Northern Portugal: Lisbon & Porto


Day 82-84: Lisbon, Portugal

After a short but sweet ten days back home to celebrate an engagement, birthday and wedding, we were on a plane once again—bound for Portugal.

Our first stop to begin five months of backpacking across Europe, Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city and we had high expectations after hearing countless raving reviews.

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Jet lagged from a full day of travel and an eight hour time difference, we crawled out of bed in the late afternoon on Day 1, determined to see some of the city and taste the local food before the sun set.

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Upon stepping outside, it felt like we’d never left San Francisco. From a distance the similar appearance is uncanny—they even have their own Golden Gate Bridge (though theirs was built first).

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That bridge is named “25 de Abril”, which happens to be the day I was born… in a hospital room in San Francisco that overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge. Proof that Lisbon and I are soul mates.

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After admiring our new home away from home, it was time to eat!

Sardines are somewhat of an obsession here—you’ll find them on every menu, served every way from out of the can to on  top of grilled toast. They line the streets in souvenir shops—printed on clothing and coffee cups, molded into ceramics and made into stuffed animals. There’s even a palace filled with cans to the ceiling.

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These distinct tasting little fish aren’t our first choice back home, but when in Rome Lisbon…

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The verdict? Not too bad. We had them on toast so that helped, and they probably won’t become a staple in our diet.

Sangria and gelato, however… all day every day. At least there’s plenty of vegetables here to balance those out (South America, take notes).

The first two days in Lisbon were pretty much a useless blur thanks to jet lag. We managed to find a great rooftop bar to watch the sunset, and it was the perfect opportunity to launch our new drone for the first time while traveling.

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…Until it got 20 feet into the air and a gang of seagulls began to dive bomb it, swarming around the unwelcome intruder. Caught by surprise, we immediately lowered the drone, confused about the birds’ violent reaction and bummed to miss out on our planned epic video aerial footage of the city.

The next evening we visited the São Jorge castle to try our luck again, and the white winged devils barely let us launch it off the ground before rounding up the troops to attack. Who knew seagulls were so territorial?

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We did manage to get one quick video under the shelter of trees, and can’t wait to share our first new and improved travel video soon!

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Even though we couldn’t get all the shots we wanted, the view over the city from the castle provided an amazing backdrop for photos and taking in Lisbon’s beauty.

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I wish I could say we did more in our few days here, but we’d heard rumors of a cant-miss celebration up north, so on Friday morning we caught a bus to our next destination.

Day 85-88: Porto, Portugal 

A few hours drive from Lisbon up the coast, Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and one of Europe’s oldest.

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Having not extensively researched the area (as we like to do while traveling), we had no idea what to expect—which made it that much more amazing when we crossed the bridge into the city.

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A jaw dropping landscape of medieval towers, churches and colorful stone homes stacked on top of hills with sidewalk cafes along every corner. Now this feels like Europe.

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As we walked through the streets to our hostel, trying to comprehend the incredible architecture and details on every corner, the city was beginning to come alive in preparation for the night’s festivities. String lights and colorful garlands were hung across every narrow alleyway, and you could feel the energy in the air—something big was about to happen.

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The Festa de São João is an annual celebration that is one of Europe’s liveliest street parties, yet unknown to most outside of Portugal.

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We had no idea about it until a reader from Porto had messaged me on instagram, encouraging us to come join her at the festival. With nothing booked in advance, we said “why not?” and arrived hours later.

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The most notable tradition of the festival is to hit random strangers on the head with plastic hammers, which emit a squeak when they make contact. It was amusing to witness at first, but within minutes we were right in the middle of it—pushing our way through the swarm of hammer-wielding partygoers, whacking every passerby within arms reach.

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After nightfall we met up with our new friend from Instagram, Ella, and followed her through the back streets, away from the main crowds until we arrived at a dimly lit alleyway. It was her childhood home, and her relatives had gathered around a large table to feast and celebrate.

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They welcomed us in, handing us plates of Portuguese barbecue, cake and bottles of port wine (which originates here in Porto) and we danced in the streets, whacking local kids with our hammers as they passed by.

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Just before midnight, we rushed back down to the city center to catch the festival’s main attraction—the fireworks show along the river. Thousands of bodies lined the streets, packed so tightly that we couldn’t get through to watch. Fortunately, we had a local by our side, and we snuck through a back entrance into a guarded waterfront restaurant after Ella mentioned the owners name. Score.

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There along the water, we had a perfect unobstructed view of the spectacular fireworks display. The owner found Ella and handed us a bottle of port, which we sipped on as we continued to walk through the lively streets, stopping at dance parties along the way. We met up with a few British girls and stumbled upon a carnival, where we ate ice cream and caught a ride on a merry go round.

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Before we knew it, the sky began to turn a lighter blue and we realized it was approaching dawn. There were still hundreds of people wandering and dancing in the streets, and we decided to head back to the river to catch the sunrise.

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With a soundtrack of seagulls and distant hammer squeaks, the warm glow of the city lights faded into the pink and purple sky, and we all stood for a moment to take in the whirlwind we’d just experienced. It was perhaps the most memorable night of our travels this year. Thank you Ella, for being such a gracious and fun host. These stories and experiences are what we travel and live for!

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During this past week in Portugal (which has already felt like a month) an unexplainable feeling has set in—it’s a natural high… a buzz that hasn’t gone away. More than just the normal shift that happens while traveling. Something I didn’t have in South America, and a different feeling than while in Southeast Asia.

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There’s just something about Portugal—and the rest of Europe, I suspect, that resonates with me. It feels like home. Portugal is already my favorite place on Earth (…but ask me again in a few weeks).

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As I type this, we’ve just woken up on the south coast of Portugal, ready to explore the countries famous Algarve coast before heading to Spain on July 4th. Next week I’ll be sharing all about that plus our magical day exploring castles, and as always, you can watch our adventures in real time on my instagram stories. See you soon!

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14 thoughts on “Northern Portugal: Lisbon & Porto

  1. Hi Jenna – what an amazing start to this leg of your travels!!!!! Those sunrise pics……just breath taking. I felt like I was there with you guys. I can only imagine the wonderful memories you have captured to date – and all those to come!!!!

    Be safe and happy 4th!!!

  2. I’m so happy that you loved so much Portugal. It is indeed a marvellous place to live or visit, and you really must come and stay a while more.
    As for Lisbon’s bridge, it is named 25 April because that is also the date we celebrate as the peaceful revolution (known as carnation revolution) that ended dictatorship in Portugal.
    Big kiss

  3. Stunning! So so cool! I’m from Toronto, Ontario and heading to Europe for the first time in 2 weeks! Italy and Greece for 3 weeks and I can’t wait!!!

  4. Great photos! I am heading to Spain (from Australia) today for a couple of weeks! Could not be more excited. Portugal is definitely on my list in the future.

  5. Gorgeous photos! I’d love to see you do a post on travel photography. Specifically, how you handle harsh mid-day light (it looks like you always have gorgeous light!), how you post (you guys always look so natural) and how you capture so many great photos of the two of you.

    Love your photography – you really capture the spirit of the places you visit and your photos evoke a lot of feeling and emotion.

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