Where To Go In Portugal

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Before I get in to the meat of this post, I want to start off by saying something I say a lot: Wow how is it already the middle of August?? Time is flying by so quickly and in less than a month I’ll be back to walking through my campus, carrying tons of textbooks and looking for a Tim Hortons with wifi…God I really miss Timmie’s (I just need an ice cap is that too much to ask?). I hope you guys have all been enjoying the last few weeks of summer and are slowly getting back in to the swing of things when it comes to school and work!

While summer is winding down for us, September is a great time to start planning next years adventures (take advantage of great airline prices) so you can give yourself something to look forward to. If you’re stuck wondering where to go, may I give you a suggestion?

Portugal!

I might be a bit biased since I am Portuguese, but honestly, I’ve been to a lot of places in Europe, and Portugal is still one of my favourites. It’s a tiny country packed full of history, delicious food, kind people and so much culture.

Since it’s not a huge tourist destination (like say Paris or London), Portugal’s premier cities remain inexpensive and are bustling and full of life in the spring and summer months. Today I wanted to talk about my favourite cities to visit, and the ones I think you should add to your travel bucket list!

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Óbidos

Óbidos is a gorgeous walled medieval town that oozes charm and culture. Every summer they hold a medieval festival were you can buy a costume and become a knight or princess, and in the winter months they hold a chocolate festival (yum!) which I haven’t been to, but have heard awesome things about.

The old castle has been turned in to a gorgeous hotel you can stay at, and it’s honestly an incredible experience being in a place that is so old and full of so much history.

If you love history, want to see a prime example of medieval architecture and get to walk on top of a city wall, this is the place for you! As an added bonus, there are prime photo ops at literally every corner of the city (so you can step up your Insta game)!

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Coimbra

Coimbra is Portugal’s former capitol and is home to the gorgeous University of Coimbra. I’ve only been to this city a few times, but it is so full of history and beautiful buildings that I would recommend it.

If old school’s interest you, the University of Coimbra is stunning, and is almost as old and famous UK universities Oxford and Cambridge. The universities famous baroque library, the Biblioteca Joanina, is an incredible thing to see and apparently (I don’t know that they still do this 100%) houses a family of bats who come out at night to eat the bugs and protect the books (crazy I know).

All in all Coimbra is a great destination, and who knows, you might even want to transfer to UC?

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Lisbon

Lisbon, the capitol of Portugal, is an amazing, bustling, and eclectic city. It caters to young, artistic types (and families) and you’ll be able to find any museum or tour to suit your tastes.

While you’re there be sure to take A Tuk Tuk ride through the streets, hop on the old streetcars to climb way up in to the hills of Alfama, and stop in a smokey fado bar for drinks and a moving performance.

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Porto

I wrote a post recently about Porto, but would like to reiterate what a lovely place it is. The food is some of the most wonderful in the country, and it’s bubbly atmosphere makes it the perfect destination for families and couples a like.

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Cascais

Nestled by the water about a half hour away from Lisbon, is beautiful Cascais. If laying on the beach, shopping and eating are your favourite things to do on vacation, this should be your first stop. With tons of beautiful beaches, amazing hotels and incredible seafood, Cascais is perfect for a relaxing beach stay while still being close to some of Portugal’s biggest cities.

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Guimarães

Like Obidos, Guimaraes is a gorgeous example of a medieval city. It was settled in the 9th century and is where the country of Portugal began (how crazy is it to think that a country could begin in a city?).

There are hundreds of winding streets and over the top churches to explore in this beautiful city, as well as many lovely hotels to rest and recharge in.

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Sintra

In the fairytale foothills of Sintra Mountain, you’ll find this lovely city. It has been a royal retreat for hundreds of years, and you can visit the beautiful palace the royal family frequented high up on the mountain top.

Aside from royalty, Sintra is home to gorgeous homes, museums (there’s an amazing toy museum right downtown) and bakeries filled with delicious pastries. It has a vibe very different from that of most Portuguese towns, and is very lush and green due to it’s location. It really does feel like a fairy tale!

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Well, those are my favourite places in Portugal! We may be a small country, but it’s really packed full of beautiful places to visit an explore!

