When I Went: April 27-May 4, 2013
Was That the Best Time of Year to Go? Spring (April/May) is a great time to visit Portugal because of the slimmer crowds and mild weather. In late April, the nights were a bit cool, but the daytime temperature was in the 70s up to 80. I think June would be really nice, too, though summer crowds will start to appear. September would be really nice, too.
Why I Went There: I have always wanted to visit Portugal, as it is a little bit off the radar, and I have been to many other European countries. Factors that sealed the deal for me included the mild climate, unique culture, and historical significance as the epicenter for maritime exploration in the 15th century. (Vasco de Gama set sail from here in 1497 to discover the sea route to India, opening up a huge trade market and giving Portugal great influence and power.) For me, a perfect vacation includes elements of history, culture, beach, and food & wine. Happily, Portugal covers all four of these!
Who Went With Me? My husband, Ryan
You Won’t Want to Miss: Lisbon: Definitely do a walking tour on your first day to get oriented. The city is very hilly, and has several elevators that whisk people straight up from one neighborhood to another! Also, don’t miss the Museu do Azulejos (the famous tiles that Portugal is known for), wandering the Alfama neighborhood, the Belem neighborhood for the Jeronimos Monastery and Tower of Belem, attend a fado show (I loved Tasco do Chico in Barrio Alto), day trips to UNESCO World Heritage site Sintra and Cascais (beach town). In Porto, wander the Ribeira neighborhood on the river, take a one hour “6 bridges” tour to see Porto from the Douro River, take a full day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site Douro River Valley.
Eat Here: Lisbon: A Brasileira, a historic cafe for a coffee; 100 Maneiras, upscale casual spot in Barrio Alto with creative takes in international and Portuguese cuisine; Antiga Confeitaria de Belem for the original egg custard tart, a secret recipe here since 1837; wander Barrio Alto, a great neighborhood filled with bars and restaurants. You cannot go wrong stopping in at one for dinner and drinks! Definitely try the typical Portuguese dish of bacalhau (salted codfish) somewhere. It is on most menus. Porto: Book, great upscale casual place near the Intercontinental, which used to be a bookstore and the literary theme still runs throughout; Cafe Majestic, a historical cafe, for a coffee; drinks at the Intercontinental bar or on the patio of the Yeatman Hotel.
Play Here: Lisbon: Lux Fragil is the city’s hottest nightclub, owned in part by John Malkovich. But if you arrive before 2 am, you may be dancing alone. Also, try the local ginjinha liquor at A Ginjinha, a tiny walk-up bar off of Rossio Square that contains no chairs or tables! Porto: Don’t miss sampling the port at one of the 13 or 14 port houses in the Vila Nova de Gaia. You could spend an entire day touring the port houses to learn about the aging process and enjoying tasty samples of their port wine! Taylor’s port house was our favorite with great views over the Douro River.
If I Went Again: One week was plenty of time to visit Lisbon and Porto, the cities themselves, and all the areas surrounding them. However, if I had more time or were to return, I would love to visit Evora and the Alentejo region and also Coimbra (university town).
How Did You Get There From Dallas? American Airlines direct from DFW to London Heathrow, then London to Lisbon (operated by British Airways). Coming home, we flew Porto to Madrid (operated by Iberia) and Madrid to DFW direct on AA. Easy from Dallas!
Other Tips For Fellow Travelers: Lisbon is very much like San Francisco! Both are built on hills (Lisbon has seven), both are prone to earthquakes (one in 1755 leveled much of Lisbon), both have a mild climate cooled by ocean breezes, both have cable cars (Lisbon’s are trams/elevators), Lisbon’s 25 de Abril bridge looks like the Golden Gate bridge, both have great food, and both are located near major wine regions–the Alentejo is one hour from Lisbon as Napa is one hour from San Francisco.