Portugal may be a small country in Europe, but it is packed with things to do, food to eat, wines to drink, and trails to hike. Not to mention the beaches, the cities, and a rich historical past.
I first visited Portugal in 2008 when I was teaching school in Angola, so I was already familiar with the cities of Lisbon and Porto. For this trip, Chris and I flew in to Lisbon and spent just a few days there. We joined a walking tour, explored the Chiado and Alfama neighborhoods, and ate as many pasteis com natas as possible. We went out to the Tower of Belem and the Monument to the Discoverers, and walked back along the river for a while before hopping on one of Lisbon’s ubiquitous yellow trams. At night we walked through alleys with the sounds of fado singers spilling out, and smelling of baked bacalou from the kitchens.
Desperate to leave Angola for a while, I bought a plane ticket to Lisbon. I figured I could practice my Portuguese a bit, while also visiting one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Below is a perfect ten-day itinerary for visiting Portugal for the first time.
A city in the north of Portugal, where port wine was created. The city of Porto is pretty small and very fun to walk around. The River Douro runs alongside the city, with a beautiful steel bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel’s. On the other side of the river, numerous port houses store casks of port and offer tours and tastings.
The capital of Portugal. Home of the giant Christ statue, a fort overlooking the city, some wonderful parks, a couple of museums, and a very nice sculpture garden. Not a huge city, so it’s nice to explore on foot. On the weekends, the Bairro Alto area is the happening spot to hang out at night. I spent my time there sightseeing the Cristo Rei statue, the Castelo de Sao Jorge, and the Gulbenkian museum.
A town on the southwestern coast, Lagos was great to just relax for a couple of days and walk around the town, and enjoy the beach. I stayed in a hostel here and found the vibe super welcoming and relaxing.
My favorite part of the trip. I spent the last 4 days in this UNESCO World Heritage town and loved every minute. On one day, I rented a bike so that I could bike to some of the farther away attractions, such as the monastery. Definitely my favorite part of Portugal so far.
Things to do in Sintra:
Capuchin Monastery– a really beautiful, tiny monastery built by monks who took literally the line in the Bible “the doorway to heaven is low and narrow”. They built their rooms only 4 feet high with tiny doors. The monastery is surrounded by some beautiful grounds.
Pena National Palace and Park– one of the best examples of a restored castle or palace that I have ever seen- and I’ve been to a lot! The castle grounds were amazing, and they have restored a several of the inside rooms to tour through. A nice bike ride from the city of Sintra.
Quinta de Regaleira– a truely bizarre palace and grounds. Once the home of royalty, the property was bought in early 1900’s for restoration, and the owner turned over all the plans to an Italian opera set designer to go wild with. Together they turned the palace and gardens into their idea of the entire cosmology, ranging from the garden of Eden, to Dante’s world, to Olympus, etc. You can spend an entire day here and not get bored. Words can’t really describe this place, you really have to look at the pictures.