The woman at the reception spoke to Jon and I in Portuguese and we had no idea what she said. This will be difficult, I thought. After a few hand gestures here and there, we finally checked into our room in Lisbon. I had no idea what Portugal would be like. All I knew was that the famous world navigator who discovered the Philippines, Ferdinand Magellan, was from Portugal (his naval ship was sponsored by Spain) and that Macau was a former Portuguese colony.
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Winter was coming to Europe. Jon and I decided to spend some time in January in the warmer countries, so we headed south to Spain and Portugal. After almost 2 weeks in Spain, we spent 5 days in Portugal. Our itinerary included Lisbon, Sintra and Porto, three of the most well known tourist spots in the country. Despite such a short stay, we fell in love with Portugal; keep reading to find out why! Here’s what we got up to during our 5 days in Portugal.
5 Days in Portugal Itinerary
It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak nor understand any Portuguese. The language barrier did not put us off from exploring the beautiful capital. Lisbon captured our hearts with its unique and beautiful architecture. Rows of colourful houses line up along the sloping streets. The plazas are big and the surrounding small cafés bring life to them. There are also plenty of pastelerias (bakeries) around Lisbon that serve delicious treats. The popular being the custard tarts or pasteis de nata which is similar to the Portuguese egg tarts you find in Macau.
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We stayed in one of the many uphill neighborhoods that make Lisbon an interesting place. There is an old funicular which allows you to go up the hill towards to the plaza overlooking the city. Across the streets there is an occasional tram that passes by. It is one of the most charming sights in town. The tram goes to the different districts in Lisbon and truly creates a unique atmosphere.
My most memorable moment in Lisbon was the day before my birthday. Jon and I went to the old neighbourhood called Alfama then visited Castelo de São Jorge. The castle itself was not glamorous but the selling point of this place was the view. Jon and I shared a toast with the two glasses of Portuguese wine and watched the magnificent sunset drop over the rest of Lisbon. The sunset at Castelo de São Jorge was definitely one of the highlights of our 5 days in Portugal.
Another fascinating area in Lisbon is the district of Belém. The 25 de Abril Bridge, which closely resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, dominates the river near Belém and on a nearby hill you can see the Cristo Rei (Christ the King), which looks a lot like Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. At the centre of Belém is the famous Belém tower, an iconic historic structure and the Jeronimos Monastery, a beautiful Gothic style church. These two monuments are UNESCO World Heritage sites and both included in the 7 wonders of Portugal.
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Where to Stay in Lisbon
Luxury – Valverde Hotel
Mid-Range – My Story Hotel Rossio
Boutique – Santiago de Alfama – Boutique Hotel
Budget – HF Fenix Urban
When Jon suggested we celebrate my birthday in Sintra, I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I had never heard of this place before and had no idea what it had to offer. I googled the place and saw why it’s a popular day trip from Lisbon. Sintra is like a fairy tale town!
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We took the train from Lisbon to Sintra, a magical small town filled with majestic palaces and castles that I could only imagine in my dreams.
If you think a historic monument means dull and old, the Pena National Palace will change your mind. This bright and colourful palace is considered one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal and known as a major expression of 19th century romanticism. The architecture is astounding with an intricate interior, prominent towers and bold expression of colours.
Another interesting spot in Sintra is Quinta da Regaleira, a house that seems more like a palace with its beautiful design, impressive grottos and unique underground cave system. It was so much fun exploring this place. There are so many different areas to look into, make sure to visit the underground tower!
The last place we chose for our day trip (there are many palaces and castles in Sintra so it takes more than a day to see them all) was the Castle of the Moors. This medieval style castle is more like a fortification system than an actual castle, with a series of towers and walls all around. It looks a bit like the Great Wall of China. The Castle of the Moors is located on a hill overlooking the scenic countryside. It is a nice spot to end the day and watch the colours of the sky change during sunset.
Where to Stay in Sintra
Luxury – Penha Longa Resort
Mid-Range – Sparrow Sintra Nest
Boutique – Sintra Boutique Hotel
Budget – Hotel Ibis Lisboa Sintra
Port wine is probably the first thing you will associate with Porto. Jon and I tried it and didn’t enjoy it — it was too strong for the two of us. While some people remember Porto for the wine, we will remember it for its traditional dish, Francesinha, and its beautiful historic district.
The Ribiera or Riverside is the best place to start exploring Porto. This hilly city is set alongside the river and offers a colourful riverside scene lined up with interesting shops and cafés. It is a nice place to hang out and relax.
Dominating the scene in Porto is an impressive steel arch bridge, the Don Luis I Bridge, once considered the longest metal arch bridge in the world. It is a beautiful bridge, an icon that stands out in our photos of Porto. The bridge is directly above the river with two levels, one for regular traffic and one for the metro.
Within the old town are churches, museums, hotels and restaurants. The weather wasn’t great when we were in Porto (it rained a lot!) so we really had just one afternoon to see the sights. It is a charming city and we have to visit again to see it properly. We realized 5 days in Portugal was not really enough to see everything and we need to go back.
Where to Stay in Porto
Mid-Range – Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel
Boutique – Descobertas Boutique Hotel Porto
Budget – Hotel Dom Henrique – Downtown
Have you been to Portugal? Do you have anything to add to our 5 days in Portugal Itinerary? Let us know.
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