Our recent trip to Portugal was an unforgettable 8-night (initially planned for nine nights) venture split between Lisbon and Porto. A hiccup with British Airways due to some labor strikes led to a one-day delay, but fortune favored us as we secured a spot on an American Airlines flight the next day.
The setback didn’t dim our spirits as we set out to explore some of the must-visit city hangouts and hidden gourmet hotspots. From the rich history and culture to the excellent cuisine, our journey through both cities was a fantastic adventure.
If Portugal is on your horizons, consider this blog your perfect guide.
Where to Stay
During my travels around Portugal, I had the pleasure of staying at two incredible luxury hotels: the Valverde Hotel in Lisbon and the PortoBay Flores Hotel in Porto. Both accommodations offer an excellent luxury experience for travelers who appreciate impeccable service and beautiful accommodations. When visiting Portugal, these two hotels should be at the top of your list.
Lisbon Accommodation: Valverde Hotel
In the heart of Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, I discovered the Valverde Hotel—a five-star boutique luxury oasis. One couldn't ask for a better location; right on the doorstep was a plethora of shops, restaurants, and convenient meeting points for tours. Celebrating just over a decade of operation, the service and sophistication at this hotel are remarkable. They started with a modest 25-room offering but expanded their capacity to 48 rooms in 2020. The Valverde Hotel won my heart not only with its proximity to the city’s notable attractions but also by way of its temperature-control outdoor pool—a rare gem in a city known for scorching summer temperatures.
Every morning, I was greeted with a complimentary breakfast that set the perfect tone for the day ahead. The included mimosas were the perfect touch to the delightful breakfast spread, which consisted of fresh pastries, a variety of meats, cheeses, and a selection of freshly squeezed juices. Many hot dishes were also available, adding variety to an already lavish buffet. Pro Tip: The hotel restaurant is an excellent spot for a wind-down drink after a day of adventure. This is also where you can redeem your welcome drink.
What truly sets the Valverde Hotel apart, however, is its service. To say they excelled would be an understatement. The staff was very involved in our stay, recommending marvelous local restaurants and securing our dinner reservations. When we faced issues with our room's AC late at night, the hotel staff diligently sent maintenance to fix it, ultimately moving us to another room and handling our luggage. One morning, when an early tour coincided with our breakfast time, they accommodated us by providing an in-room breakfast service we had ordered the night before. It arrived punctually and made for a delicious start to our busy day. Pro Tip: communicate with the hotel through WhatsApp—it's a convenient, timely, and effective way of maintaining close contact with the hotel for any requests or assistance.
Porto Accommodation: PortoBay Flores Hotel
PortoBay Flores Hotel was our chosen boutique luxury retreat in the vibrant city of Porto. This charming 5-star hotel is located on a pedestrian-only street in the picturesque Flores neighborhood. The hotel offers 66 rooms and suites with amenities including a restaurant, a bar, a spa & gym, and a charming indoor pool. We truly loved this hotel's numerous little spots where you could sit and relax, whether by the radiant courtyard, the peaceful reading room, or the awe-inspiring 18th-century chapel. The spa at PortoBay Flores was undoubtedly my favorite amenity. Featuring a sauna, steam room, showers, and an indoor pool with natural light, the spa was a dream come true. We even tried their honeymoon package, which included couples' massages and an optional facial treatment.
Much like the Valverde in Lisbon, the breakfast was on the house and mouthwateringly delicious. The buffet included the usual spread with fresh bread, bacon, eggs, and more. Once again, we had the option to order hot dishes like omelets and pancakes—ensuring a hearty start to every day. Pro Tip: Make sure to dine at the hotel's restaurant. The three-course meal we had there, which was gifted to us, was one of the best meals we had during our trip. The wine was excellent, and the food was delicious!
The service, if possible, exceeded even that at Valverde. The staff left no stone unturned to make our anniversary memorable, recommending restaurants, arranging dinner reservations, and even surprising us with a bottle of champagne and chocolates. When we had an early train ride and couldn't enjoy breakfast, they kindly prepared breakfast boxes for our departure. Again, WhatsApp proved a game-changer in ensuring seamless communication with the staff.
Where To Eat
Top on the list is Sea Me, a delight for seafood lovers. I had a stunning meal at their main restaurant, but there's also an outlet available in the lively hub of Time Out Market.
For something sweet, I recommend Santini. Their gelato is simply phenomenal—a perfect treat on a hot Portuguese day.
Sala De Corte
On the savory end of things comes Sala De Corte, an exceptional Portuguese steakhouse that offered us the best steak we've ever had. Pair this with the engaging service and killer cocktails; you are set for an unforgettable meal.
Maria Palato, a charming wine shop, is another must-visit. It's an ideal place for a wine and snack break amidst city explorations.
Indulge in traditional Portuguese marvels at Gambrinus.
Liberta Pasta Bar
Head to the Liberta Pasta Bar in Time Out Market for some delicious pasta.
The list doesn't end there, though. Other commendable eateries include Tapas Bar 52 and Pinoquio, which serves hearty seafood, steak, and traditional Portuguese dishes. Bonjargim gets a shoutout for its Piri Piri Chicken, while Monkey Mash and Mama Shelter offer excellent rooftop bars for a chill evening. Boteco treats your palate to Brazilian Steakhouse vibes, and Belcanto, a 2-star Michelin restaurant, guarantees a luxurious dining experience. Pensao Amor offers a speakeasy-type cocktail bar worth your time, and Trevo serves up a delectable pork sandwich.
