When we chose to visit the Azores several years ago, we thought we were basically visiting an extension of Portugal. Naturally, we thought it would be a perfect introduction to Portugal, itself. Well. The Azores have their own beautiful, wonderful mix of cultures – and their own version of Portuguese. But we did have several people on that trip recommend visiting mainland Portugal one day soon. So, as soon as we felt safe traveling again and restrictions had been lifted on travel to the European Union, we booked our flights to Lisbon. Little did we realize that we were about to land in a location that would capture our hearts completely and leave us dreaming of buying property there. With this Portugal itinerary 10 days will be enough to get a taste – literally! – of why you need to visit Portugal immediately… while also explaining how we fell in love with this beautiful little country.
Day 1: Arrive in Lisbon, travel from the airport to Lisbon city center, and get your bearings
Before we arrived in Lisbon, I reached out to the concierge at the Lisboa Carmo Hotel to ask if we could arrange an airport transfer. Of course, they were happy to oblige – this is a complimentary service for all guests staying longer than three nights. So, we were thrilled to see our very professional-looking driver waiting for us with a sign when we exited the terminal. That said, if you don’t pre-book a transfer like this, you still have three options:
- Metro – easy, fairly quick, suitable for not much luggage, least expensive; runs from 6:30am – 1am
- AeroBus – easy, fairly quick, suitable if you have multiple pieces of luggage, inexpensive; runs every 20 minutes from 8am – 9pm
- Taxi or Uber – very easy, fastest, suitable for most amounts of luggage, most expensive; available at most times.
Read more at Lisbon Portugal Tourism, which has a great guide on transportation from Lisbon Airport to Lisbon city center, and many other destinations around Portugal.
So, we arrived, hopped in our pre-booked transfer, and watched as a fairly average-looking area dissolved into a charming, historic city right before our eyes. We arrived at about noon (well before check-in) so the hotel gladly stored our bags while we walked around to find snacks, drinks, and our bearings. And when we got back, we were delighted to find that our bags were already waiting for us in our stunning room. We napped off some of our jet lag, and ordered pizza from a spot down the road, then turned in early.
If you’ve got more energy than we did, you can find a multitude of things to do in Lisbon to keep you occupied.
Day 2: Lisbon food tour
If there was ever a day to sleep in on your European vacation, this is it. At least, it was for us. The jet lag walloped us both, and we spent a good part of the morning dozing in and out and trying to get our circadian rhythms back on track. Once we had dragged ourselves out of our time zone-induced daze, we met up with Adriana from Oh! My Cod Tours, under the arch in the Praça do Comércio.
Food tours never fail to delight us, as they tend to be a combination of walking tour and cultural masterclass, all while educating your tastebuds. So, they’re great for getting your physical and culinary bearings in a new city.
Adriana’s tour was no different. As she led our little group through the bustling streets of Lisbon’s city center, she told us the history of many of the buildings we were passing. We tried cured meats, sheep cheese, and port wine at Manteigaria Silva, and ogled salt-crusted filets of cod (or bacalhau) next door at Bacalhaoria Silva.
We then stopped at a renowned Mozambican restaurant called Cantinho do Aziz, where we learned that tradition in Lisbon means more than just Portuguese traditions – the many immigrant communities that make Lisbon their home are also passing traditions on in this vibrant city. We continued on and enjoyed grilled sardines, various types of chorizo, and even bacalhau before feeling like we might need to be rolled back to our hotel.
A few other ticks in favor of taking a food tour shortly after your arrival in a new city: you simultaneously find out where to eat for the rest of your trip AND rule out the need for any kind of dinner the evening after your tour ends!
Day 3: Is Sintra worth visiting? YES.
Sintra appears on just about every list of must-do activities in the Lisbon area, and for good reason. Despite the fact that everyone wants to experience Sintra, it’s in no way over-hyped.
We booked a tour with Keep It Local Tours, through AirBNB Experiences, and hopped into their sprinter van for the day.
We stopped for a few moments at the Miradouro de Santa Eufemia, a beautiful and extremely windy overlook taking in all of Lisbon. Then, we headed on up the mountain to explore more of Sintra. We didn’t stop at Pena Palace (one of the more famous castles in this area), but we did tour the stunning Regaleira Palace and its sprawling, fanciful gardens. Built near the turn of the 20th century to look significantly older, you’ll find Freemason-inspired iconography and landmarks all across the grounds. Everything, from the inverted Initiation Tower to the beautiful man-made waterfalls and grottoes, has a meaning and a purpose, and guides like João make sure you know all these secrets as you go.
Once we’d finished exploring, João took us to Restaurante Central where our whole group enjoyed a delicious local meal that felt cozy and homemade. We also visited Adraga Beach – which is just the tiniest taste of what you might see further south near the Algarve! – and Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe. Along with a few other stops for viewpoints and snacks, of course!
