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Portugal Trip Report May 2023

Hello, Fellow Travelers!

Many thanks to everyone who helped me put together a wonderful trip to Portugal! We were there from May 8th to June 1st. My husband and I had a very enjoyable trip from beginning to end with only a couple of very minor “note to self” moments.

Traveling around Portugal for 3 ½ weeks was easier than I thought it would be. Hopefully, in part, that was because of my overthinking and overplanning (lol) but I recall thinking things looked pretty simple once I was actually in Portugal. It also helped that my husband was a master of routes and roads! And of details that I might not find as interesting.

Our arrival went smoothly. It took us 5 minutes to go through Customs and we were on the metro to Rossio a few minutes after that. The metro station was attached to the airport so that was convenient. It was a bit of a pain hauling our two pieces of small luggage but the metro was still a good way to go for us.

We enjoyed every inn and hotel where we stayed and would stay in any of them again. In times past we have stayed in AirBnBs but, in most cases, the lodgings were so reasonably priced we chose to stay in family run businesses and smaller hotels. As a result, we met some of the most beautiful people everywhere we stayed, often engaging in conversation over breakfast. The Portuguese people were so gracious, kind, and helpful. They were truly wonderful. We also enjoyed meeting fellow travelers from the US and from all over the world who added greatly to our trip.

In summary, we are travelers who love to get a feel for a country and Portugal had a great feel! It was beautiful north to south and east to west. We loved the people, cities, towns, countryside, and coast. We were so glad to explore by car for two weeks once we left Porto. Pictures and YouTube videos can hardly do the scenery justice. My husband said his favorite part of the trip was our little orange car and oh the places it could take us! Outside of the cities, the roads were very quiet, so much so that my husband asked me to take some pictures of long stretches of interstate, national highways, and country roads where we didn’t see another car for miles, if at all. As always, we appreciated life outdoors: walks, hikes, sightseeing, strolls through narrow, picturesque streets and alleys, and those delightful midday breaks resting at an outdoor cafe. I’m a sucker for small wooden tables covered in white/checkered tablecloths and big umbrellas. And for those family run restaurants with 6-12 tables! Freshness and uniqueness without the pretentiousness. What a joy to break our routines and have the opportunity to spend quality time together exploring lovely Portugal.

A summary of our trip is below should you wish to continue reading. Thanks, again!

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LISBON (4 nights)
We arrived in Lisbon on Monday, May 8th, and took the metro to Rossio Station. From there we walked uphill to Casa Balthazar, our lodging for the next four nights. The Inn was nice and quiet while being very well located in the Chiado neighborhood. Our main goal in Lisbon was simply to stroll and enjoy the city neighborhoods, visit Belem, and attend a Fado show plus take a day trip to Sintra. We purchased two Via Viagem cards at the airport and put $15 euros on each which was perfect. That covered a few metro rides, tram 28, and the RT train to Sintra. Our pace was very casual: Monday - strolled our neighborhood, Tuesday - strolled the surrounding neighborhoods and saw a fado show at the O Corrido restaurant (very good), Wednesday - went to Sintra for the day. FYI - I purposely bought 3:30p entrance tickets the day before we went to Sintra because there were so many afternoon tickets unsold. My thinking was that if everyone went to Pena Palace first thing in the morning (and the ticket sales were proving that), I should do the opposite. So my husband and I went to Quinta first, then the Moorish Castle, and walked from there up to Pena Palace. Despite the 3:30p entry time it was an hour later before we got in and that mostly had to do with having tickets checked one by one at the third, and final, entry point. Of note is that when we left the palace around 6:00p, there were hoards of people standing in long lines! My husband said it looked like things got more backed up as the day progressed. All in all, it was a good day and the wild tuk tuk ride from Quinta to the Moorish Castle was a highlight. We walked the trail back to Sintra from Pena Palace.

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COIMBRA (1 night)
From Lisbon we took the 10:00a train from Lisbon Oriente to Coimbra for only one night. I prefer to stay a minimum of two nights just about anywhere but this was what worked after having to tweak our flight. As it turned out, one night was enough for what we wanted to do, which was see the university and the old town. We visited the Joanina library and later attended the Fado ao Centro concert. We enjoyed seeing the university students getting ready for graduation and the Fado ao Centro concert was very good. We had until 1:00p the next day to explore more and to visit with our hotel host. We stayed at the family run Hotel Vitoria and it worked perfectly for our overnight stay. Many thanks to Carla and her family! We took the 1:30p train to Porto. This was slightly funny. Rather than boarding our regional train, we accidentally boarded the AP train that came a few minutes later because I remembered having purchased AP tickets. I was certain that I had. Well, I was wrong, and my husband and I had to alternate sitting in the one available seat the conductor generously gave us. I guess there had to be one mistake out of all those pre-purchased tickets and that turned out to be no big deal, thank goodness. FYI - There seem to be frequent questions about the Coimbra B vs. the Coimbra stations. They are only 3 or 4 minutes apart by train and the hotel owner said that most locals just take a taxi/uber/bolt to (or from) the main station (Coimbra B) to avoid having to wait for a transfer. So we acted as locals and taxied from the historic center to Coimbra B….before getting on the wrong train. lol….

