#sparktravels: A Native’s Five-Day Guide to Portugal

If it feels like your favorite bloggers and celebrities are packing their bags for Portugal, it’s probably because it’s the newest travel hotspot. This quaint country tucked along the western coast of Europe, is home to glistening beaches, eclectic palaces, and colorful cities. It’s scenic grandeur is sure to take your breath away.

While I now reside in Austin, Texas, this summer I spent five magnificent weeks exploring my home country. Although summer is coming to an end, it’s never too early to start planning your next adventure. A five-week vacation isn’t always realistic, so I’ve created a five-day guide to some of my favorite spots in Portugal.

Here’s to delicious food, rugged coastlines, lush hills, and colorful cities in the most amazing country in the world (in my very humble, non-biased opinion, of course).

Day 1

Lisbon, Portugal

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Bem vindo a Lisboa.

Put on a comfy pair of shoes and get ready for a calf work out because Lisbon is known as the city on seven hills and that’s no exaggeration.

Igreja de São Domingos

Portugal is full of ornate churches but among those lies a church with charcoaled walls and an eerie burnt orange ceiling. Igreja de São Domingos gets its architectural character from suffering two earthquakes and a tragic fire. This cherished landmark is a nice contrast to the otherwise gold, ostentatious churches in Portugal, as the city was sure to preserve marks left behind by the devastating natural disasters.

Elevador de Santa Justa

A short five-minute walk from Igreja de São Domingos is the famous Elvador de Santa Justa. This lift connects the lower streets of the Baixia with the higher Largo do Carmo. Ride up to the very top and, from there, admire one of the best panoramic views of Lisbon.

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Peekaboo Castelo de São Jorge. Photo credits: Maria Tangarova.

Convento do Carmo

From a church with burnt walls to a roofless convent – Convento do Carmo also suffered from the same earthquake in 1755 which left this convent roofless, albeit still just as stunning.

Café A Brasileira

Just a three-minute walk to one of the oldest cafés in the old quarter of Lisbon. Throughout its many years of life, this art-deco café was a hot spot for intellectuals, artists, and writers.

Funicular

The best form of transportation in Lisbon is by far the funicular, a ride on one of these is a must. If you ask kindly, the conductor may let you stand next to the driver’s seat for the best view!

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Putting the fun in funicular.

Museu da Cerveja

If you’re feeling a bit peckish: in Portugal, where there is beer, there is an appetite. I suggest stopping by the Meusu da Cerveja for lunch or a snack. This two-story restaurant/museum once housed Portugal’s Ministry of Finance.  Along with the museum on the second floor, the first floor is a lavish restaurant brewery. I recommend ordering pastel de bacalhau and the museums Branca (blond) draft beer.

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From the Ministry of Finance to Beer Museum, we chose the latter.

Praça do Comércio

Museu da Cerveja is conveniently located in the Praça do Comércio. Take a leisure stroll around the square and hop on one of the nearby tour buses if you so desire!

Day 2

Lisbon, Portugal

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Prine Henry the Navigator. Photo credits: Maria Tangarova

In Lisbon’s district of Belém, many Portuguese explorers embarked on their voyages of discoveries. During the Age of Discoveries, Lisbon thrived with riches which poured into the district of Belém.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

This monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an excellent example of the Gothic Manueline architectural style. Construction started in 1501 and I can’t help but admire the genius behind its architectural plans and execution.

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Just your average 500-year-old monastery. Photo credits: Maria Tangarova.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos

This monument is located along the Tagus River where ships would depart to explore and trade. Padrão dos Descobrimentos celebrates the 15th and 16th century Age of Discoveries.

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Portuguese Age of Discoveries. Photo credits: Maria Tangarova

Torre de Belém

Feast your eyes on another UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Age of Discoveries, Torre de Belém was designed as a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River. You can easily tour the tower, but I’m usually too excited (and hungry) for the next stop, so I opt out and admire its architectural beauty from the outside.

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Little girl, big tower.

Pastéis de Belém

I always like to save the best for last, and in my opinion, the best of traveling is always the food. Your taste buds are probably not ready for the glory that is the famous pastel de nata in Belém. While you can find a pastel de nata in any Portuguese café, no other cafe has this award winning secret recipe. This ancient recipe was established and passed on exclusively to the pastry chefs who hand make these desserts in a secret room. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top of your pastel and indulge.

