It took me all of one day to fall in love with Portugal. It has all the best things — good food, nice music, pretty scenery, cheap wine, friendly people — wrapped up into one compact, easy to navigate and inexpensive country. After returning from 2 weeks in Portugal on my honeymoon, I can honestly say it’s in my top 5 favorite countries.
When people ask me how I chose Portugal for my honeymoon, I tell them it came down to the food (you know you’re a true foodie when you choose your honeymoon destination strictly based on the location’s culinary chops). Sam and I agreed that our 2 week honeymoon needed to primarily be filled with culinary adventures, but we could add in a few other perks like nice hotels and pretty scenery. We ultimately decided to explore the rich food history Portugal, and as we researched more, we learned about all the awesome history and culture to explore in this tiny European nation.
This suggested itinerary is a collaborative effort by me & my new husband and this is how we would recommend spending two weeks in Portugal!
Day 1-3: Lisbon
A trip to Portugal is likely to begin in the capital city of Lisbon. Largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, Lisbon is a mishmash of old and new. It’s obvious which parts of the city survived the quake and which parts didn’t. You’ll find some of the top chefs and trendiest restaurants in Lisbon but also the remnants of old monasteries and military forts from the 11th century.
With options abound, it is easy to spend 3 days here. We spent a whole day wandering the streets of the Baixa and Alfama neighborhoods, hopping on and off the old school Number 28 tram that runs throughout the city. There is no need to hire a walking tour since it’s pretty easy to navigate on your own especially with the help of a Lonely Planet guide book. A few key stops to check out as you wander the streets are:
- Plaza do Comercio
- Elevador de Santa Justa
- Castle of Sao Jorge
- Mirador of Senhora do Monte
- National Panteon
As discerning foodies, it’s only natural that we spent most of our time in Lisbon eating. I wrote a whole blog post about it! What I loved about Lisbon’s food scene is that you have the opportunity to sample bites from throughout Portugal’s multi-cultural history.
A few must try culinary activities include a walking tour with Culinary Backstreets, a cooking class at Cooking Lisbon and a stop at the Ribeira Market.
Culinary Backstreets is locally-owned & operated agency that specializes in food tours that showcase the tradition of richness and culture clash between East and West that defines Portuguese cuisine. If you’re up for a full day of eating & exploring on foot, I would highly recommend the “Lisbon Awakes” tour which will give you the full scope of Lisbon’s food scene. This was truly a highlight of my 2 weeks in Portugal. You’ll explore local dishes such as pastel de nata, the cherry liqueur ginjinha, dried bacalhau (salt cod) and aged black pork.
Depending on the tour your choose with Culinary Backstreets, you could end at the second most important food stop in Lisbon — Ribeira (TimeOut) Market —which kills two birds with one stone! Combining 24 restaurants, 12 shops, 8 bars, and a music venue in one of the city’s oldest market structures, Ribeira is a naturally lit, airy market where you can sample cuisine from Michelin starred Portuguese chefs for a fraction of the price that you might pay at their full restaurants. Whether you’re a grazer or sit-down eater, TimeOut Market is definitely a place worth dedicating a few hours.
For the really committed foodies out there, taking a cooking class at Cooking Lisbon is the final way to solidify your understanding of Portuguese cuisine. One of the most social & fun cooking classes I’ve taken abroad, I really liked the environment and casual atmosphere that Cooking Lisbon cultivates. Read about my full experience here.
Day 4: Evora
Characterized by rolling hillsides and fields of cork trees, the Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region and incredibly picturesque. You can take a quick 1.5 hour train southeast from Lisbon to Evora, the Alentejo’s most famous city, or if you prefer to drive it’s easy to navigate the main highway.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t choose to come to Evora specifically to see the moribund Bone Chapel inside the Church of St Francis. It is literally a chapel made of human bones, and it is just a creepy and weird as you would expect.
Thankfully after further research, I learned about other interesting sights to visit as well. Evora dates back to the Roman Empire which is notably apparent with the aqueduct that runs through the center of the city. Built inside the ancient city walls, central Evora is easily walkable and you can make stops at sights like St Francisco church, Giraldo Plaza and the Roman Temple.
