In late April/early May I took a family vacation to Portugal—a multigenerational trip for my grandma’s 80th birthday. Here are my (rough, unedited) notes on what I did:
How I Got There
United flight from Newark: it was a small plane for an overseas flight; just 3 and 3 seats.
Where I Stayed
Portuguese Soul: A 5-bedroom apartment that can sleep up to 15 people near the Saldanha metro station. The owner is a local artist and each room is beautifully decorated with its own themed artwork, such as a full-wall line sketch of the Lisbon cathedral.
Quinta de la Rosa: A working quinta (vineyard) near Pinhao, this place overlooks the river and has a fabulous outdoor terrace where meals are served. Ask for one of the newer suites; there’s a huge difference in quality between these and the rooms in the old house (those are closer to the water, but small and musty).
Apartment rental: Another beautifully decorated apartment. The owner of this unit is a photographer, and the walls are adorned with enlarged prints from his shoots at the Lisbon Botanical Garden. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk to downtown Sintra.
Day 1: Lisbon
I walked from Saldanha house down Aves Republica and Liberadade, over to Alfama and up the hill to Castelo Sao Jorge. Then walked down the twisty narrow streets and had lunch at a small cafe. Continued the walk downhill to the Se. From there I took taxi to the Tile Museum, though I skipped 3rd floor, which everyone kept mentioning. Did I miss something epic?
Ate dinner at Cafe no Chiado, which served delicious risotto and had a full wall of books—it felt like eating in someone’s library. From there I took a cab to Bairro Alto and bar hopped until 3:30 in the morning, trying cocktails, ginjinhas and Super Bocks at the New Orleans-like bar nooks and street party.
Day 2: Lisbon
I rode the bus from Saldanha to Belem, a waterfront neighborhood a good 45 minute ride from downtown Lisbon. The previous night’s bar hopping made for a rough morning, punctuated by a bumpy bus. From the top of the hill where the bus dropped off, I walked through a small botanical garden, then down to the enormous Jeronimos Monastery.
Ate lunch at Banana Cafe, an outdoor to-go spot across from the monastery with surprisingly fresh salads. Desert was pastries from the Pasteis de Belem—I didn’t go inside but it’s apparently tiled beautifully. I then walked along water past the Soviet-like Monument to the Discoveries statue and the stubby little Belem tower from which Vasco de Gama departed.
It took a while to find a cab from the Belem Tower. Spent the evening at Miradouro Sao Pedro for sunset and sangria. Walked to Bairro Alto for din at touristy place. Took funicular down to Rossio and had ginjas at Ginjinha sem Rival.
Day 3: Lisbon
Took the metro to 2nd to last stop on blue line, Terreiro do Paco, and got out in a large square, Praca do Comercio. Ate lunch in a sidewalk cafe right off the square on Avenida Augusta and took the Tram 28 to Miradouro da Graca. Then walked down to Miradouro Santa Luzia, which had a different perspective than the other miradouros (away from the city center) and had a “beerodouro.” Continued walking down through Alfama past the Santa Justa Elevator and to the Restauradores metro stop. Went home to Saldanha via Sao Sebastio; walked to big Soviet-like park with giant Portuguese flag.
Ate dinner at Tagide to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday. Located in Chiado, it’s a Michelin-rated restaurant with great city views.
Day 4: Road Trip – Lisbon, Obidos, Nazare, Aveiro, and Douro
Drove from Lisbon to Obidos, about an hour away. It’s a well preserved walled medieval town; you can climb the walls and walk around the perimeter. Ate lunch at a shady outdoor cafe near the church. Gihnjas de Obidos, the must-try cherry liqueur show served in a chocolate thimble are from here, and there are plenty of bars with tables outside serving the drink. There are also vendors with art, cork bags and other souvenirs, but the town escapes a total “tourist trap” feel.
From Obidos I drove to Nazare, about 30 minutes away. I got out at an overlook near the Farol da Nazare and hiked down the hill to the lighthouse point. This is where, when conditions are right, the some of the world’s biggest waves ever surfed break. There’s a beautiful deserted beach on one side, and while it was flat the day I was there, there are signs detailing the surfing feats that have happened here. I then went back up to the little town center, where a miradouro overlooks the main Nazare beach. You can’t see the lighthouse from town, so you have to walk or drive down (careful, it’s windy).
