by Janis on 6th April 2021 / 0 comments

Portugal, the perfect European getaway

Portugal is a country that Gary and I have really only discovered in recent years. To be perfectly honest, I’m kicking myself that we hadn’t visited sooner.

Perhaps it’s because it gets slightly overshadowed by its delightful and charming neighbour, Spain. I’m not too sure; however, I think the Portuguese probably prefer it that way.

Many of Portugal’s smaller towns and rural villages truly feel like the locals still have a firm grasp on their rich culture and close family values.

It is a beautiful country and one that we fell in love with as soon as we arrived.

Over the past few months, we’ve been reminiscing over our previous trips near and far, and Portugal is unquestionably a country that we dearly want to return to.

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Portugal has so much to offer, from its ancient cities and its spectacular architecture to the rugged, craggy cliff faces and romantic hidden coves.

So, I thought I’d share 8 of our favourite locations with you, which I’m sure will enrich your travel list. Hopefully, even tempt you into a road trip around Portugal as we did.

The front of a tradition Moliceiros boat in a quay in Aveiro, Portugal
Canal da Praca do Peixe, Aveiro

Our 8 Portuguese locations

We'll be discovering the following;
You can click on the link to jump to the section, and to return, just click on the title.

Aveiro is a city nestled within a lagoon along the east coast of Portugal. I loved many charming aspects about Aveiro, and one, in particular, was that it didn’t quite feel like a city to me. It was a pleasurable size, easily manageable and relaxing.
 
One of my favourite elements from any location are waterways weaving through streets and snaking past squares. And, yes, Aveiro has canals, a big tick, that’s me happy.

A colourful tourist Moliceiros boat in front of the beautiful classical architecture on the edge of the canal in Aveiro, Portugal
Moliceiros boats plying their trade in Aveiro

If you’ve completed a little research on Aveiro, then you’ll know the waterways are going to be bustling with flamboyant and charismatic barcos moliceiros. If you haven’t, then you are in for a delightful surprise; the vibrant boats once used to harvest seaweed.

Today the majority of these hand-painted boats will take you off on a leisurely trip to experience Aveiro at a slower pace and a little different perspective on life.

The dominant white tower and the ornate entrance of the Portuguese Baroque styled Aveiro's Cathedral
Aveiro Cathedral

The main canal through Aveiro is the Ria de Aveiro and sometimes referred to as “The Venice of Portugal”. You will see beautiful Art Nouveau architecture with the blue and white ceramic tiles so synonymous with Portugal.

Keep a lookout for the little cabin selling Ovos Moles. These small local delicacies are bite-size sweets wrapped in rice paper, with a rich egg yolk and sugar filling mmmm delicious.

Book a boat tour

Where to stay in Aveiro

- Hotel As Americas – This is a modern, friendly hotel, around a 10-15 minutes’ walk to the old town. It also has onsite underground parking, which is great for a road trip.

Local information

For a little bit more information on Aveiro, head to Visit Portugal

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Nearby, Aveiro along the Atlantic Coast is the colourful town of Costa Nova and a location with an instantaneous vibrant hit.

The candy-striped palheiros stretch out along the promenade and just make you smile; they are so charming.

The stripped brightly coloured beach homes of Costa Nova on the Portuguese Coast.
The beach houses of Costa Nova

Traditionally the palheiros cabins would have been used by the local fisherman for storing their nets and fishing equipment. However, nowadays, they have become popular with tourists and have been converted into charismatic chalets and holiday homes. They do look rather cute.

Another reason to head to Costa Nova is for its glorious golden sandy beach of Praia da Costa Nova. As the little town of Costa Nova hugs the Atlantic shoreline, the sea may often become rough. Therefore, if you love surfing, then this is the place to head to.

Where to stay in Costa Nova

- Costa Nova Hotel – This is a modern hotel designed in the colourful stripes of the palheiros cabins. It’s located between the beach and the river and restaurants nearby. It has onsite parking too.

