Porto, Portugal

If you loved Lisbon, you’ll be mad about Porto. Porto, or Oporto in Portuguese, is everything you love about Lisbon, but better. More culture, more history, more scenic views, more funky cafes and restaurants, and more beautiful historical architecture. Unlike Lisbon which was decimated in the 1755 earthquake (thus there are hardly any buildings in the city which date prior to this time), Porto did not have such misfortune and many of its streets and buildings have remained intact for centuries. You get this authentic, history and culture rich feeling about Porto, which is somewhat lacking in Lisbon. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Lisbon, but Porto has something more, something special.

Porto is also the place where port wine originated. The vineyards of the Douro Valley are world renown for their exquisite wines, and are connected to Porto via the Douro River. In the past, and even today, the Douro River was an extremely important trading route, taking the wines from the valley to Porto and beyond. Today there are many cellar doors on the southern side of the river, where you can taste and purchase authentic port wine.

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Getting There:
There is a frequent train and bus services connecting Lisbon and Coimbra to Porto. Ryanair offers cheap flights to and from London, making Porto a desired travel destination for Londoners in recent years. After Porto, I travelled to Madrid and initially considered taking the bus. However, I found a cheap flight with Ryanair, for 20 euros, to Madrid, so always check the flight connections, before enduring a long and tiresome bus trip.

Stay:
I stayed at an amazing hostel, The Gallery Hostel, located on Rua de Miguel Bombarda, in the arts district of Porto. The hostel was newly and tastefully decorated, spotlessly clean and they even organised an amazing tapas and wine tasting dinner for 15 euros while I was there. The hostel also doubles as an art gallery, exhibiting the works of local artists.

Eat:
Cafe Majestic: A beautiful, old world cafe located in the centre of Porto. Very ‘belle epoque’, you’ll feel like you are dining at The Ritz. A great place to grab a coffee and a croissant or a pasteis de nata (you are in Portugal of course) and watch the world go by.
Favorita: A cute little restaurant on Rua de Miguel Bombarda, serving a set lunch menu at a great price.
Casa de Pasto Palmeira: Located beside the river, this little restaurant serves traditional Portuguese tapas. Definitely worth a visit.

Shop:
A Vida Portuguesa: By far my favourite store. Selling traditional Portuguese handcrafts and products, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The building in which the store is situated in on Galeria de Paris, in the beautiful Clerigos neighbourhood, is exquisite, with timber floors, vaulted ceilings and an elegant staircase to the store (The Fernandes Mattos store is located on the ground floor of the building).
Aguas Furtadas Design: A fell in love with this store. Located in a small shopping arcade on Rua Miguel Bombarda, it is one of a handful of art/design stores in the complex. Selling handcrafted items made by local designers and artists, this store supports local crafts in the hope that they do not disappear. I had a great chat to the saleswomen about Portuguese arts and crafts. I purchased a number of items, including a beautiful Portuguese porcelain cabbage plate. If you don’t get the chance to get to Porto, they sell online and ship internationally. Visit their Facebook page for details.
Livraria Lello: I’m mad about books, so my visit to Porto wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this ‘institution’. Open since 1906, there is little wonder why it continues to attract customers. The Art Nouveau facade, the stained glass ceiling and the impressive grand staircase. Not to mention is amazing collection of books! Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed in the store, so I don’t have any images.

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Coimbra, Portugal

This city’s claim to fame is its university, which is one of the oldest in the world. Although Coimbra was the nation’s capital during the high middle ages, its importance was superseded by that of Lisbon. There are still however, many important buildings and civil structures, such as the roman aqueduct, which can be found throughout the city.

Coimbra is very much a student’s city –  young people from all over Lisbon, Europe and the world come to study at Coimbra university. The city perhaps isn’t as beautiful as Lisbon or of course Porto (my next post), but it has it own character and charm. It’s cafes and patisseries are full of local delicacies, such as the Pasteis de Santa Clara, shopping along Rue Ferreira Borges in Baixa (the city centre) is a must with all the big labels, as well as some charming boutiques, check out Mercado D. Pedro V for some fresh product, wander through the narrow streets until you reach the famous university and explore, stroll along the river and take in the beautiful views… You might even be lucky enough to stumble along some singing Fado of Coimbra (a tradition singing styles from both Coimbra and Lisbon).

