If you’re searching for a vacation that’s affordable, alluring and adventurous, look no further than the enchanting country of Portugal. Influenced by the explorers who brought such a unique mix of culture to the country, we spent five days trekking between Lisbon and Porto, sampling the divine cuisine and wine, taking in the breath-taking views, and soaking up every bit of history Portugal has to offer.
Day 1: Flight from JFK & 24-Hour Layover in Casablanca, Morocco
There are many parts of Morocco I would like to explore, and spending time in the transit city of Casablanca increased that desire even more. Everyone, from the hotel workers, to the restaurant servers, to the taxi drivers who will shuttle you around to sights, restaurants, and stores to get iPhone chargers (…for only $40), is so incredibly friendly and accommodating. We had no issues getting from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the city, and then back again for our flight into Portugal.
Day 2-3: Train from Lisbon to Porto
We booked tickets in advance through the Comboios de Portugal website, but it is possible (and maybe more beneficial if you’re on a time crunch from the airport to the train, like we were) to book at the station. The train ride is lovely, from the bustling city of Lisbon, through the Portuguese country side up to the town of Porto. Restaurants are open late, and serve up delicious dinners and endless bottles of wine (try the port, it’s what they’re known for!) There are great self-guided walking tours on Lonely Planet’s website that are easy to navigate and allow you to see the sights of the town, and it’s impossible to miss the inspiration it afforded to Harry Potter.
– Dinner at Miss’Opo
– Torre de Clerigos
– Rio Douro
– Dinner at RIB
– Riberia Neighborhood
– Se do Porto
– Liveria Lello (GET THERE EARLY and buy tickets in advance! Lines are crazy!)
– Avenida de Aliados
Day 4: Train back to Lisbon
One of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Lisbon is a cultural centerpiece with so much to offer tourists and residents alike. I suggest breaking up the days into neighborhood explorations, and check out Lonely Planet again for walking tours that include multiple miradouras (lookouts) throughout the city. Be sure to invest in the Lisboa Card— only $42, it allows you to take any and all public transportation around the city, and includes your admission to several museums and sights.
The first day, we concentrated on the Alfama neighborhood, which holds many of the most photographed and famous sites, so start your day early, especially if you’re taking Tram 28. Decide on which historic buildings you want to tour, and put on your comfiest shoes- the streets in Lisbon are NO JOKE!
Day 5: Day Trip to Sintra
Sintra is a magical fairy-tale place with castles galore. The train from Lisbon goes directly into the town’s historic center where you can buy bus passes that take you all the way to the top of the hill and you can work your way down through the different sights. The bus runs in a one-way loop, so I suggest starting at the top where it’s less crowded in the morning, then spending time in the town center in the afternoon before heading back. Weather is temperamental, so be sure to bring a rain jacket!
Day 6: Belem neighborhood in Lisbon
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Portugal was because I saw an episode of Somebody Feed Phil where he ate these delicious tiny pastries at this cute little restaurant that reminded me of a less intense Cafe du Monde. Taking the tram from the Alfama neighborhood was a breeze, and I was able to fulfill my dream on the last night of our trip. Belem seems a bit older than the Alfama, but still amazingly beautiful with several sights to see.
- Pack for Perfection: When you’re traveling, you have to be prepared for any sort of weather, walking conditions, and your own personal comfort essentials. I learned on my first transatlantic red-eye flight that I need things like compression socks, noise cancelling headphones, dry shampoo and chapstick, for example. Make sure to bring close-toed shoes, rain gear and a converter charger if you’re going somewhere that requires lots of walking and long days. And don’t forget a cute little black backpack to hold your water bottle and travel guide!
- Do Your Research: I like to see EVERYTHING, but sometimes that’s just not possible when you plan a long trip in the matter of a few days. Research the sights you absolutely must see, then plan your lodging and excursions accordingly. I highly recommend using Google Maps and Docs on your drive (especially if you’re planning with other people); the Maps allow you to see where everything is in relation, so you can judge the amount of walking versus public transportation you might have to do.
- Set a Budget: Traveling can be expensive, but it’s an expense I’m willing to pay for in exchange for the amazing memories I’ve been able to create. With that said, I still want to be able to send my kids to college and retire and stuff, so we always look for budget friendly ways to travel, whether it’s flying out of a busier airport (JFK FTW!), investigating public transportation options versus renting cars, hotels against Air BNBs, there’s always a way to save a few dollars and see a lot more.
What are your favorite travel destinations and trips? I’d love to hear from you!