Trip To Lisbon and Porto — Portugal Is Amazing!

I just wrapped up an incredible week in Portugal.

As I explained a week ago, I booked my trip to Lisbon on a whim. I figured I might as well review TAP Portugal’s business class, and Lisbon was on my list of places to see. Not at the top of the list, but it was on there.

Lisbon-Portugal-1
Lisbon

After four days in Lisbon I decided to take a side trip to Porto, which is a three hour train ride north of Lisbon. I can’t say I had heard much about Porto before, but I figured while I was in Portugal I might as well check it out.

All I can say about Portugal is wow, wow, wow! I think it might just be the most underrated country I’ve been to. Europeans have caught on and it’s a popular tourist destination for those from neighboring countries, but I saw virtually no US tourists.

Lisbon-Portugal-2
Lisbon

Lisbon was gorgeous, but Porto was just something else.

So what makes Portugal so awesome?

The people are extremely friendly… and honest!

The day I landed in Lisbon I wrote a post about how suspiciously friendly the taxi driver was. Well, I found that to be the case without exception during my week-long stay there. Everyone was just so friendly.

And beyond that – and this is just as important, in my opinion – everyone was honest. I don’t remember the last place in Europe I’ve been where someone didn’t try to scam me at least once. Not once during my week in Portugal did anyone try to scam me.

Portugal is reasonably priced

At the end of the day things are priced in EUR so it wasn’t cheap in absolute terms, but compared to everywhere else in Europe this time of year it was.

For example, I paid 99EUR for the Sheraton Porto, where I was upgraded to an executive suite. A 20 minute taxi drive cost ~8EUR. And food and drinks were generally reasonably priced.

It’s not overrun with tourists

Last month when I was in Amsterdam I mentioned how it almost wasn’t enjoyable due to the number of tourists. In Amsterdam I literally heard more people on the street speaking “American English” than anything else.

In Lisbon I overheard maybe a handful of American tourists, and in Porto didn’t overhear a single tourist speaking any sort of English. Like, literally.

It’s nice to be able to travel to a gorgeous city in Europe in summer and not feel like it’s way overcrowded.

Porto is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to

As I said above, Lisbon was beautiful, but Porto was just something else. It’s set on a beautiful river with a quaint old town, tons of amazing architecture, great food (and port!), scenic bridges, beaches, and castles.

Porto-Portugal-3
Porto

Porto-Portugal-1
Porto

Porto-Portugal-2
Porto

Porto-Portugal-4
Porto

Bottom line

When I talk to Americans about where they plan their European summer vacations to, I’d say it’s Amsterdam, London, Paris, or Rome 90% of the time. Porto is in my opinion at least as amazing as any of those cities, at a fraction of the cost and with a fraction of the tourists.

I’ll have a full trip report soon and will share more thoughts soon, but definitely visit Portugal, and especially Porto. I almost stumbled into this trip by mistake, and couldn’t have been happier about it.

For that matter, I’m revising my European travel plans from hereon out. In the past I’d try to hit the “big” cities, but after my recent travels I’ve found smaller cities to be so much charming. For example, in the past year the “smaller” European cities I’ve been to include Edinburgh, Lisbon, Porto, Salzburg, and I loved them all.

My travel is about to get even more exciting as I hit a “bucket list” destination next. Stay tuned for more on that shortly!

Comments

  1. Nice report !

    Hopefully, in Porto, you had the time to have a meal, or spend an evening, by the river in one of the many restaurants, bars and cafes.

    Porto’s metro system, fully integrated with the rail system and buses, is also great for those in a budget; Travels fast and goes to far distant spots with their day pass.

    By now you ought to be an expert in Porto wines, their differences and tastes, should you have visited one of the many cellars and attended their seminars for visitors…

    Cheers

  2. I’m American but spent a year living in Galicia, Spain just north of Porto. Porto was the first place I ever visited in Portugal (ironically due to being unable to land in Santiago de Compostela due to thick fog), and I love it! Sunwing, a Canadian carrier, was offering nonstop tickets in economy for $122 ow between Porto and Toronto two years ago for peak summer travel, so it was a cheap way to get to Europe that summer too. You should go back to Portugal. There are so many other amazing places to discover, such as the Algarve region (Faro has one of the best seafood markets I’ve visited and Lagos has a stunning coastline). And you wouldn’t have heard me speaking American English in Porto, just Brazilian Portuguese with an American accent 🙂 Greetings from Bellevue.

  3. Portugal is my 2nd most favorite country after Iceland…
    Like you said.. Portugal is amazing and not many tourists…

  4. Lucky–

    Have you ever been to Croatia? It is a lot like how you describe Portugal, with a couple of minor exceptions. I loved it, my favorite place I’ve been in Europe. Finding those off-the-beaten path places is something to celebrate.

  5. Porto is amazing! The one downside is the location of the Sheraton is not that great – the Intercontinental is much better located. Hopefully you had time for some egg tarts and an afternoon in the Portugese cafes…

  6. You haven’t been to Salzkammergut Region of Austria, Bernese Oberland in Switzerland (Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Wengen, Murren), Lake Como, or Zermatt. That’s where the best of Europe is really 🙂 Sure it is hard to fly in on miles or use points for hotels, but I believe you are really missing out on a lot by not going there. I will have reviews about these places up pretty soon.

