It was a pleasant 3:30pm as I stepped out of the metro at Baixa-Chiado, downtown Lisbon. Never had I felt so instantaneously in love with a city. I had just flown in from Porto and had already experienced a little bit of Portugal’s charm – colourful houses, steep hills and cobbled streets. But it was the addition of sunshine and bustle of people that makes Lisbon easily my favourite city in Europe.
It helped that all the Portuguese people I met on my trip were friendly, open and so proud of their country. The genuine happiness and excitement they felt when I told them I was in Europe just to visit Portugal, was priceless and just so warming.
Travelling alone in Portugal
That made travelling alone in Portugal so easy. It was so pleasant and I never once felt alone, which was quite different from my first solo trip to the south of Taiwan.
There was something I really enjoyed about standing on the busy streets of Lisbon and devouring three scoops of Chiado (milk and rum), pistachio and vanilla gelato from Santini (highly recommended!), though not before I took 55 photos of the melting ice cream on the streets, to get this perfect shot. It’s hard to explain what I enjoyed about that, but close friends would understand.
As I met up with other travellers (at Yes! Lisbon Hostels), most of us agreed that travelling alone can be very liberating. Walking for 50 minutes to get a gelato or waiting an hour in the rain for a dinner at a cozy restaurant (Bacalhau) becomes very therapeutic.
Wandering the streets of Porto
A lot of people asked me where my favourite part of Portugal was. I couldn’t think of any one place. The best part was wandering around slowly and aimlessly, getting lost and admiring the beautiful little alleyways of Porto and Lisbon.
On one of my days in Porto, I left my hostel at 8:30am, only to return at 10:30pm and almost all I did was walk around the whole city, covering some viewpoints and streets 2-3 times.
I first walked down to visit the beautiful Sao Bento Train Station, then had my one out of two daily Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Tarts) fixes at Nata Lisboa, before wandering along Rua das Flores, as recommended by Lonely Planet.
1. Ponte de Dom Luis I
It was my only full day in Porto, so despite the heavy rain, I slowly enjoyed the Duoro Riverside under my broken umbrella that was probably a lost item from my Hostel (I stayed at Spot Porto Hostel), before crossing the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge and hiking up a mini hill to Serra dos Pilar, because my Portuguese friend had labelled this a *must visit*. I must’ve taken over 100 photos; the heavy rain meant that it was difficult to get that epic “Instagrammable” shot I was secretly hoping to have re-grammed by one of my favourite accounts, @living_europe.
2. Port Wine Tasting & Tour
Anyways, it happens. It was still early in the day (pre-noon) and I decided to head down to visit one of the Port Wine Cellars. Calem‘s mini museum was modern and very presentable; it was informative about the key characteristics of Port wine, which I had up to that day still not tasted. Our group sat around a long table as we discussed our unexpected preference for the white porto.
3. Porto specialty “Francesinha” at Bufete Fase
I needed to go try the signature Porto specialty dish at Bufete Fase. I knew that no amount of walking could’ve burnt off the monstrosity of a “Francesinha” – a beef patty, sausage and ham is sandwiched between two thick toasts which are then dunked in spicy tomato sauce and smothered in cheese. So I was absolutely willing to walk 45 mins from the Port cellar to this very local cafe.
4. Cycling to Foz do Duoro & Seafood at Matosinhos
Finally the sun came out. As tempted as I was to head back to the hostel to take a nap, I couldn’t waste this beautiful weather. I headed back down to Ribiera and rented a bike for an hour ride along the seaside to Foz do Duoro – absolutely beautiful! I was meant to return my bike by 7:30pm, and with 45 mins to spare, I locked up my bike by the beach and thought… I’ve got to try one of the seafood restaurants in Matosinhos.
The dishes at Restaurant A Tendinha were super simple but perfectly showcased incredibly fresh ingredients. The octopus with Portuguese ‘green sauce’ was so delicious; it was almost melt-in-your-mouth tender. The fact that a huge plate of mussels, octopus, salad, too much white wine (~500ml) and couvert (bread/olives) cost me only 24 euros, is probably what I miss most about Porto.
5. Wine bar
I enjoyed myself a little too much at Matosinhos and therefore had to race my bike back before the rental shop closes at 7:30pm. It was an exhausting day so I slowly headed back up the hill towards my hostel, only to walk past PROVA wine food & pleasure – a highly recommended wine bar. How could I resist?
6. Sunset at Serra do Pilar
I loved that the sun only sets at 9pm during summers. After an hour lounging around at the wine bar, I decided to go back to Serra do Pilar to get that Instagrammable shot of Porto, while watching the sunset. It never got re-grammed, but it’s my personal favourite photo of the trip and one that I’ve sent to almost all my Whatsapp groups. Plus, I met a wonderful Taiwanese couple up there as we exchanged stories about our experiences in Porto and Lisbon.
Eating my way around Lisbon
While there are many specialty dishes unique to Porto that you should at least taste: Francesinha and a classic roast pork sandwich, admittedly the wow-factor of food in Lisbon was higher. And so eating and drinking my way around the streets of Lisbon was literally all I did…
1. Pasteis de Belem: The best Portuguese tarts
If you’re saving your stomach for only the best Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese tarts), then make sure you try Manteigaria (available at the Time Out market) and Pasteis de Belem (the original and best in my opinion).
2. Solar dos Presuntos: Traditional Portuguese dinner
There are endless lists of traditional Portuguese places you could go to, but despite the wallpaper of celebrity photos decorating the interior of Solar dos Presuntos, it was surprisingly not prominently (enough) featured in the typical recommendation lists.
We didn’t care that they only had a reservation for 9:45pm, their perfect execution of a generous portion of the Portuguese roast cod was unforgettable. But the best part was definitely being greeted with a table spread of bread, cheeses and ham (it’s automatically added to your bill unless you specify otherwise). The queijo serra da estrela is absolutely a must-try – this Portuguese soft cheese is perfectly funky, but not too funky.
3. Tapisco: My personal favourite
However, if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that my actual favourite meal in Portugal (and perhaps the whole year) was actually at Tapisco. Read the full review here.
4. Wine bars and bars of Lisbon
The wine is no question an unmissable part of any travels to Portugal. In Porto, an excellent glass of red wine can be only 3 euros. It’s a little more in Lisbon, but I think you also get better choices. Wine Bar do Castelo (in Alfama area) was quaint and the owner was really passionate about introducing the right wine for me. By The Wine is located in the more mainstream area of Barrio Alto, but consequently had a livelier upbeat vibe to it.
For late(r) night drinks, I was a bit too ‘aged’ for the bar streets of Barrio Alto, but we did love the equally popular bar on Pink Street, Pensao Amor. Finally, before I left Lisbon, I couldn’t not experience Fado – a strong, but kind of sad live music performance in bars – the one at Tasca do Chica is highly recommended.
What was your experience of Portugal like?