After spending 3 days in Lisbon, we headed up north to the second largest city in Lisbon - Porto. We took a high speed train from Lisbon and arrived in Porto in less than 3 hours. (For train bookings, click here).
In Porto, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Porto Gaia situated in the historical region of Vila Nova de Gaia. This lovely hotel overlooked the River Douro. While doing some research, I figured out that the best way to get around Porto was by tram. Our hotel was almost a 15-minute walk away from the closest metro stop. Initially, we dreaded these long walks but later we thought of them as a great way to burn those calories after all the eating!
Our plan was to hit all the wine spots first. We boarded the tram at the Joao de Deus metro stop and headed towards the Sao Bento metro stop. This is the last stop in the Vila Nova de Gaia region before it crosses over to Porto city. The Dom Luis I bridge spans which across the entire Douro River separates Porto city from Vila Nova de Gaia. The moment we got out of the station we were lost for words. The real Porto was there, right in front of us and it was simply beautiful!
To visit the wineries, we had a choice of either walking down to the river bank or using the cable car. Walk? What's that? We obviously opted for the latter. But in case you feel adventurous, you could maybe walk one way and return by cable car. We purchased two return cable car tickets which also gave us a two free wine samplings at the Quevedo Port Wine Shop.
On reaching down, we first made our way to Quevedo for our free wine samples and delicious nibbles.
For wine aficionados, there are scores of wine cellars in this area. Some of the popular ones are Taylor's, Sandeman, Graham's, Calem and Cockburn's. We decided to visit Taylor's. After a walk through the steep streets and cobblestone roads, we finally reached Taylor's.
Taylor's winery have briefing sessions in many different languages and at different times during the day . We had to wait for a while before we could get an English session. During the 30-minute session, we visited the wine cellars and were introduced to the making of port. We also got to taste four different kinds of wine!
Later that day, we headed towards Senhor de Matosinhos - an area by the sea with dozens of little restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood. We were rather disappointed when we arrived though, as all the restaurants were closed. Probably because we arrived at 5 pm and expected to have an early dinner. I would suggest calling them up or checking the restaurant timings with your hotel before visiting. Since we were still in the area, we strolled around for a bit and tried the famous Porto delicacy called "Francesinha".
The first stop was the Castle of the Moors. This charming medieval style castle is situated right on top of a steep cliff. It was constructed sometime during the 8th or 9th century AD by the Arabs. The entire Moorish castle complex is a beauty. It consists of buildings, gates, walls and other ancient ruins. The walk inside is long and may not be suitable for older or disabled people. However, it offers a breath taking panoramic view from the top!
There are 2 ways to explore Sintra - by car or by bus. We chose the bus (Bus 434) because it was way cheaper and it covered all the areas that we planned on visiting.
On the last day of our stay in Lisbon, we decided to visit a neighbouring town called Sintra. Getting to Sintra is simple. Just hop onto any train heading towards Sintra from the main station at Lisbon and you'll be there in about 40 minutes. Sintra is a beautiful little town known for its romantic architecture, fairy-tale landscape and exotic gardens. The moment we stepped out of the station we were blown away by this little gem of a place!
Like the Moorish Castle, Pena Palace is also situated on top of a steep hill but is at a higher altitude than the Moorish Castle. This castle which has enthralled visitors for decades is a perfect and exemplary example of romantic architecture. It is a combination of intricate designs and vivid colours, and looks just like a page from a fairy-tale! The tourist bus doesn't go all the way to the top. We had a choice to use the horse driven carriage or walk along a steep slope. We felt a little adventurous and chose the latter. And boy it was excruciating! Make sure to try out Sintra's famous queijadas (mini cheesecake) at the castle's rooftop cafe while enjoying the view.
The heritage town of Sintra is located not so far away from the railway station. It is dotted with little restaurants and souvenir shops. After a stroll through the winding streets and narrow alleys we stopped at a cave-like restaurant for lunch. Do not leave Sintra without trying out the Ginja (cherry liqueur).
After returning from Sintra, we had one last place to explore in Lisbon which was the Santa Justa Lift. This beautifully crafted iron elevator which was built during the early 19th century connects the lower street of Baixa to Barrio Alto. There's nothing much you can do at the top except enjoy a lovely panoramic view which starts from St George's castle all the way to the sea. Its definitely worth a visit!
Fatima, a small town to the north of Lisbon is said to be the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children. Being a Catholic, this was definitely one of the places that we wanted to visit while we were in Portugal. If even you are a non Catholic, this quaint little town is worth a visit. Alternately, you could visit another town or continue your tour of Lisbon.
We reached Fatima around 10.30 am and soon made our way to the shrine which was 5-minutes away. A beautiful little place with plenty of trees and barely any vehicles. You could sense that peaceful feeling in the air. Most of the sites are in close proximity to each other, except the houses of the three shepherd children. The first place we visited was the Sanctuary of Fatima. This neoclassical basilica had a slender central spire that rose up high and was truly a magnificent sight. Unfortunately, we couldn't go inside since it was closed. But we did manage to visit the tombs of the three shepherd children - Lucia Santos and Jacinta & Franciso Marto that were behind the shrine.
