Magnificent tile facade of Igreja do Carmo, a Rococo church in Porto

A visit to Portugal has always been on my bucket list. And now I’m wondering why it took me so long to visit this eclectic unexpected country. We packed a lot into nine days – four different places with stops along the way. The standout in every city and village was the jaw-dropping architecture – from the candy coloured walls of the Pena Palace in Sintra, to the striped cottages along the Costa Nova, to the tiled walls of Porto’s grand churches. My post isn’t a travel guide – you can buy plenty of well written books (we used Fodors) – but an overview of where we stopped with some helpful tips. 

Exploring the Castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon

I only had a week off at the beginning of October, plus an extra day due to Thanksgiving, so we looked for direct flights to and from Toronto to a sunny destination. High expectations! We flew to Lisbon via Air Canada Rouge and returned direct from Porto. The weather was spectacular – hot and sunny every day. 

Our Route: 3 nights in Lisbon. We stayed in the touristy Baixa area which I would avoid in future. And I’d add another night to explore the neighbourhoods better.

1 night in Evora, a medieval village, at the M’Ar de ar Muralhas, which was amazing. After exploring the old town, we relaxed by the pool.

2 nights in Alcobaca Cela in a hilltop village where we could relax or explore the nearby seaside villages. We loved the Vale d’Azenha Hotel & Rural Residences – very modern with stunning views and another great pool. 

3 nights in Porto. We stayed outside of the touristy harbour area (thank goodness) in LestheHome Apartments, a 9 apartment space next to the decor shop of the same name.

Sweet striped cottages in Costa Nova

We could have easily taken the train from Lisbon to Porto but we would have missed out on all of the treasures along the spectacular coast – like Costa Nova and Aveiro. Next time, I’ll spend a few days in this area – fantastic beaches and so much to see. The highways are easy to drive and very lightly travelled. You’ll need a GPS as streets signs are difficult to find, if they exist at all. Don’t bother with a car in Lisbon or Porto – both cities are very walkable. Travel tip: Take the subway system to and from the Porto airport. It’s clean, fast and cheap. 

Pena Palace in Sintra

We booked a full day coach tour from Lisbon to Sintra (the train system was on strike) which was brilliant! With its brightly coloured exterior, the Pena Palace in Sintra was awesome. Don’t bother with the blah interior tour. The rest of the day included stops in Cabo da Roca, the Westernmost point of Europe, and Caiscais, a seaside retreat a short drive from Lisbon. 

Livraria Lello, Porto

An unexpected highlight in Porto was the Livraria Lello, a bookstore said to inspire JK Rowling when writing Harry Potter. Walk everywhere! The views from the pedestrian deck of the Ponte Luiz are spectacular. But skip spending too much time at the waterfront (packed with tourists) and the full day Douro River cruise which turned into an afternoon booze cruise for old folks. 

Monument of Discoveries, Lisbon

Belem is a 20 minute trip by tram from Lisbon. The walk along the water takes you past some incredible sights including the Monument of Discoveries and the Tower Belem. 

Travel tip: Cash is the only option at most of the small boutiques and restaurants we encountered in Portugal. ATMs are easy to find, but you’ll need to be cautious. I watched several pick pockets at work in Lisbon. 

We packed a lot of sights into a short time. I can’t wait to return to Portugal. Next time, I will fly to Porto, and then leisurely drive south to the Algarve. Check out more of my photos on Instagram under #tantrumtravels, and don’t forget to pack your travel guide. It helped to organize our quick itinerary and pick the best sightseeing and eating spots.