Local information

For a little bit more information on Costa Nova, head to the Visit Center of Portugal

Start planning

We embarked on our Portuguese road trip from the UK, catching a Brittany Ferry to Santander.
However, there are regular flights to Porto and Lisbon; take a look at ebookers.com. Then pop in your location details, and Rental Cars will search well-known car hire brands and discover the deals that suit you the best.

Where do I begin? Porto is full of character, vibe, history, and an infectious laid-back charm; we loved it.
 
Let’s start at the Douro River, the pulsating heart of this northern Portuguese city. Both of the Douro banks are bursting with life; the Ribeira on the north are alive with cafés, bars and restaurants. It also has stunning examples of Porto’s colourful townhouses and ornate wrought-iron balconies.

Looking across from the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar over the massive iron Luís I Bridge over the Douro River to the old town of Porto
Looking over Porto from the best viewpoint

Then head across the magnificent Dom Luís I Bridge for that iconic view back across Porto’s UNESCO Old Town, to the lower banks of the Gaia. In this vibrant region of Porto, not only will you find fascinating examples of street art, but it’s also where you’ll discover the Port wine cellars. That can only mean one thing a cellar tour and Port wine tasting.
 
It’s lovely strolling along both banks of the Douro; the atmosphere is so relaxing. You’ll spot the flat-bottomed Douro Rabello boats, which were historically used to transport the Port wine from the UNESCO Alto Douro Valley vineyards to the cellars in the city.

A row of traditional Rabelo sailing boats moored up on the south side of the Douro River in Porto, Portugal
Rabelo boats moored up in Porto
The silhouettes of people walking past blue-tiled baroque Igreja do Carmo in Porto, Portugal
The iconic Blue & White tiles of Portugal

Dotted all around Porto are stunning pieces of architecture from striking Sé do Porto, the 18th-century Romanesque Cathedral, sitting high above the city. To the elegant Art Nouveau cafés and the azulejo tiled São Bento train station, depicting Portugal’s historical past.

Ahh, yes, then there are the Heritage Trams weaving their way through Porto's narrow streets and lanes. Jump on route 22 to take in Porto’s famous sites.

Where to stay in Porto

- Condes de Azevedo Palace Apartments – The bright, modern, fully equipped apartments are located in a historic building just around 500 yards from Porto's Ribeira district. Free onsite parking is available.

Local information

For more local information on Porto, head to Visit Porto & The North

If you've yet to visit the charming and colourful city of Porto, then you're in for a treat.

I found this DK Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide invaluable.

They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you to discover more.

DK Porto guide cover

Now heading to Tavira in southern Portugal, to the far-eastern shores of the Algarve.
 
Tavira is a charming, welcoming town with whitewashed dwellings lining the ancient streets, giving that lovely Moorish influence throughout.
 
Straddling the River Gilão is a 17th-century seven arched bridge believed to be of Roman origin. Looking back across the bridge, you get a lovely view over Tavira. However, to see Tavira from high up above its colourful rooftops with birds soaring past your eyeline, you must head to Tavira Castle.

The massive door to the church of Santa Maria do Castelo in Tavira on Portugal's Algarve Coast.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo in Tavira
One of the stone towers of the Castelo de Tavira in Tavira
A tower of the Castelo de Tavira

Remains of the medieval castle and its ramparts can still be appreciated, with a pleasant, shady tree garden planted within its historic walls. Tavira Castle was partially destroyed during the colossal Lisbon earthquake in 1755, which devasted Lisbon and many towns in-between.
 
It is a delightful experience strolling around Tavira and its many praças and tempting restaurants serving delicious fresh fish and seafood. Although, if it’s churches you enjoy visiting, then Tavira is for you, as it has an incredible 37 chapels and churches for you to discover.

Where to stay in Tavira

- Pousada Convento de Tavira – It is located around a quiet courtyard in St. Augustine’s Convent. Just a short stroll from this charming, friendly hotel, and you are in the Old Town of Tavira. This hotel offers free onsite parking.

