Charming Lisbon and Porto

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Nov 20th, 2018, 03:02 AM
  #1
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Charming Lisbon and Porto

Just back from five days in Lisbon and four in Porto, traveling with my husband. Will put a bit of chronology, highlights and random thoughts that may be helpful. We took the red-eye from JFK to Lisbon on TAP, which was fine. Cab ride was quite expensive --30 euros--so you might try Uber. We used Uber a lot--it was great. I think I read here that there is some issue with using them at the airport though.

We stayed at the Corpo Santo Hotel, which I think is only a year or two old. It's near the river in a pretty central location. We were happy with it. The rooms were smallish, but new and well-designed. Breakfast was good and the doorman/concierge etc. were helpful. One nice feature is they always have fruit and nuts and things out that you can take as well as free bottles of water. In the late afternoon they cook up something special and in the evening there's popcorn and tea cake for late night snacks. That is really nice for when you want a little something but don't want to go out, or to grab a water when heading out for the day.

The first afternoon we tried to find a monument (I forget which one) to get a view of the city. We got utterly lost, which was fine--we found a view another place.Easy to find magnificent views with all those hills. I can's over-emphasize how hilly Lisbon and Porto are. And it isn't one big hill and you're done--there are small steep, seemingly random hills everywhere, as well of lots of steps. We wandered, mostly in the Bairro Alto--small, hilly, windy streets, lots of restaurants and bars mixed in with the houses. A weathered charm, a bit run down and lots of graffiti, which I didn't mind. Wonderful details everywhere and a lively night life, a good introduction to the city.

I can't remember if it was that day or the next, but we took the 28 tram, which goes through the Alfama (more on that neighborhood later). It's an old fashioned trolley and a great way to get an overview that neighborhood, also you can ride it to the higher elevations and then walk down (maybe my best trip tip). We took a few different trolleys and busses on the trip and it was very easy.

We ate dinner at Time Out a huge, upscale food court a few blocks from the hotel and perfect for the first night. We ended up eating there a few times.

More later.
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Nov 20th, 2018, 04:07 AM
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I have a little more time now, so let's talk food. I'm not an adventurous eater (husband is) don't eat much meat, and am picky about fish (which of course is everywhere in Portugal--especially cod) so I was a little worried. Having fruit and tea bread at our hotel was a big help to fill in some gaps. Also the hotel had a big breakfast, and we made good use of the nespresso in our room.

Our most traditionally special husband's birthday was Sunday. I'd made a reservation online (easy) at 100 Maneiras. They have only a tasting menu, which is true of several of the high-end restaurants, however theirs was light on meat (one pork course) lots of fruits and vegetables used in tasty creative ways, and all the fish was delicious. It was a lovely memorable meal and I do recommend it. It was 65 euros each and a similar meal in NYC would be around $125. The restaurant is small and service was excellent.

The other memorable meal, a lunch, was not in Lisbon proper, but at Adraga beach, north of Cascais. It was on a spectacular rocky Atlantic Ocean beach, reminiscent of Big Sur. Restaurante d'Adraga looks like a typical family beach restaurant. The grilled fish was the best I ever had. (The recommendation came from a friend who lives in Portugal). My husband and I shared a grilled trout. The prices were very reasonable and the beach is magnificent. The catch is that you need a car to get there. We, on the recommendation of my friend, took an Uber from Sintra to the restaurant (having taken the train to Sintra) and then an Uber from the restaurant to Cascais where we caught the train to Lisbon. The car costs were about 30 euros but it was worth it for such a special meal and scenic drive too. Trains are very easy.

We had some other nice "typical" meals but nothing that stands out. Once when I didn't feel like going out I had mushroom asparagus risotto at my hotel. It was delicious. We went to Time Out a few times for lunch or dinner and do recommend it when you want something easy and good.
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Nov 21st, 2018, 04:51 AM
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Thanks. Following your report since I'm thinking about Portugal for 2019. Appreciate all your effort to put this together.
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Nov 21st, 2018, 06:43 AM
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Thanks. Lisbon is one of my favorite cities.