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Three Days In Madrid

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Earlier last week, my family and I had the pleasure of driving down to Madrid to explore for a few days. I’d never been to Spain before (which is kinda sad because the border is less than an hour away from where we live in Portugal), and was really excited to experience a whole new culture!

Spain’s geography was drastically different from that of Portugal (a lot flatter with big huge farms, almost like prairies) and we were actually really surprised at how quickly the scenery and land changed as we crossed the boarder. While Portugal is all mountains and hills, this part of Spain was impossibly flat and full of fields! Madrid was also totally different from any city I’ve seen in Portugal! It had countless tree lined boulevards (but seriously, there are so many trees in this city) and a bunch of little parks and water features. We visited a few different parts of the city, went to the Royal Botanical Gardens and walked through the stunning Plaza’s scattered throughout!

Personally, I think my favourite part of the city was Malasaña, which I would describe as Madrid’s hipster neighbourhood. I could’ve spent days just wandering the little streets and peeking in to adorable cafes and out of the box stores!

We walked a LOT during the few days we were there, and let me tell you, Madrid is HOT. Like really, really, really hot! If you ever visit in the summer months, light clothing, hats and cold water (or sangria) will be your very best friends! There’s so much to see (because it’s a huge city), so we only really scratched the surface!

As I did with my Porto post, I’ll share some photos of my favourite spots and places because, as they say, a picture says a thousand words!

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The Plaza Mayor (above) was one of our first stops in Madrid! It was so beautiful, and had a bunch of little shops and bakeries lining the square! A great place to grab a bite, the Mercado de San Miguel (which I’ll talk about later), was just outside the Plaza as well!

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The Crystal Palace in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park was absolutely gorgeous! It was quite the hike to get there from our hotel (and it was pretty darn hot) but the park offers a lot of shade and great photo ops so it was ok! The pond behind the palace also features a bunch of adorable turtles who swim around and wait for you to give them food, which was adorable! As soon as I walked in, I couldn’t help but think about what a great venue this would be for a wedding (in the fall or spring)! It would be a total fairytale!

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We also checked out the Royal Botanical Gardens (which were beautiful), saw the Bonsai collection and went inside the big green house! I loved the three different environments in the green house, and it totally felt like I was hiking through the jungle!

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My favourite blogger, Geneva of A Pair & A Spare, recently went to Madrid, and in her travel guide for the city she mentioned a little espadrille store called  Antigua Casa Crespo, so of course I had to check it out! As it happened, the hotel we stayed in was only a few blocks from the store itself (fate?) and I took the opportunity to do some browsing! I ended up getting two pairs of classic espadrilles (white and pink) because they were only 9 euros, such a great deal and I love, love, LOVE them! The store itself was also adorable and had so much charm!

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We stopped at the Mercado de San Miguel for some snacks, and let me tell you, this place is popping! It’s right outside of Madrid’s beautiful Plaza Mayor, and there are tons of food stalls which sell every type of tapa you can think of. The atmosphere is so lovely and electric! It was easily one of my favourite stops during the trip!

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The above photo is of the gorgeous Royal Palace of Madrid. We didn’t actually get to go inside (it was closed by the time we got there) but I can only imagine how beautiful it is (I think it’s been said to rival Versailles)!

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We only stayed a few days in the city, and while we did see a lot, we didn’t see everything! I really hope I can come back to visit one day to explore a little more thoroughly!

Have you been to Madrid? If so what was your favourite part?

Hope you guys are having a lovely day! I can’t believe it’s already mid August! Summer is flying by way too fast!

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A Lovely Day In Porto

Untitled design.jpgCurrently, I’m lucky enough to be in sunny Portugal on vacation with my family! We have a lot of other family here to visit and escaping the humidity of Toronto in August is greatly appreciated. Portugal is also the perfect opportunity to rest and re-charge from the busy lives we lead in Canada. While Toronto is hectic and always go go go, life in Portugal is way more relaxed.

