There’s a strong probability that you’ll arrive through the capital and it’s a great spot to begin your adventure. After getting through the airport and dropping your bags off at your hotel, don your best sneakers and get ready for some urban hiking.
The first order of business: coffee and a snack. No matter if it’s 7 a.m., 10 a.m. or later, the local way to start the day is with a coffee and bread or pastry from a neighborhood café or pastelaria. Of course, it’s recommended that you get your hands on an iconic pastel de nata as soon as possible, but don’t let that stop you from eyeballing the other fantastic pastries that are likely on display (the Portuguese love their pastries) and choosing one that catches your attention. Here are some tips to help you order at a Portuguese pastelaria.
After fueling up, hit the cobbled roads and explore. Baixa, Alfama, and Bairro Alto are three popular neighborhoods in Lisbon that should be first on the list. Jumping on the tram 28 will offer you a bumpy (and truly Portuguese) ride past many of the most iconic sights, plus it will help you avoid climbing some of the steep hills. Chances are good that sun will be in the forecast (Lisbon is one of Europe’s sunniest capitals), so take advantage of it and go for a walk along the Tagus River (perhaps stopping now and then to cool down with a juice, cocktail, or Portuguese beer).
Lisbon has developed a reputation as a foodie hotspot and there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants, whatever your diet and tastes. Our suggestion, however, is to find a restaurant with fado so that you can listen to Portugal’s beautiful melancholic music while you’re eating. While walking through Alfama, you’re sure to pass plenty of restaurants with tempting menus by the entrance and bold signs exclaiming “FADO HOJE” (“fado today”) but here are some of the most popular venues, including restaurants, to make choosing one among the many even easier.
At night, enjoy a view from a rooftop and think about what a great first day you had.
First thing in the morning, head to Praça da Figueira or Cais do Sodré, where you will find the bus that goes to Belém, a district full of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not only does visiting early mean fewer tourists and shorter lines, but it’s a lovely time of day to be by the river, where you’ll see some of Lisbon’s iconic landmarks, like the Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower. There are also many museums and garden paths, and Belém is home to Lisbon’s famous Pastéis de Belém, located next door to the monastery.
A scenic train ride along the coast will carry you from Belém to Cascais, where you will be able to eat lunch by the sea. Beeline straight to one of the beach shacks for a quick bite and a view. Known as one of Portugal’s most popular resort towns, Cascais is an excellent spot to enjoy a range of activities, from cycling to shopping and museums.
To catch an amazing sunset in Cascais, visit the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell, in English) where you’ll find seaside cliffs surrounding a cave.
The last train heads back to Cais do Sodré at around 11 p.m., giving you plenty of time to explore the area.
If you only have a week or less in Portugal, try to make Sintra a priority and dedicate one full day to visiting as much of it as possible. Take a bus from the town center to the Castelo dos Mouros, a medieval stone castle perched on one of the area’s hilltops. The views extend for miles all around and even take in the Pena Palace, perhaps the next landmark that should be on your list.
Sintra is a town full of castles and palaces, each one worth seeing, but make time to visit the town center. Sit in a café and sample the local sweets, like travesseiros (a must-try if you like almonds).
Whether to take the train or fly to Porto from Lisbon depends completely on you, but the train only takes about three hours, costs €2.50 one-way in second class, and is a great way to see the countryside while relaxing for a bit. Catch the train from either Santa Apolónia or Oriente Station and enjoy the ride all the way to Porto’s Campanha station. From there, you can exit the station and walk towards the Ribeira district or change lines and take a second train to the São Bento Station, a beautiful landmark in itself for its wall-covered azulejo mosaics. São Bento Station is also a convenient jumping off point for sightseeing in the middle of downtown.
If you’re a bookworm, don’t miss the Livraria Lello & Irmão, easily the most famous bookstore in Portugal and just a five-minute walk from São Bento Station. Try Porto’s local gastronomy by choosing lunch from one of the many fantastic restaurants. Climb up to the top of the Clérigos Tower for a bird’s-eye view of the city and snap a photo from the Dom Luís Bridge. And don’t forget to walk along the Ribeira, stopping now and then for a coffee, a drink, or a bite to eat.
When in Porto, drink port wine, and next-door neighbor Vila Nova da Gaia is perhaps the best place in the entire country to try this local favorite sweet wine. The local cellars offer tours and tastings, usually lasting somewhere between one and two hours. After whetting your appetite with port, it will be a good time for dinner, and there many restaurants serving traditional Portuguese dishes.
From Porto, there are many unique towns where you can plan a day trip. Which should you choose? Take your pick! Braga, known as one of Portugal’s most spiritual towns (perhaps tied with Fátima), is covered in beautifully aged churches and monasteries. Aveiro is known as the “Venice of Portugal” and, as its nickname hints, it’s intersected with canals filled with long, colorful, gondola-like boats. Viana do Castelo is another charming town filled with palaces and monasteries, and then there is the Douro Valley, where the vineyards and rolling green hills entice travelers looking to wind down their trip at a slower pace.