The wild Atlantic coast, sounds of fado and elegant tiled architecture are just a few of the ways that Portugal enchants and beckons travellers. It’s a place you can appreciate by just being there, soaking in its rich and varied history, from the Celts to the Visigoths, the Christians and the explorers, which means if often feels like a living museum. Combine that with a creative arts scene, bountiful wine region, surfing culture and a laid-back, meandering ease, and you have a unique and fascinating country. There are many regions to explore and different approaches to exploring Portugal, but we opted for a 10-day road trip from Porto to Lisbon with a stop on the coast along the way. In this post, I’ll detail all we did, including where we stayed and ate, and how much it all cost. I also offer some ways to expand the trip if you want to explore more beyond the cities on your road trip. Portugal was for us a magical experience.
Road Trip: Portugal – Porto to Lisbon
Our Portugal itinerary at a glance
Days 1-5: Porto
Days 5-6: Santa Cruz
Days 6-11: Lisbon
Our travel style
As with all the itineraries on Bridges and Balloons, we have a special focus on creating handpicked itineraries that are filled with special places to stay and a local, creatively-minded travel approach. Think street art, independent bookshops, hipster coffee shops, farmers markets and parks.
Family travel in Portugal
We travelled with our son Otis who was 14 months at the time. Although this means the trip is suitable for families of young children, it isn’t a specifically family-focused trip and would suit anyone who has a similar style to us – it’s the same stuff we’d have done even before Otis was born. That said, I have included some family-focussed tips in each section below.
Portugal road trip budget
To replicate our trip exactly would cost €2,750, but you could save a lot of money by opting for cheaper accommodation, eating out less and not having a car in Lisbon. By doing this, it would cost around €1,250.
Please also note all our accommodation was gifted by the hotels so we could review it. As always, all opinions are our own. Read more about how we work with brands here.
Accommodation: €1,930, but do bear in mind that we tried a range of different budgets and styles. The cheapest option we tried was €130 per night, so if we’d stayed at that budget for the duration, it would have cost €1,430. You could save even more money by going for a cheaper AirBnB option, starting at around €70 per night.
Car hire: €98 for 11 days, but Steve did drive the car back to Porto at the end as he was going to stag do there. It would have cost an extra €70 to drop it off in Lisbon. Our parking in Porto was free with the AirBnB; and it was free in Santa Cruz; but in Lisbon, it cost €25 euro per day at Martinhal, and €30 per day at Visionaire. I would highly recommend not having a car in Lisbon.
Food and drinks: We spent around €500. A meal out for the three of us averaged about €23. and we did a mixture of eating out and self-catering. A coffee costs around €2.
Tours and entrance prices: €78. We didn’t spend much on entrance prices, aside from Serralves (€11 each); Livaria Lello (€5 each); the Secret City Trails in Lisbon (€20 for each trail); and the Lisbon botanical gardens (€3 each) .
Portugal for vegetarians
Portugal has a fantastic culinary reputation, but this is all but useless if, like us, you’re vegetarian. Unfortunately, practically all the local cuisine is very meat or fish heavy. Even a side salad will often come with ham, so do always specify that you don’t eat any form of meat, including ham and chicken (these are often classed as separate!). You can get vegetarian/vegan versions of local dishes in some vegetarian restaurants, but we struggled to find high quality examples. That said, we ate pretty well in Portugal because both Porto and Lisbon are cosmopolitan cities with cuisine from around the world that caters to a vegetarian diet. There are also tons of specifically vegetarian and vegan restaurants in both cities, which is a vast improvement from when I was last there nine years ago.
And on the very bright side, you the local sweet cuisine is veg-friendly and delicious, most specifically the iconic pastel de nata (custard tart).
How we got around Portugal
Although I’ve described this as a road trip, we didn’t do a huge amount of driving. While in the cities, we walked practically everywhere and only used the car to get to some of the further afield places like Sintra and Serralves. If following our itinerary, I would recommend dropping the car off as soon as you get to Lisbon and have visited Sintra as the parking is expensive in the city and the public transport is good. I have added more destination-specific transport details in the sections below.
We hired our car through rentalcars.com as that’s where we’ve always found the best deals. This time they sponsored our car hire, but you can trust my recommendation is genuine as I’ve been talking about them for years. Rentalcars.com is a booking agent for many car hire companies, and the best deal they found for us was with Centauro. We got a Fiat 500x, which had plenty of room for all our stuff, including Otis’ stroller and car seat.
