establishment with old-world decor that lends an ornate feel to its rooms. Within a mile you’ll find Pena Palace, Moors Castle and Sintra National Palace, while walking trails grace the nearby Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, which is one of the 13 Natural Parks of Portugal.

    Everything you need to know

    At a Glance

    Free WiFi
    In-room accessibility
    Concierge services
    24-hour front desk
    Multilingual staff
    Smoke-free property


    Portugal’s second-largest city, the seaside destination of Porto boasts both classic architecture (like the Palácio da Bolsa) and contemporary art (at the Serralves Museum), along with great wine, being a stone’s throw from the Douro Valley.

    Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city | © Alberto Manuel Urosa Toledano / Getty Images

    Livraria Lello

    Map View
    Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal
    Shoppers browse at Livraria Lello | © Marcin Jamkowski/Adventure Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo
    Known within literary circles as a book lover’s paradise, Porto is home to many a bookstore – among them Livraria Lello & Irmão, which Harry Potter author JK Rowling considers her favourite in the city. Rowling wrote the first few chapters of the book while she lived in Porto, and the Art Nouveau bookstore provided much inspiration to the narrative; its interior is similar to that of ‘Flourish and Blotts’, where Hogwarts students purchase their books.

    Vila Nova de Gaia

    Wine Seller, Wine
    Map View
    Porto is synonymous with port; the Douro Valley, just down the road, is recognised as the birthplace of this dessert wine. While in the region, learn all about its production with a half-day tour to multiple wine houses, including cellars from a local guide. Seven wine tastings are on the cards here at the Port Wine Lodges Tour, meaning you’ll be a connoisseur by the end.

    Stay at 1872 River House

    Spend your last Portuguese evenings in the comfort of a trendy boutique hotel. In the Ribeira neighbourhood on the Douro River, this eight-room hotel offers river views, creature comforts like Wi-Fi, a bar and bike rentals, with most rooms featuring partly exposed stone walls and Juliet balconies.
    Everything you need to know

    At a Glance

    Free WiFi
    Concierge services
    Dry cleaning/laundry service
    Multilingual staff
    Smoke-free property
    The Ribeira, Porto’s historic centre, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 | © Melissa Tse / Getty Images
    These recommendations were updated on January 3, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.