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Portugal

Curious what backpackers do in Portugal? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.

Most traveled places in Portugal:

All Top Places in Portugal
  • Nice sunny Sunday, what else to do but get out of the city and head for the beach! Cascais (pronounced Kash-Kaysh) is about 30 minutes train ride to the west of the city, and has long been the hangout for Lisbon's wealthy elite. Apparently it's one of the richest areas of Portugal. We figured we'd check it out.

    Getting there was fairly easy as there was a train station only 10 minutes walk from our apartment, though the walk was quicker than usual as the Lisbon Marathon was happening today, and it ran up and down the waterfront right next to the train line. Lots of streets blocked off, sweaty people with pinned bibs, that kind of thing. But we battled through and made it to the train, which wound its way along the coast westward from Lisbon, through some fairly grungy looking suburbs. Reminded me a bit of Alexandria in Egypt - faded waterfront glory facing the Med.

    Cascais was very different though, once we alighted from the train and walked into town. Loads of tourist restaurants and souvenir shops, buskers and street performers, and of course thousands upon thousands of tourists. Lots of Portuguese though, so I guess a trip out to the beach on a sunny Sunday is a good idea for locals too! The whole thing had a very Manly vibe to it.

    Shandos wanted fish & chips for lunch so we found a suitable place and sat down. We both had a decent-enough meal and carafe of wine, though the restaurant itself was quite touristy (called John Bull and decorated in black & white mock Tudor style, ugh). Walked down to the beach and dipped a toe in the water - freezing cold! Probably about 15 degrees, though a couple of hardier souls than me were swimming.

    Walked along the coastline to a fortress which wasn't super interesting, then further around to a place called Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell). It's a series of large caves where the waves crash violently, roar loudly into caves and cliffs, and sometimes spray water high in the air. I think it was an English Romatic poet who coined the name, maybe Lord Byron? Wikipedia will know. Unfortunately for us the sea was quite flat, and the Mouth of Hell was more like the Mouth of a Placid River.

    Wandered back into the main area of town, past all the gigantic houses peeping out from behind high hedges. Some nice views and it feels like a nice area, but I wouldn't want to live here and be surrounded by the swarm all the time. Grabbed an icecream and headed back into town.

    We were back at our stop by 4pm, so decided to visit inside the Monastery we'd been to a couple of days previously, mainly because today we didn't have Schnitzel with us and of course dogs aren't permitted inside. The church we'd been to the other day was free (and not overly interesting), but we bought our tickets for the inner cloister and headed in.

    Happy to report it was beautiful inside, though perhaps not worth the 10 euros per head. Although I have no problem with paying governments to view attractions, I'm not real keen on the idea of paying one of the world's richest organisations (the Catholic Church) money to see their buildings. It's not like they need the money while the Pope sits on a solid gold throne.

    The best part though, was that the monastery closes at 5pm and there didn't seem to be any security guards herding people out the exits. So we took our time and managed to get some pretty good photos & videos once most of the crowds had departed.

    On the walk back to our apartment we stopped by Pastries de Belem, the original Portuguese egg tart stall. Apparently they sell 20,000 of these per day!! Very delicious though, and the reason they exist is because the monks used egg whites to starch their robes, leaving excess egg yolks behind. Rather than toss them, someone mixed the yolks with sugar and water, put it in a crispy pastry and the egg tart was born! They're very common everywhere in Portugal, but this store has been selling them since the early 19th century and is very famous. Queue was out the door and probably 50 metres down the street, but it actually moved quite quickly and we were served fairly quickly. Interesting use of pricing too - you can buy a single tart for 1.10, a box of 6 for 5.50, or a box of 50 for 50 euros. And it didn't look like they did other size combinations! Very delicious though, delicate flaky pastry and warm egg custard filling. Glad we bought six!

    Back to our apartment where we crashed pretty hard again. For dinner I cooked spaghetti with chorizo and tomato puree - nothing fancy! We're in a slightly odd spot here without many restaurants around, hence why we haven't really headed out in the evenings for dinner (that and it's not fair on Schnitzel for him to be alone all day and then alone in the evening as well).
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  • Time for another UNESCO World Heritage site! Today was the day for Sintra, about 40 minutes north-west of Lisbon, and the site of several palaces built by Portuguese kings in the 19th century. We hit the road around 10, and getting there was a bit of a mission! Google was a little vague on where exactly to head, and we knew from prior research that parking was in desperately short the supply. The little tourist village has basically no parking, and you're better off parking in nearby towns and either walking or catching a tourist bus.