Once we got back to our hotel, we tidied up and scheduled an Uber to take us south of the Tagus for our dinner reservation at Ponto Final. If you’ve seen Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix), you might already know that he does an entire episode on delicious food and culture in Lisbon. We were so enchanted by Ponto Final in that episode that we poked around online until we found a great email address for them and asked for reservations almost 3 months in advance. I let them know what nights we were available and that we wanted to experience a sunset dinner on their pier, and within a few hours they emailed me back with the date and time of our reservation.
It’s a good thing we did this, because we arrived right on time and the line for walk-ups was at least 20 people deep. But, because we’d made a reservation, we were able to bypass the line and be led straight to our table, right on the very end of the pier, just as I’d requested. The monkfish stew is one of their signature dishes, and was a very tasty way to pass the evening, along with wine recommended by our waiter. We couldn’t have asked for a lovelier night and, when the sun finally dipped below the horizon and the breeze from the river had a bit of a chill to it, the staff all began handing out blankets so folks with bare legs could keep warm as we finished our meals.
You can book your tour with Keep It Local Tours on AirBNB Experiences or on their website.
You can contact Ponto Final restaurant for reservations and other questions on their Facebook page or via phone or email.
Day 4: Spend the day exploring Lisbon, then take a Portuguese cooking class
If you’ve never been to Lisbon before, you might think we’re exaggerating when we say that tuktuks are everywhere. But they really are! And if you’re not worried about mussing your hair in the wind, they might just be the perfect way to experience Lisbon. You can use tuktuks like taxis – strictly for getting from point A to point B in your day, or you can find tuktuks with drivers who provide scenic or historic sight-seeing tours of the city.
So, after we’d spent the morning walking our feet off in search of Covid tests and various other practicalities, we decided we wanted to see a little bit more of the city – but without the additional walking. The hotel’s tuktuk (yes, they have a really cute tuktuk on call!) happened to be available when we were, so we hopped on for a complimentary ride around the high points of Lisbon. We spent the most time in the Alfama, seeing the Sé church, and more overlooks and historic beauty than we could have anticipated. And happily, even though it was a warm day, the wind in the open tuktuk kept us nice and comfortable as we buzzed from place to place.
We had also considered taking a free walking tour or riding Lisbon’s legendary trams around the city, but found that – in that moment – the tuktuk was a better use of our time, especially since we knew we needed to be done in time for our cooking class early that evening.
Speaking of which, after we disembarked from the tuktuk for the last time, we both ran a brush through our windswept hair and Ubered over to Compadre Cooking School. There we met João and José, the somewhat unlikely but very talented friends who started this awesome school. They’re both very easy to talk with, and are more than happy to keep the local wine (or tea, if you’re not imbibing) flowing all through the evening. They set everyone in the small group instantly at ease, and gave us clear instructions that made preparing a selection of local dishes easier than I would’ve thought possible. That evening, we made:
- Clams bulhão pato – that is, with white wine, cilantro, garlic, and olive oil
- Spiritual Cod – you read that right! Confit onions in a cream sauce with salt cod and cheese. The onions almost serve the role of pasta!
- Braised pork ribs with a red pepper rub – these speak for themselves…
- A riff on migas, a Portuguese/Spanish dish using stale bread and veggies to make a hearty stovetop stuffing-type side dish
And finally, once the food was ready, we all sat down at the long table in the kitchen space and had a family-style dinner, with lots of storytelling and laughing. It was truly a wonderful experience that we can’t wait to repeat.
You can book your class with Compadre Cooking School on AirBNB Experiences or on their website.
Day 5: Photos with a professional photographer, then drive from Lisbon to Porto
On our last morning in Lisbon, we knew we’d have a few hours to kill before our transfer came to pick us up to go to Porto. So, we decided to meet up with Tit, a professional photographer in Lisbon that we found on AirBNB Experiences. We met in the Alfama district – where all the busiest and most photogenic places are – and he immediately set us at ease and started cueing us through different poses and views.
The lovely thing was that, because we met up so early, we had most of these places to ourselves. We were a little concerned because Lisbon was experiencing some uncharacteristically overcast skies that morning, but Tit reassured us that the shots would still look beautiful. And when we got our gallery of photos that afternoon, he was right! The overcast skies were easy to blow out, giving our photos a light, airy, bright quality that we both found beautiful.
In recent years, we’ve started working with photographers like this in every city we visit, because sometimes it’s difficult to get photos of us both on our trips without stressing us both out. After all, we blog about our travels, but this is far from being our day job, so we like to relax when we travel, as well. This way, we sacrifice one early morning hour for uninterrupted time to get photos efficiently and in the best locations. This is an activity we’ll definitely keep repeating!
Finally, we walked back from our final location in Chiado, finished packing, and met our driver, Ricardo, downstairs.