I unfortunately was a little under the weather on the day which I visited Coimbra, due to too many crazy late nights in Lisbon. I only really had half a day exploring the city, so I felt I didn’t do it the justice it deserves.

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Getting There:
There are regular trains going to and from Lisbon and Porto to Coimbra. From both Lisbon Oriente and Porto Sao Bento the travel time is approximately 2 hours and cost 17euros. The inter-city trains arrive at Coimbra B train station. From the train station, take a bus or taxi to the city centre. There are also buses which cover this route, but they take a little longer and the fares are quite similar.

Stay:
I stayed at Grande Hostel de Coimbra, Rua Antero Quental nº196. The hostel has a very home-like feel to it and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. It is located in a quite residential area, but is within easy walking distance to the university and town centre.

Buy:
Coimbra is well-known for its handcrafted pottery. There are many stores in Baixa where you can buy it. Prices and quality do vary.

Cascais + Sintra, Portugal

Just  a quick little post about Cascais and Sintra. During my stay in Lisbon, I took some time out of the city to visit the towns of Cascais and Sintra. Although both a within close distance to Lisbon – about a half hour train trip, they are vastly different in appearance. Cascais, a former fishing village, has become a summer vacation spot for the rich and famous. Located on an L-shaped coastline, it has beautiful beaches on both sides, creating a very summer resort kind of atmosphere. Sintra, on the other hand, is located in the green mountainous hinterland. The town is surrounded by lush green forests and is home to many amazing stately homes and castles. Two which are well worth seeing and are open to the public are Pena National Castle and Quinta da Regaleira (my favourite).

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Essentials:

Getting There:
Cascais – from Lisbon take the train from Cais do Sodre train station. Trains leave every half an hour or so for Estoril/Cascais. Cascais is the final stop, so you shouldn’t get lost. The train take 30 minutes to Cascais and the train station is located in the centre of town.
Sintra – from Lisbon take the train from Rossio train station. Again, the trains to Sintra are very frequent and the trip takes about half an hour. Sintra is the last station on the line.

Eat:
In Cascais, don’t forget to have ice-cream from Santini. This ice-cream parlour has been in business since 1949 and is an institution in Cascais. They have perhaps the best ice-cream I have tried with some of the most amazing flavours.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is one of my favourite cities in the world (and I’m not only saying that because I meet my boyfriend there). The city really is incredible – the architecture, the food, the quaint little streets, the people, the nightlife, the shopping… There are just so many aspects that make Lisbon a must visit city.

I was extremely lucky during my visit to Lisbon, as I was equipped with an amazing itinerary which was given to me by some friends who are from Cascais (a seaside town located just outside of Lisbon and also the subject of my next post) for a four day stay in Lisbon. I had initially asked for some suggestions as to what I should see and do whilst in Lisbon, and in reply I received a two page essay on how to have an unforgetable four day stay in Lisbon. I’ll have to share with you some of their suggestions for places to eat and things to see and do, from a local’s perspective. I was also lucky to be travelling with a friend, who incidentally bumped into a Portuguese friend of her’s in Chiado on our first day, so we ended up spending the next four nights with him and his friend (now my boyfriend) partying in Bairro Alto or Cais do Sodre until the wee hours of the morning.

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A few things to see in Lisbon:

Alfama: The oldest district in Lisbon and perhaps the most beautiful. Situated on and around a hill, the district is a maze of small narrow, and usually steep, streets, which has its own particular charm. It has always been and still is a lower class district, but it is the richest in culture and history, especially since, unlike the rest of Lisbon, it was not decimated by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. From Alfama you can get the best views of Lisbon. The best viewing places are from the Castle Soa Jorge and Miradouro Santa Luzia (which I think is the best).

