Now that we’ve been back in the routine of our daily lives, we’ve been reflecting upon our trip and thinking about our favorite parts of our trip to Portugal. The following is our list of our favorite experiences while there and some tips for those traveling there.
1. Music. We didn’t quite expect this. Particularly in Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto, music is everywhere. We’d read about the Fado bars in Lisbon and definitely wanted to check them out but the music isn’t limited to those establishments. The street music on the Rua das Floras in Porto and in Lisbon, the Fado bars in both Lisbon and in Coimbra, even the late night “Ladies Night” dance party/karaoke we stumbled upon on Saturday evening in Alfama all left us with beautifully ringing ears.
2. Friendly People. This can’t be overstated. Our experiences were in a word, awesome. The 2008 financial crisis hit this country hard. A lot of people we interacted with in the service industry had roles and jobs in different industries prior to ’08. However, we found everyone with whom we interacted to be industrious, entrepreneurial and just downright nice people.
3. Food. We will post on our top food experiences but it was great. The seafood is amazing, the gamier meals in the north and inland were great and there were vegetarian options on most menus. We did a few fancier dinners with wine pairings, but mostly just had great meals and experiences. Melissa does exhaustive (really exhaustive) research on restaurants before we go, so I’m the benefactor of her hard work and countless hours of scouting online which may have something to do with it, but even those places we stumbled across by accident were good, generally.
4. Safety. We never felt unsafe. Not once. As big walkers, we’ve been in plenty of cities in the world and in the US where we stumble into a neighborhood and say.. hmm, not sure we should linger here, never once did that happen in Portugal. Maybe we got lucky but it never happened and we walked all over the place while we were there (despite my booted foot).
We also observed a noticeable (but not intimidating) police presence in most cities, which probably helps. Fun fact: according to the Global Peace Index for 2018, Portugal is in the top 5 safest countries in the world. Hey Kiwis, you’ve got them beat, but you Danes have some room to improve.
5. Affordability. This country is affordable. As an example, according to Nationmaster.com groceries are about 50% cheaper than the US, 10% less than Spain and 75% less than France. We had many great meals for €30-40 for two and some really good wine for €14-18 per bottle. We also found free parking, while we had our rental car, both on the street and in lots. We found great Airbnb’s for $150ish per night and some really nice hotels for $200 per night or less (often including breakfast).
6. Weather. It was hot when we got to Lisbon and we hear it’s hot in the south in the summer but we were expecting it to be more humid (it wasn’t) and we never once got rained on. Not once. Maybe it was the season or maybe we were just lucky, but the weather was terrific.
7. Ease of transport. The trains are good between cities and they have a good, well maintained highway/tollway system. Most of the highways we took are toll roads with varying methods of tracking you (taking a ticket and paying at exit, intermittent change tolls or electronic license plate tolls) so have cash ready if you hit the on-ramp. Drivers were not too aggressive and the road signage was easy to understand (though never in English). We also booked our train tickets online and in advance which was super easy, but you need to print the tickets out so make sure you have access to a printer (i.e. don’t wait until you’re in your first Airbnb).
8. Tip for you museum lovers: your museum tickets (or cathedrals for those which charge) might be needed to get into various internal rooms throughout or to exit so keep them handy until you leave.
9. English. Most people speak it. They don’t seem to resent your lack of fluency or poor accents with Portuguese but like any non-English speaking country, respect the language and learn a few phrases, at a minimum, it’s appreciated. Obrigado and de nada.
10. Good footwear. An absolute must. The cobblestone salesman made a killing here and they are slippery when wet. Almost everywhere we went was hilly, some places really hilly so be prepared. I did prove, however, that you can walk an average of 15,000 steps per day in the aforementioned boot, but it wasn’t without a few slippery moments.