Friday, April 26, 2019

Longer Travels {Lisbon & Porto, Portugal}

We recently got back from a week long trip to Portugal and it was amazing!  Serafina had spring break (which is called Semana Santa or Holy Week here in Spain) and instead of hanging out at home all week, we decided why not travel!  Plane tickets were expensive because all of Europe takes this week off from school, coinciding with Easter.  We love Portugal and it is within driving distance so we figured we should explore some new areas of the amazing country right next to us!
We covered a lot of ground and did this in five full days with two days of driving to and from our house to northern Portugal.  All of the places we went in Portugal were within a one to two hour drive from each other making the driving a little easier as we weren't in the car for very long periods of time within Portugal -- the drive to and from our house was about five/six hours.  We also went during holidays for all of Europe, so things were fairly busy and packed, mainly with tourists from other countries within Europe.

We opted to head to Lisbon (we also went in November 2018) to see a few things we missed the first time and also to break up the longer drive up further north.  We spent the most of our time in Porto with a few stops along the way and back down.  I'll break down each city we went to and the activities we did as I think that will be easiest -- we were quite busy but had a blast, even if the weather didn't always cooperate!

We went over a long weekend in November 2018 but only spent one full day in Lisbon.  We desperately wanted to get back to see the Oceanario de Lisboa (aquarium) and it was so worth the trip -- it was huge and amazing and Serafina just absolutely loved it.  This aquarium is usually ranked among the top in the world and we can see why -- it seemed so big and never ending and was so cool for all ages (the aquarium in Valencia, Spain is bigger and higher ranking, but we liked Lisbon better).  The aquarium is located a little ways outside the main part of the city in Parque das Nações so make an afternoon (or morning) of heading out that way -- there is also a science museum there too (for slightly older kids than our little lady).  Sadly there isn't a super direct metro/tram or train from downtown Lisbon to the aquarium so take the bus. 

We also spent some time in the downtown/main part of Lisbon. Our plan was to ride of the famous trolleys or even take a hop on/hop off tram tour but once again, a trolley ride was not in the cards for us :(  We went on a hunt for coffee and wound up near the Convento do Carmo and Museu Arqueológico which was once an old convent but almost destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.  The museum has 4th century sarcophagi which was rather interesting to see -- worth a quick stop.  We were then just a short uphill walk from the Igreja and Museu São Roque, a gorgeous church* and decent museum -- again worth a stop. And since you are already so close, just keep walking up the hill to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (viewpoint) which gives you an amazing view of the castle.  The viewpoint also has open air kiosks for food and drinks, so it is a great place to grab a bite to eat -- we ate some amazing meat platter that we all just devoured!  You can take a tram up the view point (it will take you back down too) but we took a different way down... We walked to the top of the Santa Justa Lift and used our day passes for the metros/buses to ride it all the way down -- NO line and we didn't have to walk down the steep hill.  Highly recommend this route as you still get to ride the elevator without waiting in the hours long line.

So Lisbon is full of amazing food -- I wrote about where to eat in my other Lisbon post but I really do recommend going to Time Out Market -- it has something for the whole family and it is so good.  It is family style seating so you always have a blast talking with your table mates!  And you can also grab some amazing pastel de nata on the way out from Manteigaria which we think are even better than the ones in Belem.  We grabbed drinks at Tabaus Port Bar with some friends who were in Lisbon as well -- it was a cute place (not super kid friendly but they were accepting of Serafina).

We did all of this in one day (we are ambitious travelers) and we used a metro/tram day pass that we just bought in person at the metro station the day we planned to use it -- super easy and the best value if you plan on criss crossing the city like we did.  We stayed here which was near the aquarium and it was amazing -- one of the best AirBnB's we have ever stayed in and the host was so so sweet.

But then our quick stop in Lisbon was over and we headed on to....

We stopped here in Alcobaça to see the Mosteiro Alcobaça (the monastery) on our way to Porto.  The monastery is a Unesco World Heritage site and dated from the 12th century.  Driving up, the monestary is quite grand and gorgeous, towering over everything in the small town.  We showed up on Palm Sunday just as mass was starting so we were not able to see the church, but we were able to still see the monestary -- the old kitchen was the most impressive part.  You can buy a combination ticket that'll also get you in to the monasteries in Batalha and Tomar (the ticket lasts for 7 days so this is what we did).
After seeing the monasteries in Batalha and Tomar, we were slightly underwhelemed with this monastery -- so you could easily skip this one.
We stopped in Nazaré for lunch on the way to Porto (as it is only 20 minutes from Alcobaça).  This town was made famous in 2011 when Garrett McNamara rode the world's largest wave just north of the city -- surfers have been coming to Nazaré for years to surf; the wave in 2011 just put the town on the map for everyone else!  Nazare is a sleepy little beach town in off season and insanely touristy but also a super fun place to stop for lunch -- we ate at this cute burger place.
There is a furnicular that will take you up to Sítio (the upper part of town that gives you gorgeous views of the town and cliffs).  But you can also drive up here and park closer to lighthouse which is definitely worth a visit.  There is a small museum inside explaining why the waves in Nazaré are so big and also highlighting some of the more famous riders who have won competitions in the area.  It was so cool to see -- highly recommend this town even if you aren't into surfing!
High surf is in the winter so unless you go then, you won't see the massive waves -- but that doesn't mean you won't see gorgeous views and some fairly large waves whenever you go!

