A true gem of Europe’s Iberian peninsula, Portugal always exceeds travelers’ expectations. It’s a near-perfect combination of lively old-world cities, sunshine beaches, winding coastlines, and food to make you weep with joy. A trip to Portugal is so easy to accomplish for almost anyone. It’s one of the most affordable international destinations you can pick.
With the new digital nomad visa in Portugal introduced as well, it’s easy to make a great and exciting new life here. No wonder it seems to make every person’s Top 10 list year after year. Now here you can see some of the top highlights in the cities of Lisbon and Porto that I was able to see if you’re in a time crunch. I hope you take your time and enjoy more of what visiting Portugal has to offer not only in these two cities.
Things to do in Lisbon
Considered one of the top cities in the world, it’s no surprise what you can find and see here. The capital city of Portugal, it’s all endless beauty with vibrant neighborhoods, museums of art and history, and high-quality restaurants. It’s perfect for a weekend getaway or longer. Living in Portugal is amazing and quite an achievable goal. With the cost of living prices here fairly reasonable compared to and lower than other countries, it has become a mainstay destination for ex-pats, digital nomads, and retirees. It’s the rich history and relaxed daily lifestyle and culture, you won’t ever want to leave.
Built along the Tagus River, the Belem Tower is an impressive piece of Portuguese architecture that was built to protect the city of Lisbon. It has been formally recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site as its construction was during the 15th century when the country was known for its exploration and age of discovery. Even without that noted reputation it’s still quite the site seeing it along the water. This piece of architecture was constructed in the Manueline Gothic style which helped glorify the 15th century.
You will have amazing views that make it worth the time to come see the tower and walk along the sandy beaches even if you don’t want to wait in line to go inside. It’s a perfect day trip where you can explore more of the area and other monument highlights like those below.
Praca do Comercio
An iconic square plaza and another highlight of the city. Originally it was the area for the main residence of the Portugal Royalty until a natural disaster destroyed the palace. From there it became the home of numerous departments of state. Its distinct buildings and impressive open space make it a hub of activity as you will find many groups of tourists, locals, restaurants goers, vehicle and bike traffic, and others passing through here. You won’t be bothered though so you can enjoy the views of the river and bridge in the distance.
This massive architectural landmark was built in Portugal’s “Age of Exploration” and shows the grandeur of how wealthy the country was during this time. It’s a part of the history of Portugal even to this day with pilgrimages being taken to this site. Not only is the structure impressive with tall spires and carved stone in another piece of the Manueline style, but its also massive garden exterior makes it a great bicycle riding area or just to take a walk.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
A behemoth of stone dedicated to great the explorers and adventurers of Portugal, this monument may seem like it could be hundreds of years old but in actuality, it’s only been around since the 1960s. Located on the Tagus River which leads out into the Atlantic Ocean. You can climb to the top which has a great 360-degree overlook of the Belem neighborhood and the water.
Other Stops in Lisbon
Time Out Market – This popular food hall is the best place to find and admire multiple fine food delicacies under the same roof in Lisbon. Considering that they are staffed with some of the best chefs and best market vendors here, don’t be surprised to find this place constantly crowded. They even have a cooking school located inside which gives multiple workshops from these top chefs so you can take these culinary skills back home with you.
Tram Tour – A great way to site see and alternative to a hop-on, hop-off tour is taking the trams through parts of the city. There are tracks built throughout Lisbon going up the impressive hills the city was built on. Some of these date back considerably but are still operational today. It’s a fun way to explore and feel like a local. Just don’t expect to sit down much as these are very popular so get to your stop early.
Things to do in Porto
Portugal’s second-largest city, it’s still on equal footing with Lisbon. You can soak up the good vibes here and with free-spirited adventuring to make this all worthwhile. The city is easily walkable so you can take it all in especially as it has been named another UNESCO world heritage site (Check another off your list). There is so much history here and it’s full of that old-world charm. Work up an appetite to enjoy the culinary delights. And of course, enjoy what Porto is famously known for…THE WINE!!!