Lisbon nightlife: Perhaps the best in Europe. If you’re a fan of big nightclubs, head to LUX, Av. Infante D. Henrique Armazém B Loja 8 – it’s the place to be. But don’t arrive until 2 or 3am. If you prefer to bar scene, go to Bairro Alto or Cais do Sodre. The small streets in these districts are littered with bars, but everyone is drinking in the streets. There is such a good atmosphere, you don’t even realise the time going by, until the sun starts to rise.

Portuguese Tarts – The real ones!: Take the tram from downtown Lisbon to Belem – just west of the centre, by the sea. Visit Pasteis de Belem, Rua de Belem nr 84-92. This is the home of the original Portuguese tart. They still use the original secret recipe and there is always a line out the door. But they are worth the wait.

Out Jazz: Every Sunday afternoon, Jardim da Tapada das Necessidades, located in Chiado, is full of beautiful people chilling out in the park and listening to jazz. A nice way to wind down after a crazy weekend partying.

Shopping: Lisbon is a great place to go shopping. Aside from all the big labels, such as Zara, Mango, H & M, etc. There are a few beautiful little boutique stores hidden throughout the city. One of my favourites is A Vida Portuguesa, where you can buy also sorts of traditional Portuguese products, from sardines in a can, the porcelain, textiles, cosmetics, etc. Another store I fell in love with was Santos Oficios Arts, Rua Madalena 87. This shop is filled with Portuguese handicrafts, all created by local artists and art cooperatives. I bought a beautiful patchwork quilted bag. Devine!

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Places to Eat: I was given an exhaustive list of restaurants to eat at in Lisbon. Unfortunately, we only had the chance to try a few of them.
–    Pharmacia: tapas @ Rua Marechal Saldanha, 1 (make reservations +351 213462146)
–    Esperanza: Italian @ Bairro Alto, Rua do Norte nr 95 (makereservations phone: +351 213432027)
–    Buenos Aires Café: Really really AMAZING steaks @ Calçada do Duque 31 B (I suggest that they make reservations for a table outside phone: +351 213420739)
–    Lost In (for evening drinks or brunch/ snacks): Nice terrace with a view. To chill out @ Rua Dom Pedro V 56, Principe Real
–    Enjoy a bottle of wine or have lunch at Chapitô (in Alfama, Costa do Castelo, n.º 1 / 7)
–     Petiscaria Ideal (Delicious tapas @ Rua da Esperança 100, Santos)
–     The Independent Hostel (Rua São Pedro Alcântara 81)
–    Go for brunch at the Kaffehouse (Rua da Anchieta nr 3, Chiado)

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Essentials:

Getting There:
Lisbon is well connected by air, rail and road. There are good connections between Lisbon and other major cities throughout Europe. Lisbon is well connected by rail to other Portuguese cities – there is now a high-speed train and fares are cheap, making travel around Portugal from Lisbon rather pleasant. Unfortunately, we took the difficult and uncomfortable route on our arrival to Lisbom, taking an overnight bus from Seville, and getting little sleep in the process. Arriving at the bus station in Lisbon at 5am in the morning, having to wait for the metro to start to get to our hostel, and then finally arriving at our hostel and having to wait for a 10am check-in wasn’t the most luxurious of our travel experiences.

Where to stay:
We stayed at Good Morning Hostel, Praça dos Restauradores 65, 1250-188 Lisbon, on the recommendation of a friend who knows the owners. The hostel is extremely well located in the very centre of Lisbon, the staff were friendly and helpful, the rooms and common areas clean and beautifully decorated, and the breakfast of all you can eat and freshly baked waffles didn’t go astray. I have to say it was one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in.

Eat:
There is a list in the main body of this post of some great places to eat in Lisbon. One that I can strongly recommend is The Decadente, at The Independent Hostel. The decor of this restaurant come bistro is fresh and funky and the food is first class. For the quality and flavour of the food, the prices are surprisingly good – you can have a main course and a glass of wine for 15 euros.