Weather/ what to pack for April in Portugal
We went to Portugal in April, which is a month known for unpredictable weather and that’s exactly what we experienced. In the space of 15 minutes, it could go from bright sunny skies to an overcast thunderstorm. We also had some purely sunny days and some entirely overcast ones. And it rained at least a little almost every day. For that reason, I recommend packing layers, so you can adjust for the turbulent weather. And a light rain coat would be useful.
An idea for a longer Portugal road trip itinerary
We decided to focus on Porto and Lisbon for our trip as we didn’t want to be on the move too much, plus we wanted to have a good amount of time in each city. We’ve also been to Portugal before, so didn’t have the pressure of trying to see everything. For an ultimate Portugal road trip, taking in much more of the country, you could take this longer route, doing a round-trip from Porto. You could also use this route for inspiration on how to extend or adapt our road trip, for example, adding Coimbra as a stop, or taking a few days to visit the Douro Valley while in Porto. You could also continue all the way down to the Algarve if you fancied some extra beach time.
Porto – Douro Valley – Serra da Estrela – Evora – Algarve – Sagres – Arrabida National Park – Sintra/Cascais – Lisbon – Santa Cruz – Coimbra – Porto.
In brief, here are some details of each place not included in our main Portugal itinerary :
The Douro Valley is a gorgeous wine region where vineyards tumble down the mountains; Serra da Estrela is home to Portugal’s highest mountains and a beautiful place to relax in nature; Evora is one of the country’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns; the Algarve is Portugal’s most popular beach destination and particularly popular with British package holidaymakers; Sagres is part of the northern Algarve, but much quieter than some of the big resort towns; Arrabida National Park is a beautiful coastal park, perfect for hiking; and Coimbra is a buzzing university city with a picturesque old town (it was Portugal’s medieval capital).
Our Portugal Travel Itinerary
The view from the the Dom Luis I bridge sums up the allure of Porto; port wineries on one side, a colourful hodge-podge of buildings and bell towers cascading down the other, and the peaceful Douro river filing down the centre, lined with buzzing restaurants and people ambling by. The azulejo tiles, baroque and beaux arts architecture, and crumbling deserted buildings create the atmosphere of a city that has experienced glory with decay, and lives on to tell the tale. Despite the pockets of abandonment, the city thrives and is often favoured over Lisbon by travellers who fall for its charms and more manageable, compact size. This was my second time there and I loved it as much as the first. It’s a gorgeous place for a relaxed cultural city break
Things to do in Porto
Wandering the cobbled streets and taking it all in is enough to keep you entertained in both Porto and Lisbon, but these are some of the things we enjoyed most.
Jardins do Palácio de Cristal (Crystal Palace Gardens)
There are some beautiful parks in Porto, but I think the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal take the crown. The park is right next to the river and affords some magnificent panoramic views from the paths that wind along its edges. It’s also home to the Almeida Garrett Municipal Library, the Romantic Museum of Quinta da Macieirinha and the crystal palace itself, which houses exhibitions. It’s slightly outside of the centre next to the arts district. We also heard that the botanical gardens are beautiful, but didn’t get the chance to visit.
Choose your favourite tiled wall
There are endless beautiful tiles around Porto, so you’ll find yourself repeatedly stopping for photos. Our favourites were the azulejo tiles on the side of the Igreja dos Carmelitas, and the mural by Joana Vasconcelos on the side of Steak and Shake (pictured above).
Porto Wine Cellars
Porto is the home of port wine, and one of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon there is walking along the riverside visiting some of the cellars. Technically they’re in Gaia, Porto’s sister city, but in practice they’re a short stroll across the river. You can take a tour of most of the cellars, which all end with a port wine tasting. I toured Sandeman the last time I was there, which is a gorgeous place to visit and offers a 45-min tour. We weren’t sure Otis would tolerate a tour this time, so instead went for a tasting at Espaço Porto Cruz where our waiter gave a fantastic overview of the history of port.
