5 Classic Portuguese Experiences For First-Timers

Though often overshadowed by neighbours Spain and France, Portugal is one of Europe's hottest holidays destinations.

Though often overshadowed by neighbours Spain and France, Portugal is one of Europe’s hottest holidays destinations, and a must-do for any European summer voyage. From major cities like Porto and Lisbon, to small villages and coastal towns, there’s an endless amount of cultural activities, landmarks and bars to discover.

One of the core ingredients for a perfect holiday is planning. Sure, it seems arduous and time consuming, but planning ahead – including organising accommodation, taking trusted recommendations and planning specific destinations — can make all the difference between a good holiday and a great one.

We visited Lisbon and Porto, and returned to share our own five favourite experiences from Portugal’s two biggest cities, from grabbing a two euro pint by the river to visiting one of the world’s best bookshops, and indulging in Portuguese-style chicken and chips.

#1 Find the country’s best Pasteis de Nata

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Known to Aussie travellers as a Portuguese tart, the Pasteis de Nata is not to be missed. In Lisbon, tourists flock to the neighbourhood of Belem to try what is arguably the best Pasteis de Nata in the whole country, from the aptly titled Pasteis de Beleme. This quaint patisserie may be the oldest of its kind in Lisbon, though its age is beneficial if anything, with hungry tourists continuously lining up in droves to pass through its famous doors. Don’t let the queues discourage you though, the wait is definitely worth it!

If you can’t make it to Pasteis de Beleme, fear not: you’ll find an abundance of patisseries selling fresh Pasteis de Nata across Lisbon, Porto and beyond. Don’t just take our word for it – taste as many as you can to find the country’s finest!

#2 Try Portugal’s signature brew Super Bock

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What better way to experience a city than to perch yourself somewhere picturesque, sit back relax, and soak up the atmosphere over an ice cold beer. Super Bock, Portugal’s national brew, goes down a treat, helped along the way by a remarkably affordable price tag.

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The riverfront of the Douro in Porto is lined with bars and restaurants, all offering a stunning view of the river and surrounding town. Given the tourist-heavy riverfront, the best deals are either found at the end of the restaurant strip, or a little further back away from the river. There are various hole-in-the-wall bars to pick from, selling pints for two euros, served up in plastic cups, that let you choose the best viewpoint. Locals and tourists alike line the wall bordering the river, enjoying the sunset with a cold beer in hand.

On the other side of the country, Lisbon is a city of rolling hills. While your legs might not always agree with the topography, the hills allow for picturesque views from every corner of the city, often nearby to a bar, cheap restaurant, or convenience store selling beer by the bottle. Seek out one of the miradouros at sunset and enjoy the vista.

#3 Seek out the perfect flat white

Get your caffeine fix at Hello Kristof.

While Australia loves to lay claim to having the world’s best coffee culture, Portugal has its own thing going on, similarly adopting the culture and flavours of brewed beans. Hunting out the best coffee in town reaps many rewards. There are plenty of cafés dedicated to nothing more than making a decent cuppa, and are often interesting in their own right, leading you to an area with an array of shops, parks and cafés you may otherwise have never discovered.

Personal favourites in Lisbon were Hello Kristof and Copenhagen Coffee Lab, both of which drew me back almost every day for a caffeine fix. The Coffee Room in Porto also made a flat white to rival any hip Melbourne cafe, and is also located on the second floor of a trendy clothes shop. 

#4 Follow the tourist trail

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Hoards of annual tourists can’t have gotten it completely wrong. Popular sites like Sintra, Lisbon’s Trams and castles are all exciting ventures. Porto too holds many spectacular tourist attractions. The country’s oldest book shop Livraria Lello is found in the heart of Porto and is a sight to behold.

As you may have guessed from the city’s name, Port comes from Porto. The city is littered with distilleries, tastings and tours, not to be missed.

#5 Go off the beaten track

LX factory bookshop

Exciting discovers can be made by those who venture a little further. LX Factory in Lisbon hosts a collection of restaurants, cafés, boutiques and book shops, on the site of a former industrial complex. There’s plenty to discover while winding through its alleys, including an eclectic international bookstore, whose walls are lined from floor to ceiling.

(All images: Emily Contador-Kelsall)