I’ve been to just about every country in Western Europe, some a handful of times. Yet for some reason, Portugal has always eluded me. I’ve always been interested in visiting, though, so when I found a cheap flight from Istanbul to Lisbon (via Paris!) it was time to make it happen. I had originally planned to spend time in both Lisbon and Porto, but there was so much to do in and around Lisbon that I decided to take my time and enjoy more thoroughly. If you are planning to do both, consider flying into one and out of the other – it’s an easy a three hour journey by bus or train between them, but flying from one or the other allows you to avoid backtracking your route.

>> Visit my Portugal Photo Galleries.

Map of Portugal

Things to Do in Portugal

    • Lisbon (PHOTOS) – Wander the steep and narrow streets of the historic Alfama neighborhood, shop your way through the Chiado and head to Bella Alto for nightlife. Soak in some history then indulge in a freshly baked egg tart in Belem at the famous bakery Pasteis de Belem. Catch the historic Tram 28 for a DIY city sightseeing tour on the cheap. Take a day trip to Cascais beach, just 20 min from Lisbon by train and be sure to stop for a seafood dinner with a sunset view on the way back. Listen to live, soulful fado music. Admire all the beautiful Portuguese architecture and if (like me) you love the tiles, check out the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (Portuguese Tile Museum). Foodies will love Time Out Lisbon’s food hall in the Mercado da Ribiera for the huge selection of culinary delights as many of Lisbon’s biggest chefs, restaurants and gourmet shops have outposts here. It’s a great place to go in a group to try more items. Food tours and cooking classes are a great way to learn about history and culture through the cuisine of Portugal. Pro tip: take one at the beginning of your visit so you can get recommendations for where to eat the rest of your trip. There are also many food or wine day trips you can take from Lisbon. Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations: Lisbon on Youtube is fantastic to whet your appetite. I’ve got a (mostly food-centric) Lisbon Foursquare list which you can view online or save to your smartphone, if you have the Foursquare app.

  • Sintra (PHOTOS) – UNESCO World heritage site with palaces, historic estates and even neolithic settlements in the Sintra Mountains. Many do this as a day trip or an overnight from Lisbon, trains leave frequently from Rossio station and public or tourist buses are inexpensive to get around the major sites. You can purchase a combination ticket for 15 euro that provides roundtrip train tickets to Sintra, plus use of all the bus routes once you are there. If you are visiting during high season, the queues can be long for the buses though, so you might opt to hire your own guide to get you more quickly to the sights you want to see. Unless you’re VERY fit and have lots of time in Sintra, I wouldn’t recommend walking between them. You can pick and choose which attractions you’d like to visit, but entrances can add up quickly (although small discounts are available for combo tickets). Personally, I enjoyed the gardens/park of Pena Palace but didn’t shell out the extra to visit the inside portion. The Moorish Castle is quite impressive to wander, but can be done in half an hour or so – it cost 14.72 euro to visit both with a combo ticket (check your options here). The highlight of my time in Sintra was Quinta da Regalaria (6 euro) – an expansive estate with an impression palace/mansion, a private chapel and grounds that include hidden grottoes, secret passageways, waterfalls and inverted staircases called Initiation Wells. You will feel like you are in a fairy tale for most of the time you are in Sintra!
  • Porto – for Port wine of course! Lonely Planet has a guide to a perfect food-themed day in Porto. Regular connections between Porto and Lisbon exist via train and bus in just a few hours, although sometimes it’s nearly the same price to fly.
  • Duoro Valley
  • Alentejo – A great piece on a Foodie tour of the Alentejo
  • Madeira – Funchal
  • Azores – islands

>> Search for Culinary Vacations in Portugal
>> SpottedbyLocals.com listings for Lisbon & Porto

What to Eat in Portugal

  • Fish – such as balcahau (salt cod), sardinhas (sardines), tamboril (monkfish), caldeirada (eel). Seafood is always a great choice in Portugal!
  • Conservas – Canned fish in many varieties and flavors. A great primer can be found here.
  • Cataplana – shellfish stew
  • Prego – steak sandwich
  • Bifana – pork sandwich
  • Olives – marinaded olives, olive oil and other olive products
  • Almonds
  • Grapes
  • Petiscos – appetizers or snacks, similar to what the Spanish call “tapas”, often served with wine or drinks.
  • Peri peri chicken – spicy rotisserie chicken with a hot sauce made from a spicy African chili pepper
  • Francesinha – gut busting sandwich, drenched in sauce, a specialty of Porto
  • Polvo à lagareiro – grilled octopus, boiled first and seasoned with lemon and rosemary
  • Pasteis de Nata – egg tarts. In Lisbon, the most famous place to try them at Pastéis de Belém in the Belem neighborhood.
  • Cheese – Azeitao is a famous sheep’s milk cheese

>> Visit Portugal has a page on the Gastronomy of Portugal

Andrew Zimmern did a Bizare Foods Portugal episode, which explains quite a few of Portugals delicacies, like canned fish, goose barnacles (percebes), and more:

What to Drink in Portugal

  • Wine – red, wine (and green!) wine varieties can be found, also fortified wines like Port or Alentejo
  • Bica – rich, thick coffee similar to espresso
  • Ginjinha – a sour cherry liquer, served any time of day from little specialty shops around Lisbon, many in the area around Rossio. Served with or without the actual cherry inside.

Portugal Resources

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