This is the bookstore that is said to have inspired elements of Harry Potter when J.K Rowling taught English in the city. It’s exquisite, but it’s also a major tourist attraction, so don’t expect a peaceful visit. You have to buy a ticket and check-in your belongings at the neighbouring shop, and then likely queue again to enter (we didn’t have to queue for the second part, but we often saw a line there throughout the day). Despite the queueing and busyness, I still think it’s worth seeing, especially if you’re into bookshops. It costs €5 and you can redeem that on a book, but the English section is very small and I think they might overprice the books to compensate!
São Bento train station
São Bento train station is often heralded as one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, largely because of the dramatic azulejo artworks in the entrance hall that depict scenes from historic battles as well as the history of travel. It’s one of the best examples of azulejo tiles in the city.
Just down the river from Porto centre is Foz, a seaside resort where the Douro meets the Atlantic. It can be reached by the historic Route 1 tram in just 20 minutes and is a fun and easy way to spend some beach time within your city break.
Ribeira is one of the most beautiful areas of Porto and is a must for any visit. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and although it tends to be swarming with tourists, its charms are more than worth it. Wander the cobbled streets and take in the decaying grandeur that makes Porto so special. Things to do in the area include taking a boat trip along the river, visiting the Casa do Infante (a historic customs building and museum) or São Nicolau Church (one of Porto’s most notable churches), or simply choose a riverside bar, order a port and tonic and watch the world go by. If you can’t face the hill, you can take the Guindais Funicular Railway or the Elevador da Lada (also known as the Ribeira lift).
Serralves has a lot going for it with a striking pink art deco house, a modern art museum and gorgeous gardens surrounding it all. We went on a grey day, but even then you could appreciate its beauty. In the sun, it would be perfect. Serralves is about 15 minutes outside the centre of Porto.
Climb Clerigos Tower
The view from Clerigos Tower is one of the best in Porto. We didn’t do it with Otis, but I climbed it last time I was there. The 75-metre bell tower has 225 steps and is definitely worth the climb.
Walk across the Dom Luis I bridge
One of the best walks we did in Porto was from the arts district where we were staying (near the Crystal Palace Park), across the Dom Luis I Bridge to Gaia and then back through Ribeira. We stopped along the way in the Morro Garden and had a picnic overlooking the city before getting the teleferico down to Gaia. We did this on our first day and it was an ideal introduction to the city.
Go shopping in the arts district
There are some beautiful boutiques and galleries in Porto’s arts district. Two of my favourites were O! Galeria and Coração Alecrim, which has a finely curated selection of accessories, clothing and homeware. Its also home to the Living Food Lab, which hosts themed dinners every week.
Marés Swimming Pool
A final thing that we didn’t get to visit this time, but love the look of are the Marés swimming pools (also known as Leca da Palmeira), which are a series of pools built into the rocks beside the sea. It looks stunning and like a perfect place to spend a sunny day. They are about 30 minutes outside the centre of Porto.
Do a tour
Get your Guide has a huge range of tours in Porto. Here are a few that look good, and you can find loads more on their site.
Family travel in Porto
Most of the activities above would be suitable for children, especially visiting the parks and beach and Marés swimming pool. There are also two zoos (Lourosa and Santo Inácio), the Sea Life aquarium, a museum of transport and communication, and the World of Discoveries, an interactive museum that celebrates Portugal’s history of international explorations.
Below are some recommended family-friendly tours and activities by Get Your Guide.
Where to eat in Porto
Porto is an amazing foodie destination for meat and fish eaters, but less so for a vegetarian. That said, we did find some good options.
In the evenings, because Otis goes to bed early, we couldn’t eat out, but instead used Uber Eats to order meals from some of the restaurants we wanted to try. These were our favourite places.
This quintessentially hipster cafe, Epoca, serves a seasonal, homemade breakfast and lunch menu. The selection is small but lovely, and the cakes were also excellent.
Árvore do Mundo
Árvore do Mundo is a classic vegetarian restaurant, serving a healthy set menu in a colourful setting with design touches from India.
Maus Habitos is an arts centre that also has a restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options, including wood-fired pizzas. You can order delivery with Uber Eats.
Apuro Vegan Bar
Apuro is Porto’s first vegan bar, serving organic food and craft beer alongside a programme of live events. It’s open from 12:30, so suitable even for kids, plus it’s available for delivery on Uber Eats. The food is comfort-focused, including vegan burgers and hot dogs.
A francesinha – a meaty sandwich covered in cheese and tomato sauce – is Porto’s most famous dish. We tried a vegetarian version from Santa Francesinha and were somewhat underwhelmed – but I’m not sure if that was because of the concept or the restaurant!