We’ve been coming here in the summer for just about as long as I can remember, and every year I seem to find some new reason to fall in love with the country. It might be the gorgeous weather, the heavenly bread, or a mixture of the two, but either way, Portugal sure is a spectacular place! Because I love showing off my country and heritage so much, this is going to be one of a few posts highlighting beautiful places in Portugal, and some of the adventures we’ve had here!

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Last week we stayed overnight in one of Portugal’s premier cities (and a UNESCO world heritage site)! Porto is a bustling city perched on the rolling hills of the Douro Valley over looking the Douro river. Like Lisbon, Porto is a mixture of beautiful tree lined boulevards and tiny medieval streets winding up the hills.

Porto is a port city in two ways. First, in the traditional sense, it’s location on the Douro allows it to be easily reached by ships, making Porto a bustling hub for trade. Secondly however, if you’re a fan of port wine, welcome to it’s birth place! Big names in the port industry have enough tours and tastings to keep you busy and satisfied and you’ll have the opportunity to learn about it’s history from the people who started it themselves!

If walking and taking in the sights are more your style, the bright tile covered buildings and ornate cobblestone sidewalks will provide plenty of Instagram opportunities. You can even cruise around most of the city in streetcars that have been running since the 1900s (don’t worry they’ve been fixed up since)! Boat cruises on the river are also a great way to relax and see the city from a new perspective.

Porto might also be one of the best places for avant-garde cuisine in the country, so if you love food (especially seafood), searching the tiny streets for local favourites might take up most of your time!

We stayed overnight at the beautiful Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel, which is gorgeous inside and out, and is in the perfect location for exploring! Our room had river views, we were within walking distance from many of the main tourist destinations in the city and were literally steps away from the river! While there are tons of restaurants around this hub of activity, I recommend hunting in other parts of the city for local favourites and hidden gems. Most of the restaurants along the river cater to tourists and backpackers and while the food is generally edible, it gives a really poor representation of Portuguese cuisine, which is pretty amazing! If you look hard enough, you’re sure to stumble on to a cute ma and pa restaurant that has great prices and equally great food!

Words can only do so much to describe something, so here are some of my favourite photographs from our day trip which we spent walking through Porto’s tiny medieval streets, peeking in to beautiful old courtyards, and riding the old streetcars!

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A beautiful (half) view of the bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (yup that Eiffel) in 1877. The bridge connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Douro river! If port wine is your thing, head over to Gaia for days filled with tastings and winery tours from some of the biggest names in the industry!

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A view of our hotel (the orangey yellow building farthest on the left) and the other surrounding buildings which were equally stunning! I love the bright colours and beautiful tiles we use to cover our buildings. Many of the tiles found throughout the country are hand-painted (even today) and many are also 3D (my personal favourites) due to many years of Moorish influence!

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I just love the tiny little streets winding their way throughout the city! If you take these back roads, chances are you’ll stumble on to local secrets and more authentic sectors of the city! Walking the many hills of Porto is also the perfect way to earn your next big meal!

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A collection of adorable little cafes cornered by beautiful tiled buildings! No better setting to take a break and have a drink! When I took this picture there was also a man playing the guitar in the background, so it was extra dreamy.

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A view of old buildings and some laundry out to dry taken from the window of one of Porto’s old street cars! I wasn’t able to take a picture of the streetcar itself because we had to run to catch it, but they’re super cute and if you’re in the city (Lisbon has them too) they’re the perfect way to see everything, with minimal hill climbing!

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Two of the many beautiful doors found in Porto! I love, love, LOVE taking pictures of doors and am happy to add these two beauties to my collection.

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These beautiful buildings of the gorgeous Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square) are reminiscent of Paris, with their clean white stone walls and domed roofs! The sun was just starting to set and I was so blown away by how different this part of the city looked from the others. This beautiful square boasts some spectacular stone work, and some amazing photo ops (I even caught some seagulls flying around)!

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So, there’s a little look at Porto (though I’ve just barely scratched the surface)! It really is a stunning city, filled with so much history and personality! If you ever have the opportunity, I really suggest visiting!

I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely August weather!! Not sure how this last month of summer has crept up on us so quickly, but I can’t believe it’s almost back to school season!!!

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