  7. Porto sounds fantastic. I have also found the smaller cities to be more enjoyable overall. Toulouse, in southern France is a favorite in this regard. Beautiful city in its own right, and well located for day trips to Foix, Carcassone, Albi, and more.

  8. Southern Spain… Seville, Cordoba, Granada are amazing as well. Very different from the typical touristy image of Barcelona!

  9. Hi Ben, too bad you did not check out 2 of the most beautiful European cities during your recent Tomorrowland trip to Belgium: Ghent and Bruges are some of the best preserved medieval cities in the Old Continent. Visit them next time you are in our liliput nation 🙂

  10. How long did you spend in Lisbon and Porto? What do people think is reasonable to get a “taste” for someone who has limited vacation time?

  11. We just returned from a few days in Porto where we stayed at the Intercontinental. We agree with everything you mentioned about Porto! Looks like we visited the same locations.

  12. Bremen is another great small city in Europe to explore……..lived there 3 years and found it wonderful!

  13. @ Andrew M — Yes, had more egg tarts than I can count, sadly. Agree the Sheraton location isn’t great, but didn’t mind taking a taxi into town in order to earn Starpoints and get elite benefits.

  14. @ Eddy — I did four nights in Lisbon and two in Porto. I’d say two in each is perfect, if you’re a “quick” tourist and the weather cooperates.

  15. I spent a week in Braga a few years ago. No tourists. Great food and wine reasonably priced. Liked it a lot more than Porto or Lisbon.

  16. Ive lived 6 months in Porto and also think its the best city in the country.
    Nice to see some pictures and realize nothin has changed in the past 4 years

  17. As well as smaller cities look at travelling off season. I d lived in Italy for a while and travelling around in autumn and winter was a delight, especially mid week. Cites that were heavy morasses in the summer were delightful. Sure, the weather isn’t as great but it can still be good. (I’ve eaten Christmas dinner out of doors in Tuscany, even if the locals thought we were crazy).

    Some other smaller cities worth visiting:

    Interlaken
    Seville
    Mulhouse
    Verona
    Tirano
    San Sebastián
    Santiago
    Bordeaux
    Nimes
    Torino (Alba, Asti, coumeyeur as well)
    Girona
    Gerona
    Valencia
    Durham
    Sheffield
    York
    Belfast
    Liverpool
    Kuopio
    Tallinn

  18. We were in Portugal in July, as well. We agree with your glowing report about Portugal. In our case, we were in Spain prior to going to Portugal. We drove from Madrid to Northern Portugal, actually staying in about an hour away from Porto in Barcelinos at Quinta da Franqueria (www.quintadafranqueira.com) for three nights. It’s a lovely bed and breakfast in a refurbished monastery. The grounds were beautiful. The pool was filled by a natural spring. Barcelinos was a neat little town with excellent food. From there, we visited Porto twice. Then we stayed at a Marriott in Obidos (Praia del Rey). The property reminded us of a US resort but what we really enjoyed was the city of Obidos, which happened to have a festival when we were there. Our last days were in Lisbon, and we concur with your assessment of the city. The highlights were when we just went to a street café and listened to live music, and Pasteis de Belem. It’s worth the trip to the café where they make the wonderful dessert in Belem.

  19. We had 2 weeks in Lisbon earlier this year and absolutely loved the place. We figure it’s the hidden jewel of Europe and agree that we found the people to be delightful, prices were reasonable and who can say no to an egg targ.

  20. I agree with virtually all you have said about Portugal; however, a major disagreement about airport taxis in Lisbon – they are notorious for tourist ripoffs. Search Google. We had 3 parties arriving in separate cabs – all 3 charged 28 euros into town – at least double the normal rate (as we found out later).

  21. Nice to read about. Lisbon and Porto are definitely high up there on the list, and now moving even higher! (But, first, must burn points in Amsterdam and Milan over the next two summers …)

  22. Portugal – my second country – is indeed amazing, when you hit the historical villages such as Sortelha, Linhares, Monsanto, Monsaraz, it is impossible not to love the country.

    Not sure if it is because I always lived in big cities, but I have developed recently the passion to travel to small towns and the countryside. For instance in Italy, I am in complete love with Umbria that is as beautiful as Tuscany, but more affordable and with fewer tourists.

    But I still think that Lisbon is the most gorgeous place on earth and that’s the place I want to retire!

  23. Also, just wanted to comment that it’s nice to see you actually sightseeing for a change. I nearly always read about you taking a super quick flight, or like a ton of flights, and staying in hotels rather than getting to see any of the cities you go to.

  24. I got so happy to see that you end up in Porto/Oporto. The Douro River separating Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia is just amazing. And all those bridges!
    I’d love to read your review and comments about Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport (OPO).

    Saudações!