Manteigaria is an import from Lisbon and is well known in the capital for serving some of the best custard tarts. Delicately flavoured with cinnammon, they were our favourite tart in Portugal.
Leitaria da Quinta do Paço
If eclairs are your jam, then Leitaria da Quinta do Paço is a must! I loved the rice crispy one.
If you tire of traditional custard tarts, Natas d’Ouro is a good place to try some inventive variations, including a port wine or strawberry flavoured nata.
Em Carne Viva
Em Carne Viva was closed while we were there, but we would have loved to try it as its said to offer some excellent vegetarian and vegan versions of traditional Portuguese dishes.
Da Terra is a buffet-style vegan restaurant that is perfect for picking up a picnic, which is exactly what we did before walking to Morro Park. You pick a box size and then pay a fixed fee to fill the entire thing with whatever you like.
In Foz, we ate at Tavi, a classic little cafe with a simple lunch menu (we had savoury crepes) and a great location next to the water with excellent ocean views.
Accommodation in Porto
We stayed in a gorgeous AirBnB apartment in the arts district, close to the Crystal Palace Park. It was part of the AirBnB Plus portfolio, which showcases some of the most well-designed and well equipped AirBnB apartments. Our apartment was owned by an architect, which was apparent from the design’s creative flair. The location was also perfect, within walking distance of all the main attractions and close to some great cafes and restaurants.
They also provided a cot for Otis and it was handy having a separate bedroom, so Steve and I could hang out in the living room at night once Otis was asleep.
Our apartment cost €125 per night. Book with this link to get £25 off your first stay.
Getting to and around Porto
Porto is an easily walkable city, so long as you don’t mind all the hills. If the hills are an issue, there’s also a good public transport system that includes old wooden trams, a metro and buses. You can also use the Guindais funicular, Ribeira lift and Gaia teleferico to help you out with some of the hills. You can buy an Andante card that covers the metro, buses and trains. I talk about the Lisbon to Porto drive in the Santa Cruz section below.
Santa Cruz is a beach town just north of Lisbon, famous for its surf and huge sandy beach. We stayed there for a night en route from Porto down to Lisbon, but could easily have stayed much longer. For us it was all about the place we stayed – Noah Surf House – which is one of those hotels that’s a destination in itself. I’ve written more in the accommodation section below.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a tiny little town with little to do besides embrace the ocean and either all-out relax or try your hand at some of the water sports on offer. Noah Surf House has a whole host of different activities and lessons, including surfing, SUP, long boarding and yoga.
It’s also a beautiful place to go for a walk along the oceanfront. The coastal path takes you up to some of the cliffs, which have sweeping panoramic views that reminded us of California.
Family travel in Santa Cruz
Noah Surf House is ideal for families with many of the activities catering to children and families. We saw lots of families while we were there and the staff were wonderful with Otis.
Accommodation in Santa Cruz
Noah Surf House is up there with our favourite places we’ve ever stayed. It has a wonderfully relaxed vibe and would be a magical place to spend a week or so, immersing yourself in all that surfing and beach culture has to offer. The focus is on connecting with nature and the ocean and they have a full programme of activities, including surfing, SUP, skating and yoga. There’s also a pool on the terrace and a hot tub on the roof, and the large common areas are perfect for encouraging the guests to socialise. I fell in love with the design aesthetic, which is eco-minded and complements the ocean, making use of lots of reclaimed objects like fishing nets and ropes.
The rooms range from doubles to 8-bed dorms, and some have self-catering facilities. We stayed in a Mar Bungalow, which had an amazing view of the ocean and was perfect for getting cosy by the light of the log-burning heater.
There are two restaurants, one in the main house and another down by the beach. The one by the beach – the Noah Beach House – is right on the san with floor-to-ceiling windows maximising the view and a seafood-heavy menu. With the fire lit, it’s a wonderfully cosy place to be.
We ate at the other restaurant in the main part of the hotel, which is in a huge high-ceilinged open-plan space that looks out onto the pool terrace and is also home to the reception area and the activity booking station. It’s the hub of the hotel and has a great buzz to it, feeling very family-friendly. The seasonal menu makes use of produce from the on-site garden and they have lots of healthy options to complement the surf culture (as well as lots of treats too). This is also where the breakfast buffet is served, which again offers a combination of health and comfort food (think smoothies plus pastel de natas).