I have never taken a taxi from the airport, the airport bus has always been convenient, and there is a metro line now. I haven't taken a taxi (never mind an Uber) in Lisbon in years, but they used to be cheap. Now that tourism has picked up so much maybe the prices have gone up.
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Nov 21st, 2018, 06:52 AM
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We didn't use taxis or Uber much in Lisbon--more in Porto, but they were very reasonable. I think it's just an airport thing! Public transport is great in Lisbon. When I did need quick transport, for example to the Alfama in the pouring rain, the hotel called a taxi. When we were running late for a dinner reservation and couldn't find a cab we used Uber. Rides were 3-4 Euros, about the same as public transport for two. Will add more to my trip report later.
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Nov 21st, 2018, 02:33 PM
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Lisbon continued: My favorite thing was the Alfama. It's narrow, twisty, cobbled streets are everything you'd want--patina, laundry, cats, views, cathedrals, cafes-- if breathes both life and history. I really enjoyed the Tile Museum. My husband went to an olive oil tasting which he found interesting: olive oil from the south and the north are very different. We took a day trip to Sintra--not enough time! Were I to return I would strongly consider spending a night or two there.

A few more thoughts. All of the young people speak English and most of the older ones speak at least some. For taxis/Ubers I wrote my destination and address on a piece of paper. Greetings and thank you were the only Portuguese words I learned, but they seemed to be appreciated. The people were kind and friendly--it's a very comfortable city, unpretentious.

Were I to plan this trip again, I would give up two of the five nights and stay elsewhere--Sintra or Evora probably. I enjoyed Lisbon but would like to have gotten to know/see a bit more of the country.

I'll write about Porto later.
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Nov 23rd, 2018, 06:11 AM
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The train ride from Lisbon to Porto was just under three hours. There are three train stations in Lisbon, so make sure you get the right one! We stayed at the Pestana Palacio de Freixa, which is about a mile and a half out of Porto proper. I have mixed feelings about the hotel. I chose it mostly because it had parking (and reviews were decent and prices good) and at the time I booked I thought we would have a car. It's a pleasant walk along the river--it took about half hour at a leisurely pace, but we only did it once because of being tired from walking in the city. The hotel has a shuttle at 10, 11, and 12. We mostly took uber, for about three to four euros depending on where we were going. The setup of the hotel is a little weird. The reception and dining rooms are in an old palace and the rooms are in a newer building next door. There is a pool, terrace and garden and you are right on the river, which is lovely. I got a room with a river view and am so glad I did--the Duoro is beautiful. The room was very large, modern and comfortable. I wasn't crazy about the decor, but that didn't matter. The breakfasts were amazing--a huge variety of great quality meats, cheeses, breads, fruits etc.and you could order from the kitchen, as well as getting various coffee drinks.

I spent more time on the hotel than I expected so will come back later with more--we loved Porto!
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Nov 23rd, 2018, 09:18 AM
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The Alfama was our favorite neighborhood in Lisbon. Once you get away from the castle, it is not touristy at all. In fact, we saw very few tourists while wandering around the Alfama.

We took a day trip to Sintra, too, but would have preferred spending a night there if we had the time.
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Nov 23rd, 2018, 10:31 AM
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Great info, considering a similar trip next year.
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Nov 23rd, 2018, 02:09 PM
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Waiting for more as we are trying to sort out how many days in each location. We have 2 1/2 weeks in early May. Most interested in how much time should be devoted to Lisbon and Porto exclusive of day trips. Two days in Sintra sounds good to me.
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Nov 23rd, 2018, 04:13 PM
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Originally Posted by dgunbug View Post
Waiting for more as we are trying to sort out how many days in each location. We have 2 1/2 weeks in early May. Most interested in how much time should be devoted to Lisbon and Porto exclusive of day trips. Two days in Sintra sounds good to me.
Based on our visit to Lisbon last April, I would devote a minimum of 4 nights to Lisbon, exclusive of day trips. Have you posted a planning thread for your trip? You can click on my name to read my trip report for Lisbon and Sintra if that would help.
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Nov 24th, 2018, 05:15 AM
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KarenWoo--I completely agree with you on both points! Also, I really enjoyed your trip report and found it most helpful.

dgunbug-- I would say 3-4 full days in Lisbon and 2-3 full days in Porto are enough to see most things at a fairly relaxed pace. Sinatra is so much more interesting than a thought it would be. So many sights I would like to have seen. Wonderful parks and gardens. We didn't go into the Pena palace, but for a park ticket you can wader around all the outer parts of the castle. The grounds are magnificent--I think I could spend two weeks on those grounds and not seen everything. So yes, two nights in SIntra would be great.
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Nov 24th, 2018, 05:43 AM
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I really loved Porto. Of course by then, we were over jet lag, familiar with menus, etc. so entering a new city was a little easier than getting off the red-eye in Lisbon.

