A Week in Portugal

A Week in Portugal
 

A Week in Portugal A Week in Portugal

Portugal in Seven Days: A Week-Long Adventure through the Heart of Iberia

In the grand finale of our European Adventure, we set our sights on Portugal, a country which neither of us had visited before. However, it held a unique significance for us, as my maternal grandparents had immigrated from Portugal to the United States before they met. My mother was the youngest of eleven children and as you can imagine we had quite a large extended family. My grandparents' home was the core of the family and the entire extended family would gather there often. Though I was young, the memories of food, laughter, music and dancing endure in my mind. Those days, a cherished part of my past, have been brought back to life through this exploration of Portugal, allowing me to savor those precious memories. As we walked around the city streets, I could close my eyes and hear my grandparents talking in Portuguese; the cadence and tone of the older people in the streets talking to each other was exactly as I remember my grandparents' lively discussions.

Our one week exploration of Portugal began in Porto, and then to the Douro wine region, a landscape adorned with terraced vineyards along the hillsides. Here, we immersed ourselves in the art of winemaking, sampled local vintages including the world famous port wine. From there we hit the beach Praia do Norte, in Nazaré in an attempt to see the big surf on our way to Lisbon.

Lisbon, the capital city, awaited us with its blend of old-world charm and modern vibrancy. Exploring historic neighborhoods like Belém and Baixa and the Praça do Comércio, we delved into the heart of Portuguese culture, indulging in pastéis de belem and seafood galore. The Portuguese have a myriad of ways to cook codfish, also known as 'bacalhau.’ No trip to Portugal is complete without sampling the bacalhau.

Our journey southward brought us to Portimao in the Algarve region, where Portugal's beaches and stunning rugged rock formations proved to be some of the best we've ever encountered—and we've explored numerous coastlines. The allure of the Algarve extends beyond its coastal beauty, reaching into its culinary offerings. From enjoying grilled sardines at beachside shacks to savoring the flavors of regional dishes like cataplana de peixe, the gastronomic experiences alone would make us revisit Portugal.

Trip Itinerary & Destinations List

The map image below displays our route and destinations during our Portugal exploration, click any of the destinations in the list to be taken to that part of this page.

 

Check out our video for a overview of our trip through Portugal and for some interesting information. This video is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.

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Portugal Coat of ArmsImage is the property of Parutakupiu via Wikimedia Commons
Getting Around Portugal

While Portugal ranks 19th in size among European countries, covering an area of 88,889 square kilometers, its diverse landscapes beckon exploration beyond major cities. With a width of 218 km and a length of 561 km, mainland Portugal boasts 832 km of Atlantic coast and shares a 1,215 km border with Spain. To truly experience the more remote and scenic locations, a rental car becomes essential.

However, for those planning to stay within major urban hubs, navigating Portugal without a car is entirely feasible. Efficient train and bus services link key cities such as Porto, Lisbon, and Lagos, and others providing an economical means of transportation. To explore available options and plan your journey, websites like Omio can be invaluable. Check out the bus and train options from Lisbon to Porto: Omio Lisbon to Porto.

Some Interesting facts about Portugal / Where is it?    Map

Besides our Portugal motivations from our family's heritage, here are some other incredible reasons why we wanted to visit Portugal;

  • Portugal has it all: historic cities, world-renowned cuisine, beautiful country areas with natural landscapes, and some of the world’s most spectacular beaches.
  • Once the world’s maritime leader and the longest-lived of Europe’s modern empires, Portugal has a complex history to explore alongside dramatic geographic landscapes, turquoise beaches, a rich gastronomy scene, and all the Port and bacalhau (salted cod fish) you can ask for.
  • Portugal won the "best travel destination" award in 2018, and after you read this article of ours, you will be able to understand why!
  • Nobody anywhere does custard tarts (or pastel de natas, as they’re called here) quite like Portugal. And perhaps nowhere in Portugal does them as well as Pasteis de Belém in Lisbon, which is why queues for the sweet, rich and perfectly crisp tarts often stretch along the pavement.
  • Perched on the western edge of Europe, Lisbon is the continent’s sunniest capital city, boasting an average of 2,799 hours of sunshine a year, beating out Athens, which has 2,771 hours of sun a year.
  • Thanks to the rolling swell of the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is one of Europe’s best surfing destinations with a wave for every ability. Best of all, the surf breaks are relatively uncrowded.

Perhaps now you can understand our enthusiasm for spending a week in Portugal, exploring it from North to South?