Now, before you start thinking that we’re bougie as hell, you should know that, yes, we are 😂
We didn’t just call a car service to drive us north. Instead, we scheduled a transfer through DayTrip. They’re a fast-growing company with routes all across Europe and North America, and they specialize in making your transfer from point A to point B as safe, scenic, and enjoyable as possible. One of the things that bummed me out when we started making plans for Portugal was that we wouldn’t really be able to spend much time in some of the surrounding cities, even though they looked amazing. But when I started perusing DayTrip, I found that I could customize our trip north with almost as many stops as I wanted for a fairly modest extra charge. After we settled into Ricardo’s beautiful Mercedes sedan, he offered us water and snacks, and then set the GPS for our trip.
We first stopped to visit the fairytale medieval town of Óbidos, where Ricardo recommended a tasty lunch restaurant slightly off the beaten (read: touristy) path and also an old bar where we could try their trademark sour cherry liqueur, ginja de Óbidos. Then, he gave us his phone number so we could let him know when we were ready to head out, and then he left us to our own devices to poke around and explore the book-centric walled city. Once we were full and tired, we headed back to the car – where Ricardo had the A/C already running and fresh bottles of water waiting for us.
We had a pretty big gap between our first and second stops, and we passed between truly pleasant conversation and equally comfortable silences as the drive stretched on.
And then we hit our second stop, Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal (or so they say…). Once we had parked, Ricardo walked us to a manteigaria right off the main street near the canal and treated us to coffee and our first authentic ovos moles, Aveiro’s claim to pastry fame. At their most basic, these are tiny bite-sized pastries made of communion wafer-like “shells” and stuffed with a sweet filling of egg yolks and sugar. They may be something of an acquired taste, but Ricardo told us they were the best ovos moles in town, and he wanted to make sure we had the best ones first (thank you, Ricardo!!).
Finally, after wandering around and taking pictures – yes, we should’ve taken a canal cruise; but no, we didn’t feel like coping with the lines – we headed back to the already-running car and settled in for the last leg of our trip. When we arrived in Porto, Ricardo not only helped us unload our bags, but also walked with us and made sure we got well and truly to the door of our AirBNB. We’ve ridden in plenty of Ubers and other car services, but Ricardo truly made us feel that we were being thoughtfully taken care of.
And then, it was time to check in – and check out the amazing view from our rental!!
You can schedule and customize your drive with DayTrip on their website.
Day 6: Food tour of Porto and port wine tastings
For us, this ended up being a rest day. Our travel day tired us both out, so we slept in. Then, we found a Manteigaria with coffee and pasteis de nata for breakfast, and walked around the winding medieval streets of the oldest part of the city. We ended up over on the Gaia side of the bridge after lunch, and enjoyed a port wine tasting at Kopke. We fully intended to do more than one tasting, but Kopke’s generous tasting flights left us both far more inebriated than we had expected, even though we weren’t rushing through the glasses or drinking on an empty stomach. So, we headed (read: stumbled) back to our flat to nap off the alcohol before our food tour that evening.
We had scheduled a food tour of Porto with Benjamin, but he unfortunately had to cancel due to circumstances outside his control, and was kind enough to let us know as soon as he knew. He gave us the option to join another of his tours later in the week, but those times conflicted with our existing plans, so he very graciously refunded us. That said, we would have loved to explore the city with him, as his reviews are all enthusiastically positive. (If any of you guys take one of his tours, will you let us know what we missed out on? 😄 )
So, instead, we found ourselves at Prégar, enjoying a couple of delicious sandwiches before taking a leisurely walk back to our AirBNB.
Day 7: Explore Braga (Bananeiro!) and Guimarães
When looking for things to do near Porto, visiting Braga and Guimarães both topped most every list we found. So, happily not hungover from our port wine tasting the day before, we met our guide, Thiago, at the Praça da Liberdade bright, early, and ready to explore. To our surprise, it was just the two of us and Thiago, so we got the pleasure of a private tour of the area.
We stopped first at Braga, the oldest city in Portugal. There, we got to experience the 577 steps and sanctuary/church of Bom Jesus do Monte. The level of art and metaphor that went into creating the experience of these steps is honestly breathtaking.
The sanctuary is also stunning, because nothing is what it seems. Thiago showed us how concrete is painted to look like marble, wood is painted to look like stone – it’s incredible. And even without all the sleight of hand, the atmosphere is just stunning – somber, but light.
From there, we went to Braga’s Sé cathedral, where we got to experience one of the most ornate sanctuaries I’ve ever seen in person, as well as learning more about Braga’s leaders and the role it has played in history.
As we walked through the city center, Thiago stopped us at a small shop where he suggested we try Braga’s famous Christmas Eve tradition called bananeiro: eating a banana and drinking Moscatel wine. Does it sound crazy? Yes. Is it shockingly tasty? YES.