  25. @ Joe — I always do sightsee, the question is whether or not I write about. The destinations aren’t the focus of the blog, because I think there are a million better resources out there for them. I do what I can to focus my blog energy on areas where I think I can actually be the best resource, which would be airlines and hotels. But I appreciate it! 🙂

  26. Porto was considered the best city to visit in 2012 and 2014 by Conde Naste. Great food, wine and very nice people.
    its very cheap place compared to the rest of Europe and has its romantic sides.
    A lot of people choose Portugal to live and then to retire cause they wont pay taxes ( if they are foreigners) . Enjoy your travels and go back to Portugal and specially to Porto 😉

  27. Oh, you’re making me want to go back! A weekend in Lisbon wasn’t nearly long enough. Alas, not enough vacation days right now and too many places to see. Going to Austria for Christmas, so I’ll get to check out Innsbruck and Salzburg too.

  28. Hey Lucky, I thought you would like it. Am currently in Lisbon. I am Portuguese Canadian and spent 3 Weeks near a town called Monção in the north of Portugal at my Grandmother’s house about 4 hours north of Lisbon. It is truly beautiful up there. Lush rolling mountains covered in terraces where grapes grow and a day trip to Gerês inland in the more mountainous areas. The beaches along the Atlantic like Vila Praia de Ancôra are beautiful and far underrated. Overall I am very proud of my heritage (even with the severe economic deficit).

  29. Ben, Portugal is indeed a beautiful country, and I always like to go there on a short vacation. I usually rent a car and drive around the coast.

    A bit off topic.
    I know you don’t judge about which place is better, but I do have 2 comments to make about recent experience in Amsterdam(my humble city). Yes it is very touristy.. as I would call it.. especially the city center, but there is way more than that.. which I am sure of that you are aware of this 😉 Next time I would say let a local give you some tips, because my city has plenty of places that are not overrun by tourists and give you a way better vibe of the old city!

    Second thing.. is about prices, also because you mentioned it in your Portugal experience.. yes Amsterdam is more expensive than other places, but the main issue is that you probably and most tourists as well.. buy food/drinks etc from small department stores, and in general these prices are way higher. Whether it is summer or not these prices are there year-round and if we(dutch ppl) can avoid these place we do so.. mainly because we think they are overpriced 😉 That is just my OneMileAtATime top tip.. don’t buy your food etc at those places! 🙂

  30. my fiance is from Coimbra Portugal. We go over every 2 years and travel all ove Portugal. Just try visiting the Algarve. it’s wonderful. We also love Porto, Lisbon & Fatima.

  31. Absolutely loved Porto, and Lisbon too. We went around Christmas and 4 star hotels were in the 40-60 euro range.

    We spent every evening well pickled on port wine. From Porto we drove along the Rio Doro to Pinhao. Absolutely gorgeous, even in winter.

    Only problem was the boring, bland food. Every Portuguese restaurant would serve the same 6 or 7 basic dishes (grilled fish, salted cod, etc.). The last night we wound up going for Chinese.

  32. Glad you made it to Porto – it’s a great place. Airbnb is very affordable there too – we got a big apartment right down by the river which was fantastic.

  33. Hello.

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed Porto. I was born and I’m still living there. It’s true everything you wrote and there is much more to find out (the Port wine, the nights in downtown, Serralves gardens, Palácio de Cristal, etc). E-mail me whenever you want or if you’re visiting Porto soon and I’ll give you more informations (free, of course :)).

    Best regards.
    Alexandre Silva

  34. Just a word of advice,Portuguese administration and judicial system is corrupt.
    Visit the country,however DO NOT INVESTand DO NOT HAVE ANY FUNDS IN BANK ACCOUNTS.
    The justice system is corrupt and with the new law that was implemented in 2013 anybody could have access to your bank accounts to seize what you have.Everything is done without a judge or court order.
    They are called “agentes de execucao”however they are nothing more than a SCAM ARTISTS.
    Beware!!!!

  35. @ Lucky

    Heading to Portugal this June and would love to hear your thoughts on the Sheraton Porto (and Sheraton Lisbon). Understand you may not have the time to do a full review of your stay there, but if you could just weigh in with: 1) How is the location (both seem to be in business district, but are they reasonably close to main attractions/”downtown”)? 2) How do the rooms compare to NA standards (pictures actually make the rooms and hotels seem better than what I would expect at a Sheraton back home) 3) Totally optional, but how was the breakfast spread (seems to be included in a number of the rates).

    Any advice would be most appreciated.

    P.S. flying LH F in the A330 with an infant and wasn’t able to find any photos of the bassinet setup online (not even on the 340/380/747. Happy to send you photos if that is of interest to you for other readers’ sake.

  36. If you are flying LH FC on the A340 with a baby be prepared to stay up the entire flight…..it has to be the worst engineering design of any international FC……the bathrooms are in the cabin so the entire crew will wake the baby every time they pull the curtain and enter “your space”………live and learn……….LH so so overrated…………..

  37. Hello everyone.
    I am planning to go to Portugal this June for 6 days ,i am into devouring nice local restaurants,clubbing ,beaches,, so i am thinking about starting in Lisbon can anyone advise about the itinerary for Algarve and Porto

    Thanks a lot
    Joelle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *