In preparation for our trip I have been researching topics such as potential accommodations, activities, landmarks, and transportation methods for each destination. I figure this will give us a better idea of the daily cost, and therefore help determine how long we will want to stay in each country. It will be interesting to see the difference between the ideas I have researched and what we actually do when we are on the road!
Click the small arrow button on the top left of the map header (left of where it says “Potential Destination”) to expand out additional details about many of the locations and activities described below.
U.S. Visa/Travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/portugal.html
Portugal will be part of our travel plans if we end up going to Spain in the spring on our way over to South America. In my post “Potential Destinations: Spain” I mention wanting to head to northern Spain (Galicia region) into some less traveled areas. This also will allow easier and cheaper travel over to Portugal, since we would not have to backtrack from southern Spain to the main hub in Madrid to catch the train. While we would love to see all of Portugal, to minimize expense and travel time we most likely will be limiting our travel to the northern part of Portugal.
Helpful Web Sites
We most likely will be making Porto our home base and from there head out for day trips to surrounding towns/areas. There are some great looking hostels in Porto, with very high ratings and good prices. For a mixed dorm room with just 4 beds it will cost around $20, and may even include breakfast! We will also scope out the budget hotels and Pensão (family-run inns) in the area, but will likely not find ones with prices as good as the hostels. Accommodations in the smaller areas outside of Porto, such as Aveiro, are much more expensive, hence the plan to do day trips to these areas. Coimbra, however, is a bit larger and could warrant staying a few days, and has hostel dorm beds around the same cost as those in Porto.
Since the railway and bus network in Portugal is strong and there are ample ways of getting around the major cities, there should be no need for us to rent a car. Even through the railway system is expansive, there still may be times our only option is bus transportation when traveling between smaller towns. Train versus bus will also be dependent on price. Although faster, in some cases the train may in fact be cheaper. So it sounds like it will be a mix, but probably mostly train.
When using local transportation in Porto, we will definitely be looking at purchasing a travel card. There are several different cards to chose from, with the least confusing and most all inclusive being Porto’s Andante Tour Card (http://www.stcp.pt/en/travel/tariffs/touristic-tickets). This card costs a flat fee, would give us unlimited travel for a certain period of time and is valid on all STCP buses, other selected bus lines, metro light rail and urban trains. Tram tickets are a separate fee/ticket. There are two versions: Andante Tour 1 is valid for 24 consecutive hours after first validation has taken place and it costs 7 Euros, or Andante Tour 3 is valid over 72 consecutive hours after first validation has taken place and it costs 15 Euros. Who knows? We may find we are not using public transportation that much and discover it is cheaper to buy each ticket separately.
The main intercity bus company in Portugal is Rede Expressos. Their website (http://www.rede-expressos.pt/default.aspx) is OK but not great, and thankfully is in English as well as Portuguese, unlike some other sites I have visited. I also have discovered the website https://www.alsa.com/en for purchasing tickets, which I find a bit easier to navigate. One key note is that tickets need to be purchased before boarding the bus and can be purchased 30 days in advance.
I’ve said it once and I will say it again, we love wine! Port, oops I mean Porto, here we come! South of Porto, across the Douro River is where all the port houses are found in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia. Our options are to book a group tour that includes a guided tour of the Douro valley, several tastings and possibly a cruise down the river, https://www.getyourguide.com/porto-l151/full-day-douro-valley-tour-t62439, or simply email several different port houses directly and arrange for a guided tour of each establishment separately. The most important thing will be to make sure an English speaking guide is available, which can make tour times more restricted. Popular port houses include Cálem, Graham’s Port House, Offley Forrester, Sandeman, and Vasconcellos. Tastings look to be around 10 Euros per person and include a tour of the cellars, so not bad.
I know, I know, there is more to Porto then port. Other activities and sights that sound promising include taking a free walking tour through Porto Walkers, https://www.portowalkers.pt, meandering through Porto’s affluent seaside district Foz do Douro (window shopping only), check out Lello Bookshop (Livraria Lello) and visit the multitude of museums, churches and monuments throughout the city, including the Serralves Museum. One tip I found out is that most museums are free on Sundays, so we will definitely try to take advantage of that little nugget of information.
Day Trips & Overnighters
Places like Braga, Aveiro and Coimbra sound like potential places to venture to for quick day trips or overnighters. Below I have mentioned points of interest for each.
North of Porto, with lots of churches, cathedrals, etc., including:
- Se’ Cathedral – Oldest in Portugal. For 1 Euro get a tour of the choir, organs, and tombs.
- Garden of Santa Barbara – municipal garden in the civil parish of Sé, alongside the eastern wing of the historical Archbishop’s Palace of Braga.
- Bom Jesus do Monte – Portuguese Sanctuary with a Baroque staircase which extends 381 feet.
- The Castle of Guimarães – medieval castle
A small town on the coast between Porto and Coimbra. It sounds like a very picturesque town with canals that meander through it, with painted gondola-style boats known as moliceiros.
- Free Bikes! – See the town by bike using BUGA, Aveiro’s free bike-sharing system. Bikes can be found at 20 locations around the town, and used any day of the week between 10 am and 7 pm. Each bike comes with a lock so you can safely leave your bike aside to visit local sights. When you’re done, simply return the bike to any of these locations.
- Natural das Dunos de São Jacinto – 6.7-sq-km wooded nature reserve with 7km (approximately 4 mile) loop trail
- Taste Testing – Enjoy ovos moles, a local delicacy made with only two ingredients, egg yolks and sugar. Originally made by nuns in the old convents when they were gifted eggs by those about to get married.
Located in Central Portugal, Coimbra is known for housing one of the world’s oldest universities.
- Hear Coimbra Fado – Traditional music of Portugal with lyrics centered around fate, mourning, longing, and resignation. According to some websites, traditional Fado was sung by both men and women, but in Coimbra it is only sung by men. Time for Pete to get his Fado on!
- University Botanic Garden – over 32 acres!
Any thoughts about our ideas above, or suggestions of “must see” activities/landmarks? Please include those below!