The requirements for our mother-daughter trip were simple: someplace European with warm October weather and off-the-beaten-path places to explore. After a few months of narrowing down our choices, my mom and I found the place: Portugal.
Since my mom so generously paid for our trip, I was tasked with getting us around and making sure I took enough pictures for posterity, two jobs I gladly accepted to spend time exploring a foreign country with her.
When we arrived in Lisbon, our room wasn’t ready, so we dropped off our luggage, changed into comfortable shoes and headed out down the narrow cobblestone side street that we would call home for the next few days. In our trip prep, we had learned that Lisbon is “The City of Seven Hills.” They weren’t kidding; I had traveled to San Francisco a few months earlier and Lisbon is even hillier. My mom and I are both fairly active people who exercise daily and I had completed an intensive yoga teacher training just a few weeks prior. But after five minutes, we were breaking a sweat. My mom turned to me and said, “This city is not for the faint of heart!” I couldn’t agree more, but I was ready for the challenge.
We paused at the top of the hill at Santa Catarina’s lookout (Miradouro de Santa Catarina), a small park with views that overlook the Tagus River and 25 de Abril Bridge, Portugal’s version of the Golden Gate. As we continued our walk, we found ourselves constantly stopping, not to catch our breath, but to admire each unique building covered in magnificent tiles of green, blue, yellow and more. Some were quite ornate, others sparkled in the light.
Our path took us to Principe Real, a trendy area with a beautiful little park, nice shops and restaurants. After browsing through a few stores, we realized that many shops and restaurants do not accept credit cards. Luckily, my mom had exchanged cash for euros before our departure — a practice I would recommend.
I came prepared with a list of restaurants to try. That first night, we decided to go someplace close. Map in hand, we walked a few blocks downhill, surprising ourselves at how easily we found the place. It was fairly early and the restaurant wasn’t full, but much to our astonishment, we were turned away because we didn’t have a reservation. That’s important to know: Dinner reservations are a must almost everywhere here. We were determined to not let it put a damper on our first night and headed to Madame Petisca, a restaurant our hotel had recommended and for which we didn’t need a reservation.
Over breakfast the next day, the hotel manager told us public transportation and taxis were everywhere, including the old Tram 28 which runs throughout the city and sounded like a nostalgic, but efficient, ride. But he also shared that riders are packed in like the popular Portuguese delicacy of sardines, so we decided to stick to exploring by foot. After all, the more hills and steps we climbed, the more we could indulge in the fresh seafood, cheeses, meats, desserts and, of course, local wine and port.
That day, we spent several hours getting lost down the old narrow streets of the Alfama district. After stopping for lunch — our first of many octopus salads and wines while in Portugal — it was onward to São Jorge Castle for breathtaking views of the whole city. We were dazzled by sights of red-shingled roofs, colorful buildings and the Tagus River sparkling in the background.
Nearing late afternoon we started back across the city, stopping at Time Out Market for a quick look. The
market is a large, clean building with restaurant stalls lining the perimeter and long wooden communal tables
filling the center. The options were impressive, from charcuterie and wine to soup, sushi, gelato, cheesecake and more. We returned another day to eat, and after a few laps around the market, we still faced a hard decision. We ended up sharing an octopus and potato salad dressed in a tangy vinaigrette, a slow-cooked pork sandwich and two glasses of vinho verde, a Portuguese-style wine.
Finding a seat was as hard as choosing food; we really had to hover for a spot. After almost fighting a woman who tried to take our seats, we finally got comfortable and indulged in one of the many amazing meals of our trip.
After our first few days of walking Lisbon, our legs were tired. Luckily, we had booked a half-day tour, driver included, which couldn’t have come at a better time. We visited the nearby towns of Sintra, home to an old and magical castle town about an hour away. OK, the town of Sintra itself is quite touristy, but a trip up to Pena Palace is well worth the extremely winding drive. We could have pent many more hours wandering this colorfully painted palace that was home to King Ferdinand II and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next we headed to the beautiful but windy cliffs of Cabo da Roca and enjoyed a quick drive through Cascais, a ritzy resort town by the beach.
After our four days in Lisbon, we traveled to Porto, a smaller and lively river city that is easy to navigate and full of nice shops, restaurants, parks and Old World charm. It also has two unique claims to fame. J.K. Rowling lived there for several years and, when she left, took many influences for her books. My mom is a Harry Potter fan and talked me into visiting a very old and famous bookstore, Livraria Lello. Its resemblance to the bookstore in the movies was uncanny. The other reason for the city’s renown is, of course, its wine port.
Our second day in Porto started with a climb to the top of Clérigos Tower for gorgeous 360-degree views. We then walked toward the Douro River to find busy cafes packed with people enjoying the mid-day sun, and we were easily persuaded to stop for a fresh lunch of grilled squid and salad. From there, our plan was to walk across the bridge to the town of Gaia. Though port is named after the city of Porto, Gaia is home to all of the port houses. For 12 Euros, we took a tour with well-known distributor Sandeman, trekking through dimly lit caves to end the adventure with a generously poured port tasting.
We ended our trip back in Lisbon in a different hotel in an area new to us. Casa Amora was a friendly, small and beautifully decorated guesthouse with a lavish homemade breakfast served on the tranquil patio. Sitting out there, we really did not want the trip to end. And there was still much more to do. On our last full day, we grabbed an Uber to Belém, a district in the west of Lisbon that is home to museums, gardens, a monastery, Belém Tower and the famous Pasteis de Belém, a café that sells pastel de nata, a custard pastry popular throughout Portugal.
We wandered into Jerónimos Monastery, a colossal home to the tombs of Vasco da Gamo and Luís de Camões. After sightseeing, we walked along the water, past the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) and onward to LXFactory for lunch and shopping.
LXFactory was definitely worth the hike — housed in two rows of old warehouses, it’s a mix of restaurants and funky shops selling home goods, clothes, antiques and more. If you’re ever in need of designer sunglasses and cheesecake, there’s a store for that here. After stopping in every shop, we had worked up an appetite and ventured into the most amazing place, 1300 Taberna, a huge space decorated with a mix of tables, chairs and chandeliers all beautifully arranged in Instagram worthy décor. The meal (assorted breads, a potato soup with cabbage and chorizo and, what else, octopus salad) was just as good.
I don’t always say this after a trip, but both my mom and I agreed we would definitely visit Portugal again in the future. In the meantime, our mother-daughter trip has now become a tradition. In fact, we’re narrowing down our list for next year’s getaway.