So, I’ve just returned from a two month trip to Spain and Portugal – and not only has it renewed my interest in Spanish culture and language, I found out how underrated Portugal is to visit, and how much I take the classic British fish and chips for granted.
Now, here’s my map of the places I visited:
I pin everything on a map to remember where I went, but that’s a story for another time. I’m going to tell you the good places and the bad places, tips and whatever have yous if you’re thinking of making an unforgettable Iberian trip.
Onto Portugal! It’s a beautiful country, and if you can’t choose between Porto and Lisbon, just do both! The train ride is under four hours and around €22, even less for youth tickets.
Highlight: It’s easily just roaming the streets – everything is a wonder to look at – the intricately tiled churches and cathedrals, the 1920s swing, art-deco dilapidated theatres, and the floors!! Yes, the floors are made all in mosaics in Portugal, and one must wonder how long it took them to make a mundane object so stunning. It makes a regular walking journey so much more enjoyable.
Lowlight: Whereas Lisbon is known for its cleanliness, Porto is gritty, dirty and polluted. I love that about it, personally, but it’s not for everyone, I can imagine. I also have to mention the man in the bunk below me, who snored like an elephant on sedatives — he was so loud that my music, with headphones on maximum volume, was not enough to cover it up. Not a good night’s sleep!
Verdict: A beautiful city, with a unique vibe and a good base to explore northern Portugal. In some parts of town, you will feel like you’re in Brazil. (Unless you’ve been, probably). It’s also super cheap!
Tips: You know that you’ve struck gold when the waiter doesn’t speak a word of English. The bakery ‘solar pão quente‘ sells large, super tasty cream tarts for only 50 cents! And even more regional cakes! It was also right in the centre! Exclamation marks!
Another place – more for backpackers than those looking to splash, the restaurant Pimenta Rosa sells the FATTEST slice of delicious chocolate cake that you will ever eat.
Highlight: The colours of the buildings are charming and unique, the style isn’t replicated anywhere else.
Lowlight: Getting ripped off at a crap restaurant, having nothing to do after an hour in town and those gondola blow-horns going off every ten seconds.
Verdict: The ‘Venice of Portugal’? Yah, right. One canal in the middle of the main road doesn’t mean you’re Venice. Not that I expected anything close, but come onnnn.
Tips: Their local delicacy looks just like a folded waffle, so I wasn’t bothered, but try it if you like waffles.
Highlight: Climbing the Castelo São Jorge and seeing a stunning view of the whole city. It’s such a paradise. And having a pastel de nata! They’re super good.
Lowlight: The ‘pink road’ should really be called the ‘dirty pink road’, but owing to the landmark’s surroundings, it might accidentally give it an ulterior connotation. To be fair, I didn’t go at night, when it comes alive.
Verdict: Lisbon is just a city you have to visit – ignore the hordes of tourists, there’s sooo many places you can go to get away from the money rush. It’s unforgettably stunning, affordable and with great food. So many restaurants!
Tips: If you like all you can eat buffets like I do, (you can try a lot of the regional specialities in one sitting when you’re visiting a place), Portugal Puro is good and affordable for €10 with a free beer. You’ll also find all you can eat sushi for under €7 at lunch around Martim Moniz.
Highlight: The view of the Pena Palace from the Cruz Alta, the highest point in the Sintra national park. What a view!
Lowlight: All of the attractions are expensive, especially when you consider Portuguese prices, but that’s because it’s tailored for the millions of tourists that come each year, seemingly all at the same time that you’re there.
Verdict: A beautiful park that, if you’re not careful, could lose it’s unique attraction value if you just take the usual tourist route. It’s easy enough to do independently, and plenty to see apart from the main palaces and castles. Saying that, you’ll never see castles as weird and wonderful as the ones in Sintra.
Tips: You can take the train from Rossio in Lisbon, for something like €5 return on the zip card, it’s cheap. The Cruz Alta is in the Pena Palace grounds, you’ll see signs for it.
Anything else for Portugal?
So, Porto’s speciality is a Francesinha, I didn’t get to try it unfortunately, but it looks like the heaviest, unhealthiest pub food you could imagine. If that’s your thing!