More Info

For a little bit more information on Tavira, head to Visit Portugal

Tomar is located in the heart of central Portugal, and for us, it was a delightful find. It’s a lovely size city to stroll around, overflowing with history and plenty of restaurants to savour. Actually, there not too many tourists.
 
Doubtless, the primary reason visitors head to Tomar is to see the magnificent Knights Templar Church and its incredible labyrinth of cloisters. The ancient chapel is situated in the Templar Castle, which sits high on a hill overlooking Tomar city.

The tower of the Convent of Christ in Tomar framed in one of the arches from the Washing Cloister
The Washing Cloister in the Convent of Christ, Tomar
The intricate detail of the inner chapel of the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Portugal
The intricate detail in the Convent of Christ in Tomar
If you enjoy history and are fascinated by the Order of the Knights Templar, then it’s a must to visit the Convent of Christ. The convent was founded in the 12th-century by the first Grand Master of the Order of the Templars, during which time the 16-sided Charola was built, and it is breath-taking.
Allow plenty of time to visit the Covent as you really wouldn’t want to miss out on discovering the numerous cloisters, courtyards and tranquil gardens. The architecture throughout the UNESCO World Heritage Site is wonderful, from the well-trodden narrow stone corridors to the intricate Manueline Window in Saint Barbara’s Cloister.
The Republic Square in Tomar with a statue to a Knight Templar in the centre
The Praça da República in Tomar
Once you’ve visited Temple Castle, head back into the medieval city to enjoy the rustic lanes of Tomar Old Town. Stroll around the charming Praça da República and the 16th-century Gothic Church of São João Baptista. Why not enjoy a refreshing drink at one of Tomar’s bustling street-side bars or cafés?

Where to stay in Tomar

- Hotel Dos Templarios – This is a reasonably large hotel in a peaceful location next to the Nabão River. The rooms were spacious, had free onsite parking, and only a 10-minute stroll into Tomar Old Town.

Local information

For a little bit more information on Tomar, head to Visit Portugal

Discover more

If you’re touring Portugal on a road trip, look at our post on the UNESCO sites in Portugal. All of them are incredible. I really don’t think I could choose a favourite.
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9 UNESCO Sites to visit in Portugal

by Janis on  31 May 19

While the captivating palaces of Sintra are accessible from Lisbon and can be enjoyed as a day trip, why not stay overnight and experience the quieter side of Sintra
 
The main decisions when visiting Sintra are which enchanting palaces and gardens you want to head to first, bearing in mind you may not discover them all in a short stay.

The Portal of the Guardians in the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal
The Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

Whichever you chose, I’m sure they will be delightful. Our plan was to visit Quinta da RegaleiraPalácio Nacional da PenaCastelo dos Mouros . Unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore Castelo dos Mouros.

Nevertheless, Quinta da Regaleira and Palácio Nacional da Pena were magnificent, and I’m pleased that we enjoyed them both to the full. My favourite was Quinta da Regaleira, with its mysterious Initiatic Wells, caves, grottos, waterfalls and underground walkways. You felt like you were a child and on an adventure in a magical secret garden.

The Palace of Pena from just inside the entrance gate, Sintra, Portugal
The Palace of Pena in Sintra, Portugal
Our next stop was Palácio Nacional da Pena. This fairy-tale palace is an instant blast of colour and amazing architecture amongst its turrets and towers. The palace’s main façade is adorned with Moorish tiles and Triton, the half-man half-fish mythological figure.

At Pena Palace, allow time to stroll through the Garden of Camelias, down to the Valley of the Lakes and take a peek at the colourful duck house.

It isn’t surprising that the cultural landscape of Sintra is inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A day trip from Lisbon

Where to stay in Sintra

- Chalet Saudade – This Is a beautifully restored 19th-century hotel in peaceful surroundings and located in the heart of Sintra. Just a short stroll away and you’ll have access to local restaurants and public transport.