About 2 hours’ drive from Nazare is Aveiro, known as the Venice of Portugal. Honestly, there’s not much here for a quick visit. I got some pretty pictures at the one canal I saw, but it felt both touristy and shabby. I don’t know if there’s an actual purpose for the canals. ATMs worked here at least; had problems using the ones in Lisbon.
From Aveiro it was on to the Douro. When I reached the valley, rain clouds were rolling through, with patches of light shining on terraced vineyard hills and a green river. Once you get into quinta country you’ll be on a super windy cliffside roads that are very narrow.
Got to Quinta de la Rosa just in time for the communal dinner. There was only one dish/menu served; not a lot of choice for picky eaters (my plate of shredded cod and potatoes went untouched). But the wine and port is served liberally!
Day 5: Douro
Started the day with a private boat ride on Douro, departing from Pinhao (a 5 minute drive down the hill from Quinta de la Rosa). We passed quintas, terraced hills, and only one other boat—it was very peaceful.
Then drove to Restaurante DOC, a food temple on the river. The service, setting, and food was all wonderful. I loved the pop rocks mini dessert and the fact that one of the tasting menus is called an “olive oil menu.” After lunch I went to Quinta do Tedo and sampled some red ports—you should call ahead to quintas to reserve a time to visit, it’s harder to just walk in.
That night I had dinner in Pinhao, a river cruise port town that was dead at night (only one river cruise ship was docked tonight, and the passengers stayed on board). Ended up eating at a family spot, Adega Grande Porto. Again, one meal on the menu, but LOTS of it: huge carafes of wine, and pork, sausage, lamb, Port soaked cake, Port tasting glasses, etc.
Day 6: Road Trip – Douro, Coimbra, Sintra
Drive to Coimbra from Douro (2 hrs or so). It’s a medieval/university town, an odd mix. Lunch at Cafe Santa Cruz, a restaurant built out of part of the adjacent church. I then spent an hour or so walking around the town and across bridge for city views. I then meandered up to the university but left without finding good views.
I drove 2 more hours to Sintra, playground of palaces about a half hour from Lisbon. You can see the Moorish Castle atop the hill as you drive in. I walked into town and had a large drink at the centrally located outdoor patio at Hockey Cafe. A short walk away from the main square is a quiet miradouro; I sat here and watched the sunset. Had dinner at Ristorante Alcobaca, which had a large shark figurine hanging out front. After dinner I got a drink at the bar across from the Sintra National Palace.
Day 7: Sintra
From Sintra, I walked up to the Moorish Castle. It was a long, hot walk up—so many stairs. It’s a cool open air fort, with a lot more stairs. There were long lines to the Pena Palace by bus so I walked through the woods, which took about 10 minutes. Tip: go to the Moorish Castle first and buy tickets for both sites there; it’s cheaper and will save you a long wait in line at Pena.
Pena Palace is a wonky-colored (purple, yellow, black and white checkered) mismatched building set on beautiful grounds. It’s easy to get lost here, especially on the side paths in the gardens. Skip the rooms in the palace (they’re crowded) but walk around the castle exterior and the gardens (be sure to go up to the cross).
Back in Sintra I had a giant sangria at Hockey Caffe. Watched the sunset at the same miradouro, this time with vinho, and then dinner at a little restaurant right off the miradouro. Had beers at a latenight bar and walked home with the Moorish Castle glowing in the night.
Day 8: Road Trip – Sintra, Azenhas do Mar, Cabo da Roca, Cascais
I drove half hour from Sintra to Azenhas do Mar, a tiny seaside town with an awesome miradouro. Ate lunch at Nortada, a restaurant overlooking the ocean. Drove a little farther down the coast to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe. From there it was on to Cascais (with a stop at Boca de Inferno, which sometimes turns into a blowhole, though today there were no waves). Cascais was a casual waterside town with a slight, but not super, beachy vibe. I browsed some market stalls and had a beer at a bar on a side street before heading back to Sintra.
Time to go home!