We stopped for a delicious local lunch, then headed to Guimarães. There, we visited the Castelo de Guimarães and the Paço dos Duques de Bragança, both extremely significant buildings to the history of Portugal. Finally, we explored a wide swath of the old town, and then hopped back in our van to go back to Porto.
Perhaps the most memorable part about our day was our guide. We all know that guides can make or break tours – if they’re too dry or disinterested, they lose the audience. Thiago was neither of those things. He’s a quiet guy, but his passion for the subject matter shone through easily. And even though we talked a lot and he had a lot of information to share with us, it never felt like one of those dusty university seminars you just tuned out. We very much enjoyed our day exploring these two stunning, ancient cities and can’t recommend these folks highly enough!
Day 8: Tour and taste the Douro Valley
If you enjoy learning about local wine when you travel, you’re in luck – Porto is right nextdoor to Portugal’s most prodigious and, indeed, one of the oldest wine regions in Europe: the Douro Valley. This area boasts a variety of indigenus grapes – and shares a few with nearby Spain – and is becoming better and better known as a great producer of dry red wines (our favorite!). It’s also well known for vinho verde, a young, blended white wine that’s light, acidic, and just a tiny bit sweet.
Of course, we had to explore the Douro! So we met up with Porto Locals Tours early, piled into a van with a very multinational group and our local guide, Sandro, and headed out to enjoy some wine. We stopped first in Amaranthe for breakfast and our first wine: a glass of red vinho verde (yes, that’s a thing). Sip carefully, guys – it’s intense.
From there, we headed to the valley, proper. The roads are winding, narrow and full of switchbacks and changes in elevation. When you visit in the summer and early fall, you might even end up stuck behind a slow, open box truck packed with grapes for tasting and pressing. We stopped at several beautiful overlooks, and meandered our way around the valley, all the way to the picturesque town Pinhão. Here, we had the option to board an hour-long river cruise which lets you go with the Douro flow while you take in wine and the views.
That said, our little group decided we weren’t in the mood for a cruise, so Sandro made a few calls and set up an impromptu wine tasting at D’Origem winery. One of the c-owners took us through their wine- and olive oil-making museums, two large rooms stocked with legacy equipment from the winery’s days gone by. Then, in their light, airy tasting room, she shepherded us through trying several delicious rich wines, and delicious olive oil and honey – all made on site. From there, we stopped back in Pinhão for a very filling, traditional lunch at Taberna do Rio. Guys, if you have the chance, try the duck rice – even as a couple of people who don’t really eat duck, we promise you won’t regret it!
Finally, we stopped at Quinta do Tedo, a stunning winery perched on one of the valley’s sides overlooking the river. Our guide there took us through their entire wine-making process and then led us to their tasting room, where we got to experience a lovely flight of their most popular wines. Note, this is a winery that does cater to groups like this, so if you’re looking for a very intimate experience, this might not be quite it.
All in all, this was a fantastic first dip into the pool of Portuguese wine, and a very well-spent day.
Day 9: Take a local sightseeing tour in a vintage VW Bug, then spend the day exploring Porto
If you want to find all the best miradouros in Porto, we can’t recommend this tour enough.
Since it was fairly early, we stopped to get coffee before we met Pedro. When we walked up, he was polishing his cherry red vintage VW Bug on Rua do Infante Dom Henrique – definitely not easy to miss! He greeted us and dropped the front seat for us to climb in. He even let us bring our coffee in the car with us, which we both deeply appreciated. And then off we went, puttering and jostling down the cobbled roads of Porto.
He took us all the way to the highest point in Gaia so we could learn a bit about the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of both sides of the city, with the river cutting it in half. Then we cruised across bridges, through main streets and side streets, and paused at some of the best – and least known – miradouros (viewpoints) in the city. Pedro was always willing to take photos of us in each place, both in and out of the car. And he had so much history and context to share with us. We’d pass this building or that building, and he’d point and tell us its story.
Our tour ended at the beach, just where the Douro River meets the Atlantic. It was a fairly temperate day, so the sea breeze was a bit too chilly for us adults, but we could see kids laughing and playing in the surf, and plenty more people laying out with wind screens and umbrellas. Finally, he took us back to our starting point, and we went our separate ways.
Seeing Porto from a “bugseye view”, so to speak, was more fun than either of us could’ve imagined. We got to see more places than we could have on foot, but were able to squeeze into tighter streets and visit more out-of-the-way spots than a tour bus or tram could’ve managed. You should try it!
Day 10: Time to head home!
Technically, we took an extra day to drive back south on our most recent trip, and flew out of Lisbon. But you can just as easily schedule a flight out of Porto Airport – in fact, most locals we talked to were surprised we’d go all the way back to Lisbon. It’s easy to get to via multiple modes of transportation, and will save you that extra few hours of travel back to Lisbon.