Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati
The question I heard most before I went on my vacation was “Why Portugal?” and the best answer I had was “Because I’ve never been.” I thought that once I arrived in Portugal I would immediately find a better answer, but once I stepped into the taxi at the airport, the driver asked “So why’d you come to Portugal?” Everyone I met questioned my intentions for taking two weeks to explore this small country. Throughout my journey, every place that I visited, and every person that I met, gave me more answers to the question “Why Portugal?”
My journey started out in Lisbon, it was a great city to set the mood for my adventure across Portugal. This city is down to earth and energetic, since it was rebuilt after the earthquake in 1755; it seems to have a strength and vivacity about it. Lisbon is broken into different neighbourhoods and hills. My two favourite neighbourhoods were the sleepy Alfama neighbourhood, rich in culture and history, and the Bairro Alto, which seems young and hip and truly comes alive after midnight. Lisbon offers so many different things to enjoy, great restaurants with delectable local dishes, hole in the wall bars with emotional amateur Fado singers, beautiful scenery, rich history, bull fights, and some of the friendliest people I have ever met. In Praça do Comércio you can stand at the bottom of the city at night and look up the hilly streets and watch the streetlights change one by one. Curious what Lisbon looked like before the devastating earthquake of 1755? Check out the top floor of the National Tile Museum to see for yourself.
Next, I headed north along the coast to the town of Nazaré. It was the perfect combination of beach tourism and tradition. Here you will be charmed by the local women dressed in traditional skirts and shawls, calling out “Chambres, Quartos”, to rent out extra rooms in their homes. Locals with little hibachis sit out on their steps and in the streets at lunch, and grill freshly caught sardines. The smell even drifts up the rock face to Sítio, which has an inspiring view of Nazaré and the surrounding hills. Every corner you turn has a traditional or tourist surprise, someone selling nuts, ice cream, whirligigs, and even carved elephants from Africa. I loved stumbling upon the women with the baskets of fish on their heads, or tending to their nets of fish and other sea creatures drying in the sun. After only two nights here, I wasn’t ready to leave, but Porto was calling my name.
In Porto I came to the conclusion that the saying “I used to walk to school, up hill, BOTH WAYS” originated here. I knew the river was downhill from the Art District where I was staying, but it seemed that I always had to walk uphill to get down to the river. My favourite part of Porto was the view of Porto from across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Here you will find the port wine cellars, where the River Cruises dock, and since the earthquake did not affect this town in 1755, you can see a lot more historical buildings than in Lisbon. A must see in Porto is the Old Stock Exchange building, which you can only see through their guided tour. The guide was theatric, but not as dramatic as some of the rooms I visited. Each room had a different architect and a different purpose. The last room is definitely the showstopper and not to be missed. I would say more, but I want you to discover it for yourself!
Since Lisbon and Porto are great hubs for traveling around the country, I was able to experience some other little towns, which are not to be missed when traveling to Portugal. At the end of my journey, as I was watching the in flight movie and wishing that my Air Transat flight served espresso, I found myself thinking back to everyone that asked me “Why Portugal?” Now I have an unlimited number of answers, but my favourite is “Why not go see for yourself?”