Well worth a visit: Portugal’s main cities

♥ by Julien

You plan on visiting Portugal sometime soon and were thinking about checking out the major cities? Look no further! Here comes an overview of what we’ve seen so far.

Since we visited Portugal from North to South, we will list the cities in that order, in case you were wondering 🙂

 

Porto

Porto is a beautiful city. It really is. Colourful, tiled houses. Mediterranean charm. Breath-taking churches, monuments and fountains no matter where you look. Student culture. Art. Historic places. Music. The overall feeling that time has stopped. And I could just continue like that. We stopped every five steps just to admire all the beauty around us. The pictures don’t do it credit at all, but we hope you enjoy them anyway.

We stayed on a campsite in Vila Nova de Gaia, 7 km away from Porto, and to visit we took the bikes and drove all the way there. A great ride where we got to see the harbours, the different quarters, the bridges, the sightseeing boats. We had the chance to admire Porto’s beauty from the riverside, especially the part near the Dom Luís I Bridge, with all the small tiled and painted buildings crammed next to each other.
We mainly stayed in the old town, firstly because we did not have too much time to visit the city – so we had to make concessions – and secondly because we were going through Porto by bike, with a trailer, against the advice of every single person we asked. Needless to say that the founders of the city knew that having steep cobbled streets would allow cycling tourists to enjoy a comfortable tour in the saddle. People were rather amazed at us cycling through the city with Carlotta in the trailer.

To all port wine lovers out there: The caves you can visit are actually in Vila Nova de Gaia, not in Porto itself. But if you are in for a cave-crawling day, you will be in Heaven!

To eat, we cannot recommend a place in particular, but the opportunities to fill your stomach are plenty. We can suggest to go to the Mercado do Bolhão. There you will most likely find whatever you want. Plus, there are at least two small bistros at ground level, which will satisfy your appetite, too (and where you can try the francesinha).

When we cycled back to our wheeled home, the sun was setting and bathed everything in a soft apricot light, it was dream-like.

In the end, we think that to really enjoy Porto, you need to spend a couple of days there to make sure you catch the “essence” of the city – a city of this magnitude often requires a lifetime to be fully explored. It’s a must-see!

 

Coimbra

The reason why we went to Coimbra (Portugal’s 3rd biggest city) in the first place was that fellow travellers told us about the magical forest “Mata de Buçaco” North of the city. Magical forest, sounds great! And then Google Maps showed a bio supermarket, “La Bioescolha”, in town and since we were running out of veggies, we thought we quickly stop by there on the way to the campsite (we’re not huge fans of the hypermarkets like Continente, Intermarché and so on). In search of the bio shop, we had to go right through the centre – so much fun with a camper – and we were so amazed with what we saw that we decided to visit. We parked on a huge parking for campers right at the riverside just outside the city and walked to the centre. I’d like to attract the attention of all camper van drivers who may read these lines: It is safe and well taken care of (for as long as the users themselves are also paying attention to it) and it is for FREE! From there you cross only one bridge (pedestrians only) to reach the old city of Coimbra, so check it out.

We visited the old city centre on foot and it is really cute. It is, like Porto, very hilly too. It also has the same grandeur, many students and alternative vibes, very good graffiti, an amazing indoor market, splendid monuments, some crumbling, some well-maintained, the steep and narrow cobbled streets, the river, the Christmas lights. There is even an elevator –not free – to bring you from the mercado municipal all the way to the upper part of the city.

The pedestrian zone in the lower part of the city mainly consists of narrow cobbled streets, filled with small shops of all kinds (including the mandatory delicatessen). In the upper part, it is mainly housings and university buildings. Regarding the latter, I must say that being a student in Coimbra must be quite an experience! Not only must they be quite fit given the city’s topography, but they have the chance to study in some awesome looking ancient buildings, overseeing the riverside and the lower city. Also, Coimbra has a tradition of “Republicas”, the local student brotherhood, each having their own building etc.

Eva fell in love with a very romantic fountain surrounded by orange trees, right in the city. If we ever renew our marriage vows, she wants to hold the ceremony there. A magical place, in a magical city, just below a magical forest.

Of course there are also some sites that are referenced in all the tourist guides (like the Church, the Citadel or the Jardim Botânico), in case you’re craving some historical sightseeing.

Coimbra is totally worth a visit – don’t miss it!

 

Lisbon

Lisbon is, in case you did not know already, the capital of Portugal and its biggest city. It is also the home of Cristo Rey.

At first, when we arrived on the motorway in the outskirts of the city, coming from Sintra where we had spent some magical days, we were quite disappointed. The reason is quite simple: We were just coming from a beautiful place, full of forests, boulders and picturesque buildings. So the view of a city as big as Lisbon with its industrial and suburban zones put us off a little. But then, we found a parking on the praia Fonte da Telha, and we found our balance again.

Side note: Lisbon’s residents must feel quite lucky living there with so many nice spots surrounding them.

To visit Lisbon, on the (good) advice of a friend, we parked our camper just at the port and took a ferry from there to reach the capital on foot. The ticket really is quite cheap. So if you are travelling through Portugal and would like to visit Lisbon, but do not know how to deal with the parking, this is a great way to do it.

As we reached Lisbon, our first mission was to catch up with our friend for lunch. We did not have a map so Google Maps and the local people we talked to helped us out. For lunch, we ate at Jardim dos Sentidos. What an absolutely fantastic place! I mean, we eat mainly vegan, right? So trying an Indian-Italian-Portuguese veggie restaurant sounded like a plan. But the food… SO VERY TASTY! And an absolute bargain, too, given the number of tourist restaurants. If you are going to Lisbon anytime soon, make sure you go there at least once, even if you are not vegetarian or vegan. It would be a shame to miss it.

With our stomachs full we were ready to explore Lisbon! And what a city it is! If we felt disappointed the day before, it all went away and we found ourselves having the same feeling we had in Porto and Coimbra: Having to take a picture every two metres to catch as many impressions as possible. It is just incredible how nice the old city is.

And then our friend recommended that we have pasteis de nata in the famous “Manteigeria” – Eva could’ve spend a week in that place, living off these amazing custard tartlets. You can watch the team how they make the pasteis fresh, and they’re still warm when you devour them.

We finished our visit by strolling along the promenade, watching the crowds sitting outside the bars, admiring the huge Christmas tree, and witnessing a magnificent sunset over the river.

After our day in Lisbon, it was clear to us that again more time is needed to really discover this beautiful city, it’s quite rambling after all and on foot you’ll get to see most of it. Don’t hesitate and go visit Lisbon!

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