I didn’t plan to spend most of my summer in Portugal. I didn’t plan to stay for nearly two months. But I did… and it was phenomenal.
Ever just KNOW you’ll love a place before you get there?
That’s how I felt about Portugal. Beautiful, affordable, sunny, great wine, amazing beaches? Sign me up.
Last year I spent a month in Spain – I know, poor me – and I kept hearing how every backpacker moving through Seville was heading to the Portuguese beach town of Lagos. And I was sad. Because I was going to France instead. (Okay, okay, I ended up spending a great couple of days in the Loire Valley and a week getting silly with my friends in Paris, so it was an overall win. I’m not complaining.)
So when I convinced my family to spend their summer vacay in Portugal, that gave me an excuse to finally make my way back to this much anticipated Euro-destination. Via Thailand, of course. Nothin’ like that Auckland > Gold Coast > Kuala Lumpur > Bangkok > London > Madrid > Porto flight path. (Yeah, holy carbon footprint, I should plant some trees this year!)
First Stop: Porto
Pushed out of Thailand because of that 30-day visa and needing proof of onward travel, we went ahead and booked flights to arrive in Porto a week before my parents. We rented a fabulous room on Airbnb just outside the city center (get $40 off if you’ve never tried it!). We stayed with two students and just pretended we lived there for a while… like usual.
Well, first we played tourists and ate our body weight in cheese boards and €6 set menus. Oh, and bifanas and octopus salad and these great Portuguese hotdogs… while we soaked up the amazing weather, sunshine, European vibes, and cafe culture. Porto is super livable, historic, and beautiful. It’s on the must-return list for sure.
Apologies if this post gets a little photo-heavy…
One of the days before my family arrived, Marko and I rented bikes – for €10 – and cycled across the iconic Dom Luís I bridge to the beaches just a few miles away, stopping in the colorful village of Afurada for an excellent seafood lunch of grilled fish, vinho verde, fresh bread, olives, and of course, the absolute best octopus salad we had during our stay in Portugal. (Just another reason to ask you Airbnb host where to eat every time.)
Shocked at the low prices and high-quality food, we just assumed, “Meh, it’s probably not worth it to try to cook dinner ourselves.” Fast forward through three days of eating like crazy people, happy hours, and just generally unhealthy habits, we eventually decided to set foot inside a grocery store.
And HOLY COW, what a value when we did! We were able to cook great, fresh meals, get amazing produce from the corner shop, and buy bottles of wine to eat and drink for two or three days (yea, both of us) for about €12. That might be the moment my Portuguese love story truly began.
My Family Came to Portugal!
But then your fam arrives, and the value just gets even better! Food tour, wine tour, dinners out every night. You name it, we did it. We moved into an amazingly huge art deco apartment down the street. Now it felt like vacation.
We toured the Douro Valley for several port tastings and a look at the gorgeous (super hot and dry) wine country just outside of town. That included a long drive through the valleys alongside the river, a few stops at vineyards, an enormous Portuguese lunch, and a small tasting of a €120+ bottle of reserve port. (Totally worth it, btw.)
Back in the city, we took the Taste Porto food tour to eat everything… and also hear about the culinary history of the town. It included a walk through the market and several stops around Porto, plus plenty of recommendations for eating our way through the city later.
I won’t lie, when I found out our tour guide was the guy on Parts Unknown who ate cheese and drank port with Anthony Bourdain, I was a little starstruck. (Yeah, I’m a total loser). We tried a meat-filled bread, wine, canned sardines (conservas), wine, espresso, chocolate truffles, cod fritters, sausage, wine, presunto sandwiches, and wine… maybe more. Can’t remember now, I’m getting too nostalgic.
We managed to find a ton of great food in Porto on our own too… with the help of my Internet sleuthing and just wandering the streets. Occasionally, I let Marko pick places to eat too. Here’s a sampling of the best:
Where We Ate in Porto (The Good):
- Casa Guedes – Must-eat, juicy bifana sandwiches, cheap beers, bottles of wine, and tasty meat and cheese boards.
- Murça No Porto – Several course meal with drinks, dessert, and bread for €5.50. Great old man serving all of the tables. We ate here twice.
- Snack Bar Gazela – Portuguese hot dogs, fries, and beer. Anthony Bourdain went here. Amazing.
- Mercado do Bolhão – Traditional market and a must-visit
- Tendinha Dos Poveiros – Cheap beers and snacks, alternative crowd, outdoor seating
- Casa Ribeiro – A little touristy, but great cheese and meat board with pizza and outdoor tables.
- Maus Hábitos – Modern place with multi-course menus and brunch.
- Leitaria da Quinta do Paço – Delicious eclairs!
- Cafe Vapor – Out of town, but the best octopus salad and great grilled fish
- Drinks by the river!
My only regret? Not staying longer.
We were there for ten days and I could’ve stayed on for weeks. Porto was one of the places I could see myself settling in and getting comfortable. (Wait, do I say that a lot around here or something?) It was an approachable city. One where I felt like I could pick my favorite restaurants and bars and become a regular. Where I could work in my brilliantly sunny apartment with the windows open. And walk everywhere.
But we had to continue onward to see more of the country!
