Portugal is having a moment! In the last five years, seemingly everyone I know has been to Portugal. I have three friends who have moved to Portugal in the last two years! I’ve been inundated with wine samples from Portugal (which I write about frequently). And then finally – in fall 2021 – I took my first trip to Portugal. Then in spring of 2022, I made my second trip. And there will be more trips!
I frequently get asked for tips and suggestions of where to go and what to do, where to eat, drink, shop, and hang out. So here it is, for all to see! Feel free to share and if you don’t already have a trip planned, get on it. Portugal is one of the most wonderful destinations in all of Europe – full of history, charm, warm, friendly people and of course – top-notch food and wine.
I have no hotel recommendations, because I’ve either Air BnB’ed it with friends, or stayed with friends in Cascais, but I do have some fun activities!
Get your bearings with a half-day tour with Lisbon with Pats. Pats Madeira is a Portuguese native who speaks fantastic English, and will customize a tour for you and your friends. All we told her is “wine and food,” and next thing you know, we were meeting her and boarding a tram for the Belém neighborhood, where we visited Lisbon’s first urban winery (Adega Belém) for a tour and tasting (you can pay a little extra to get some food with your tasting,like bread, cheese and ham and call it lunch). Then we went to the OG bakery, Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, for pastéis de nata – the famous egg tarts that were invented after so many egg yolks were left after the nuns in the monastery nearby used the egg whites to starch uniforms.
Lunch at Eleven: Eleven is a Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by acclaimed German chef Joachim Koerper, situated on a hill with a fabulous view of the water and the nearby park. A three-course “business lunch” when I was there was €50 and glasses of red or white wine were €5. It was extraordinary!
My tip is: if you are taking advantage of the affordalicious nature of this lunch, do not deviate from white or red wine. Do not ask for a glass of Prosecco. Do not ask for a glass of Port with your cheese, unless you want the upcharge. Just stick with the white and red.
Follow up this extravaganza with some food shopping at El Corte Inglés. This Spanish mega-department store has it ALL! I mean, you could probably buy a car here. But there are really one two floors that I care about: the basement, which is home to the supermarket of my dreams; and the top floor, which has a bunch of rooftop cafés and bars, where you can take a break with a Porto Tonico. (If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, Porto Tonico is white port wine and tonic water garnished with mint leaves, lime or orange twists. It’s often served in a big balloon glass and is the most refreshing, delightful drink ever!)
I bring home as many tins of the store’s own brand of Spanish tuna in olive oil as I can, as well as saffron (crazy expensive in the U.S.!), Portuguese sea salt and more. Plus: there’s an actual bar near the cheese department where you can have a glass of red wine and an order of jamon Iberico.
Time Out Market Yes, people go crazy for this place, because it was the first one from the Time Out people. But I’m not a big fan of food halls like this. If you decide to go, definitely go off-hours, because we went at about 5 or 6 on a weekday and it was kind of a shitshow. It was packed, there were lines, it was challenging to find a place to sit and frankly – the food just wasn’t worth it. Go and have a glass of wine or a Porto Tonico, but there are better places to have a meal if you ask me.
Fado in the Garden at the Museum of Amália Rodriguez – Amália Rodriguez was a legendary fado singer from Lisbon, and her home is now a museum. In the back, there is a beautiful garden, set with patio tables and chairs, and every Saturday at 4 p.m. Tickets are €20 per person, and you can purchase wine or beer on-site. There are plenty of “dinner theatre” type restaurant with fado performances, but they are very touristy and the food is kind of mediocre. Instead, experience this traditional music for an hour on a Saturday afternoon in a charming garden!
Cascais is a seaside resort town that can be easily reached from Lisbon, on the train “The Ligne”) in about 45 minutes. I have a friend who lives here, so I spent considerable time exploring but it’s a great day trip if that’s all the time you have. You can walk around, have lunch, shop – it’s super cute.
My favorite place for a glass of wine and a snicky snack is The Tasting Room in Cascais. they have an enormous list of wines by the glass, the staff is super friendly and knowledgeable and you can get jamon, cheeses, tempura green beans (did you know that it was the Portuguese who introduced tempura to the Japanese? Yep, it was; look it up.)
A day at the beach is always a good idea, too. I can’t remember the name of the beach I went to but it was centrally located and for, I think, 20 euro, I got a beach chair under an umbrella and food and drink service.
This place is crazy. It’s a sort of national park that is positively stuffed with massive castles and palaces built by millennia of kings and other royalty who decided that the coast of Portugal south of Lisbon was a pretty delightful area. It’s like “Million Dollar Listing Portugal” with everything magnified in size and proportion. This Visit Sintra website is super helpful, with detailed and accurate info on transit options and tips for visiting.
