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May in Portugal - Dear Fordorites, please help me plan

May in Portugal - Dear Fordorites, please help me plan

Feb 11th, 2019, 02:41 PM
  #1  
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May in Portugal - Dear Fordorites, please help me plan

I used to post on this board on a very regular basis. I had to change my screen name because I couldn't access the email address to which it was tied.
We are less than a month away from our daughter's wedding (complicated - Hindu and Christian ceremonies, two meals, etc.) I'm typically a meticulous planner, but we'd love to go to Portugal in May and I'm running out of time to plan. (First trip to Portugal.)
We are 60, have been to Europe quite a few times. We enjoy really getting to know a city. In a 10 day trip, we would prefer to stay in one place, maximum two. I was considering Lisbon and Porto, with a possible day trip to Sintra.
We like museums, historic buildings, shopping, churches, great food, wine, scenery, light hiking, the beach etc. We don't want to rent a car.
Will some kind, patient Fodorites help me plan? Please don't ask me to read all the Portugal threads dating back a dozen years. I've read quite a few.
Specific questions:
Assuming arrival in Lisbon on a Saturday morning, and departing 9 days later (the following Sunday), how do you suggest dividing the time?
For a day trip to Sintra, do you suggest a group tour? We generally don't do that, but I read a suggestion along those lines for Sintra.
Many thanks.
realgirl58 is offline  
Feb 11th, 2019, 02:45 PM
  #2  
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I wanted to add that we would also be open to staying the whole time in Lisbon and doing day trips.
realgirl58 is offline  
Feb 11th, 2019, 06:53 PM
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Last May I did a nine night trip - flew into Lisbon, out of Porto. You could easily split it six nights in Lisbon, three in Porto (ten days = nine nights in country?). Porto is pretty small. Unless you are going to do a Douro Valley trip, three nights there is plenty. Lisbon has much more to see and do in my view.

I did four nights in Lisbon, two in Coimbra, three in Porto. I stopped in Tomar for a few hours off the train and day tripped to Nazare. But I know you said you didn't want more than two bases.

I took the train most of the way - easy to take the train between Lisbon and Porto, other than a few extra train changes. (The high speed trains don't directly hit the city centers, for some reason.)

It's easy to day trip on your own to Sintra from Lisbon. Direct train from Rossio train station. Take the bus up the hill from the station to the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle ruins. Buy your Pena tickets ahead of time online or be prepared for long ticket lines.

I suggest the Rick Steves Portugal book for specific planning.
Andrew is online now  
Feb 11th, 2019, 08:24 PM
  #5  
 
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I also agree the train is easy between Lisbon and Sintra. Also a good day trip is Cascais.
Driving in Portugal is easy. But if you don’t want to, the train can take you to Porto. You will love Portugal!
girlonthego is offline  
Feb 11th, 2019, 09:13 PM
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Reader's Digest version of my tip report:
Lisbon is an easygoing, delightful place with good food, great museums and lovely people. And hills - lots and lots of hills. Be sure your uber app is up to date. Highlight of my visit was connecting with Maureen at grapeolivepig.com for a half day of shopping the market and cooking and eating lunch, and a whole day excursion to Alentejo wineries; recommend either or both. Gulbenkian and Azulejo (tile) museums were tremendously enjoyable, as was the Maritime museum. Castle S. Jorge is worth the climb to reach it. The miradouros offer wonderful vistas over the city and the water. Stroll around the Alfama district's narrow windy hilly streets and stumble across some excellent hole in the wall places to eat.

Sintra is fairly easy on your own but a group tour would also not be bad, could save a bit of time. Again, be prepared for some hill walking!

Porto is wonderful, has a magical vibe appreciated even by an oaf like me. Stay close to or on the riverfront for delightful ambience. We stayed at Vila Gale Porto Ribeira in the Monet room which overlooks the water and loved it - lovely staff, nice breakfast. The restaurant two doors down with the green doors (sorry, forget the name!) was great, very reasonably priced and delicious. Porto Walkers offers a free (tipping expected) walking tour of the historic city in the morning and an afternoon tour of the port houses, with multiple tastings, for 25 euros which was very enjoyable. We opted out of the river cruise up the Douro valley (SO gets motion sick on boats) and did a small group (8 people max) tour by van instead. Booked it through winerist.com, the local vendor was EFun Tours and it was great, three wineries and lunch. The Serralves museum is smashing as much for the architecture as the collections.