For me a lot of the magic of Porto comes from its connection to the River Duoro. Lisbon also has a great river, but Porto is built right down to the river in a more accessible way. There's a walking bridge across to the neighborhood on the other side (where port is made). There are boat rides and it's altogether a more intimate experience. I loved the river views from our hotel. Of course, the Ribiera, river district, is very popular. We were lucky--arriving on a weekday in November, it wasn't crowded at all. A few days later, on Saturday, it was, so I can imagine that in the summer it could be pretty awful with crowds.

We got lucky with a couple of restaurants in Porto. (I hadn't made any reservations ahead of time.) We had reached the point in our journey where I was craving Italian food, or something not-fish. I read good things about A Dispensa, but was unable to get a reservation. Then I looked up vegetarian restaurants and discovered Essencia, where we had a wonderful meal. The menu is mainly vegetarian but there are also non-vegetarian options. It was a delicious meal in a lovely restaurant and I would highly recommend it. It was somewhere north of the city center (we took and uber) in a district with a lot of appliance stores and newer apartment buildings--not charming, but I liked seeing it--it helped round out my picture of the city, and we had a nice stroll while waiting for the restaurant to open. (Reservations highly recommended.)

Another find was Rito Cozinha, a "typical" menu in another outer neighborhood. It was delicious, inexpensive, and nobody spoke English. What you might call an "authentic" experience as most of the people seemed to be from the neighborhood, and to know each other as well as the restaurant owners/waiters--it seemed like a Saturday night ritual. Their was a tv with the soccer game, the portions were immense. I had grilled salmon and my husband had a cod dish. Our waiter was super-friendly, and it was a very enjoyable evening. If you go early--7:30, you won't need a reservation, but at 8;00 it started to fill up.

We happened on a delicious lunch on a small street near the university. It has wonderful fresh cheeses and jams and cured meats, a really small place, there were a couple similar nearby. I will see if my husband remembers the name of the street. Anyway that's a fun neighborhood to explore. I will come back later with more on Porto.
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Dec 4th, 2018, 06:30 PM
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Thanks for posting. I'm spending the first week of April in Porto and really looking forward to it.
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Dec 5th, 2018, 03:25 PM
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We really loved Porto, SusaninToronto! Just realized I forgot to finish this trip report. One of our favorite things in Porto we might not have done, if an Unber driver hadn't got us interested. (The Uber drivers we used in Porto were really friendly--one told me the history of the six bridges as we passed by.) Anyway, Porto has a great contemporary art museum--Serralves. Even my husband, who is not a fan of contemporary art, enjoyed it. We took an uber there, since our hotel was out of the city. After touring the museum we walked through l large park that is part of the museum. Then we took a beautiful walk (about 20 minutes) to the Foz de Douro neighborhood--and we were at the ocean--crashing waves and all. There is a small shopping district, but me mostly walked along the promenade along the sea until we reached where the ocean meet the Duoro River. There is a park there that has mini golf and other attractions. We didn't go, but we did take an old-fashioned trolley ride back to the Ribiera. It's the #1 trolley, costs 3 euros per person and rattles along the river--a really fun way to see more of Porto.

That was our last full day. We had considered a day trip, but I'm really glad we did that instead. The one day trip we took was to Guimaraes. I wasn''t as crazy about it as a lot of people are, but it is a good way to learn more about the history of Portugal, and it was a very easy trip by train. We considered renting a car and going to the Duoro Valley which I think we would have enjoyed.

I've been back for a few weeks and look back on Portugal very fondly--with I was still there!
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Dec 7th, 2018, 04:20 PM
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Thanks - really looking forward to the trip. I don't think we'll go to the Douro Valley. My husband doesn't drink, and apart from wineries, I don't know if there would be a reason to visit. We will likely do a day trip somewhere though.
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