During the 4 months I spent in Europe, I visited a number of highly popular cities including the likes of Rome, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, etc. While these cities are undoubtedly beautiful and eye-opening, they are unfortunately almost always clogged with throngs of tourists. Sad to say, many of the attractions have turned into tourist traps, and this problem detracts from the overall travelling experience.
Thankfully, you don’t have to look too far for equally impressive places that don’t suffer from the above-mentioned problem. Nestled in the far southwest corner of the European continent lies Portugal, a destination that I would consider as one of the most underrated in Europe.
As we were based in Dublin, we flew to Portugal via Ryanair – they were usually the cheapest option by a mile; a good number of our flights cost us less than 15 Euros each, inclusive of airport tax and booking fees. Ryanair is not the most comfortable around, but at least they don’t pretend to be, unlike some Asian budget carriers. Flights on their Boeing 737NGs are generally fuss-free and they get you from point to point really efficiently.
We flew into Portugal via Lisbon and out via Porto, allowing us to explore both cities without backtracking on our route. Upon disembarking the aircraft at Lisbon Airport, we were hit with a blast of (relatively) warm air. The temperature was approximately 15 degrees, which is, in my opinion, the most ideal temperature for travelling.
Our Airbnb apartment was really interesting. It was a tiny two-room apartment that was 4-storeys high – the rooms were stacked on top of one another and even the toilet occupied a single floor. Unfortunately, this meant that the stairs were ridiculously steep, which resulted in Jacq taking a rough tumble while descending from the toilet.
Photos taken by Jacqueline Gwee
We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon exploring Lisbon and stuffing ourselves with Portuguese egg tarts. Lisbon is known as the “city of 7 hills”, so don’t expect any flat ground at all – use a decent pair of walking shoes if you wish to cover a lot of ground on foot. Here are the highlights:
- Castelo de S. Jorge – hilltop castle overlooking the historic centre of Lisbon
2. Praça de D. Pedro IV – main square in downtown Lisbon
3. 25th of April Bridge – a massive suspension bridge connecting Lisbon to Almada across the River Targus. We also watched one of the most beautiful sunsets that evening.
4. The trams. Icons of Lisbon – enough said.
Getting to Porto
Portugal, like most European countries, has a relatively advanced railway network that connects most of her major cities. The Lisbon-Porto section is served by comfortable “Alfa Pendular” trains that complete the journey in slightly over 2 hours. There are slower intercity trains which I would not recommend, as the cost savings are minimal.
We almost missed our train to Porto as we didn’t expect to be stuck in heavy traffic – roads in Lisbon are mostly single-lane and really narrow, so congestion is rather prevalent.
Getting around Porto
When we arrived at the main station, we noticed that Porto, like Lisbon, is really hilly! We were also mildly amused by the sight of ultra-modern Metro trains whizzing through the city’s traditional architecture – the resulting juxtapositional charm was surprisingly pleasing to the eye.
Most of the sights in Porto are within walking distance from the riverbank. If you’re staying far away from the city centre, just take the metro to Douro River and the rest of your journey can be completed on foot!
Portugal is famous for its seafood and port wine – one restaurant that I recommend for both seafood and wine is “Adega Sao Nicolau”; the octopus rice is crazy good. They do not accept walk-in customers, so remember to reserve a table in advance! One thing to note is that Portuguese food is generally very salty, so don’t be alarmed if the cod fish you ordered tastes like it’s been dipped in seawater. This is done intentionally as salt apparently goes well with wine, or so they think. Just request for reduced salt when you make your orders!
- Douro riverbank
2. Palacio de Bolsa
3. Dom Luis 1 Bridge
4. Clerigos Church and Tower