Then we spent two full days in Porto and this city is amazing -- despite the rain, we loved it!  You definitely need two days if you want to see everything and have a chance to do some port tasting (it is the birthplace of port after all).  We stayed here and it was fantastic -- great host and great location.
Porto has a lot to offer and most of what we saw was on the main Porto side of the Douro river (not including port tasting... keep reading for that).  We did most of this on foot as it is a fairly walkable city but be warned -- like every other town/city in Portugal, it is on a hill (and a steep one at that) so it was a lot of up and down!  Most of this was also done in one day -- so here is our walking tour of Porto --

We walked past Ingreja do Carmo, the church with the gorgeous azulejos (the famous hand-painted Portuguese blue tiles) covering the side (not worth going in).  And then we moved onto the Torre dos Clérigos which we also opted not to go into because it was going to be a 225-stair climb and well, I forgot our carrier at home (oops).  But it was quite impressive to see from the outside.  We then walked down the hill towards the São Bento Train Station to see more gorgeous azulejos before making our way further down the hill past the Palácio da Bolsa which we also didn't go into because it required an insanely long line and a guided tour (two things that don't always work well with our busy kiddo) -- you can at least look into the courtyard without needing a tour.  But we did go into the Ingreja de São Francisco (yes another church) to see the gorgeous golden interior.  It also had super creepy catacombs which Serafina loved and I just wanted out of (lots of stairs but the ticket office let us leave our stroller with them).  We kept walking towards Casa de Infante where legend states that Henry the Navigator was born in 1394 (it was closed the day we went but you can go inside).  By now we have made our way down to the river so we wanted along the Cais de Ribeira waterfront promenade before taking the furnicular back up the hill for lunch!  We hiked up to the Sé Cathedral -- the gorgeous cathedral sitting on the highest part of the city.  And while we both wanted to go in, we knew there were plenty of stairs and we had a sleeping Serafina in the stroller... so we hiked down the hill all the way to the World of Discoveries -- a very odd but hands on museum about all the countries Portuguese explorers "discovered."  This was a big disappointment for us (the adults) but Serafina did enjoy it... we knew there was a boat ride as part of the museum, what we didn't realize was that it was the whole museum -- so basically we waited for an hour an a half to ride a twenty minute boat ride.  Oh well, it kept us indoors and out of the rain!  And we did take the bus back up the hill.  We also went to famous Livraria Lello Bookstore -- considered one of the best in the world (and also famous for supposedly being inspiration for JK Rowling when she lived in Porto) and seriously one of the cooler things we have done.  But this tourist stop requires some planning -- and some tips.  So, it is a HUGE tourist destination in Porto (HUGE).  The shortest we ever saw the line was three blocks long....  You must purchase a voucher at the store two places away from the actual bookstore (on the corner) and leave all backpacks, strollers, large purses in the free lockers.  They will check your larger pieces in a closet, so just ask.  You can also purchase a voucher for the next day and this is what we did (you can also buy vouchers online).  So we got the vouchers and then showed up the next day a little early to get in line and then just waited.... I went and grabbed us coffee and we hung out.  The price of the voucher can go towards any book you purchase.  The bookstore is super strict on opening and closing times -- if you are in line but not inside when it closes, well you are out of luck!  So be warned.  But it was worth it!

The next day was gorgeous so we walked across the famous Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge (built by one of Gustave Eiffel's students) to the Vila Nova de Gaia -- where ALL the port caves are!  So it is wineries for wine, bodegas for sherry.... and caves (or sometimes cellars) for port!  Port (or port wine) is not just the sugary sweet after dinner wine you have probably had with dessert -- there are so many types and you can find one you like, promise.  I will say that if you have done one tour of wine, sherry or port, you have really done them all.  But still go and do at least one tour and experience the caves.  We specifically chose Taylor's Port because it is one of the more famous ones and it is also a self-guided, no reservations needed tour with an audioguide.  So we could go as fast or as slow as we wanted with our little lady.  And then we got to try two ports at the end (by far our favorite white port was Taylor's Chip-Dry).  Then we just kept going to various caves and tasting ports -- you don't have to do the tours at many places to try the port which is great because we knew Serafina wouldn't last through another tour!  We tried port at Croft and had their amazing rose port. We then wandered down to the boardwalk Cais de Gaia and tasted more port -- we went to the tasting rooms at Sandeman where we had some delicious port cocktails and the tasting room at Calem which was not our favorite.  All the places we went to had light appetizers with the exception of Sandeman that also had a decent lunch menu and you could buy port by the glass or do some flights.  There are so many other port caves in the area so basically just pick the least busiest!