There’s also a beautiful boutique on the ground floor, selling designer surf and beachwear.
Dorm beds start at €50 , and rooms start at €160. Book your stay now.
Getting to and around Santa Cruz
The drive from Porto to Santa Cruz is 2.5 hours, and it’s another hour to Lisbon. If we had had more time, we would have also stopped in Coimbra, which is 1.5 hours from Porto and two hours from Santa Cruz. We went there on our last trip to Portugal. Once in Santa Cruz, it’s easy to walk everywhere.
Set on seven hills overlooking the River Tejo, Lisbon is sometimes called the San Francisco of Europe, but I think that takes away from its own distinctive charm. The hills are certainly similar, and it shares a golden light, but much of the wonder of Lisbon comes from its history. Most of the city was destroyed in the massive earthquake of 1755, and while parts of the old city remain, it is the post-earthquake pombaline buildings that characterise the city, with pretty balconies, open squares and undulating cobbled streets. Like Porto, it’s a city you can enjoy by simply wandering, stopping at miradouros to take in the views, and eating your weight in custard tarts. It’s an enchanting place to be.
Things to do in Lisbon
Alfama is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric parts of the city, characterised by its narrow cobbled streets that snake up and down the hill. It feels like a village within the city, and when you veer off the main tourist trail, you’ll likely see many locals going about their day, selling produce from their windows or going for a daily stroll. There are lots of plaques on the walls of Alfama celebrating local characters from the past and present – read their descriptions to get a feel for the area’s vibe. And don’t miss the miradouros (more details below) for some of the best views of the city. Alfama is next to Graca, which is also worth a wander.
Enjoy the view at the miradouros
Lisbon knows the beauty of its city and there are lots of purpose-built miradouros, put there simply to enjoy the views. Some of the best are: Miradouro da Graça (also know as Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen’s Viewpoint), which is in Graca next to Alfama; Miradouro de Santa Luzia in Alfama; São Pedro de Alcântara near Principe Real; Portas do Sol in Alfama; and Castelo de São Jorge.
Do a Secret City Trail
Secret City Trails are discovery games where you solve riddles and follow clues to find your way around a city. They provide little bits of information about all the places you visit, and tend to cover a mixture of well-known tourist sights and more hidden, local secrets. Both Steve and I love games, so we did two while in Lisbon and found it to be a fun way to explore the city. My only complaint is that sometimes the riddles/clues weren’t accurate (luckily you can cheat and reveal the answer, so you’re never completely stuck) and I also think they’re overpriced, especially if there are just two of you. They cost in the region of 20 euros. The two walks we did were made in conjunction with Time Out, but they now seem to have disappeared from the site. There are other Lisbon options here.
Enjoy the street art
There’s some excellent street art in Lisbon, especially around Alfama, Graca, Barrio Alto and LX Factory . Good spots include: Shepard Fairey’s murals on Rua da Senhora da Glória and Rua Natália Correia; all around the LX Factory; and Calçadinha da Figueira. The Secret City Trails were great for pointing out lots of things we’d have otherwise missed.
Go to LX Factory
Loads of people recommended we go to LX Factory and it just went to show how well they know us as it’s exactly the kind of place we love. It’s a renovated industrial complex housing a well curated selection of restaurants, boutiques and event spaces. There’s also some excellent street art in there, and a weekly market on Sundays. I’ve included some of the restaurants and cafes in the section below.
Browse Ler Devagar
Ler Devagar is in LX Factory but it deserves its own point as it’s one of the most excellent bookshops I’ve ever been to (and I am obsessed by beautiful bookshops). Housed in an old printing factory, it’s an extraordinary space with floor-to-ceiling books across multiple levels, ladders to reach the higher shelves, and an area filled with antique printing machines. There’s a full programme of events, plus a cafe, and when we were there, they were hosting a mechanical sculpture exhibition. It’s a dream for book lovers.
Ride tram 28
Tram 28 runs from Campo de Ourique to Alfama, passing by lots of major sights and offering a fun way to get an overview of the city. The only problem is, it’s super popular, so not ideal if you have a buggy. We gave it a miss this time, but loved it when we were there in the past. I think it’d be less busy and you’d get a good spot it you started in Campo de Ourique rather than the central stops.
