Lisbon and Porto have tons in common—both are filled with hills, wonderful views, fantastic restaurants, and attractive architecture.
Here’s where you can experience the best that Portugal has to offer.
Lisbon may be the capital of Portugal, but Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, is definitely not second best!
These two coastal cities have tons in common—both are filled with hills (but still super-walkable), wonderful views, fantastic restaurants, and attractive architecture. Just three hours away by car (or train, which regular readers of The Luxury Wanderer will recognize as my preferred method of travel), you don’t have to go far to see, taste, and experience the best that Portugal has to offer.
The coastal capital sees 4.5 million annual visitors, who flock to the city to enjoy the historic ruins, UNESCO-listed heritage sites, and local cuisine. No matter where you’re traveling from, flying into Lisbon is easy. Lisbon’s airport is the largest in the country and it has the most international connections—meaning you’ll have no problem finding direct flights.
Once you land, there are several luxury hotels in Lisbon to choose from; the Pousada de Lisboa, Britania Art Deco Boutique Hotel, a Lisbon Heritage Collection, and the Hotel O Artista are highly-rated picks for an unforgettable stay. If you’re looking to go all-out, you could even opt to stay in a restored palace!
Hidden away in Lisbon’s embassy district, the 5 star Olissippo Lapa Palace Hotel is the epitome of elegance, nested on a hilltop overlooking the Tagus River, furnished with antiques and boasting a large outdoor pool and garden space.
Once you’ve dropped your luggage, hop on one of the city’s sleek trams to get around. If you have time, make sure to take a ride on the No. 28. These vintage Remodelado streetcars are wooden and painted yellow—a complete throwback to another era that fit right into the city’s narrow streets and old-world charm.
Make your way to Praça do Comércio, one of Lisbon’s most stunning and grand plazas that was once home to the royal palace. The plaza square has been classified as a National Monument of Portugal since 1910, and is home to the oldest café in the city, Martinho da Arcada (established 1782). This transportation hub features a ferry terminal, tram exchange, sunflower-yellow buildings, and a commanding statue of Dom José I, former King of Portugal.
Just a fifteen minute walk from the plaza is the Igreja de São Roque, once known as the world’s most expensive chapel. The church is home to eight individual chapel areas that make up one of the most important artistic and cultural repositories in the city, and is an incredible sight to behold.
Architecture buffs should also be sure to stop off at the Santa Justa Lift, widely considered to be the world’s most beautiful elevator. Designed by Portugal native Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a student of Gustave Eiffel, the public elevator was crafted from cast iron in a distinct turn-of-the-century French style, that mimics that of the Eiffel Tower (a must-see sight for those heading to Paris). Take a ride to the top, and take in the city.
Another unmissable view? The Miradouro de Sao Pedro da Alcantara, a garden terrace that offers panoramic views of the entire city. You’ll find this iconic viewpoint in Bairro Alto, a bohemian neighbourhood with narrow streets, old houses, street art and a lively nightlife.
When you’re ready to nosh, be sure to try Portugal’s signature confection, pastel de nata, a cinnamon-dusted egg custard tart served throughout the city, but perfected at Pastéis de Belem. The treat has been served since 1837 at Pastéis de Belém, which sells over 20,000 pastries each day. While dining in the lovely blue and white tiled atrium, you may even spot a newlywed couple (or two) enjoying a Belém pastry, as there’s an old Portuguese proverb that says “A bride who eats a pastry will never take off her ring”. Any country that believes it’s good luck to eat pastries is fine by me!
As previously mentioned, Porto is a walker’s city. To visit the essential things to see in Porto, you won’t need public transport since both the Ribera (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Old Town can be traversed entirely on foot.
While Porto has a small-town vibe that makes it the perfect place to wander aimlessly, the city is also chock-full of unmissable attractions, like Livraria Lello bookstore (said to be J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts castle), and the Dom Luís I Bridge (a double-deck arch bridge that is also a popular spot for local children to jump into the river to swim).
Another must-see? The Clerigos Church, a Baroque church accompanied by the Torre dos Clérigos, a tower which can be seen from various points of the city and is one of its most well-known symbols. Climb to the top of the tower (all 225 steps of it), for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Since Porto city was declared a European City of Culture in 2001, many of the streets and squares have been reconstructed and historic buildings restored. Waterfront cafés and restaurants have also become a staple in the city, and serve up cuisine like tripe (a culturally significant dish) and the francesinha, a cooked sandwich containing steak, sausage and ham, and covered in melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce. For those who prefer more upscale dining options, try your luck at snagging a table at Antiqvvm, a Michelin-starred restaurant touted as one of the best restaurants in Porto, if not all of Portugal.
Porto is perhaps best-known for its famous wine regions, where port, a fortified wine, is created. Port is made from grapes grown up on the Douro wine region, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, made up of terraced slopes rising up from a river that starts an hour upstream from Porto. Because no trip to Porto would be complete without tasting its namesake, be sure to make time for a wine tasting tour, or simply head to the Vila Nova de Gaia neighborhood, where wine has been made into port since the 17th century. There are tons of port and wine cellars to choose from, and they all offer wine tastings! Pay a little extra to sample the vintage wines—after all it’s not every day you’re in the city that produces one of the world’s great wines!
Cathy and I usually stay at Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel for its location and great service, but there are numerous incredible four and five star hotels in this enchanting city.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.