    In the end, thanks to some roadworks and vague google directions, we ending up parking a couple of kilometres away and walking uphill to the main site. It's quite a large complex, and the entire area is inscribed on the UNESCO list as the "Sintra Cultural Landscape". But they're all fairly spread out, and ticketed separately of course, and I'm sure they're all nice in their own way. But with a 19th century palace, an 8th century Moorish castle, plus a couple of other country estates to see, we opted for the best known and most iconic one - not to mention we've seen plenty of Moorish castles already with more to come!

    So we rocked up to the Palacio da Pena at around 10:30, bought our tickets and puffed our way further up the hill, having already walked uphill for 30+ minutes! This is the main palace here, and was built in the mid-19th century by a Portuguese king who wanted to recreate the storybook castles of his childhood. It's considered one of the finest examples of Romantic art anywhere in the world, and looking at it you can see why!

    It's brightly coloured, and strongly incorporates elements of Islamic, Gothic, and Renaissance art into the design, as well as having a real "storybook castle" feel to it. The palace was built as a summer palace for the royal family to escape from the pressures of Lisbon, and its position on a rocky outcrop hundreds of metres above the distant city really adds to the feel. Particularly on days like today where the wind howls in and tosses you around.

    We spent quite a while wandering around the outside, marvelling at the details in the finishing and the way various elements fit together. There's also a wall walk which goes around the exterior of the castle - nothing extreme but given the high wind it was quite exciting!

    Next up we headed inside, where many of the rooms were kept in great condition and furnished as they were in the time of the last Portuguese sovereigns. Queen Amelia was the last before fleeing into exile in 1910's Republican Revolution, so much of the furnishing was from the early 20th century. A very early telephone, for example, plus clawfoot bathtubs, ornate glasses in the smoking room, fancy crockery and cutlery etc.

    It was quite interesting, but certainly nowhere near as visually arresting as the exterior with its bright colours and bold lines. Wanting to stay out of the cold (it was a grey and overcast day in addition to being windy), we ate a late lunch in the restaurant - Shandos had duck with rice and I had a tuna lasagna. Not too bad but a bit overpriced I guess. That said, food generally is more expensive here in Portugal than in Spain. Everywhere in Spain you could find cheaper tapas for 1-2 euros, whereas here in Portugal it's rare to get even a tart or pastry for a euro!

    Palacio da Pena is surrounded by a large park and wooded area where the royals would walk, ride and hunt, all of which is still preserved by the government, so we set off for some more walking. It was quite nice, though a little underwhelming perhaps - the weather didn't help. On the brighter side, today is officially the first day of Spring so things will seem a little less dreary.

    Still some highlights in the gardens though, including a fernhouse, lakes with ducks, and a great viewpoint on a rocky outcrop with a perfect view of the castle. We managed to get separated as Shandos powered up a hill and I puffed my way up - at the end I went left and she went right, and it took about 20 minutes before we were reunited! If only I'd had a map as well.

    Having exhausted the castle and the gardens, and it was now mid-afternoon, we tramped back down the hills to the car - much easier going this time! We drove back to the main town of Sintra to see what we could see, but it was only brief glimpses of the other palaces and castles, and an awful lot of tourists. We felt we'd made the right decision by skipping.

    Last stop for the day was a minor but notable landmark - the most westerly point in Europe! There wasn't much there other than howling wind, tourists and an obelisk mentioning the fact, plus of course a cafe and souvenir shop. We had a hot drink to warm up in the cafe, entertained briefly by an army helicopter zooming past, followed a short time later by a small warship, likely a destroyer.

    Back to Lisbon we went, in a fairly uneventful drive. More tolls on the freeway though, very annoying! Seems like the government funds roads here via tolls, since I don't think we've ever had to pay for parking since arriving in Portugal. Shandos jumped out at the nearby supermarket and picked up some supplies for dinner - roast chicken and fresh bread, plus another couple of days breakfasts. Another quiet night in watching daily footage and Match of the Day!
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  • Today was an exhausting day. There's a trio of UNESCO World Heritage sites in cental Portugal that we had decided to visit (a pair of monasteries and a convent/castle), and although each looked nice, none of them seemed to warrant a long visit. And with short-ish driving distances being what they are, we figured we could tackle all three of them in one day!

    Up early at 7am, one of our earliest starts so far. Packed up and left Lisbon by 8:30 and headed northwards out of the city. The first destination was about 1.5 hours away, a monastery in the small town of Alcobaça. Lots of rain around today and very low temperature as well so we rugged up heavily! Got a good park and checked out the monastery, originally dating from the 11th century.