Hang out in the park
Lisbon has some gorgeous parks, including Jardim da Estrela where we spent a lovely afternoon hanging out with Otis. It’s home to a little library where park goers can rent out books. Other park options include Monsanto Park, which is three times the size of Central Park, or Parque das Nações, which is next to the aquarium, a science museum and a cable car that runs beside the river.
Explore the shops
Lisbon has tons of stylish boutiques and shops. We found many we liked in the LX Factory, and there are also many concentrated around Principe Real, including these two concept stores: Embaixada and Real Slow Retail. Also have a look at Lisbon’s oldest bookshop, Livraria Bertrand.
Visit the flea market
If you love a flea market, don’t miss Feira da Ladra, which takes place every Tuesday and Saturday at Campo de Santa Clara.
Pose with Pessoa
Pessoa fans can visit his bronze statue outside A Brasileira cafe and pose with the famous poet (as modelled by Steve above!).
Stroll the botanical gardens
Steve and I always seek out the botanical gardens in a city, so were delighted to stumble across Lisbon’s version when in Principe Real. The lush gardens cover 10 acres and feature plants from five continents. It’s a beautiful place to go for a walk.
Walk pink street
Once upon a time this was Lisbon’s red light district, but now the brightly coloured street is a popular nightlife spot, perfect for bar hopping. It’s also an excellent photo opportunity!
Drink ginja from a chocolate cup
Ginja is a Portuguese cherry liqueur that pairs perfectly with chocolate, so some sweet genius came up with the idea of serving it in a little chocolate cup. It’s a delicious treat to pick up when exploring the city. We bought ours from a little stall in Alfama, but there are stalls selling it all around the city. It costs €1.50.
Listen to some fado
Fado is the traditional music of Lisbon, a raw and emotional genre that has been recognised by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. You can listen to it in many places throughout the city, but most are in Alfama. Go for a quick listen in a bar, or opt for a fado restaurant where you can eat a traditional meal alongside a 3-hour long fado performance. We didn’t go this time, but when we were in Lisbon before, we went to the atmospheric Mesa de Frades, a little restaurant built in a former chapel in Alfama.
See the funicular at Rua de Bica
For one of the classic Lisbon photos, head to Rua de Bica de Duarte Belo, a steep street that has a funicular running along it. The combination of views, cobbles and a cute little train make for the perfect photo.
Take a day trip to Sintra
Sintra has a magical fairy tale quality that surpasses even Lisbon. The hilltop village is a warren of villas, palaces and turrets hidden among the forests. Many of the buildings are in a state of decay, which only adds to its charming mystery. The Palácio Nacional da Pena is one of the most iconic attractions there, but you could also simply wander its streets. Parking is in short supply, so you might be better off getting the train there from Lisbon. Or you could join a tour, like this one that also takes in Cascais and Cape Roca.
Do a tour
As with Porto, Get your Guide has a huge range of tours in Lisbon. Here are a few that look good, and you can find loads more on their site.
Family travel in Lisbon
Many of the options above would be suitable for families (we did them all with Otis), but for some extra family-friendly activities, a good day out would be to the Parque das Nações where you could visit the Lisbon Oceanarium, which has a reputation as one of Europe’s best aquariums; the cable car next to the Oceanarium; and the Pavillion of Knowledge, an interactive science and technology museum.
Below are a few family-friendly tours and tickets you can do from Get your Guide.
Where to eat in Lisbon
Time Out Market
The Time Out Market is housed in the same building as the traditional Mercado da Ribeira, but is a much more contemporary affair. There are around 40 kiosks by different Lisbon restaurants, including Ground Burger, Sea Me and Zero Zero. Most of the places are quite meat or fish heavy, but there are some good veggie options. The building itself is striking, and the whole place has a good vibe, especially in the evenings when they have live music.
I’ve already talked about this in the Porto section, but it was my favourite custard tart in all of Portugal. There’s a stall in the Time Out Market, and another in Chiado.
We enjoyed a couple of pastries in Tartine while Otis slept. I’d been told it served some of the best baked goods in town, and it definitely lived up to my hopes.
Padaria da Esquina
The star of the show at Padaria da Esquina in Campo de Ourique is the bread, but I also had an excellent banana and chocolate cake. It’s a good place to try local and regional specialities like bolas de Berlim and pão de Deus, a sweet roll encrusted with coconut.
