I have just returned from a fifteen-day trip to the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto. If you haven’t already been, it’s useful to know that you can be at the heart of each in around three hours from the UK and Ireland. Unlike the lengthy and relatively expensive transfer from Faro airport to some of the Algarve resorts (I’m thinking of Lagos here, which is my favourite of those I’ve visited) it’s just a short metro or taxi journey to the centre. This makes them excellent weekend-break material, but I was fortunate to have had a week in each to really explore their winding streets on foot and try a “prato do dia” at lunchtime in several local restaurants. Off the main drag, this daily special was really good value in some basic, local restaurants at around just €7-10 which usually included bread and olives to start, a choice of meat or fish main and house wine, dessert and a coffee.
Having studied French and Spanish for years really helped when reading menus, signs and other printed material without having to resort to a phrasebook (I was able to translate a notice on the door of our apartment from the gas supply company to say they would be reading the meter next morning!) However, the pronunciation of words is often very different to how you imagine it might sound. For example, peixe is the word for fish and it is pronounced something like payeesh. Unlike the Algarve, English is not necessarily spoken everywhere, particularly in more traditional restaurants run by older people, where I used a combination of English, French and Spanish and what little Portuguese I’d learned before leaving. People seemed to really appreciate any efforts we made to attempt to express ourselves in the language and my daughter even braved the local bakery in the morning and ordered in Portuguese.
The beauty of both Porto and Lisbon is that they are small enough to see a lot of sites on foot, which I think is the best way to explore their cobbled streets. After walking as far as we possibly could each day, we simply hopped on a vintage tram, metro or bus to transport us back to our apartment. In fact, one day in Porto we arrived at the satellite coastal town of Matoshinos without realising how far we’d walked, although our picnic in the city park en route revived us.
Both cities are abundant with art, culture, history and restaurants to suit any palate and pocket. Then, when you fancy a lazy day at the beach you can be transported there and back in no time. I highly recommend a visit.
The beautiful Duoro river from the Crystal Palace Gardens in Porto, one of the many mirodouros (viewpoints) in both cities
Porto’s buildings are a mix of shabby chic and impressive
Staircase in the Natural History Museum, Porto, which was at the top of our road
Parque Eduardo VII, Lisbon, where we went to a funk and hip-hop outdoor concert as part of the Out Jazz Festival that takes place in various locations over the summer
Turner’s The Wreck of a Transport Ship c1810 in the amazing Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon
The impressive Portuguese parliament building, located a few streets from our apartment
The famous Sao Bento railway station in Porto is worth a visit even if you aren’t taking the train. Visitors come to see its 20,000 azulejos, the painted, tin-glazed tiles that are found everywhere in Portugal
With washing often strung from balconies and people going about their everyday life right beside the main tourist areas, it is easy to get a real feel of the heart of these two cities