Portugal - Land of the Azulejos (Part I)
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
In recent years, Portugal has been rising rapidly in popularity, thus stealing the thunder from its popular neighbors; Spain and France. I had been a few times to the capital, Lisbon, but had fallen in love with the captivating pictures of its beaches in the south, and the delicious Portuguese wine I had tried right here in the United States.
That's why I decided it would be the perfect destination to take my first-ever "father/daughter" trip, and introduce my dad to Europe. While I was planning our trip I wanted to make sure to include a wide variety of activities, both cultural and nature-driven. I was so eager to make sure my dad's first impression of Europe was a great one!
My hopes when you read this blog is that you find inspiration in a country that for many years was overlooked after the empire fell. I will share my favorite activities in each city we visited; which will make this blog a 3 part series. Even though I'm dividing our visit into 3 parts, there's always so much to visit and do, I feel it would take months to truly see it all.
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended.
Part I: Top things to do in Porto
We traveled on the airline TAP Portugal and flew directly from Miami to Lisbon but immediately took a flight into Porto upon landing, as I wanted us to explore the country from north to south.
Porto offered us beautiful weather but it's been an unusually dry season. The locals shared they haven't seen rain since January! While this may sound nice for those who love sunny days, it's taken a toll on their wine and olive oil crops, so they anticipate very low supply for next year. This also made it very hot for the many uphill walks we had; especially our first one with all of our luggage.
The small guest house where we stayed made up for the uphill walk. It was so homey and spacious. I would definitely recommend it as an economic option for lodging in the city, we had the Deluxe Double Room but smaller (or larger) options are available. Check it out here and see my picture and video of the cute terrace.
Favorite activity: a free walking tour!
Now let's dive into what makes this city in Northern Portugal popular. It's known for port wine (where this sweet dessert wine was first exported to the world), and it's gorgeous São Bento train station; full of azulejos or tiles. I think my favorite activity we participated in was the FREE walking tour by a company called "Porto Walkers", as our guide Marcus had us laughing the whole time with his quirky stories on the history of the city.
We learned about Porto's rivalry with Lisbon, the struggle the city had with the Catholic Church, and the fact that Portugal's university student uniform inspired JK Rowling when envisioning the Hogwarts uniform!
We also got to see the São Bento train station, which is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. It was here that I got my first glimpse of the azulejos, Portuguese tiles, that depict historic moments and even everyday life.
Fado - The Soul of Portuguese Music
I first heard about "fado" on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations where he spoke of this soulful, melancholic music. While it's inherently sad music (trust me you don't have to know Portuguese to feel it), it drove me to tears but merely based on how beautifully it's performed. It's based on the Portuguese feeling of "saudade"which translates to "longing". Longing for a time that has come and gone, love, and even destiny.
We visited "A Casa do Fado" and it featured a one hour show with a lovely glass of port wine. Check it out here. I definitely recommend this location as the hosts explain the music and also translate some of the songs.
Below is my favorite song of the night, a rendition of "Saudades de ti (Só à noitinha)" which means, "Missing you, only in the evening".
Visit to the Douro Valley for Port Wine Tasting
I knew when I visited Portugal I just HAD to visit the birthplace of port wine. Port wine is a fortified sweet (typically a red wine), often served with dessert, although we also got to taste a few white varieties on our tour. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoy the white variety of port wine more than the reds I had previously tasted.
We experienced a perfectly beautiful, sunny day in the Douro Valley. Unfortunately, I wore a very warm outfit. Mix that with the winding roads, and the consumption of QUITE A BIT of wine, I was very dizzy by the end of the long 7 hour tour! (Tip: dress in layers, take a light jacket in case you get cold).
Other than that we had a great time seeing two different wineries (one small, and one very large, and well known) and taking a one-hour cruise down the Douro River. I will say: I felt a bit rushed on this tour and didn't like having to quickly sip my port wine at our last stop. So if you check out tours in the Douro wine region, maybe opt for one that doesn't include lunch as it may spend more time at the wineries. You can check out the one we did as a starting reference point and go from there.
Watch the sunset from Jardim do Morro
We were in Portugal for a total of 10 days and my FAVORITE sunset was at Jardim do Morro in Gaia.
Gaia is its own city south of Porto but you can easily walk over by crossing the Dom Luís I Bridge (pictured below).
There are 2 options for crossing - the lower section and the higher section where you share space with a train that runs periodically. Take note: if you're afraid of heights I do not recommend the latter route!
My dad was a trooper and walked it with me (while tightly grabbing onto the bridge posts), but he made sure our way back was along the lower elevation.
Once you reach the other side you immediately get to Jardim do Morro. I had been told the view would be nice but that doesn't describe our experience nearly enough. The mixture of locals and tourists show that this is the prime spot to watch the sun set. We purchased a port tonic (port wine with tonic water) and just enjoyed our time as local musicians entertained us.
The more I travel the more I realize, the best experiences really are free. I remember just watching relaxing and thinking "can life get any better than this?". It was more special to be able to share this with my father.
Conclusion: 3 days is not enough
I made this itinerary for us to get a taste of Portugal, and I think that's the most accurate way of describing it. 3 days in Porto did not feel like enough, but I love that it left me wanting to come back. I would love to explore more rooftops bars, more exquisite cuisine, and more fascinating history. But I love the introduction (and the jaw-dropping views) it gave us of the captivating country of Portugal. We can both agree it was our favorite stop on our 10 day trip.
Stay tuned for Parts II & III of our father/daughter trip!