PORTO (4 nights)
We arrived at the Campanha Station to catch the next 5 minute train to Sao Bento and boom…there was beautiful Porto. We immediately loved the look and feel of Porto and Gaia across the river.
We checked into our family run inn - InPatio Guest House. Fernando and Olga could not have been more gracious or helpful and the inn was perfectly positioned for sightseeing. And those breakfasts! Olga was the one host who took the time to describe each breakfast item to us and the region it came from. It was still cheese, meat, yogurt, bread, fruit…but more gourmet, and with personal touch, especially the yogurt! There was a lot of pride presented in the regional food. And Fernando would make coffee to order. It was a terrific start to every day!

This trip report would be even lengthier if I listed everything we did, but suffice it to say that we walked a lot every day and hit all of the tourist highlights with no issues. The only thing we skipped was the Livraria Lello entry. We did take a tour to Bom Jesus, Braga, and Guimaraes booked through GetYourGuide. It was a day well spent and our guide was great. Guimaraes, especially, was a beautiful place.

Upon checkout, we took Uber to Hertz on Rua Catarina to pick up our car and head to the Douro Valley. Clearly, anyone who was renting a car that day did the same. That little office was packed with people. We were there for about an hour and a half but I will say that the few employees working there were working hard. We got the brightest orange Fiat 500 you’ve ever seen. Everyone could see us coming! It was the cutest little thing that I affectionately called FiFi. My husband could drive and park anywhere and that made him so happy. Also, I could run my charge cord from my phone to the car dashboard screen and, voila, we had big screen gps at no extra charge. FYI - My husband had printed an American Express letter saying that we were covered for CDW insurance in Portugal but they didn’t even ask to see it. It was a hassle-free rental on the front and back end. We were very pleased.

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PESO da REGUA (3 nights)
Off to the Douro Valley we went in our happy orange Fiat. We stayed at a small Quinta, Casa Romezal, and Margarida was the host. She was one of the loveliest people we met in all of Portugal. We ate where she told us to eat and we drove all over the Douro Valley on small, scenic roads for 3 days. Our tiny Fiat pulled those hills and zipped around windy roads without fear to take us to lookout points where we enjoyed many birds eye views of the Valley. We also had a wine tasting at Casa Romezal with Margarida’s brother, Luis, at the end of one of those drives. And once we stopped at Quinta de la Rosa to eat lunch on their terrace and admire views without the wheels rolling. I certainly see the appeal of that place. The Douro Valley… All very relaxing, scenic, and enjoyable. It was even difficult leaving Margarida.

FYI - We had our clothes fluffed and folded in Regua for $5 euro and again in Evora at ADC at no cost because we stayed 3 nights and mentioned Rick Steves’ name (he said to mention his name for a free load of laundry). That was so convenient and helpful, and may have spoiled us for future travel.

TOMAR (2 nights)
We had a fairly long drive from Regua to Tomar because we decided to first go to Nazare, then visit Alcobaca before checking in at Thomar Boutique Hotel. In Nazare we only went to O Sitio and the Forte de Sao Miguel before having lunch. From there it was easy to go to Alcobaca and see the monastery. My husband and I thought the monastery was well worth a visit and the town was very nice too. I honestly was more excited to see Batalha and Convento de Cristo but Alcobaca surprised me. I’m very glad we went. Afterwards, it was a straight shot to our hotel and as some of you had warned me, there was a lot of construction. They were building another hotel around the Thomar Boutique Hotel and that looked like it would take a while. Luckily, we arrived for a two night weekend stay so there was no active construction. They started early Monday morning. I don’t really see the construction as a problem IF you’re going to be out of the room exploring for the day. Otherwise, it might be a challenge, but we enjoyed the hotel and their rooftop terrace with an honor bar.

