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      our holidays > Journeys in SlowMotion > Portugal > On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

Lisbon, Coimbra & Porto
Holiday information
Nights: 6
Hotels: three 4-star hotels
Meals: 6 breakfasts
Included extras: street plans and detailed notes for self-guided city walking tours for all three cities
Extend your stay
For a longer holiday that combines these three cities with stays in the Douro Valley and magnificent Sintra, see our 10-night Cities, Palaces & Wines holiday.
Starting point:

You begin with two nights in the country’s flamboyant, modern-day capital, where your hotel, the Solar do Castelo, is built into the castle walls.

Slowly through Lisbon

Trundling along Lisbon's streets in a yellow tram built in the 1930s is a memorable introduction to Portugal's endlessly absorbing capital city. The no.28 creaks its way through atmospheric Alfama, a maze of narrow streets below Castelo São Jorge, before levelling out in aristocratic Baixo, characterised by noble squares, wide streets and monumental fountains. Then it climbs to reach the Bairro Alto, Lisbon's lovable ‘wild child’, whose tight network of bars has been the toast of this engaging and beautiful city for five centuries.

Day 1

In Lisbon, you are spoiled for choice: visit the castle, virtually next door; take a ride on one of the city’s iconic yellow trams; meander through enthralling neighbourhoods like Alfama, Chiado and Bairro Alto; and don’t forget a trip out to nearby Belém to admire the ornate Jerónimos Monastery and to taste those sensational Pasteis de Belém (egg custard tarts).

Pasteis de Belém

Chargrilled fish, cataplana (seafood stew), crisp vinho verde and 365 ways of preparing bacalhau (salted cod) – one for each day of the year. Yes, the Portuguese seem to have got simple and delicious food and wine down to a fine art. But as you approach the pastry shop in Belém, near Lisbon, any time between 8am and 11pm (midnight in summer), you will sense something special about to happen. For it is here that an ever-present queue of customers is quietly clamouring to sink its collective teeth into the revered pasteis de nata (egg custard tarts). The demand is such that they’re always warm – fresh from the oven and even tastier than you had imagined.

Day 2

It’s only a short train ride from Lisbon to little-known, but equally fascinating, Coimbra, dominated by its prestigious university. There's a rich variety of restaurants and bars, although you may decide to venture no further than the excellent tapas bar of your hotel, the Sapientia Boutique Hotel; or the restaurant of the Quinta das Lágrimas, if you choose to stay here.

Day 3

Take your time to explore the former capital further, perhaps enjoying a leisurely lunch at one of the many street cafés as the world goes by.

Elegant & studious Coimbra

Coimbra, formerly the Portuguese capital, is a fascinating if little-known city – a redoubtable seat of learning that is home to the country’s oldest and most prestigious university. Baroque palaces and churches lord it over pastel-fronted houses which tumble down the hillside towards a wonderful ‘old town’ – a maze of alleyways where elegant academic buildings are interspersed with a delightful jumble of flower-festooned balconies and hidden courtyards. Coimbra’s thriving student population helps to ensure an eclectic mix of bars and restaurants, and a lively, fun atmosphere for visitors.

Day 4

Today, you move on to the 4-star Hotel Pestana Porto in Porto, where the meandering River Douro empties into the ocean.

Colourful Porto

Unpretentious, fascinating Porto sits by the River Douro, with layers of historic housing clambering up the hillside from its vibrant waterfront, the UNESCO-recognised Ribeira district. On the opposite bank, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the giant signs of Sandeman, Graham's and Cockburn emblazon the rooftops of the famous port lodges, waiting to open their prized barrels to the day's visitors. Everywhere is a maze of churches, museums, restaurants and tram lines, and we highly recommend a ride on electrico no.1 out to the pretty suburb of Foz do Douro, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Day 5

Explore Porto using our self-guided city walk, then head across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia to learn about the history of port production – and indulge in a tasting or two – at one of the famous lodges. You have the whole day to explore Porto, including its two main landmarks – the cathedral and the panoramic Clérigos Tower. Ultimately though, it is the lively café bars and excellent restaurants of the atmospheric waterfront that will entice you back at dusk. Relax and reflect on your journey through this timeless and charismatic land, savouring a glass of vintage port wine (of course), as the last rays of the shimmering sun turn this grandest of waterways into a river of gold.

Cities, Palaces & wines

For a longer holiday that combines these three cities with stays in the Douro Valley and magnificent Sintra, see our 10-night Cities, Palaces & Wines holiday.

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Local Map
Fast 'Slow Food' in Lisbon
If you want to grab something quick, and fancy trying something new during your time in Lisbon, head to the Mercado da Ribeiro. It's good fun and a great people-watching venue, as Andy Montgomery from Buzz Trips recalls >