One of my favourite things about living in Europe is being able to change environments in the blink of an eye. If ever in need of foreign food, unfamiliar faces or a change of surrounding architecture, all you need to do is hop on a short flight out of your country to find yourself in an entirely different backdrop. Whether you’re just staying for the weekend or taking a day or two off work, you return energised and fully replenished thanks to the change of scenery.
During my time in Europe, I’ve done all sorts of short getaways like hitch hiking to Copenhagen, exploring the Irish countryside, learning to drink vodka in Warsaw, clubbing in London, discovering the nooks of Budapest…
..And sampling Portugal’s delights.
Because I wanted to experience as much of the country as I could in a short amount of time, I decided to move around a little. Without having too much of a schedule I managed to see a little more than just one city, unlike usual short getaways.
DAY 1: PORTO
Thanks to the abundance of low cost flights, I was able to snatch return tickets to Porto for less than €60 per person. When it comes to picking a weekend destination, one of my main requirements is low transportation costs.
With its cobbled hilled streets, blue-and white tiled walls and a fantastic river side sunset, I found Porto the ideal place to start a trip in Portugal. Its small size allows you to stroll around and take in the atmosphere without feeling the pressure of having to visit a long list of must-see attractions.
Admire the architecture, try Port wine- the national drink, taste some local staples like grilled sardines or for the more adventurous, “tripas a modo de porto”: tripe cooked with dry beans, vegetables, pig’s trotters and offal. Although the latter dish is probably quite tasty, to me, it translated to ‘guts, pork feet and other organs’-stew, so I didn’t try it. If any of you have, please let me know if I missed out on anything!
The city really livens up in the evenings, cafés and restaurants are full of chitchatting Portuguese and internationals. Bars open late with customers often standing just outside talking, drinking, laughing on the street.
DAY 2: TRAIN TO LISBON
There are direct trains heading to the country’s capital from Porto every hour. The journey lasts around three hours and costs about €25 one way. We left Porto after breakfast and arrived in Lisbon in time for lunch.
I’ve said this before: I love cities by the ocean or the sea, Lisbon is no exception. The ocean brings a sense of cool and a laid-back atmosphere to the city.
A short visit doesn’t really do Lisbon justice considering all she has to offer; history, unique architecture, delicious comfort food, picturesque neighbourhoods, stylish shops and a vibrant party scene. Nonetheless, it’s a good introduction.
DAY 3: LISBON ON FOOT AND BY TRAM
Yet another city that lends itself perfectly for exploration on foot. Lisbon is bigger than Porto though, so your feet will be thankful when you jump on to one of the signature yellow trams. We spent the day in and around Belém visiting castles, picnicking in the botanical gardens, trying the famous Pasteis de nata, which are not to be missed.
DAY 4: DRIVING TO THE DOURO VALLEY
On day four we rented a car and drove north, enjoying the beautiful scenery on the way to the Douro Valley. This area was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is THE place to be for wine tourism in Portugal.
It is crucial to have your own transportation when visiting this region as it allows you to move freely and make as many photo stops needed. As you drive down the scenic route, signs lead the way to a plentitude of vineyards. Pop in and visit one or several of the wine estates. Most of them welcome visitors and even have (free) guided tours around the premises, explaining the types of grapes and the manufacturing process. Sampling is of course, part of the learning process… But don’t get too carried away, you still have to drive! We spent the night in Amarante, one of the towns in the area.
DAY 5: HOME BOUND
We made sure to use a rental company that allowed us to pick up the car in one city (Lisbon) and drop it in another (Porto). So on day 5 we were able to drive the car to the airport in Porto where we returned it. And so ended a perfect short getaway in Portugal.
Ladies, leaves your heels at home. I’m serious, these parts of the country are absolutely not heel friendly. You’ll ruin your shoes and you’ll be too focussed looking down to enjoy the surroundings!
Have you been to Portugal?