Some Frequently Asked Questions (we've been asked) about Portugal

  • When is the best time to visit Portugal: The best time to visit is in spring (March-May), when the country is in bloom and waking after the winter. You could also go in fall (between September and October) when the sun is still shining, the weather is warm, and many of the crowds have dispersed.
  • What Weather can be expected in Lisbon: In Lisbon the rainiest months of the year are December and November during which rainfall average reaches 5.039 inches per month. On the other side, driest months are August and July when the average rainfall is reduced to 0.157 inches per month.
  • Which Airlines Fly from the USA to Portugal: TAP Air Portugal offers direct flights all year round between the USA and Lisbon, and United Airlines offering flights all year round from New York to Lisbon and seasonally from other US cities.
  • Where is the best weather in Portugal: Portugal's location between Spain and the North Atlantic Ocean means it never gets too cold. The Mediterranean weather in the south means the popular Portuguese Algarve region sees consistently warm and sunny days. The western region of Portugal can see cooler weather due to the Atlantic winds.
  • What Portuguese Wines would you suggest: The diversity of Portuguese wines, and how each region of Portugal offers various types of wine, makes answering this question difficult. Please take a look at this article that provides quite a bit of detail on each type of Portuguese wine and how wine differs with each region of Portugal. We are quite fond of Vinho Verde (a white wine) that is good with seafood, chicken or pork. We would recommend "The Douro" red wine for use with red, savory meats, grilled or roasted.
  • Does the surf in Nazaré really get that large: Yes, and there is an HBO documentary titled "100 foot wave". We guarantee you will be astounded by the size of the waves that can be seen in the documentary.
  • What Portuguese Food would you recommend: It is not possible to provide a short answer to this question, and there a number of websites out there that have already done a good job of itemizing what one should try in Portugal, or what various dishes are. Our favorite site, because it lists not only each dish but where to find the best examples of that dish, can be found here. For the record, we have had most of the items on that list, and we can vouch for how good they were. We have had various pastries at Pasteis de Belém and we are convinced that their Pastéis de Nata are the best we've ever had.
  • What currency is used in Portugal: The official currency of Portugal is the euro.
  • Is Portugal safe for travel: Portugal is extremely safe. Petty theft such as pickpocketing can occur in crowded tourist areas, but your overall safety is never a concern. Portugal's crime index is 31.5 which is 28th in comparison to all European Countries. To put that into perspective, the United States has a crime index of 49.02.
  • What electrical adaptor plug is needed for Portugal? Power plugs and sockets are of type F. This socket also works with plugs C and E. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. You can plug in your appliances in Portugal if the voltage in your country is between 220 – 240.
  • Can I drive in Portugal with US driver's license? U.S. Citizens are entitled to drive in Portugal with their U.S. issued driver's license for a period no to exceed 185 days, provided they are not legal residents. If you are staying longer than six months, an International Driving License is required. If you do not have an EU or American license, you should obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you arrive.
Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, Porto

Our flight from Madrid arrived in Porto in the afternoon and, eager to reach our hotel in the Douro River Valley, we decided to skip exploring Porto on this trip. Visiting Porto and spending a few nights in the city is undoubtedly on our list for our next visit.

NOTE: The Airport image is the property of Pedroshin via Wikipedia utilizing the Public Domain License.

Douro River Valley, Portugal    Map

We picked up our rental car from Auto Europe, fired up our navigation maps, and proceeded to drive to the Delfim Douro Hotel - our first stop in Portugal. The stunning views from the rooms and from the pool area were welcome after a long day of travel.

Praia do Norte (North Beach), Nazaré, Portugal    Map
Above image is the property of Otávio Nogueira via Wikimedia Commons

After leaving the Delfim Douro Hotel in the enchanting Douro River Valley, we made an impromptu decision to pause at Praia do Norte on our journey to Lisbon. Our inspiration stemmed from witnessing the awe-inspiring giant waves being surfed in the HBO documentary "100 Foot Wave".

Lisbon, Portugal    Map

Entering the heart of Lisbon, our next destination unfolds with charming cobbled streets, a mosaic of culture, and an invitation to explore the vibrant soul of Portugal's capital city.

The Algarve area of Portugal    Map

After exploring the vibrant streets of Lisbon, our journey led us southward to the Algarve—a region celebrated for its favorable weather and the allure of breathtaking beaches adorned with mesmerizing rock formations. Portimao served as our central hub for exploring this coastal gem. Don't miss the chance to venture to the most southwestern point in Europe—the dramatic cliffs of Cabo de São Vicente, perched on the southwest tip of the Algarve.

Portuguese Traditional Food

Portuguese Delicacies, particularly its seafood and pastries, are beyond comparison. While French pastries hold their own charm, the uniqueness and excellence of Portuguese pastries captured our taste buds in every district we explored throughout the country. Below, feast your eyes on images of some of the delectable delights we savored, including the iconic Pastel de Nata and the flavorful Cataplana de Peixe.

Pastéis de Nata - these are from Pasteis de Belém which is considered to make the best in Lisbon

More great pastries - don't remember the name, but they were awesome!

Cataplana de Peixe - a Portuguese fish stew made in a special cookware called a cataplana.

 Pastel de Nata Quick History Lesson 

Pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. These monks were originally based in France where these pastries could be found in local bakeries. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns' habits. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.