A Janela da Voz
A Janela da Voz is a cafe housed in the old labour movement building in Alfama. It’s a bright, light space with a local vibe, serving brunch, cakes and coffee.
This little cafe, Esplanada ,in the Principe Real park is a sweet oasis just off the main street. It serves a simple snack food menu, and is also a good spot to simply grab a drink on the patio between your wanders.
Mercado de Campo de Ourique
For a less touristy option than the Time Out Market, try the locals’ favourite, Mercado de Campo de Ourique. The indoor market has been there since 1934 but was recently refurbished into a more hip incarnation. It sells fresh produce, including fish, meat and veg, and also houses lots of stalls that use that produce to make an array of different cuisines, from pizzas to pastries to burgers and sushi.
By far the best ice cream we tried in Lisbon was at Gelateria Nannarella. The tiny little shop serves inventive flavours, and even the smallest size includes two flavours (in my opinion, an essential feature for all ice cream shops!).
Both our phones died on a walk in Graça, and we were all super hungry, so stumbling across this little veggie restaurant was a welcome surprise. It has a cosy, neighbourly feel and serves a daily set menu alongside a snack menu, including things like croquettes and guacamole.
Nicolau and Basilio
Nicolau and Basilio are run by the same people, and both have a classically hipster-health-food aesthetic, serving lots of instagrammable bowls. The food is good and includes lots of treats, such as pancakes, alongside the healthier options. Nicolau has the benefit of outdoor seating, but it also often has a huge queue to get in, whereas Basilio, just a 5-min walk away, is a lot quieter and still attractive inside.
Unfortunately Park was closed when we went, but I can see that it would be a perfect place for a cocktail overlooking the city. It’s situated on top of a multi-storey carpark (like Franks in London). It’s open in the day as well as at night, but is closed on Mondays.
I preferred Nannarella, but Santini also does a good cup or cone, including some interesting seasonal flavours, all made with natural ingredients.
Pastéis de Belém
If you want to try the original custard tart, head to Pastéis de Belém in Belem. The only problem is the queue tends be insane. We gave it a miss this time, but did brave the 30-minute queue last time we were there, and the tarts were delicious.
Mez Cais Lx
We had some excellent Mexican food at Mez Cais in LX Factory. The tacos had inventive flavours, and Otis loved his veg-filled quesadilla. For another Mexican option, I also heard good things about Pistola y Corazon in Cais do Sodré.
I fell in love with brigadeiros in Brazil and you can find them all over Portugal too. This cute cafe, Brigadeirando, in LX Factory specialises in them and also makes lots of other delicious cakes. They were some of the best we found in Portugal.
Also in LX Factory is Wish, a hipster-style cafe where you’ll see lots of people on laptops, although there are some seats were they’re specifically not allowed. It’d be a good place to work remotely. The coffee is excellent and they also have a good selection of cakes.
Accommodation in Lisbon
The Visionaire Apartments
The Visionaire Apartments offer a stylish and unique place to stay right in the heart of Lisbon. The whole place is a contemporary take on a merchant’s house of the XVI century, filled with tapestries, textiles, pottery and artefacts, that all combine to create a mixture of Portuguese style accented with African and Asian influences. It’s beautifully done and we were smitten with our room, which had high vaulted ceilings, a four-poster bed, and intriguing ornaments, like a spinning wooden globe and an ornate cloak on the wall.
The common area is also beautiful – a library room filled with antiques and offering a quiet place to relax and read while overlooking the busy Figueira square. Coffee, tea and biscuits are available for guests and they operate an honesty system for a shared mini bar and selection of food. A free-of-charge self-service laundry room is also a bonus, especially if travelling with children or as part of a longer trip.
We stayed in the Visionaire Suite, which is the most beautiful of all the rooms, largely because of its incredible ceiling, but the other apartments are equally as stylish. You can choose from one and two-bedroom apartments and attic studios. The apartments would arguably be better for travelling with young children as then you’d have somewhere separate to put the children to bed while you stayed up later. We got around this by putting Otis’ cot in the huge bathroom at the start of the evening and then moving it into our room once we were ready to sleep too.
It’s well kitted out for families, and you can request a baby bundle, which includes a cot, push chair, high chair, baby bath, changing mat, and a toy box, full of lovely wooden toys.
Rooms start at €130 per night. Book your stay now.