While in Evora, we stayed at Ecorkhotel, a unique eco resort built with natural materials and solar heating. All the rooms are individual buildings and you walk through the sheep grazed cork & olive fields to get to your abode. The rooftop infinity pool offers views of the scenic rural area surrounding the hotel, making for an easy afternoon relaxing in the sun. They also have a lovely contemporary spa and delicious restaurant where you can sample some of the regions most iconic food staples like black Iberian pork, fresh olives or white wine.
Day 5 – 7 Atlantic Coast
Once you have thoroughly gorged yourself on the cuisine of Lisbon and the Alentejo, it’s time to hop in the car and head towards Porto by driving along the Atlantic Coastline. There are several picturesque coastal villages to explore.
Your first stop on the Atlantic Coast is likely to be Sintra — one of Portugal’s most famous & iconic cities. Similar to Evora, you can access Sintra by train or car and it’s only about 45 minutes west of Lisbon. Once home to the palaces & summer homes of Portugal’s rich and royal, Sintra feels like something straight out of a fairytale. Its small cobblestone streets carry old world charm with a quirky 18th century opulence of colorful manors that dot the skyline, all housed in the incredible natural beauty of a wooded mountainside town overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There are tons of historical places to explore here, so if you’re interested in learning more, check out my blog post all about what to see and do in Sintra.
Continuing north along the coast, one thing you absolutely must do in this region is spend a night (or five) at the most unique and lovely hotel I’ve ever experienced — Areias do Seixo. Sam & I have already vowed to return here for at least one of our anniversaries in the future. Called a “charm hotel”, Areias do Seixo is truly a special place. The service is absolutely impeccable, the sunset views on a private beach are unobstructed and the attention to unique decor detail is unparalleled.
The ambiance alone at this charming hotel is impressive, but when paired with the best restaurant in the region, this is a hotel that you will fall in love with. Areias do Seixo’s restaurants focuses on seasonal & sustainable cuisine including organic produce grown in composted soil on the grounds of the hotel. If you’re up for it, choose the tasting menu. We saddled up to the chef’s table for 3 hour, 12 course tasting menu with wine pairings that was the most memorable dining experience of our trip.
Check out the time lapse video below of our meal!
Day 8: Coimbra
Coimbra is a towering hilltop medieval town with an incredible view over the Mondego River. A perfect place to stop on your drive up to Porto, Coimbra is home to the oldest university in Portugal. Because of the youthful and curious energy of Coimbra as a university town, it feels totally different than some of the other cities in Portugal.
Divided into the high city and the low city, you’ll notice a distinct difference between the two. There are tons of monuments and historical sights to see in the old city, such as the Old Cathedral, Joanine Library, the Santa Clara Monestary, and Clock Tower. I would recommend wandering your way up the city’s iconic hill at your own pace and carrying a short guide book along way to guide your sightseeing. It’s easy to wander through the small streets, and since you just keep heading up the hill— eventually all streets lead to the top!
Coimbra is also a great place to listen to Fado music and it was a distinctly different style than you’ll find in Lisbon. It dates back to medieval styles and is often a single serenading troubadour. There is a mixture of both new and old bars to go to, and there are even some spots that play live Fado music on their patios so you can listen outside on a nice night!
Additionally, there is no shortage of great places to eat in Coimbra, and The Culture Trip does a great job summing up the top 10! One spot I particularly liked is Cafe Santa Cruz which looks over a town plaza with fountain. Great people watching!
Day 9 – 11: Porto
Porto still retains lots of the grit and grime you’d expect from a port city. You’ll see fishermen and food stall owners buzzing through the graffiti-clad walls of street food markets right next door to a Michelin-starred restaurant or 100 year old Port Wine cellar. Porto feels very under the radar and there are fun nooks and crannies to discover all on your own! I personally loved exploring the downtown area of Porto on foot because there are beautiful views from both sides of the city overlooking the Duoro River.
First and foremost, you need to educate yourself on the region’s proud export — Port Wine — which is conveniently named after the region’s largest city. You could easily spend an entire today drinking in the history and culture of one of Portugal’s most important wine cities. My favorite spot to enjoy port in Porto was the cozy wine bar Portologia. They offer a variety of port tastings of up to 12 different pours. The educated staff will help make suggestions while also teaching you about the key differences between different port wines such as Tawny vs Ruby or Vintage vs LBV.