Following the extinction of the religious orders and in the face of the impending closure of many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling pastéis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834, the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The descendants own the business to this day.

Click here to view the complete Wikipedia Article about these amazing pastries.

Now as you have read on this page that we had a rental car while in Portugal, and so you can imagine that we had to stop for gasoline, or rest rooms, etc, at various locations throughout Portugal right? At every rest stop or gas station that we visited, there would be an espresso bar. So during most of these stops we would have an espresso with a pastry, and each & every time it was absolutely delicious!

The point we want to leave you with, is that Portugal Service Station food & coffee is miles & miles better than what you can find in the USA ! Do yourself a favor and give it a try.

Driving in Portugal
  • Driving in Portugal is similar to driving in the USA; the freeways ("Autoestrada") are very similar, the information signs are easily understood, and the speed limits are easy to discern. Speed limits are in kilometers per hour, multiply by 60% to derive MPH.
  • Driving in any European City is a lesson in patience and bravery. Traffic in Lisbon & Belém was thick, but most drivers were disciplined.
  • Driving in Portimão was straight forward, but getting to our VRBO rental from the highway definitely required use of a mapping system. We had retired our Tom-Tom mapping device, and only used cell phone based mapping to navigate everywhere.
  • Portugal uses tolls, and there are several methods they utilize to collect toll monies. You need to make sure that your rental vehicle is equipped with an RFID unit. Click here to go to the Portugal Tolls Website to check the current rules.
  • There are two types of highway toll collections in Portugal, Electronic Tolls and Cash/Card Payments. For lanes that are marked ‘Via Verde’, you need an electronic transponder in your car. If you’re renting the car, your car rental company will be able to rent you a transponder. For all other lanes, you should go through the toll booths. You should be aware that non-Portuguese debit and credit cards don’t always work in the toll machines, so you should always have some cash & coins ready.
Consider a "City Card" for Lisbon
Card Benefits
  • Unlimited free travel by bus, metro, tram and elevators.
  • Entry to 35 museums, attractions & UNESCO-listed sites.
  • Skip-the-line at Mosterio dos Jerónimos Archeology Museum.
  • Free travel on CP train lines to Sintra and Cascais.
  • Guidebook & discounts at participating shops.
  • The Lisboa Card is valid for a full calendar year after its purchase date (just in case you need to postpone your trip), and is validated upon its first use.
  • Click here to go to their website.

NOTE: Below are some useful links where you can find even more information about the areas we have described on this page;

  • Just Traveling Thru European Travel Tips
  • Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
  • The Ultimate Guide to Lisbon’s Iconic Egg Tarts on the 'Eater Travel' Site
  • Delfim Douro Hotel
  • Train and Bus Reservations in Portugal
  • The Top 10 Things To See And Do In The Douro Valley
  • Google Search Results List for "Accommodations in the Duoro Valley"
  • Wineries in Douro Valley area on the "Wine Tourism" site
  • Lisbon History on the Wikipedia Site
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Lisbon"
  • Google Search Results list for "restaurants in Lisbon"
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Cascais"
  • Google Search Results list for "Restaurants in Cascais"
  • Portimão Information on the "Wikipedia" site
  • Portimão in-depth article on the "Algarve Tourist" site
  • Portimão in-depth article on the "Lonely Planet" site
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Portimao"
  • Sagres on the "Wikipedia" site
  • Travel in Sagres Article on the "Travel in Portugal" site
  • Google Search Results List for "Restaurants in Portimão"
  • Lisbon City Walking Tour w/Food Tasting & Drinks from "Get Your Guide"
  • Youtube Search Results list for "Portugal"
  • Amazon Search Results list for "Portugal"
  • Visit our Youtube Channel
  • View our Portugal Image Gallery
 Lisbon Airport Warning 

The Lisbon International Airport is extremely crowded with vehicles, and the Rental Car Return Center is very close to the Airport entrance. Be very careful driving in the Airport, and look for the signs to direct you to the Rental Car Return Center.

We entered the Airport area on Avenue Berlim because we had to fill our rental car gas tank, and the only gas station was a BP station (on the south side of Avenue Berlim as you enter the Airport). All of the car rental companies are located in a single building, located adjacent to the Airport Terminal One building. What we discovered was that the Car Return Building signs were not obvious as we exited the gas station, and we wound up exiting the Airport and upon returning, we found the signs to the Car Return area could be seen!

Trip Overview
Paris
Mont Saint-Michel
Nice, France
Monaco
Madrid, Spain
Portugal
Duoro River Valley, Portugal
Praia do Norte, Nazaré
Lisbon Portugal
Portimão Portugal
 
 

 

 

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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

Note: If you are interested, click here to view our European Travel Tips & Warnings. Or to take a look at our methods for planning, click here to view our Trip Planning Page..

 
 
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