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a 10 day tour of portugal

I have just spent the last 10 days touring with friends. I’ve been fine tuning my itinerary and my “camp mother” tips…

nazare-beach

10 days is not enough! You will not be able to see the whole country without wasting large amounts of time travelling. And this is my Tour Golden Rule #1: spend as little time in the car (or other transport) as possible. You should commit yourself to either the north (north of Porto), the south (south of Lisbon) or central Portugal. This is the central Portugal tour. Well, more or less, because I include Braga, because it´s worth the exception.

Tour Golden Rule #2 is to spend lots of time relaxing and eating. Even with your dearest friends or family it can be hard to gauge just how many churches/museums/goats they want to see… but exhaustion is rarely on anyone´s wish list. Don´t rush them, they are trying to chill out.

5-essential-food-groups

Keeping visitors well fed and watered is essential, and Portugal makes this task easy provided you keep an eye on the time. Try to start lunch between 1pm-2pm and dinner between 8-9pm. Getting fed during these hours is guaranteed anywhere, outside these hours you can´t make assumptions. Fortunately tostas mistas, pastéis de nata and café are generally available at all times in an emergency. These disciplined meal times allow you space for morning and afternoon tea as pastries and coffee are a cultural obligation.

We start in Porto and finish in Lisbon. Arranging your flights and transport this way conforms with Rule #1. But whether you start with Porto or Lisbon is up to you.

Day One : Porto

I´ve been sworn to secrecy about the best hotel bargain in all of Portugal, suffice to say you can live royally in Porto and blow away your guests with extravagance, for a mere €83 (triple). After this, unfortunately, nothing else compares. Start hunting now… “Castelo” is your keyword.

porto-bolhao-market

Porto has too much to do in just one day… but here´s a bunch of the best: Ribeira district, Bolhão market, Palaçio da Bolsa, São Bento train station and Igreja do Carmo for azulejos, Café Majestic and Leitaria Quinta do Paço for refreshment, Porto Paixão for shopping. The top museum is the Museu do Arte Contemporânea, in a modern Alvaro Siza building and surrounded by gardens. And of course, there is port tasting.

For dining, head to the Ribeira district. The many restaurants range from rustic to fine dining. Take a wander and find your own.

porto-ribeiro-district

Day Two: Braga

My favourite hotel and restaurant in all of Portugal are in Braga. Hotel Francfort is on the main square. I go there for the furniture, not the plumbing, and for €15 a head no one complains.

The restaurant is Taverna Felix and I recommend you book ahead. They are full every night because their food is fantastic. Leave room for dessert.

In Braga you shouldn´t miss Café Brasileira, the cobbled old town, or a glimpse of the cathedral, the oldest in Portugal. But really you come to Braga to see the Bom Jesus do Monte, a crazy baroque staircase located 5 mins out of town. Take the funicular.

bom-jesus-do-monte-braga

Day Three: Coimbra with a stop at the Palaçio do Busaco

A visit to the Palaçio has been a nice diversion in the past but I don´t think I´ll bother again. It´s a stunning piece of architecture, nestled in a national park, but the €5 entry fee to the park and the bad attitude of the hotel staff when we wanted to have afternoon tea has turned me off. I suppose the time has come when the hotel is sick of tourists, and if they can genuinely afford to turn punters away, then good luck to them.

portugal1

Coimbra´s personality is dominated by the university, one of the oldest in Europe. A walk around the steep maze of streets in the old centre is a must and it´s best at night. It´s dotted with cool bars where you can mix it with the young people until the wee hours. The Baixa area is full of inexpensive restaurants and hotels. The outstanding sight in Coimbra is the Biblioteca Joanina, don´t miss it. Café Santa Cruz is an excellent place for people watching and for free fado on a Friday or Saturday night.

Day Four and Five we spent at my house… so here are some other suggestions because I can´t put you all up. You could stay in Coimbra two nights and visit the roman ruins at Conimbriga. There´s an excellent restaurant at the ruins too, with more spectacular desserts, mark my words. Suggestion two is Tomar, or Santarem. If the people like Batalha (see next) then you could also take them to Alcobaça, and Leiria is also good for a feed, or a shop or another castle. If you need a nature fix, go to Lousã, where you can stay at the excellent youth hostel or the adorable palaçio, or a least eat at A Condessa. From Lousã you can walk in the mountains and visit the Aldeias do Xisto. Only two days to fill, and too many suggestions.