Once you are sufficiently buzzed, wander your way across the Dom Luis I bridge to the Gaia neighborhood on the southern bank. You must catch a sunset here! You can meander along the waterfront malecon, watching men pack or unpack Rabelo boats (traditional flat bottomed cargo boats used to transport port wine down the Duoro River) while enjoying the hum of the city. Famous port houses like Grahams, Taylors and Sandeman all have tasting rooms and restaurants along the Gaia riverfront, so don’t feel limited to one spot. Many of the cellars have built tourist friendly rooftop decks where you can see the sun sink below the Arrabida bridge in Porto’s far west.
If you’re tired from all the walking at the end of the night, there is a convenient cable car with beautiful views that will take you uphill from the river where you can easily catch a train on Porto’s convenient public transportation.
An up-and-coming culinary destination in Portugal, finding resources on Porto’s food scene can be a little tricky but when you discover those hidden treasures, you will be rewarded with a unique blend of working men’s food and high-end exotic ingredients arriving from around the world at this active port city. No two places better highlight that contrast than Cafe Santiago and Pedro Lemos.
Reminiscent of poutine, the Francesinha sandwich appeared in the 1960s as a Portuguese interpretation of Croque Monsieur, and remains today as Porto’s strangely addictive and iconic culinary contribution. You’ll be bursting at the gills after eating this sandwich which is stuffed with four types of deli meat and covered in melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer gravy served on a bed of french fries. The best place to get it is the original Cafe Santiago, a no-frills cafe that is filled with locals and tourists alike.
For a more upscale yet approachable dining experience, you must go to Pedro Lemos Restaurante in the Foz do Duoro neighborhood in western Porto. This Michelin star eatery was the best meal I ate in Portugal and is one of the top 5 meals I’ve ever eaten. Coming from a self-proclaimed foodie, this is quite the compliment! Pedro Lemos specializes in flavorful and decadent sauces poured over simple but perfectly executed dishes. Each dish reflects the country’s rich culinary heritage while exploding with simplicity and flavor. With impeccable service and incredible wine pairings, this 2-3 hour dining experience will blow you away. Highlights from my meal include beef three ways, foie gras with passionfruit sauce and a Portuguese take on bananas foster.
Day 12 & 13: Douro Valley
Your final stop (now that you’re a port wine expert) before leaving Portugal should be the Duoro Valley. Home to the grapes in port wine, this dry and rocky region runs along the Duoro River providing for stunning landscape views. Little white-washed quintas will pepper steep terraced vineyards along the road on your way to the heart of Portugal’s wine region, about 3 hours’ drive east from Porto. It is well worth renting a car for this portion so you can stop, drink and look at scenery at your own pace.
There isn’t much to do in this area that isn’t wine related, but if you are a wine lover, you could easily spend a week exploring the little hamlets throughout the whole Duoro region. Stopping at various vineyards along the way could easily chew up a day or two and it is nice to move a little slower in this region.
I would recommend staying at one of the wine quinta hotels in a smaller town such as Pinhao or Alijo for a really authentic experience — the large town of Peso de Regua isn’t exactly charming. Lots of the quintas have high quality restaurants to go along with their tasting rooms, thanks to the influx of wealthy tourists looking to enjoy top-notch wine & food. We stayed at Quinta Pacheca, one of the older and larger quintas in the region, which was newly renovated and quite comfortable. While it was nice, we wished we would have stayed at Quinta do Tedo, a much more quaint, picturesque and charming family owned business about 20 minutes down the road.
If you want to eat off your hotel’s property, the two riverfront spots I would recommend for dinner are DOC and Castas e Pratos. The best place for avant-guarde food in the Duoro Valley, DOC attracts a high-end clientele for their riverfront dining experience. The seasonal menu and wine list are always changing, but regardless of what time of year you’re there, you can count on some unusual and unique flavor combinations (as well as a hefty bill). More trendy but laid-back, Castas e Pratos is in a nameless former railhouse turned modern foodie oasis. The wood beams and stylish decor set the stage for a delicious meal and excellent wine pairings. The onion velouté & quail egg dish I had there will be etched in my mind forever.
Day 14: Departure
Depending on where you’re flying to, there are daily international flights from both Porto or Lisbon. A 3 hour high-speed train connects the two major cities, so it is easy to get between them if you end your itinerary in the city where you are not departing from.
I absolutely loved my experience in Portugal, particularly the food & hospitality adventures we experienced. If I lived in my dream world, I would have traveled for another 2 weeks exploring Portugal’s southern coast and islands, both of which are missing from this currently itinerary.