Second Stop: Lisbon
Hopping on a quick 3-hour train south to Lisbon, we settled into another fab Airbnb with the fam for the next five nights. Of eating. Drinking. Exploring. Walking up hills. And just being impressed by the capital city.
So what did we do besides relax in our luxury spot in Bairro Alto and quickly finding magnificent viewpoints by the water where we could drink cheap beer from the quiosques? Well, we took another food tour (of course)! And I have to say, Taste of Lisboa was one of the best ones I’ve ever taken. And I’ve taken a lot.
Our guide was young, articulate, multilingual, and super knowledgeable. And even though we’d already eaten some of the things we tried, there was still plenty of new stuff… and wine. Ya gotta have drinks on your food tours…
Even better, she took us through the winding, narrow streets of Mouraria, the old Arab neighborhood. We took shots of ginjinha in a tiny local tavern that we’d never find on our own. We tried pata negra ham in a hundred-year-old grocery store, and we had bifanas (pork sandwiches) and sampled a few types of cheese in a traditional tasca. And of course, the tour culminated with the ubiquitous pastel de nata, the Portuguese egg custard tart. Everything was excellent. And we left with tons of recs for restaurants in Lisbon.
(When my friends from home arrived in Lisbon, we actually took them to some of the stops from the food tour. That in itself made it worth it.)
Marko and I had to get a little work done, so we let the fam head to Sintra without us. (Still not sure if I regret never going…) We also skipped out on the free walking tour. Hey, we were gonna be in Lisbon for another month!
While my family was there, we basically had tons of nice dinners out and roamed the busy streets, eating and visiting the hills, viewpoints, and crumbling but charming Alfama neighborhood.
We ate amazing lunches. And more than once, we checked out the Time Out Food Market. (So. many. options.) Yeah, it might be a little touristy, but it is totally worth a wander around. They get some of the best restaurants in Lisbon to set up shop here!
Just a little past the Time Out Market, we ambled down to the waterfront to check out the crafts, souvenirs, and well, the cocktails. We visited more than once for drinks, shopping, and plates of ham, because why not? They had plastic cups of beers, sangria, and caipirinhas for pretty great prices considering the view and the breeze. There was live music, plenty of people meandering around, and from there you could walk the waterfront all the way to Alfama. If you’re up for it.
Just a few blocks away, we also stumbled upon our favorite spot of the entire trip: el Miradouro de Santa Catarina. This was a viewpoint over the city and its iconic bridge, with bands, wafts of weed smoke, a bustling quiosque, and tons of people all crowded around for sunset drinks. It was incredible.
One of the best places to drink outside in Lisbon, in my humble opinion.
We only returned here, oh, four or five times…
Cool things about Lisbon, 1: Hanging out in parks and plazas and buying drinks from the kiosks while you listen to live music by whoever sets up that day. (At this particular one, there were lots of pints, jams, whiffs of weed, and great viewz of the water.) #lisbon #eurotravels2017 #daydrinks #lisboa
Along with the family, we also made the trek (Uber) to Belém to take a little afternoon cruise on a sailboat, check out the monument to Portuguese discoverers, and eat some of the best seafood rice of the trip.
Following their departure, Marko and I moved into an Airbnb with fellow UNC friends who were living in Portugal… and thank goodness. Sharing their apartment was much cheaper than finding something last minute during the height of tourist season. We were also able to move a little farther from the city center and check out the more residential neighborhood of Arroios.
We bought groceries, cooked our own meals, went on walks, and well, yeah we still drank outside at quiosques, but we were finally able to chill and get some work done.
Until my friends came…
Again, this post is entirely too long. I guess I should try blogging more than once every two months.
Perhaps one day, I’ll wrap it up by telling you about our trip to Lagos and Praia da Luz. Perhaps…
Where We Ate in Lisbon (The Best):
- Stasha – small restaurant in Bairro Alto, amazing mains, good prices, went twice, things like duck confit, octopus, steak, and seafood pasta
- Taberna da Rua de Flores – incredible small restaurant for lunch of dinner, always busy, veal livers in wine sauce, seafood rice, seared fish with pasta, all crazy good! Definitely a favorite.
- Jasmin da Mouraria – modern, great wines, tasty conservas plated amazingly well – great spot for drinks and snacks
- Restaurante 1º de Maio – a surprising find beneath our airbnb, great seafood, steaks, local vibe
- Restaurante Cantinho do Aziz – curries, samosas, and food from Mozambique, outdoor seating
- Time Out Market – crowded, but so many options
- Zapata – local seafood near Bairro Alto, great garlic shrimp and clams with pork
- Taberna Moderna – sleek, fancy, great cocktails, outstanding small plates
- Cervejaria Ramiro – On everybody’s list because of Anthony Bourdain, expensive but super delicious
- Topo Chiado – great views at a somewhat hidden bar near the convent
- Miradouro Santa Catarina – a must for sunset drinks, views, and live music outside
- Delicia de Arroios – tasty steaks, great service, cheap house wine
- Telheirinho de Arroios – service isn’t great, but good prices, must get the table steak and cook it yourself!
- Rose Stupa Snackbar – if you happen to be missing Nepalese momos, these are handmade and SO good.