On day two in Tomar, we had a leisurely breakfast then headed out to see the Batalha Monastery. Quite stunning, I’d say, and I totally agree with all the people who said that Batalha and Alcobaca are different enough to see each. After Batalha, we drove back to Tomar and had our daily late afternoon wine and snack before going to Convento de Cristo. Lots of renovation going on there as well but still a nice visit. No doubt that each monastery was impressive and we did not burn out seeing three over a two day period. We also enjoyed Tomar and thought a couple of nights worked well there. On departure day we had breakfast, strolled around the park across the street, and made our way to the car to head for Marvao.

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MARVAO (2 nights)
Marvao was included in the trip because it was our scenic pit stop, so to speak. It was the first place where we took a long nap on the day we arrived and just enjoyed being there. There was nothing more to do other than walk the walls and explore the castle. And stare over and over at the landscape from such a beautiful vantage point. A note to self…Consider just how quiet - and closed - a small town can be on a Monday. We arrived at Marvao on a Monday around 2:00p. Our host at Dom Dinis told us about the 4 restaurants in town but added they were all closed. And for that matter, on Tuesday as well. (Maybe not during peak season?) We were given the option of going to Spain for lunch (my husband and I still get a kick out of that) or down the hill to Portagem. As it turned out the host at Dom Dinis called a restaurant owner to see if they were open and would be willing to serve lunch to us. It seems that maybe one of the restaurants has figured out that they have a monopoly on Mondays (and often on Tuesdays).

FYI - I believe that Marvao could easily be done in 2-3 hours, but we enjoyed our rest. Plus, where else can you get in so many steps walking around such an extensive castle wall? While there, we took a side trip to Castelo de Vide which was very enjoyable as well.

EVORA (3 nights)
From Marvao we headed to Evora, stopping at Elvas and Estremoz on the way. The fort around Elvas is amazing but best seen from above to get a full impression because it is massive. I can now fully appreciate drone footage of Elvas. We stopped for lunch at Estremoz but I had trouble matching the online images of that town to what I was actually seeing. My husband pointed out that all the construction was a distraction. After lunch, we were off to Evora. We stayed at ADC and I particularly enjoyed the courtyard with a few tables and chairs, complete with big umbrellas. It was a wonderful place to sit, eat, read, chat with people, plan the day, etc. We easily hit all of the tourist highlights in a couple of leisurely days. We had our first highlight meal of the trip at Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira. Wow is all I have to say. I could not believe the amount of food and tastes brought to us over the course of two hours. My husband and I had a ball and it was so enjoyable for the restaurant owner to visit with each table throughout the evening. Also, a lunch that was worth standing in an alley was at Botequim da Mouraria. A husband and wife team. Another husband and wife team served us at O Trovador. I understand that the octopus is the big deal there but I had a delicious filet and my husband had the pork special.

We spent half of our last day in Evora visiting Monsaraz. We wanted to drive through the countryside and it was so beautiful. Vineyards, cork trees, hay bales, orchards, rolling hills, cattle, sheep, etc. Then we reached Monsaraz. I thought there might be a slim chance for disappointment after spending time in Marvao but the landscape and lakes around Monsaraz made it totally worth the trip. We enjoyed walking through the town and looking across the landscape from the castle. Very beautiful. Then we headed back to Evora for our afternoon wine/snack. We were sitting under an umbrella when a storm quickly passed through. It was only the second time we encountered any rain (the other time was Tomar as we were eating lunch under an umbrella) so we counted ourselves very fortunate. It just doesn’t help when the rain jackets are in the hotel room.

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The Algarve - LAGOS (4 nights)
Ah, the location I debated the most. Should we go, or skip, the Algarve? After reading more than a few times that the Algarve was just a beach trip, or even the Florida of Portugal, I was not overly enthused. We live in Georgia so we’ve had plenty of trips to Florida. When planning the trip, I told my husband that we could easily go from Evora back to Lisbon and catch our flight home from there. But, he liked the idea of a beach vacation after almost three weeks of travel and I did too, really. And he was willing to drive. Final decision… The Algarve was in! As we were heading to Lagos, I told my husband that he could look forward to parking the car for 4 nights and not worry about driving at all… that we could lounge on the beach as much as we wanted. Well, that didn’t happen! We arrived in Lagos, checked into the Hotel Marina Rio, and started exploring the coast around us. We were blown away by the beauty of the cliffs and the water. We saw Praia Dona Ana, Meia Praia, Praia do Camilo, and Ponta da Piedade for starters. The next day we took an adventure speed boat tour through the caves, including Benagil. We went to Sagres and, afterwards, had lunch in Salema. We took long walks on the boardwalks and hiked the stunning Seven Hanging Valleys trail starting from the beautiful Praia da Marinha. It was then that my dear husband got in one hour of beach time at the end of the hike. LOL! The truth is that the section of the Algarve we saw was so beautiful we just couldn’t sit on the beach. In fact, I was very tempted to push out our flight while at the Algarve so that we could have some bonafid beach time! I am so very glad that we did not skip the Algarve. It was sunny and a perfect temperature while we were there at the end of May. It turned out to be one of our favorite places and some of our best meals were in Lagos.