    Very plain and unadorned inside, very spartan and a good reflection of the monks who lived here for hundreds of years. Bought a triple site ticket (includes here, the other monastery and the convent/castle for later) and headed into the inner cloisters. Interesting to start picking out architectural details as we've seen so many different similar buildings now. Manueline style ceiling vaults, picking the difference between early and late gothic columns, later additions like baroque belltowers and so on.

    It wasn't a huge site though, and we were back in the car by 11:15. According to Shandos's schedule, we'd gone from 30 minutes behind to 30 minutes ahead! Schnitzel seemed very content to have been left in the car, as he doesn't like cold and he doesn't like rain - inside was neither of those things!

    30 minute drive to the next monastery, this time in the town of Batalha. This monastery was slightly newer than the previous, but larger and more ornate, reflecting the growing power of the church and the Portuguese monarchy. This was at one point their main religious centre, and an entire dynasty of Portuguese monarchs are buried here (including the famous Henry the Navigator, not a king but a prince credited with kickstarting the Age of Discovery by opening the route to first the Azores and later western Africa).

    A larger site here so we spent a bit longer looking around, including checking out the beautiful stained glass windows. Weather had cleared slightly but still a bit miserable, though thankfully we didn't get too wet. Our next site was directly east before we'd have to turn northwards for our final destination, so we decided our best lunch option was McDonalds. One of the things that fascinates me about Maccas is how their menu is constantly adapted for local tastes - you can always get a Big Mac, but here in Portugal you can get four different types of soup or a "bifana" - a diamond-shaped bread roll with two thin slices of grilled pork. We opted for a pair of those, and ate in the car rather than suffer sitting outside in the cold with Schnitzel, or inside without him.

    Final stop for the day was about 45 minutes drive further east, a convent and castle combination in the town of Tomar. This turned out to be an interesting site - the oldest part was the earliest thing we'd seen so far, a circular Romanesque Catholic temple originally built by the Knights Templar in the 11th century, just after they'd come back from the Second Crusade. The rest of the building was newer (Renaissance and so on), and the attached convent was newer again, but it was an interesting site to wander around and discover various parts.

    It was a little confusing at first since we arrived in the midst of a heavy rainstorm and didn't get our bearings properly, but managed to sort ourselves out in the end. The convent was also fortified as a castle, and some of the walls and towers were still standing, so we wandered around this for a while as well. It had a great defensible position over the town, and apparently held out against a siege during its first year of operation. It's been a strategically important spot over the centuries as well, since Spain and Portugal have often had tense relations and Tomar is near an important river crossing.

    All three sites done, we turned northward for the town of Coimbra where we had an apartment booked. Coimbra is home to another UNESCO site (Portugal's oldest university), which we planned to look at in the morning. The drive took longer than expected: we couldn't use the freeway since it was electronic tolling only, and we didn't have the requisite tags or passes. So it was second-tier highways for us, continually getting stuck behind trucks and caravans.

    Finally arrived in wet and cold Coimbra around 6pm, very tired but happy we'd achieved our goals. According to our Airbnb host, this year is the coldest winter on record in Spain and Portugal - we could definitely believe it! Neither of us felt like venturing far, so I found a convenience store just down the street and bought some spaghetti sauce to have for dinner with our leftover spaghetti. And of course a couple of sneaky Portuguese tarts! Off to bed early, hoping for better weather tomorrow.
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  • Time to move on again, a bit of a shame since our Airbnb apartment was really nice and we didn't have much of a chance to enjoy it. But such is the life of a traveller! We actually vegged out a bit in the morning, catching up on stuff from the previous day before packing up and heading out at around 11am. Drove into the downtown area of the city near the University.

    The University is a world heritage site, not particularly because of its buildings (although nice), and also not because of famous scientists or discoveries here, but because of its influence on the world. It was founded originally in the 12th century in Lisbon and moved to Coimbra in the 16th century, but more importantly it was the only university in Portugal for much of its history. And because of Portugal's global status via the empire, the ideas and concepts developed here spread quickly around the world.

    We had a look at the main quadrangle, overlooked by some impressive buildings. The Royal Hall (actually a repurposed part of an old royal palace) was very cool, a hall very heavy on dark decor where "PHD defences" are held. Essentially, PhD students sit at a table in the centre of the hall and defend their thesis against argument and criticism, I assume from the professors and academics. One was in progress as we visited so we couldn't enter the hall, but the view from the windows looked cool.

