Traveling over Thanksgiving is maybe the best travel idea I’ve ever had? I am such a fan of leaving the US and exploring other places during this time of year. Colin and Alan joined me once more and this year, we headed to Portugal! Who needs pumpkin pie when you can have pasteis de nata?
We spent the first half of the week in Lisbon. Colin and I arrived in the morning and tried to beat jet lag by storing our luggage and wandering around. The luggage storage was a time – I had euros, but not enough coins for what we needed, so I asked a local store for change. While they couldn’t give me change, they could make a copy of something for a few cents and I could get coins that way, so one of my main souvenirs from the trip was a black and white photocopy of my drivers license.
Yes, Lisbon has just as many hills as everyone says. The train station was about 20 minutes from our Airbnb. In classic “grandparent telling you a story” fashion, it was indeed all uphill. We would pick different areas each day and wander around, so I can’t speak much to specific recommendations, but it was such a fun city. We were also there during the World Cup, so we went and watched some of the matches in local bars.
I only had two goals in Portugal, and the first was to visit Peña Palace! I’ve seen so many gorgeous pictures of it, and I love a good castle. It was a pretty easy day trip out to Sintra. We took a quick train ride and then joined the herd of tourists to the bus, which took us up a horrifying series of hills. It didn’t feel nearly as crowded by the time we’d bought our tickets and walked up yet another hill to the palace, and I loved the mosaics and tile throughout. The castle also had some very odd ceramics and a room full of elk antlers. Royalty, they’re… not like us at all.
From Lisbon, it’s an easy trip up to Porto. We split it up a bit, both on the way there and the way back. On the way there, we went to Coimbra, a university town, which was delightful. I would have spent more time there if we’d had it. There was a cute main street, and the campus was… where else but at the top of a hill? We had lunch here and continued on, but it might have been worth doing a full day trip there from Lisbon.
On the way back, our stop was Aviero, which I found to be a bit disappointing. I think all the photos are of the same small section. Yep, that’s my obligatory snapshot below. It has a canal running through it, and theoretically you can do boat tours, but most of the area around the canal was blocked off with a giant mall. I was hoping for something like Ljubljana, but it was much smaller and it seemed like there was less to do.
Porto itself was a delight. I loved our time there, even though the first full day it rained on us very hard. We took a walking tour and then spent the time between the tour and dinner in the Airbnb bathroom, blowdrying our shoes and socks. Also, fun fact, when Colin and I said we live in Utah, the tour guide recognized what that was because of dinosaurs, which is the single best reason anyone has for knowing about the state I live in.
The center of Porto is along the river, which was how they shipped the wine. The first night, we ate along the river, which is maybe more expensive and maybe a bit touristy, but also, the views are stunning?
Remember I said I had two goals for Portugal? The second was to go to wine country! The major region in Portugal is Douro Valley. Douro Valley is primarily known for port, although they do have non-dessert wines there as well. Basically, port was created because England demanded wine as part of some sort of agreement, and it was going bad when they shipped it to England, so they started fortifying it so that it could make the trek.
We took a great day trip, which took us to a few different wineries and gave us incredible views of the entire valley. I wouldn’t say I’m usually a big fan of port, but the offerings they had were delicious, and we also got to try different olive oils and honeys as a part of the tour. Also, did you know it was possible to make rosé port? That one was my favorite one.
All in all, an amazing week! I see why everyone raves about Portugal. Both of its major cities are so cool, with lots of interesting neighborhoods to explore. Outside of planning the wine tour, which we booked the week of after waiting to see how the weather played out, and booking Airbnbs in Lisbon and Porto, we didn’t really plan anything in advance, and it was so easy to get around on the trains and explore different areas of the cities. It was a week of good pastries and good wine, and what more can you ask for on Thanksgiving?