THE DRIVE TO LISBON AIRPORT HOTEL (1 night)
We chose to stay at the Star Inn Lisbon airport so that we could take our time driving up the west coast, drop off the car at the airport Hertz, and check into a hotel that was basically across the street from the airport. Our drive from Lagos to Lisbon ‘up the coast’ was stunningly beautiful. Many thanks to those of you who set my expectations that we wouldn’t be driving up the coast with an ocean view the entire time, rather we would be driving in and out of places often from the ‘main’ road. So, after breakfast in Lagos, we went to Aljezur and walked up to the castle to get a scenic view of the city and its surroundings. It was a very lovely place and we were glad we stopped. Next we stopped in Praia de Vale dos Homens. It was somewhat isolated with a beautiful, near empty beach, and dogs at play. So pretty. Then on to Odeceixe and the Praia de Odeceixe. The river, beach, ocean, and cliffs. The blue water. Wow! Then on to Vila Nova de Milfontes and its surrounding beaches. The river, the colorful sand dunes, the ocean, the town, the grilled sea bass….and that Caribbean blue water. Wow!! My husband and I just kept saying wow. Nature just showed out and we loved our drive up the coast and our four stops were quite different from one other. I see why people enjoy hiking the Fisherman’s Trail. Finally, we cut inward at Sines and had a couple of hours drive to get to the Star Inn. We arrived about 7:00p, turned in our car, and had a celebratory glass of wine and dessert at the hotel bar before heading up to the room. It had been a nearly flawless trip and we were so thankful.

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Your trip sounds dreamy! I'm imagining for my next visit to Portugal that I'll get out beyond Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto, so I'm bookmarking your report for ideas.

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Bookmarkimg also. Were planning on Portugal for Sept 2024.thank you for taking the time to write.

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I loved your report. I am very interested in Portugal for a future trip. I travel solo so I will probably take the Rick Steves tour though.

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2008 posts

Loved your report! Portugal was my first overseas trip, so I have a soft spot for it as that is the trip I knew I wanted to see more of the world.

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103 posts

Fantastic trip report. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.

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562 posts

We found Portugal to be such a warm and inviting country. So glad you felt the same. I would love to live there if we didn’t have family here in the US. Thanks for a great trip report!

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Thanks for the trip report!! I just booked my flights this week for my March trip. I am bookmarking this to read again as it gets closer to my trip.

Every time I read a trip report on Portugal, everyone always says how nice the people are. I was happy to hear you say the same. That’s one of the reasons I real comfortable traveling there by myself.

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Hi, Mcalico.

Having myself just returned home from a two week trip in Portugal, I read your account with great interest. Your journey sounds wonderful. Friend and I also rented a a car and ventured out into rural Portugal. We stuck primarily to the Lisbon area and south. We visited many of the same places as you did and found them delightful. Your account brought back many good memories.

One place you didn’t mention was Obidos, not far from Tomar. A wonderful walled city. As picturesque as they come! More than worth a visit if in the area. Just don’t try driving in it. Small narrow streets and nothing goes in a straight line. Easy to park just outside the walls and walk in. Well worth a visit.

Also nearby is a small city, Caldas da Reinha. Nice city though nothing spectacular. But it was there that we had one of our best meals in all Portugal. At Zabores D’Italia. Wonderful meal, stellar service, and at a surprisingly modest price.

One thing I would add is that if a person rents a car in Portugal, be sure that it has the electronic toll device (like EZ-Pass here in the Northeast USA). Many tolls on the major roads. The device saves you the hassle of stopping to pay the toll. Just drive through the “V” lane. (That’s the lane for those with the pass. I don’t know what the “V” means.). And I don’t know what you do in the many automatic toll collections spots where there is no option to pay. Hertz simply paid the tolls and then sent the charge to my credit card they had on account. BTY, driving in Portugal was easy, except in Lisbon. Overall, roads are quite good, with good signage. Lisbon, like any old European city, can be very confusing and has serious congestion.

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We are putting Portugal on our list and this is great info.
Thanks.