But let's face it, no trip to Portugal is complete without tasting some local favorites. Throw caution to the wind and dive straight into a plate of spicy Piri Piri Chicken. Don't miss the country's iconic Custard Tart—a dessert lover's paradise. Cod Fritters and Sardines should ideally make up your seafood sampling, and try the local shot, Ginjinha, for a kick of Portuguese spirit. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
Traca Restaurants, renowned for its various delectable meats, was a delight for the carnivore in me.
Pizzeria Bella Mia
Pizzeria Bella Mia, on the other hand, was a paradise for pizza lovers. Serving up what could easily be called the best pizza I've tasted, this spot is not one to miss.
Café Santiago, known for the Franceshia sandwich, became our go-to place for a casual and hearty meal. This sandwich, an iconic dish of Porto, was something you just have to try when in the city.
For special occasions, we treated ourselves at the Blind Restaurant. This was an extraordinary fine dining experience where we could choose between a ten or 12-course offer. I would absolutely suggest opting for the wine pairing. Not only did it complement each course beautifully, but it also gave us an opportunity to try wines from all over Portugal, showcasing how the taste varied from region to region.
Other commendable restaurants we discovered included Puro 4050 for its fantastic Italian food, Mistu for a fusion of Portuguese and Spanish fare, Adega De Sao Nicolau, and Terreirinho Restaurant for a traditional Portuguese culinary experience. The must-tries in Porto go beyond restaurants, though. Your taste journey would be incomplete without trying the famous Port Wine or the Franceshia sandwich I mentioned earlier.
What To Do
During our trip to Portugal, we explored Lisbon for four fantastic days. Lisbon has many things to do beyond exploring its historical landmarks, as the city is brimming with unique and memorable activities. Here's a rundown of some of the best experiences I had there:
One of our most enjoyable excursions was a 2-hour Historical Private Tuk Tuk Tour. Zipping through Lisbon's streets, we saw a fascinating blend of history and modernity. To further immerse ourselves in the local culture, we participated in a Small Group Portuguese Food and Wine Tour, which was a delightful journey through Portugal's culinary traditions. In the city, we made it a point to explore Time Out Market, an expansive food hall. This spot offers a plethora of eateries and is a must-visit for food lovers. In the evenings, we wandered over to Pink Street for a delightful bar-hopping experience, something I highly recommend.
Other notable activities in Lisbon include visiting the vibrant LX Factory for its colorful shops and restaurants. For panoramic views of the city, go to Castelo de Sao Jorge. Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery are iconic sites not to be missed, while the interactive Lisboa Story Center and Beer Museum offer insightful ways to learn about the city. To dive into Portugal's artistic side, the Tile Museum is an absolute must. A unique aspect of Lisbon is its thriving cork industry – take the time to visit one of the many cork shops, such as the House of Cork or Cork House.
Finally, our day trip to Sintra was a highlight, filled with fantastic experiences. We visited the enchanting Pena Palace and the enigmatic Quinta da Regaleira, both of which boast mesmerizing architecture and captivating history.
Regarding transportation, Lisbon is a very walkable city, albeit hilly in some areas. We relied on Uber for longer distances, but public transportation options such as trams, trains, and subways are also easily accessible. When traveling from Lisbon to Porto, we took a train, which was a straightforward journey. While the train ride was unremarkable, it transported us between the two cities efficiently. Pro Tip: it's not worth purchasing first-class rail tickets, as there is little difference from regular tickets in our experience.
During our four-day stay in Porto, we had many fantastic experiences that made our trip unforgettable. A highlight was undoubtedly the Douro Valley Wine Tour. This lovely excursion took us to three vineyards, where we indulged in wine tastings and a delectable lunch featuring local cuisine. The vineyards' beauty, coupled with the decadent flavors, made it a truly memorable day.
Sao Bento Train Station was next on our list. Visitors are usually smitten by the grandeur of the artwork adoring the station, and we were no exception. Meanwhile, the Lello Bookstore, known to have inspired JK Rowling, was a treat for the literature enthusiasts in us. Pro Tip: get your tickets in advance to avoid long queues. For a bit of retail therapy, we headed to Claus Porto, a famous establishment known for its luxurious soaps.
Additional activities worth exploring in Porto include visiting the bustling Bolhao Fish Market and a stroll across the iconic Luis Bridge. A picturesque river cruise offers a unique perspective on the city, while a Tuk Tuk tour is a fun and engaging way to navigate Porto's vibrant streets.
Regarding transportation, Porto is a walkable city, but beware: some hills are steep! For longer distances, we used Uber or taxis. This city could pose some challenges for those with mobility issues due to the uneven terrain. Public transportation includes metros and buses, which are efficient and accessible.
In conclusion, Portugal truly stole our hearts, and we can't wait to return and uncover more of the hidden treasures that this beautiful country holds.
Looking to plan a Portugal Adventure? Reach out to the expert planners at Travel Queen LLC! As experts in all things luxury travel, we know what it takes to create the ultimate vacation. Let us help create your most memorable getaway yet!
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