Cais da Ribeira
No trip to Porto can be completed without stopping here. The promenade on the riverfront is one of the most popular spots in town. Colorful houses stack up along the water. Plenty of restaurants have great traditional cuisine and terrific views of the Douro River and Luis I Bridge. Or choose a nice cafe in between viewing all the small artistic shops and clothing stores along the boardwalk. It is enjoyable but you may find it very crowded as it is a big tourist attraction for the city as well as another UNESCO Heritage Site.
Walk the Luis I Bridge
An iconic experience for Porto, walking across the bridge on the top level lets you take in overlooking the city and water as a whole. At the time of its completion in the 19th century, it was considered an engineering marvel. It’s another popular tourist attraction as many say seeing the sunset over the skyline as you’re standing there is one of the best things to do with your time here. Crossing over from the Ribeira district you will enter the Vila Nova De Gaia district which is home to port wine lodges and warehouses.
Tour the Douro River
As the Portuguese have always been known as a seafaring people, seeing the city of Porto on the water’s edge truly makes this special. Get some panoramic views of the city. Taking a river cruise on the calming blue waves with a private catamaran at your leisure is just an extra treat that you can give yourself. If you just want to drift along the city you can take the day and head further down the river to the vineyards, or quintas that make up the bulk of Porto’s wine commerce. Jump off and take a wine tour to enjoy the scenic beauty.
São Bento Railway Station
Not just a regular train station in Porto, this place has beautifully preserved artwork on its walls. At this transportation hub centered in the heart of the city, you can see the history of the city along the walls in painted ceramic tiles of blue and white called azulejos. It’s enjoyable just to stroll through the station following the pieces from place to place. And you won’t just find these tiles only in the railway station. They are all over the city on houses, commercial buildings, art museums, and other cultural heritage spots along the cobblestone roads.
Enjoy the Francesinha
Amazing food dominates Portuguese cuisine. And nothing helps show it like this unique dish with inspiration from the French Croque Monsieur. This Portuguese sandwich originating from Porto became a popular choice starting in the 1950’s. Its delicious combination made it a top item for first-time visitors to the city and residents made it part of their weekly menu. What makes it wholly unique is the sauce used. Each location you choose to enjoy francesinha will taste different from the previous. They all want to showcase their identity to the item and this includes the various toppings used on your plate.
Top off with Port Wine
Once you cross over the bridge from Ribeira you are entering the Vila Nova De Gaia neighborhood which is the best place to spend a night of food and drink. I spent an evening at a quaint winery by the river to enjoy a sample tasting of the local Portuguese wines. Not being a wine person I wanted to expand my palette. You may have little to no knowledge like me except knowing the difference between white and red. I was pleasantly surprised when I sampled what Portugal is mainly known for in the wine community, Porto. This is a sweet fortified wine produced exclusively from the Northern provinces of Portugal.
Some choice locations to have Porto are at the mouth of the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia, the seaport where it was brought to the market and exported to other countries in Europe making it a central trading hub of the country. You’ll find that this wine is richer in flavor and higher in alcohol content compared to others. Adding distilled grape spirits to fortify the wine and stopping the fermentation before the sugar is complete with the alcohol results in a higher percentage. It is most commonly served after the main course as a dessert wine but I found it goes well with any meal.
Sample the ruby port and you will find it to be exquisite suggest this to start as it is the least expensive and most produced type of port. Its full-bodied fruitiness will leave you wanting another bottle as soon as possible. The Douro Valley is famous for being one of the oldest wine-growing regions and you can see why when so much good quality can be found here.
Your time in Portugal will be well spent if you choose these activities. This is just a small tidbit of what these cities and the country have to offer. It takes much longer than a few days to experience this place like a local, but we all do the best we can. Or use these as your starting points to have some wonderful day trips to small towns in Portugal. I hope you enjoy your time here and see as much as you possibly can.