    The highlight here was definitely the library though - a huge building that housed 60,000 Renaissance era books. It was one of the first purpose-built libraries in Europe, and much thought was put into preservation. For example, the walls were 2 metres thick and the doors constructed of a special wood to regulate both temperature and humidity. Bookshelves made of a certain wood that smells repulsive to insects, and there's even a colony of bats living in the walls to feed on paper-eating beetles!

    Had lunch at a restaurant near a clifftop, which, although it looked and felt expensive, was actually very reasonably priced. We both had a fish dish of something very similar to grilled octopus, but not octopus, along with bread, wine and coffee for just 8 euros per head!

    Dashed upstairs to the Physics Laboratory where we had a guided tour of the faculty's collection of old instruments, an interesting throwback to an era when physics experiments were done with brass pipes and strings, not computers. We also went through the natural history department which had an enormous collection of preserved and taxidermied animals. The fin whale skeleton was the highlight, although some of the stuffed animals were comical - I guess taxidermy as a science and an art has come a long way since the 18th century!

    Back to the car where Schnitzel was faithfully waiting for us, fast asleep in his bed. He seems very happy there, and I suppose since we move houses every few days, the car and his bed are the main constants in his environment aside from us.

    Out of Coimbra we hit the road and headed north, this time thankfully on the freeway rather than the highway. About 90 minutes driving later we arrived in Porto, the second-largest city in the country and home to about 1.5 million people. Found our accommodation with no dramas and settled in. As usual, we're staying in an apartment about 20 minutes walk from the main centre of town.

    Although it was approaching evening, we headed out for a walk to stretch Schnitzel's legs. Found a park a few hundred metres up the road where he did his business and entertained himself chasing pigeons, before we headed a bit further on to a supermarket. Schnitzel and I waited outside while Shandos bought some supplies. I think I've mentioned before, but Schnitzel gets far more attention here in Portugal than in Spain - people often react like they've never seen a dachshund before (although we have seen a few around). It's nice that he's popular, but the attention gets a bit tiring sometimes. Particularly when you're cold and waiting around outside a supermarket for 30 minutes on a busy street at dusk.

    Back to the apartment where we relaxed in front of the heater and ate our dinner of soup and spinach frittata. Expecting a long day of sight-seeing tomorrow as I've heard great things about Porto - and of course it has a World Heritage listed Old Town!
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  • See photos
    1. How to combat obesity epidemic. ..have signs telling kids they have to run not walk
    2. Urinal on street corner near Castell for those desperate to go.
    3. Knowledge is power....We have seen so much abuse of this from the destroying of Muslim libraries by the Catholic monarchs....to the witholding or distortion of the truth in the Inquisition.
    4. Not quite so deep this painting...though the water is.
    5. A theme on this trip...graffiti everywhere though some quite artistic.
    6. The sunset on what has been an awesome trip.
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  • There are so many amazing places in this planet and I've hit another one. Took the local train this morning and 40 minutes later I'm in another National Park. I was surprised how much influence the Moorish (Moroccans) had in this area particularly in architecture. Lots of beautiful tile and Muslim influence. Visited the mansion, grottos, church, gardens and underground caves and labrynth. Wales 2km uphill to see the castle and holy crap I thought my lungs were going to pop; thank god it was all downhill on the way back. I was exhausted when I got back to the hostel. Total walking kms today in walking , 14!Read more

  • A little spiritual journey today to the town of Fatima. Everyday I think about my life as I travel and everyday I am so grateful for my opportunity to travel, meet people, see this beautiful world, and to know that I am safe. I always say a prayer of thanks at the end of the day and count my blessings for the things I have done and seen. I didn't know what to expect when I did my detour to Fatima today but my inner heart was guiding me. This I learned is a town of pilgrimage where the Immaculate Virgin was seen be three young shepherds in 1916. It is like the second Vatican and Pope John Paul was here at least three times. I walked through the the garden of the stations of the cross which was amongst an olive grove and so serene and beautiful, called the Alustrel. I had the strangest feeling there, something that can't be explained. I then walked to the shrine area and watched people crawl on their knees to the basilica. It was amazing. I watched a young father holding his young baby crawling and he wept while he was doing it. Very moving.Read more

  • Time to move on again! We weren't due to arrive at our Airbnb in Lisbon until 2pm or so, and it wasn't a long drive away, so we decided to spend a bit more time wandering around Evora after some pastries for breakfast. We had a good wander, took some more photos and did some more filming, then headed back to the car just after midday.