Day Six: Nazaré with a stop in Batalha

“A Giant Hairy Spider” is how I describe the UNESCO-listed monastery known as Batalha. There is nothing else to do here, but with a monument this awesome, you need no distractions. The best café is located perpendicular to the cathedral towards the man on the horse.

batalha monasterybatalha UNESCO-listed monastery

The best part of Nazaré, apart from the beach, is O Sitio.  Hang around near the cliff walk and you´ll be approached to rent rooms, hopefully by Dona Berta, as we were. One knockout bargain two bed apartment (€70) with views,  thank you very much. For unforgettable garlic prawns head for Vista A Mar, the first restaurant on the way to the lighthouse (Farol).

garlic-prawns-nazare

Still in O Sitio, visit the tiny chapel called Hermida da Memoria, and then take the funicular down to the beach. Past the restaurant strip at right angles to the sea there are impressive pastelarias. The beach has very photogenic tents in the summer and a large fish drying camp, with some very tolerant local oldies waiting.

tents-on-nazare-beach

We were loving Nazaré, with our enviable apartment and gorgeous weather, so we stayed another night and on the second day did a day trip to Obidos. Obidos is more touristy than most places in Portugal, but it is very cute nonetheless. Get off the main path and you can avoid the bus tour groups. Up on the miradouro is a quiet, leafy and groovy bar.

obidos

Day Eight: Caldas da Rainha.

I love Caldas, where the daily main-square market, the park, the Bordalo Pinheiro museum and factory shop are on the agenda. In Caldas I love the Residencial Central and Café Central.

street-sign-caldas

Day Nine: Lisboa to stay, with stops in Sintra and Mafra

mafra-palace

The Palaçio Naçional de Mafra showcases the obscene spending of Dom João V. It´s a massive place with some lovely baroque living quarters, an interesting hospital and kitchen for the monks and a stunning royal library. But don´t miss the town of Mafra itself. There are more than a few quality pastelarias and good restaurants.

mafra-cathedral

Then it´s onto Sintra which has a choice of castles to visit. My number one here is the Palaçio de Pena, a mockery of a royal palace designed by the royals themselves who clearly had a sense of humour. It´s camp, disney and delightful but I hope the €12 entry fee doesn´t turn you off. It´s doubled in price in 3 years. I´m all for a tourism-led-economic-recovery but… eek.

palacio-de-pena-sintra

Day Ten: Lisboa

Again, it´s difficult to fit this great city into just a day. Three days might start to do it justice. Time to make the visitors commit to a return visit…

Driving around Lisbon will make you swear. Dump the car asap if you have one. Stay in a hotel that has a deal with a carpark.

lisbon tram

For an impressive bargain hotel you need to book at least a week ahead. Try the Lisbon Lounge Hostel or look at others in Alfama, the Baixa or Bairro Alto so you´ll have atmosphere at your doorstep.

Things I call must dos: Confeitaria Naçional: coffee and pastries are the priority, naturally. Tram 28 is in all the guide books, but note that the good bit is between Estrela and Alfama. As it doesn´t pass through Praça Figueira anymore then perhaps the short round trip of the 12E is more convenient.

The 15E tram from Praça Figueira will conveniently take you to Belem, where you can have a famous pastel, see Jerónimos for free, visit the Berardo Modern Art Museum and check out the Torre de Belem.

ceiling of mosteiro jeronimos

While still on transport, I´ve always wanted to take the ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas. A relaxing 20 minutes each way and great views of Lisbon. And for more transport-for-fun, take one of the four elevadores in Lisbon and the Santa Justa lift.

I think the Gulbenkian Museum has one of best collections in the world: Calouste Gulbenkian was a fascinating person, the collection is varied, not too big and ends with a stunning Lalique jewellery collection. Or if there are 8 yr olds to impress, go to the Museu dos Coches, (coaches, as in cinderella) which, they say, is the most visited museum in Portugal.

tiles-at-gulbenkian-museum

In Lisbon you have a chance to show off some amazing interiors over dinner. We went to Casa do Alentejo and Galeto, which in my mind is the grooviest restaurant in the world. Bairro Alto is the perfect place to window shop for restaurants and bars. Alfama too is dotted with tiny authentic places, and you can’t really go too wrong.

galeto-lisboa

Yeah I know, it´s all over too soon. A month next time. A year. Or the rest of your life…

19 Comments

  1. Ana Teresa June 1, 2010 3:23 am Reply

    Well, for 10 days, you have done a lot…
    I cannot believe that you’ve been in Lisboa and you didn’t visit us for a “Frangalho”, the best late night comfort snack in the world (not my words)…
    Are you curious now? 🙂
    Lovely, as always. Thank you.

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Maria Silva June 1, 2010 3:08 pm Reply

    Yep, Emma, very impressive for only 10 days… I read, with nostalgia, every word! Portugal is indeed a beautiful country and our history dates to 1143 when Portugal was founded in Guimaraes!!! Have you visited yet?! Next time don’t forget Alentejo and Algarve!
    A great writing, as always. Thanks 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Alexandra June 2, 2010 11:10 am Reply

    I love these posts! My husband and I did a castle tour around Coimbra. 7 castles in 3 days. It was a fabulous trip and most castles were just open for the public to wander through!

