After spending 3 days in the Lisbon area, we headed up north, to make our way to Porto.
With that destination in mind, we made a few stops along the way. Having booked nothing in advance, and interested in stopping along the coast for a few days, we booked a hotel in Peniche, a coastal surf town.
We had the intention to surf, but, that’s about where our surfing in Peniche stopped. When we arrived the wind was incredibly fierce – something along the lines of 40knots. First, we checked into our huge hotel room (queen bed, 2 double beds, full kitchen, full bath). Guess there aren’t a ton of visitors to this city in mid May, cause the room was €30/night – cha-ching! We were pretty excited about that and expected an awesome surf town.
With no idea where to go we headed to the visitor center. The sad girl working there pulled out a black and white printed map, not completely convinced herself of why anyone would want to visit this town. “Well,” she offered, “we have a lighthouse you can visit.”
Determined to find out about surf options ourselves, we drove around the area, to another small town nearby, Baleal to check out the scene. Long story short, surfing here did not happen since it was so damn windy. But, we did get great pictures.
After staying for the night in Peniche, with crazy wind again the next day, we cut our stay short, and headed north for Coimbra, a small university town.
Honestly, there isn’t much I can tell about this place, probably because all we did was nap in the hotel room, and wander outside in the evening around 6 to walk around and grab dinner. The city was beautiful though. It has one of the oldest universities in Europe, which sits on an incredible steep hill overlooking the area. The walk up to the school practically required a harness to keep you from falling backward down the hill (perhaps I exaggerate..), and made me count my blessings that when I was running late for class I never had to sprint uphill.
After spending a night in Coimbra, we kept heading north for Porto.
As usual, we had no idea what to do. So, we headed to the river to check out the center of the city. Porto is probably more interesting than Lisbon, in my opinion, but equals Lisbon in terms of hills. Right near the bridge was a port shop renting out bikes, so we stayed true to our home town and hopped on two wheels.
If you rent a bike, head across the bridge and follow the river toward the sea. As you bike, you come to Madalena, a beach area that is under development. From the looks of it, its an up and coming tourist destination that was either out of season, or hasn’t hit its peak yet. Bike along the coast and you come across several new beach cafes and kitesurfers dotting the water. Halfway through, we turned back toward the city to the river, and took a very cute ferry across on a 1minute ride with our bikes to Foz do Douro, the beach town in Porto. Along the short cliffs here were more several restaurants with lovely overviews on the crashing waves below.
Our second day in Porto was pretty warm, which was great, but not very conducive to walking up and down the hills of the city. So we scrapped the idea of actually going to see most of the city’s historic sights, and instead headed across the Dom Luís I Bridge to get an overview of the city from above.
No visit to Porto would be complete without sampling the local produce, of course, so we did our share of port tasting at the caves. I was surprised that the porteries seemed to have very English names (we visited Offley and Croft). Turns out, Port was actually made by the British in Portugal in an attempt to avoid drinking French wine during all the wars between Britain and France back in the day. Somehow it seemed less exciting to drink port knowing that it was a British production, but that didn’t stop me from my port and cheese pairing.
Although Porto was a nice city, I just couldn’t understand how so many travel blogs I read were over the moon about it. Maybe by that point in my trip I was just ready to get to the beaches of the Algarve.
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As always, we used our friend Lonely Planet to help us plan our entire roadtrip through Portugal
Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.