There are 3 ways to get here : by train, by coach or by car (which is obviously the most expensive way). You can catch the train from Lisbon's Gare Oriente and get down at Fatima Station. The main sites are about 20km away from the station so you will have to take a bus or a car to get there. We opted to travel by the most convenient and cost effective way, that's by coach. It is a comfortable 90 minute journey in their state- of- the- art buses. Some of the buses are also equipped with wi-fi. If you book online, you can choose your preferred time and seat http://www.rede-expressos.pt/.
We then visited the Chapel of Apparitions where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. We were fortunate to attend an English mass in the open air chapel.
On the opposite end of the sanctuary stood a more modern church known as Church of the Most Holy Trinity. It was built to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the apparitions. And just nearby, was a high cross that glistened under the sunlight.
Many pilgrims perform the stations of the Cross and even go kneeling from one end to another. We left this area soon after, rented a car and headed towards Aljustrel where more apparitions are said to have taken place. While we we there, we visited to shepherd children's homes.
On our war back to the station, I couldn't help by notice the statues around this area. Everything was related to the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to the three children, even the roundabouts. Many people choose to stay for a day or two, however we headed back to Lisbon city.
Once we reached Lisbon, we took a tram to Belem to visit three more attractions : Jeronimos Monastery, Torre de Belem and Padro dos Descobrimentos. This area of Lisbon is said to have the largest number of heritage sites and monuments connected to Portuguese voyages of discovery. Our first stop was Jeronimos Monastery. From the outside, it appeared to be massively magnificent structure probably even too big to fit into my camera! Inside lay the tomb of Vasco da Gama and some pretty impressive paintings dating back to the 1500's. We visited the church but not the cloister.
On the riverfront stood the Padro dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). What impressed me most was the detailing on the monument. A fitting tribute to the explorers! The entire area itself was so beautiful. Even the long 25 de Abril bridge beside it.You could just sit down in one of those nearby cafes and simply admire.
Also in Belem, is the Torre de Belem or the Belem Tower. This iconic landmark was built in the 16th century and is a UNESCO heritage site. You can also go inside and visit the top. However, we just saw it from the outside.
Do not leave Belem without trying out the pastel de Nata (egg tart) at the popular Pasteis de Belem. I regret not having it here because of the long queue. But I heard it moves quickly. They were the pioneers of this sweet and the cafe dates back to 1837.
We spent a good 3 days in Lisbon during our trip to Portugal. Yes we were pretty jet lagged, but we didn't want to waste any time resting. Our goal was to see as much as we could in 3 days.
Lisbon is such a big city, and I mean really BIG! There are a lot of places to visit within the city itself as well as on the outskirts. Its always a good idea to do some research and decide where exactly you want to go and what interests you. We decided that we would dedicate 1 day just to explore Lisbon city and do a day trip to Sintra and Fatima on the other 2 days. Since it was going to be a day trip, we were sure that there would be plenty of time in the evenings to explore more of Lisbon city.
We stayed at the beautiful Sheraton Lisbon Hotel & Spa which was located right in the centre of the city and just a 2 minute walk from the Picoas metro station. It is always a good idea to stay close to a station if you're planning on exploring a city yourself.
The first thing on our list was to take a ride on the ever popular "Tram 28". A word of caution when you're going around Lisbon - LEAVE YOUR IMPORTANT BELONGINGS AT THE HOTEL. Many of the popular tourist sites attract pickpocketers and you wouldn't even know when you're robbed. They're pretty darn good! This applies to Tram 28 as well.
We took the train from our hotel and headed towards Restauradores. A 2-minute walk from here got us right into the heart of Lisbon which is the Rossio Square. This area has a number of restaurants and neat little cafes. While we were there, we managed to grab a light lunch at one of the nearby restaurants. At this square, you'll find a long column with a statue of Dom Pedro IV on top, a water feature and love locks. Something you wouldn't miss!
To catch the famous Tram No 28, we had to walk further away from Rossio Square until we reached the tram stop (ask for directions!). While going through TripAdvisor before starting this trip, some of the tourists had complained about waiting in a long line to get onto the tram. However, we were lucky enough to hop onto the first tram that arrived there.
This vintage tram which is a tourist attraction by itself it such a beauty! It makes its way through the narrow winding streets of historical Lisbon stopping at various view points and monuments.
We had the pleasure of visiting just one of the monuments, that's the Lisbon Cathedral but could only get a glimpse the other (St George Castle) from the outside as they were closed for the day. This ancient Gothic style Cathedral is definitely worth a visit though. For a small fee, you can also visit the treasury and cloister. It houses a series of the ancient ruins and is pretty impressive. While you're there, make sure to peek through those tiny windows on the upper floor for a breathtaking view.
If time permits and you still have that wee bit of energy left in you, explore the area by foot. You'll come across hidden gems that you would certainly miss if you were on a tram. This picturesque old neighbourhood is full cobblestone alleys, colourful buildings and offers wonderful views of the river.
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