Hope this helps!
Seamus is offline  
Feb 12th, 2019, 12:50 AM
  #7  
 
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We did Lisbon and Porto, a week in each, in March 2016. I enjoyed both, but for me, Lisbon definitely had the edge in terms of things to do.
As Seamus has said, "Hills!" - both Lisbon and Porto are steep - so good footwear is a must. There are trams, funiculars, lifts etc to get up some of the hills - and the views are often well worth it.
Public transport is good, and both cities have a form of transport card for use across buses, trains, trams etc.

We did Cascais and Sintra as day trips from Lisbon, and Guimaraes from Porto. If I were to go again, I would add Evora to Lisbon, Braga to Porto and try and fit Coimbra in as well.
willit is offline  
Feb 12th, 2019, 06:47 AM
  #8  
 
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I just got back from Portugal, about a week and a half ago now so I'm still raving about it. It is one of my favorite places ever now. The people are so nice, very helpful, and so witty. All you need to do is ask, and someone will direct you to the right place. Never have I felt so charmed by a country and it's people.

We did a Road Scholar trip in Lisbon for 7 days so I didn't have to worry as much about transportation. We stayed at Hotel Mundial in Lisbon, very central location with breakfast included and perfect rooftop bar.

Some Lisbon highlights for me:
We climbed up to the castle, no kidding about the hills, but oh so worth all the effort. Be sure to find the peacocks up there.
We took the train to Cascais which was very easy, just remember to keep your ticket to validate on the way out..one in our group didn't do this, and we had to get a security guard to let the "tourists" out, Cascais was a very fun upscale resort type town on the ocean.
We road the famous Tram #88 which takes you all over the city, be sure not to do this during rush hours
when the locals are commuting.
The Santa Justa Lift, an elevator known as an Eiffel Tower type landmark of Lisbon, the views at the top are incredible, and The Carmo Convent (the Cathedral with No Roof) is at the top, very impressive structure that partially survived the great Lisbon Earthquake.
Sintra. I think you can do this on your own, but be sure to have tickets for Pena Palace or else you will spend way too much time in the line. The palace at Queluz is also impressive. Shopping in Sintra is fun, and I had one of my best meals there.
Glubenkian Museum, not a huge place, certainly not a place one would spend an entire day, but nice collections.
The bakery at Belem. Pasteis de natas served warm. I loved them with cinnamon best.
The Carriage Museum, royalty was certainly pampered.
Ask the locals for their favorite restaurants. You will not be disappointed. We ate a seafood place that Anthony Bourdain had featured on a show. The staff told us about their encounters with Tony. The food was good too.

So then we went to Porto for 5 days on our own, no tours. The train from Lisbon to Porto was easy, I had gotten train tickets from the website prior to going, but once at the train station (which is incredibly impressive in Lisbon, a work by the same architect who designed the 9/11 memorial) you must get a seat assignment.

In Porto my highlights were a port wine cave tour and tasting. Probably my favorite thing that I did in Portugal. The famous Harry Potter bookshop, the Livaria Lello, was very worthwhile and around the corner from there we found a cute restaurant, Trinkas, where we had the best bifana (like a pulled pork sandwich) and cabbage soup. Absolutely look at the tile works at the train station there, and also the Stock Exchange Palace. Lots of hills and like Seamus, I loved staying right on the riverfront. We stayed at the Oporto Riverfront Apartments, the price was right and the views were incredible. Lots of restaurants and places to explore nearby.