Day 3

Sintra, Portugal 

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A royal sanctuary.

Exquisite palaces, extravagant residences, and elaborate gardens, Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon and will surely capture your heart.

Quinta da Regaleira

MTV’s cribs can’t compete with Quinta da Regaleira. This romantic property has a five-story palace, chapel, and charming gardens. Sorry MTV…

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Stepping stones and green ponds.
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A secret entrance into the famous initiation well.

Palacio de Seteais

After exploring Quinta da Regaleira, Palacio de Seteais is the perfect place to eat brunch or lunch. This five-star hotel serves the most amazing high tea. If you’re looking for Instagram worthy food pictures, look no further. By far the most chivalrous waiters, tasteful food, and stunning view.

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Pinkies up.
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I’m moving in, keep up with me on the Suite Life of Leonor.

Palácio da Pena

After filling your belly with delicious food, hop in a taxi and head over to the Palácio da Pena. This colorful, hilltop palace is a perfect example of romanticism in Portugal. Every Disney palace wishes they were half as pretty as Pena.

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I have a thing for windows.
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An unconventional rainbow.

Vila de Sintra

The grandeur of Sintra can be a tad overwhelming. After exploring Palacio da Pena, I suggest riding a tuk-tuk (cute and colorful three-wheeled motorized vehicle used as a taxi) down to the village. Here you’ll find cozy shops at every corner stocked with perfect souvenirs and locals dancing to talented street performers playing Portuguese guitar.

Day 4

Valmitão, Portugal

When in Portugal, everyone deserves a beach bum day. Amid all the sightseeing, treat yourself and lounge around for a day.

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Fisherman and his boat.

Nestled atop a cliff overlooking the crisp sea is a quaint yellow house which my grandparents call home. The precipice harbors actual ancient ruins of dinosaur bones within the rock and clay as though silent companions for my ancestors’ final resting place. Here lies the pearl of Portugal: Praia do Valmitão.

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Backyard views.
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A scenic hike down the cliff.
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Paradise found.

If you’re hoping to stay near a larger city, the beaches in Cascais or Porto are also a great option. Or if you have a couple of extra days I’d suggest visiting Algarve!

Day 5

Porto, Portugal

 

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Stone walls are so yesterday.

Porto was always one of those places I intended to visit but never got around to. This year I decided there was no better time to visit than the present and I fell in love.

Livaria Lello

For all you Harry Potter fans, I’ve got a treat for you! This stunning bookshop was a prominent hang out spot for famed writers – even J.K. Rowling was a loyal customer. It’s even rumored that this bookshop inspired many of the architectural elements of Hogwarts.

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I was so mesmerized by the interior I forgot to take a picture, that says a lot.

 Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

Adorned by the famous azulejos (tiles) this chapel depict scenes from the life of Saint Ildefonso and figurative imagery from the Gospels.

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From flower to tile walls, the Portuguese sure know how to decorate.

Cafe Majestic

Café Majestic is exactly what its name stands for. The food, location, architecture, it’s all magical. Perfect place for breakfast or a light snack! Café Majestic shares the same street as many amazing fashion stores. What could be better than a satisfied tummy and some new shoes?

Igreja dos Clérigos

The tight narrow staircase up the tall bell tower will get your calves burning, but the view is well worth the trek up.

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240 steps later.

Dinner at Douro

Along the Douro River, there are plenty of lovely restaurants. Find a restaurant to your liking, enjoy the sunset over the river and be sure to try port wine for dessert!

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Bacalhau com natas and salmonete e lulas com purê de batata.

Bonus Day 6

Obidos, Portugal

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Obidos: a town on a hilltop encircled by a fortified wall.

If you travel to Portugal during the Obidos Mercado Medieval (typically in July), an evening visit is a must. Dress up, dine, and dance like you’re living in the medieval times.

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Here silverware is optional.
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I made a new friend during the parade, I call him Camelo.
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The dark night won the joust.
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Can I add sword fighting to my list of uncommon talents?
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Handmade for sale.

Portugal may be a small country, but it’s hard to fit all it has to offer in just five (or six) short days. This country is sure to leave a sweet taste in your mouth – probably because of all the lovely pastries. If you’re looking for your next trip abroad, keep this beautiful little corner of Europe in mind.

Leonor Martins

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