Local information

For a little bit more information on Sintra, head to Visit Portugal

Our Tip

The buses around Sintra get very busy late afternoon. If you are catching a bus back to Sintra from Pena, I would suggest walking down through the gardens and picking the bus up by the Duck Pond/Gatekeeper’s House. This stop is prior to The Castle of the Moors & the main entrance to the Palace of Pena stop and therefore quieter.
The medieval hilltop town of Óbidos is captivating; it’s precisely how you would envisage a quaint Portuguese fortified town to be. With charming narrow cobble-stoned lanes, a maze of whitewashed homes and vibrant overflowing window boxes.
The well preserved medieval Obidos Castle on the edge of the old town
Looking up at the Óbidos castle

Óbidos’s ancient history dates back centuries, even prior to the Roman’s arrival. Evidence of Roman ruins can still be found around the base of the medieval towers of Óbidos Castle. Not only are you able to visit the well-preserved castle, but you can also even stay overnight if you wish.
 
At the opposite end of Óbidos through the city gate, adorned with Azulejo, is a 16th -century aqueduct. This aqueduct was built around 1570 at the orders of the Queen of Portugal (Queen Catherine). It’s believed to be the last fully intact aqueduct in Portugal.

A stone cross in the centre of a tiny medieval square in the old town of Óbidos
The Peaceful lanes of Óbidos
A couple walking along the main thoroughfare of old Óbidos town dusk.
Evening along the Rua Direita, Óbidos

The colourful medieval street of Rua Direita snakes its way through the town amongst little boutiques, ice cream parlours and intriguing stores. Strolling a couple of lanes back and the quiet alleyways offer tiny, picturesque courtyards and some of the smallest chapels you’ll ever visit.
 
I would urge you to stay overnight as the evening draws on, the visitors disappear, and you’ll have Óbidos to yourselves.

Where to stay in Óbidos

- Pousada Vila Óbidos – Located in the heart of Óbidos Medieval Old Town, this 4-star Pousada is modern throughout and offers a buffet breakfast.

Local information

For more information on Óbidos and beyond, head to Visit Portugal

Our recent new found love is Portugal, it is such a beautiful country. While planning our trip, I used the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our north to south Portuguese road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.

DK Portugal cover

Ponte de Lima is located in the northwest of Portugal and is named after the Roman Bridge that spans the River Lima banks.
 
The bridge is an integral part of Ponte de Lima it’s where visitors and locals alike often flock to. Ponte de Lima formed part of the main Roman Road from Braga, northwest to Santiago de Compostela; it would later become part of the Portuguese Way.

The view along the River Limia to the Roman bridge spanning it at Ponte de Lima in Northern Portugal
The view of the Roman bridge at the Ponte de Lima

Ponte de Lima is an incredibly ancient town and is one of the oldest settlements in Portugal. It was given its first charter in 1125 by the mother of the first King of Portugal.
 
Located in Portugal's lush farming region, there are beautiful sculptures and bronzes dotted throughout Ponte de Lima depicting farmworkers and their trade.

A view along the streets of Ponte de Lima, with the Torre da Cadeia Velha, or the Old Prison Tower, in the background.
The view along Passeio 25 de Abri in Ponte de Lima

As you stroll further back amongst the narrow streets of Ponte de Lima, the charming town, its attractive architecture, and well-maintained gardens reveal their selves even more.
 
Ponte de Lima is situated in the Minho Provence of Portugal, which can only mean one thing, it’s the land of Vinho Verde. The light “green wine” with a summer vibe and a pleasant light effervescence.

Where to stay in Ponte de Lima

- Hotel Império do Norte– This is a very comfortable hotel located on River Lima banks and just a short stroll to the old town. The hotel offers free private parking.

Local information

For a little bit more information regarding Ponte de Lima, head to Visit Ponte de Lima

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