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Helder Carvalho June 2, 2010 8:38 pm Reply

    You should have visited Guimarães, one of the most historic and beautifull cities in Portugal, in 2012 it will be European Culture Capital.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 3rd, 2010 at 9:12 am

    good call Helder, Guimaraes is also very nice – I love that tall skinny cathedral in the floral boulevard…

    [Reply to comment]

    Helder Carvalho   Reply: June 4th, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    @Emma, you mean this one? http://www.flickr.com/photos/neobloom/3962465630/

    It’s called Igreja de São Gualter, the patron saint festivities in Guimarães are called Gualterianas and they occur every year in the first days of August.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://estadios.wordpress.com/

  5. judy hill June 5, 2010 2:18 pm Reply

    Dear Emma, Thank you for the beautiful trip Down Memory Lane, PLUS MUCH MUCH more!! Portugal is SOOO wonderfully decorated and tasty. I love your photos. Emma, I don’t know if you would feel comfortable asking at Confeiteria Nacional next time you stop by, but how are Meia Luas made. Do they have sweet potato in them? I tried to ask when I was there, but they could tell that I didn’t speak Portugues, and they were busy. They are the cresant shaped cakey fruit bread with the paper sleeve. I know that it is one of their specialties. Maybe secret. If you someday think of it. They are REALLY GOOD!! Thanks again for your great stories!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 7th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    right, must ask when next in nacional…

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  6. Emma Crabtree June 9, 2010 9:33 pm Reply

    I’m so glad you went to the castle in Porto. It is quite magnificent! And parking, free parking, in central Porto. What else could a girl need?

    I still need ideas for in-law sight-seeing at the weekend. So if anyone has ideas for things to do with 2 elderly and not so sprightly in-laws, that would be great. And before you ask what they like to do, they’re “easy, we don’t mind, dear” so I really need some help on this one.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.redboxvirtualoffice.com/blog

  7. Savannah ga June 9, 2010 11:34 pm Reply

    Wow I think after reading your post,you guys had so much fun in Portugal and all the pics are very nice.I will definitely visit this place in near future.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.savannahga.net/

  8. Emma June 16, 2010 10:23 pm Reply

    A find. Brasserie Paris on Rua Galeria de Paris. Incredibly charming, cheap wine by the glass and what looked like fantastic puddings. The dining room is lit by candlelight and they have old toys and shop tills and telephones etc. in cabinets. it’s just down the road from A Vida Portuguesa, which was closed, damn it! And so very close to the lovely Leitaria…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 17th, 2010 at 9:24 am

    HOT TIP. Let´s keep it secret, shall we? 😉

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.redboxvirtualoffice.com/blog

  9. Amanda August 12, 2010 2:13 am Reply

    Hi Emma

    I have just come across your blog when researching my (very) impending first time trip to Portugal. We arrive in about a week for about 14 days and haven’t organised a thing! We were thinking of following this itinerary. Just a few questions, how much of it can we do on public transport, or should we hire a car? Did you stay in a different city/town each night, or choose a few places as bases and do day trips – if the latter, what were the base towns/cities? Your advice would be most appreciated! Thanks

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: August 12th, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    you´ll get more out of the trip with a car. staying at a different place everynight is exhausting so I suggest a 1night, 1 night, 2 or 3 nights type rhythm… when you find a place you esp like, just stop and have a holiday!

    [Reply to comment]

  10. Judi Knoop February 3, 2014 11:28 am Reply

    Emma, really enjoyed your 10 day tour blog – very helpful. I’m planning to continue on from Lisbon down to Albufeira & fly out of Faro – any suggestions for ‘must sees’ along the way? I’ll have around 7 hours from check out in Lisbon to check in, so it will be a leisurely drive. I know nothing about Portugal, so hoping you can give me some ideas.
    Obrigado,
    Judi

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 7th, 2014 at 11:35 am

    @Judi Knoop, I like praia de odeceixe and silves’ centre is pretty cool. Watch that 7 hours though. Once you’re off the freeway it’s very easy for that to disappear. Secondary roads don’t look 10 times longer, but for some reason they are. However, you should see a couple of nice things before getting to Albufeira and Faro… otherwise you could be left with the impression that the whole Algarve is like them. I’d really like to see Mertola – it’s 2 hours from Lisbon and another 2 to Faro. I’d probably do that.

    [Reply to comment]

    http://www.myvagabondways.com

  11. www.quintadomjose.com July 25, 2015 1:37 am Reply

    Best secret place of Portugal: to well know the country and its roots, it is important to know Braga (city with over 2000 years of history) and Guimarães (the birthplace of the nation, with its beautiful castle).
    Suggested sleeping accommodation: Quinta Dom José Rural Tourism for a peacefull stay!

    [Reply to comment]

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