Portugal’s land is diverse from southern Algarve beaches to historical cultural Lisbon,
Porto and more to the lush wine
rich Douro River Valley to the interior mountains dotted with
ancient Schist stone
Our first stop, after the nearly 2 hour welcome emigration line, Lisbon.
Lisbon is a sprawling hilly city with countless parks, palaces, churches, amazing architecture and cafes. Stroll Rossio Square, Baixa, Biarro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods. Explore the confusing maze of streets in the hilly Alfama to the east and walk up to the sprawling St Jorges Castle for a great view of the city.
Lisbon, Lisboa in Portugese, means calm port, but be prepared for ancient cobblestone alleys amid seven hilly hoods (read: wear comfy shoes). Ride historic trolley #28, or rent a tuktuk, for the ups and enjoy the easier stroll down below iron balconies and blue tiled buildings with flowers and laundry hanging - so photogenic Lisbon.
Lisbon is a very liberated city, easy going people, with a large gay population, and crazy drivers. Lisboans and tourists alike roam the tight streets, chatting over port gin & tonics, and espresso. Nights go late, with dinner after 9pm, then drinks and Fado – their local folk music. Try the octopus, the porc alentejo with clams, and the bacalhao – very salty cod fish (their local dish with fish from Norway ironically).
Visit São Jorge Castle, an 8th century (yes, old) fort and bastion atop Lisbon. Here you can enjoy spectacular views of the water, the bridge, and the city of Portugal. Then browse the neighborhood of Alfama. Sao Roque Church is the most expensive lavish church, with gold and mosaics, and the famous Chapel of St John the Baptist inside. Nearby is a more baroque style Santa Catarina Church. For lodging in this Alfama neighborhood, we enjoyed Breathing Lisbon Apartments on Rua Do Recolhimento with its amazing river views from the balcony toward the National Pantheon and the cruise ship dock. But be prepared to walk to the Apt, 4 flights of stairs and no AC. For lodging in the center of town, Baxia, we loved Unique Design Apartments right on Rua Augusta - the historic downtown pedestrian area full of shops, cafes and sites with beautiful balcony views of Praca de Comercia, the Pombaline Palace Square, near the Arch de Triumph of Lisbon by the waterfront.
We highly recommend you get aboard the Yellow Boat’s 90-minute cruise to rest your feet and see the city from the Rio Tejo (Tagus River in English). Passing under the 1.5 mile April 25 Bridge (1974 Portugal’s liberation day) – note the resemblance to San Fran’s Golden Gate Bridge of the same architect, this is the world’s deepest bridge, 260’, and among the longest in Europe at 1.5 miles. Wave to Jesus towering 330’ tall in concrete on the hillside, inspired by Rio Di Janeiro’s Christ on Sugarloaf in Portugal's former colony - Brazil. The boat cruises by Belem Tower affords the best views and photo opp of this amazing castle without the throngs of tourists on land. Grab a bottle of wine from a mercata for this leisure boat cruise in late afternoon.
Back in Lisbon pass through the arch, up Rua Augusta to Rossio Square, sit at a café over espresso near Pedro IV Square, Lisbon’s most famous plaza designed by Pombal after the devastating 1755 earthquake, and enjoy the statues, fountains, street entertainers, passersby and the scene. What more could you want… inexpensive wine – check!
Do NOT bring a rent-a-car to Lisbon, the driving is insanely crazy on crowded, bumpy, hilly ridiculously narrow cobblestone streets. Taking a taxi or tuktuk is also scary. We preferred the scenic, historic tramcars that have been plying the narrow street tracks for decades.
Just 20 minutes from downtown Lisbon, visit Belem Towers and the nearby Monastery of Jeronimo - The Cloisters an indoor outdoor courtyard of incredible stone carvings, gargoyles, monkeys and monks – oh my. This solace of peace and prayers held clergy, and sailors before they departed on their explorations. The Church next door houses Vasquez de Gama’s tomb, he is revered for first exploring Portugal to India. He established invaluable trade for Portugal (read spices, silk, exotic wares) and returned, De Gama died in India 1542.
Lisbon is an easy day trip to Evora and Sintra, and 3 hours to Porto and the Douro River valley where Portugal's unique famous Port wine is harvested.
Jeronimo's Monastery in Belem
Praca de Comercia Lisbon
Sao Jorges Castle Lisbon
Lisbon's famous Tramcar 28
April 25 Bridge and Bom Jesus