    Lisbon was about 150km away, so about 1 1/2 hours drive on the freeway, though it had an unexpectedly high toll - 9 euros! Lucky we could pay with card, as I didn't have any cash on me. Crossed into the city from the south via an enormous bridge, identical in appearance to the Golden Gate, and found our way to our Airbnb. It's a nice little apartment with a big backyard - a nice change from having to get dressed properly to take Schnitzel outside! Bedroom a little on the small side but the living area is really nice.

    Had a late lunch of soup and a savoury pastry in a coffee shop adjacent, then set out for a wander! We headed down to the waterfront and walked west, checking out the sites. First stop was of course the UNESCO-listed Monastery of the Heironymites, one of the few buildings in this area to survive the gigantic earthquake of 1755. It's also where Portuguese egg tarts were invented!

    We took turns looking at the interior, though we couldn't go right into the cloister as it was ticketed and late in the day for a proper look around. Stopped at an outdoor bar for a drink, then walked further west to the Tower of Belem, which again is a rare pre-1755 building. It was a guard tower set up at the entrance to the harbour, intended to shore up the defence of the city, though the first time it was used in anger it surrendered within a couple of hours! Very picturesque though, and lovely late afternoon sun.

    Schnitzel was getting near constant attention in a way that he hadn't in Spain - I guess dogs or at least dachshunds are less common here? At one point a crowd of 7-8 people were huddled around him, patting and cooing. He just takes it all in stride, though I'm not sure how interested he is in everything.

    Given that it'd been a long afternoon of walking to reach this point (probably 3km away from our apartment), we ended up getting a taxi back for the princely sum of 4 euros. Relaxed in the apartment for a bit before heading to a local restaurant we'd seen earlier in the day. Had a great meal of nachos and roast pork with couscous and a couple of wines. Also had a good chat with the owner who spoke excellent English and had been to Sydney a couple of times!

    I've noticed as well that English seems more widely spoken here than in Spain - I guess there's a lot of places in the world where Spanish is very useful, but outside of here and Brazil the same isn't true of Portuguese! So maybe they put more effort into learning some English. I haven't made headway into learning any Portuguese, it's similar enough to Spanish to confuse me, but with some very different sounds included too which I just can't imitate.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Portuguese Republic, Portugal, 포르투갈, 포르트칼, ܦܘܪܛܘܓܠ, ፖርቱጋል, ポルトガル, โปรตุเกส, ໂປຕຸກກັນ, ପର୍ତ୍ତୁଗାଲ୍, ព័រទុយហ្កាល់, ประเทศโปรตุเกส, สาธารณรัฐโปรตุเกส, An Phortaingéil, Bồ Đào Nha, Bortuqaal, Feringgi, i-Portugal, Lusitania, Mputulugeshi, Orílẹ́ède Pọtugi, Pɔritigali, Portegal, Portekiz, Pôrtiogala, Portiwgal, Portogal, Portogallo, Portogało, Portúgal, Portûgal, Portugál, Portugála, Portugāle, Pörtugäle, Ködörö Pûra, Portugali, Portugalia, Portugália, Portugalija, Portugalio, Portugaliya, Portugall, Portugallia, Portugallu, Portugal nutome, Portugalska, Portugalsko, Portugalujo, Portugis, Portûnga, Portuqal, Portyngal, Porutugali, Posugol, Pòtigal, Pōtītī, Potugaali, Pɔtugal, Potukali, Purtugaal, Purtugal, Putúlugɛsi, República Portuguesa, Republic of Portugal, Ureno, Yn Phortiugal, البرتغال, برتغال, پرتغال, پرتگال, پورتګال, پورتۇگالىيە, پورتوگال, פארטוגאל, פּאָרטוגאַל, פורטוגל, Πορτογαλία, Партугалія, Португал, Португали, Португалија, Португалия, Португалія, Портуґалія, པོ་ཅུ་གྷལ།, པོར་ཅུ་གལ, པོར་ཏུ་གྷལ།, Պորտուգալիա, პორტუგალია, पुर्तगाल, पोर्चुगल, पोर्तुगल, पोर्तुगाल, પોર્ટુગલ, పోర్చుగల్, ಪೋರ್ಚುಗಲ್, போர்ச்சுக்கல், போர்த்துகல், പോര്‍ച്ചുഗല്‍, পর্তুগাল, ပေါ်တူဂီ, පෘතුගාලය, ポルトガル共和国, 葡萄牙