We also took a boat tour on the river for a little break with Douro Azul tours -- it was fine.  We got to see the coast line a little bit and learned some fun facts but it wasn't amazing.
So, places to eat in Porto -- like any other place in Portugal, the food is amazing and it did not disappoint.  We ate brunch at Apartamento Cafe and it was amazing.  The best fluffy American pancakes I have ever had.  We all cleaned our plates and over a week later Serafina is still asking to go back and eat there.  We ate dinner at Bao's Taiwanese Burger and it was so yummy (and they were super accommodating to my allergies and making something special for Serafina).  We also ate at Presto Pizza and it was decent -- we choose it because it had families and lines out the door both times we walked past!  Good pizza, good service and again super accommodating to Serafina.  And finally, you can't go to Porto without eating the francesinha sandwich -- an amazing concoction of bread, ham, steak, cured sausage (linquiça), more sausage (chipolata) then covered in cheese and a hot tomato/beer/slightly spicy sauce and topped with an egg -- basically a better croque monsieur.  It is amazing.  And we ate at Cafe Santiago where the francesinha is said to have all started!

Coimbra was a stop on the way back south (we stayed our last night in Tomar so we didn't have an 8+ hour drive home from Porto).  Coimbra is a university town -- the Universidade de Coimbra is Portugal's first university and one of the oldest in Europe.  We had plans to wander the whole city but it was pouring rain so we stuck just to the university area because they have a wonderful science museum. We specifically chose to stop in Coimbra so we could go to Museu da Ciência which is so worth a stop if you have kids (or just love science) -- it is part hands on (in one building) and part natural history museum (in another building but included in the same ticket).  The science museum has old school (17th century) science teaching tools and also so many animals, plants, fossils and a full sized skeleton of a right whale.  We also went to the Museu Macha do Castro which was quite large and very interesting -- had a very cool ancient roman crypt that was a maze and a little difficult to get out of!

Another stop on the way to Tomar -- this one to see Mosteiro Batalha. Yes, another monastery but this one was gorgeous (way better than the one in Alcobaça).  Solid rock has been carved into insanely intricate designs.  You can see the monastery from the freeway and it is quite impressive -- most of it was completed in 1434 but the unfinished chapels were made in the 15th and 16th century and these are gorgeous and not to be missed.  The Portuguese tombs of the unknown soldiers are also in this monastery as well as the tomb of Henry the Navigator.

Our place to sleep the last night of our trip -- making our drive closer to five/six hours home rather than the eight from Porto.  We stayed in an interesting part of town, it was a nice apartment (uncomfortable beds) but a little sketchy in the area, so I am not going to recommend it!  We ate dinner Restaurante Tabuleiro and it was amazing (the portions are huge, so order the half sizes).
Tomar is famous for being the headquarters for the Knights Templar.  The Convento de Cristo sits on top of the hill above Tomar (so drive up and park).  The convent was founded in 1160 and it is quite impressive, especially the 16-sided Templar church (one of the most gorgeous altars we have ever seen).
If you pick only one of the monasteries to see -- see this one.  It was amazing and really cool to wander around (and also quite large).

A quick word about Portugal and strollers... it is not the most stroller friendly country we have been to because everything is built on a hill (and usually steep ones).  We have a soft structured carrier that is amazing and Serafina loves and we fully planned on using this most days this trip.... But I forgot it at home.  So we were stuck with only the stroller and the way we travel, Serafina walks a lot but she can't keep up or walk all day.  So we managed with the stroller but we did carry it up and down A LOT of stairs.  So I recommend a carrier for Portugal.

This trip to Portugal was amazing and we fell even more in love with the country -- the food and drinks especially!  Portugal is very underrated with many American travelers and it should not be, it has quickly become one of our favorite places in the world!

*Our little lady has been in plenty of churches in her life and knows the drill -- to try and be quiet, even with the amazing acoustics in most churches which can be a nightmare for parents but so fun for kids to learn about echos :)  But on this particular tour around the church, Serafina heard a woman cough quite loudly -- and she proceeded to tell this woman that she was in a church and needed to be quiet.  Luckily the lady was sweet and thought it was adorable!

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