Let me start this long-ish post with a strong statement: Portugal is a wonderful land. The food is awesome, the people beautiful and the rhythm of life is relaxed—just what I needed to recharge my batteries. My husband and I did a road trip in Portugal lasting eight days, from Porto all the way down to Lisbon.
Here are some of the highlights worth mentioning about our trip. The section at the end of the post shouts out my top 3 places where to eat during a road trip in Portugal. All the places we’ve been plus tips can be found in my Foursquare account, while the majority of the pictures are taken from my Instagram account. Franz has put together also a wonderful Instagram feed about this road trip. Enjoy!
What to see in a road trip in Portugal
PORTO – Day 1
Porto is a city that grew in me with time. The more I strolled around, the more it conquered me. It’ll do it with grace and calm, with the Ocean breeze and the Douro river lazily flowing by, the good food and the amazing wine. It’s quirky and serene at the same time. And it’s full of smiling people.
GUIMARÃES & BRAGA – Day 2
We rented a car and headed to Braga, but we stopped in Guimarães first. I particularly enjoyed the castle where I had a little accident with a helmet–you need to watch it!
Braga is a very lovely city. At the end of a desert road we took under a hot sun, we stumbled upon this forgotten church—Nossa Senhora Do Sameiro—a surprising hidden gem.
We then climbed the hill to visit the Santuário do Bom Jesus, a cool oasis overseeing the town. Definitely a place to see when in Braga.
AVEIRO & COIMBRA – Day 3
A cloudy and chilly morning jeopardised my impression of Aveiro. Its canals leading to the bay and then the Ocean reminded me of Amsterdam, but with the Venice gondola boats. We didn’t check the beaches but I’ve been told they’re very pretty.
My feeling is that Coimbra maybe had a huge exploit at some time between the Seventies and the Eighties, and the tourism is still living and surviving after that. The city centre is clung to a high hill, and the narrow alleys gave us some shadows to rest from the hot sun. The famous university and the cathedral are at the top of the hill.
Every time I’m in surrounded by white buildings on a white ground my eyes close down and I get blind! It took me twenty minutes to take this pano of Coimbra law school square, but it was worth my time! We also crossed the bridge and visited the Santa Clara monastery, which looks like it’s not as popular as the city centre among the tourists. In Coimbra I had the best food of the all road trip in Portugal—see below for details.
TOMAR – Day 4
Despite its bright light and colourful alleys, Tomar is quite a mysterious place.
Founded by Templars, you can feel this vibe whilst wandering around the centre.
The Convent of Christ (Convento de Cristo), then, is literally the cherry on top.
We spent more than four hours in the convent, and we took so many pictures!
This place is very fascinating. In there I also had an idea for another side project of mine, which is taking pictures of fire extinguishers in public places—you may want to check that out!
We had dinner in a Medieval restaurant which was amazing.
Tomar definitely wins the “Best town experience” award of my road trip in Portugal.
SINTRA & CASCAIS – Day 5
Sintra is renowned for being such a gem. I can’t say it’s a lie, though it didn’t impress me as much as I expected. The town is pretty, but it’s heavily tourist-oriented. We skipped the visit of the Palace, which probably would make Sintra earn some more points in my chart, but Franz and I had better plans.
We crossed the Sintra and Cascais park – which is a huge protected green area, and we headed to the coast through a breath-taking panoramic road with typical fishermen and seaside villages.
This might be just another pic of sea and green meadows, but it’s not.
This is Cabo da Roca, actually the westernmost point of Continental Europe. Who knows how many explorers and dreamers have imagined what there could be beyond that horizon!
Cascais is a lovely, relaxed town where people from Lisbon and surroundings typically go to sunbathe.
The vibe is the beach-holiday-mode one: I can totally picture myself lying under the sun on the beach at days, and strolling in the town centre while having an ice cream at nights.
There’s nothing super attractive about this city (ie museum, artistic point of interests etc), but if you want to feel the real relaxed Portuguese vibe, that’s the place to be.
LISBON – Day 6-7-8
If you ditch all the museums as we did (the weather was too glorious to stay indoor!), you’re a good walker and don’t have many days to spend in Lisbon, you may want to allocate two days for the visit of the city, and then use another day for Sintra and Cascais.
It’s safe to say that Franz and I have walked nearly every inch of the Lisbon city centre and beyond—Franz’s interesting Fitbit stats will be out soon!
Talking about having a relaxed holiday and staying active at the same time, this is a picture that well represents our state of mind about it. Being fit is not something I aim to look pretty, it’s a mindset. No matter where I go or what I’m doing, I always find a good excuse to let my body breathe through some sort of activity.
Since I recovered from my long-term injury I bless every single moment to shake my body. This endless staircase at S. Jorge Castle in Lisbon is one of those moments. It took a little more than one minute to climb it. It felt endless while approaching, but the feeling at the end was priceless. I’m so blessed to be able to workout again with no pain.
If you look for sightseeing spots, go to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara as well as São Jorge Castle. I particularly enjoyed the visit of the castle, where we spent nearly an entire day. The ticket is around €8 and definitely worth every cent.
Another alternative place to visit in the city is the Lisbon Oceanário Aquarium, where adults come back kids again!
We had such an amazing time in there, and we also enjoyed an epic ice cream in a shop not so far from the Aquarium centre.
If you have some spare time, go and check Belém, on the west side of the city. There’s a monastery there which is beautiful from the outside. We didn’t visit it indoor though!
Not so far from there, there’s the Belém tower, that looks like those sand castles I was never be able to build on the seashore when I was a kid :)
We had a 7km walk all the way east to the city centre along the riverside, which was another great opportunity to see corners of Lisbon you’d never see if you stick to the city centre only.
What to eat in Portugal – my top 3
All the places where we stayed in, we visited and we had meals or coffee are recorded in my Foursquare account. There are also some tips you may want to check out :)
It’s worth noticing that despite all my food allergies I never struggled to eat during my road trip in Portugal. The food and the ingredients used in the Portuguese cuisine are very simply, genuine and me-friendly!
So here’s my top 3 of the places where we ate:
- Maria Portuguesa in Coimbra: hidden in a tiny alley, this historic tapas place made traditional Portuguese dishes. I enjoyed some stuffed mushrooms with cod that melted my mouth and my heart.
- Praxis brewery in Coimbra: These people craft their own beers, and they’re all delicious! I also had a veal steak with beer sauce that was the end of the world. I also had a beer pudding I’ll never forget.
- Mù Gelateria Italiana in Lisbon: it’s not easy for me to have a decent ice cream due to my food allergies, and also to not get frustrated by the usual tastes I can have (vanilla, banana, lemon). Here I was lucky enough to have plenty of choices between creamy-fruity options and fantastic sorbets (kiwi & banana, melon, pineapple & mint, etc).
While everybody mentions the Pasteis the Nata as traditional, worth highlighting food (it’s a yummy egg custard cake), I’d like to shout out the Bolo do Caco. Originally from Madeira, it’s a sourdough bread made with sweet potatoes and cooked on a special pan called Caco. It looks like it’s not hard to make, so I’ll try to make my own one at home. It’s very tasty and light at the same time.
Overall, this road trip in Portugal has been one of the best holidays of my life.
I’ve been in so many wonderful places and I feel so privileged to be able to wander around the world while working.
However I did feel the need to switch my brain off and have a ‘traditional’ holiday, with no stress or thoughts of any sort.
A tourist guide at the Miradouro told a Spanish group of tourists about the story of those stones.
The pavement was built in 1400 and took a lot of time to complete since the stones are so different and varied.
No two stones are the same, just like the people in Portugal ❤️ 🇵🇹