Watch some youtube videos about Portugal. Rick Steves has some good videos too. I think March should be a lovely time to go, if you're anything like me you are going to be enchanted with this country.
barbrn is offline  
Feb 12th, 2019, 09:40 AM
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Originally Posted by barbrn View Post
The train from Lisbon to Porto was easy, I had gotten train tickets from the website prior to going, but once at the train station (which is incredibly impressive in Lisbon, a work by the same architect who designed the 9/11 memorial) you must get a seat assignment.
I assume you mean Oriente station in Lisbon. There are a number of different train stations in Lisbon, and I think I visited all of them except Oriente. The quirky thing about Lisbon is that the train stations are not well connected to each other. You can get a direct train from Rossio Station (center of town) to Sintra or you can get a direct train from Cais do Sodre station to Cascais - same general direction as going to Sintra, but Rossio and Cais do Sodre are not connected to each other! Or directly to Oriente. Unless you take metro trains or some out-of-the-way regional trains.

When I wanted to get a train north from Lisbon, I had to take a metro from Rossio to Santa Apolonia station; I could have gotten the high speed train from there to Porto (passing through Oriente), but I detoured to Tomar and Coimbra first. And in Porto, you have to get off at Campanha station and take a short train (included in your train fare) on to Sao Bento station in the center of town.
Andrew is online now  
Feb 12th, 2019, 10:05 AM
  #10  
 
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As a point of reference, we spent 5 nights in Lisbon including a day trip to Sintra. We loved Lisbon. Haven't been to Porto yet. So I recommend at least 5 nights in Lisbon if you are going to day trip to Sintra. Another suggestion would be 4 nights in Lisbon and one night in Sintra. We were there at the end of a 3-week trip, so we didn't want to move around which is why we stayed the 5 nights in Lisbon. However, I think it would be nice to spend at least one night in Sintra to see it after all the daytrippers have left. We don't usually do group tours, but we did take a bus tour to Sintra because we were tired at this point and wanted to do it the easy way. We visited the Pena Palace, had a snack in Sintra, and then had a quick stop in Cascais. But you could see Sintra on your own as well.

Our favorite day was touring the Sao Jorge Castle, and then wandering around the Alfama, following Rick Steves walking tour. We loved the Alfama. It's not touristy at all once you leave the castle area. This is where people live. We say laundry hanging from balconies, heard tv's and radios from open windows, children riding their bikes. An older lady had set up a small table under a tree and was selling the cherry liquor drinks. We took a taxi to the castle, and then walked from there, so you don't have to walk uphill to the castle if you don' want to.

We loved the Gulbenkian Museum, and we did spend about 4 to 4.5 hours there, and this included a light lunch at the outdoor cafe. The museum is divided into 2 parts: Founders Collection and Modern Collection. I am not a big fan of modern art but I really enjoyed the Modern Collection, and learned a lot about Lisbon's history. I still remember one eerie art piece called the Abolition of the Hood.

Another highlight for us is the Mosteiro De Sao Vicente De Fora, a monastery filled with gorgeous blue and white tiles, and gorgeous views of Lisbon from its rooftop terrace.

We enjoyed Belem, especially the Mosteiros dos Jeronimos! We didn't go up the Belem Tower because of the long lines, but we did take the elevator to the top of the Discoveries Monument. No lines at all, and gorgeous views from the top.

The seafood restaurant that barbrn suggests (recommended by Anthony Bourdain) is Cervejaria Ramiro. Excellent seafood! It was our favorite meal of our trip. We also enjoyed roast chicken at Bonjardim Restaurante. Very casual, reasonable prices, and delicious food. Another good place to eat is the Time Out Market.
KarenWoo is offline  
Feb 12th, 2019, 12:10 PM
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Yes, Andrew, it was Oriente Train Station where we caught the train from Lisbon to Porto. I'm not great with names, but it was quite beautiful architecturally speaking. We had to take two separate elevators to get to the departures, so that was a bit tricky. It also looked like the pickpockets were out in force there.

KarenWoo, you had the name of the Anthony Bourdain restaurant correct too. We walked in there, a group of 10-Road Scholar buddies- and we were immediately shown to a private room in the basement. No reservations (Anthony Bourdain pun). We told the waiter we weren't sure what to order, so he brought us his own picks and wine choices. It was wonderful and still reasonably priced. It is a busy place, we got there about 8 PM and that's still a bit early for the locals.

KarenWoo, I would have loved to go up in the Belem Tower or up in the Discoveries Monument. Both of these are must sees along with the Jeronimos Cathedral. Also there is fantastic street art all over Lisbon, some really excellent graffiti artists, it's a city where there is so much to see, even the artistic sidewalks are amazing.