Martinhal Chiado is a dedicated family hotel right in the centre of Lisbon. They have big resorts on the Algarve and in Cascais, but this is their only apartments-only hotel. It’s a dream for families who want the convenience of a family-focused hotel, but who don’t want to compromise on style or luxury. I’ve been somewhat wary of family hotels thus far as I imagined something somewhat garish and loud, but this place was beautiful, and the convenience couldn’t be beaten. It’s like having a stylish city-centre apartment, but with room service and childcare on hand.
The apartments range from studios to large two-bedroom apartments that sleep up to six. It’s an old building, so they’ve made clever use of space and each room is unique, some offering bunk beds in the lounge while others have twin beds in a separate section of the open-plan living space. And they all have kitchens, including a washer/dryer, which we found super useful.
Ahead of your stay, you can order from a whole menu of baby items, including strollers, high chairs, a baby monitor, baby bath, potty etc. And there’s a shared playroom with a ball pit and lots of toys.
In addition to all that, there’s a free kids club that runs all day from 9:30am-6pm, so you can explore the city child-free if you like. You can also pay a charge for the evening baby club, from 6-10pm (€8.50 per hour). Or you can opt for babysitting in your own room for €20 per hour.
There’s also an on-site casual restaurant, which serves kid meals, but there are so many other great places in the area, we only went there for breakfast, which was included with our stay.
Rooms start at €275 per night. Book your stay now.
Getting to and around Lisbon
We drove to Lisbon from Santa Cruz via Sintra as we decided that was the most convenient way to see Sintra during our stay (check-in wasn’t until 3pm, so it helped us use the day without having to wait around in Lisbon). The drive from Santa Cruz to Sintra took one hour and we were lucky to find a parking space really close to Sintra train station. Driving around Sintra isn’t ideal as there are lots of coaches and traffic/competition for parking at the main sites. For that reason we didn’t go to the Pena Palace this time round as it would have taken at least 20 minutes from the centre and we weren’t sure we’d get a parking space once there, which didn’t sound appealing with Otis. We went last time we were in Sintra, so it wasn’t a priority. If you do want to go to the palace, I’d recommend taking a taxi or tuk tuk, or hopping on the 434 bus, which makes a loop from the train station to the National Palace, Castelo dos Mouros and the Pena Palace. That way you don’t have to worry about parking. Also, if you’re heading to Sintra from Lisbon it’d probably be easier to take the train than drive. This post is useful for details about how to get to Sintra from Lisbon.
Once in Lisbon, it isn’t worth having a car (if doing it again, I’d have dropped our car off as soon as we got to Lisbon). Parking is really expensive (from €20-35 per day) and it’s no fun driving around the city. Plus the public transport is excellent. You can use the historic trams, or jump on a train, bus or metro. This article is useful for explaining how to use the Viva Viagem card, which you can use on most of Lisbon’s public transport network.
We personally didn’t use any of the public transport as we were happy walking everywhere. However, one thing to bear in mind when waking is that the city is full of hills and steps, which aren’t reflected on Google maps, so you often unexpectedly find yourself at the bottom of a steep incline or a set of 100+ steps. If you want to avoid steps, you can look at the car route on Google maps, which will show you an alternative route. We sometimes did this, but also often ended up carrying Otis up the stairs in his pushchair, which was quite intense!
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Useful travel resources for a Portugal road trip
For car rentals, we recommend booking with Rentalcars.com. We’ve always found them to have the cheapest deals for mainstream retailers.
If you decide to book any AirBnB apartments, use this link, as it’ll give you £25 off your first trip.
Don’t forget your travel insurance! We recommend World Nomads or True Traveller who both offer reliable, comprehensive cover, including medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. You can buy both True Traveller and World Nomads insurance even when you’ve left home, which is unusual for travel insurance companies.
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal or anywhere in the world, be sure to check out our travel planning pages for all our best travel tips, including how to save money with the best cards, what to bring, and all our favourite tools and tricks.
We also have full, detailed itineraries for many other destinations, including a California road trip; 5 days in Iceland; 10 days in Japan; a road trip from Florence to the Amalfi Coast; a South Africa honeymoon guide; and the ultimate road trip in New Zealand. See all our travel itineraries.
Disclosure: Please also note all our accommodation was gifted by the hotels, so that we could review it. All opinions are our own.
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