Sintra is definitely worth a visit and my advice is: do not go on a Monday. I did – even though I was warned not to – and it was packed. Why? Museums and other tourist attractions in Lisbon are closed on Mondays, which means everyone jumps on the train to Sintra.
So pick another day, and go early. You can take a bus or train from Lisbon or a 45-minute bus from Cascais. It’s a cool place to see, and the old town of Sintra is cute, packed with nice places for an outdoor lunch and a little shopping.
Évora, the main town in the heart of Alentejo should be on any wine lover’s radar. It’s an hour’s bus ride from Lisbon, and the city dates back to the 1400s. It is charm personified. We stayed at Convento do Espinheiro about 15 minutes outside of town and I highly recommend it. It used to be an old convent and they built the new hotel around the original sanctuary and it is WAY COOL!
Rooms are beautiful, the cellar restaurant where breakfast is served is beyond cool, and there are wine tastings most afternoons. There also is a beautiful pool, with a bar and café.
From Il Convento, you’ll want a car and driver to get you around to wineries – or rent a car and have a designated driver. Nearby is Cartuxa winery, which is a large producer and a huge philanthropic organization, giving all of their profits back to the community. For more on the wineries I visited, click here and here.
Up We Go – North to Porto
We took the train from Lisbon to Porto (about 3 ½ hours). Take a taxi from the train station and consider staying at the Catalonia. This is one in a chain of hotels from a Spanish company and we loved it. The Catalonia in Porto is centrally located, within an easy walk of a ton of restaurants and of course – the famous bridge across the Douro River, to Vila Nova di Gaia, where all of the port lodged are located.
Back in the day, boats would transport the port wine from the vineyards, which are east of Porto, in the Douro Valley (where the vineyards and wineries are located). Today, the wine is transported in tanker trucks, and then racked, or transferred into barrels. The barrels are aged in the port lodges, and here you’ll find all the big houses: Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, Ramos Pinto and more.
After you walk across the bridge, look for the gondola, which will take you down the hill to the riverside. You’ll get a great view of the entire area (I kind of wish it went slower, so I had more time to take it all in). Your gondola ticket comes with a free tasting at one of the port lodges, too!
But your first stop would be …. are you ready for it? WOW – aka World of Wine. This is a multi-building wine wonderland, packed with interactive, immersive experiences, where you can learn all about different aspects of wine. At the main building (there’s good signage everywhere), you can purchase tickets to one or more of the experiences. We did The Wine Experience, then took a lunch break (there are 12 restaurant options, from seafood to steak to vegan/vegetarian and everything in between), and then we did The Pink Palace (I mean – if you know me … there can never be enough pink in my life). The Pink Palace traces the world of rosé wine, and as you saunter through the exhibits – WITH your complimentary Pink Palace Experience glass AND your pink bracelet, which contains little beads that entitle you to five rosé wines as you go – you sip and stroll your way into a rosé haze of happiness.
There are other experiences, too – about cork, about chocolate, Porto fashion and fabric. The whole place was conceived by Adrian Bridges, the CEO of Taylor’s, and I can only imagine he had made a visit or two to Bordeaux’s Cité du Vin (one of the first creative, immersive wine museum experiences built – it’ll take your breath away), for inspiration.
Anyway – WOW is a good fun half-day or day if you’re as into wine as I am! Save another day for visits to port lodges – see more about where I went, what I tasted here.
You also can take a boat trip on the Douro river, where you’ll see the famous terraced vineyards perched on steep hills and you can visit a winery for a tasting. I did not do this, but many friends have done it. There are tons of websites like this one and I know your hotel will be able to help book something like this, too.
After two days in Porto, we took a bus up to the Vinho Verde region, where we stayed at a magnificent hotel, dropped smack in the midst of a glorious vineyard. The Monverde Wine Experience Hotel is owned by Quinta de Lixa winery, and here, you can relax with a glass on many a deck or poolside patio. There are walking paths through the vineyards, an excellent restaurant, a spa and more. From here, you can get to many area wineries, to taste the region’s famous Vinho Verde wines and more. For a more in-depth look at the wines of Vinho Verde and what I tasted, click here.
I have many trips to plan to Portugal to explore. I mean, the whole country – roughly the size of Indiana – is practically a wine region! I want to explore The Douro and its intense red wines, the Dão region, and of course, Bairrada, where the Baga grape rules and even more in Alentejo.
I hope this inspires you to plan your own visit! Boa viagem (as they say in Portuguese!)