Realgirl, I goofed, I misread your title thinking you were going in March. May should be even better, it should be pretty warm there. I would think the beaches would be quite fantastic by then.
barbrn is offline  
Feb 13th, 2019, 05:52 AM
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“Another highlight for us is the Mosteiro De Sao Vicente De Fora, a monastery filled with gorgeous blue and white tiles, and gorgeous views of Lisbon from its rooftop terrace.”

My absolute favorite in Lisbon and no crowds! The Azulejo tiles are stunning beyond words there, especially those dedicated to La Fontaine fables

Cascais is delightful (we stayed there) and the sunset on the Guincho Beach was the most beautiful I have ever seen. Delightful Fortaleza do Guincho with its Michelin Star Restaurant certainly added to our stay there.

And do not miss a trip to medieval Evora from Lisbon.

Coimbra University is one of the oldest in Europe and is s real gem both from historical and architectural points of view. Coimbra town itself is unattractive and pretty dilapidated, IMO. I am very happy we opted for charming Aveiro with its gondolas and canals for a base (do not expect it to rival Venice though - no even remote comparison).

Porto is very atmospheric, crazy busy, hustling and bustling city with its own unforgettable face. Do take the “Six Bridges River Cruise” in Porto - it is just fabulous.
vinonobile987 is online now  
Feb 13th, 2019, 07:56 AM
  #13  
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Thanks so much!
Ideas of where we should stay? I have pinpointed some areas of Lisbon, but can't seem to search under those terms on various sites.
Also, how is Airbnb in Lisbon? Legal? Useful or prone to scams?
realgirl58 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2019, 04:53 PM
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Sorry, I cannot help with AirB&B; we stayed at the loveliest hotel, “Fortaleza do Guincho”, but it is in Cascais, not in Lisbon. You need a car for it.

Are you sure you don’t want to rent a car? There are so many amazing towns to see on the way from Lisbon to Porto: beautiful monasteries of Batalha and Alcobaca, walled town of Obidos... Driving is really easy.
vinonobile987 is online now  
Feb 14th, 2019, 07:48 AM
  #15  
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I have been thinking about renting a car. The issue is not so much the driving, but the parking. My husband does not do well in a "looking for a parking space" situation. Plus, neither of us can drive a stick and renting an automatic costs a lot more. (But still thinking of renting a car.)
realgirl58 is offline  
Feb 14th, 2019, 08:00 AM
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In Lisbon, the Hotel Avenida Palace is a treasure.
https://www.hotelavenidapalace.pt/en/hotel-in-lisbon
MoBro is offline  
Feb 14th, 2019, 05:48 PM
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We also drive only automatic transmission cars and they are more expensive to rent, but we had been doing it for years in Europe and are ready to pay extra for convenience and flexibility. Very personal choice of course.

We love to stay outside big cities and either take a train to them or park in the garages. We easily found parking in Belem, took a train to Lisbon from Cascais, but staying in Cascais was delightful and our hotel had parking, as well as all our hotels in Portugal.
vinonobile987 is online now  
Feb 14th, 2019, 07:34 PM
  #18  
 
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Considering a 2020 14 day trip to Portugal. My concern is the cost of Lisbon. Am I mistaken that Lisbon is a very expensive city, compared to Spain and Italy ? Does Portugal get less expensive out side of Lisbon ?
jeterray is offline  
Feb 15th, 2019, 09:53 PM
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@jeterray - Yes, you are mistaken. While Portugal is becoming increasingly popular so prices may inevitably rise, it remains a bargain among European destinations. Sure you can find ways to throw away money, but it is not necessary to do so to have an enjoyable and comfortable visit.
Seamus is offline  
Feb 15th, 2019, 11:31 PM
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Originally Posted by jeterray View Post
Considering a 2020 14 day trip to Portugal. My concern is the cost of Lisbon. Am I mistaken that Lisbon is a very expensive city, compared to Spain and Italy ? Does Portugal get less expensive out side of Lisbon ?
We just rented a two bedroom apartment for 6 days in May for $750. Not expensive when divided by three, and cheaper ones were available.
Michael is online now  

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