Portugal

Lisbon

The interesting bits of Lisbon are super small, walkable. Don’t miss the old streetcars/trams and the funiculars.
  • The Baixa is sort of the old downtown (17th c. I think after an earthquake)
  • To the west up the hill is the BAIRRO ALTO. You can take several elevators up to the Bairro Alto. from Baixa.  There are a lot of bars for young people in all the little streets. A few “tascas” (bars) have fado like Tasca do Chico. There are larger fado places, expensive, for older tourists.
  • Further north from Bairro Alto is Jardin Principe Real (lookout and park) with the Embaixada concept store with the best of Portuguese-made clothing and some trendy but more expensive restaurants. Decadente, Cevicheria and 100 Maneiras are very good. You can take the elevador da Glória down to the Baixa or just walk along the stairway – there is a lot of street art along it.
  • At the south side of Bairro alto is a viewpoint Santa Catarina where young people bring their own wine and chill.
  • You can take the cute old ascensor (funicular) da Bica down to the seafront and the Cais do Sodre train station, where you can
    • take a ferry across the water — when you get to the other side walk along the water to the right. It is a walking path with amazing views of Lisbon, along a bunch of abandoned buildings and at the end a stairway up to Boca do Ventro where you can stop for a cheap coffee or drink.
    • from Cais do Sodre you can take a commuter train to Belem to visit the Coach Museum and Moisteiro dos Jeronimos. Or you can take tram 15.
    • LX Factory is a converted industrial space with a lot of galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants. It’s halfway to Belem on the tram.
  • The TimeOut Market is here, unmissable, food halls all handpicked from the best restaurants and shops in Portugal that built branches here. Great and affordable food.
  • Alfama is the other historic area east of the Baixa, it’s super touristy. You can ride old tram 28 up through here around all the bends. Go at off times as it’s very crowded. But perhaps best to walk as there is a lot of architecture here that we missed.

We stayed in the LX boutique hotel, near the waterfront, Cais do Sodre station and the TimeOut market. There are also some more expensive designer options near the Jardin Principe Real.

From Lisbon to Porto

  • Pena Palace
  • Obidos is a very small walled city with a unique hotel called The Literary Man, with books everywhere
  • Coimbra is highly recommended, a medium sized city with Portugal’s oldest university – beautiful and exotic medieval architecture
  • Aveiro is an old fishing town with colorful almost Dutch and Chinese architecture from the golden days of Portuguese trading

Photo albums

2016 album Lisbon and central Portugal

2012 photo gallery from Porto and Northern Portugal

Porto

The other major city of Portugal. Famous for port wine, red tile roofs, a bridge by Mr. Eiffel, tiled buildings, and its beautiful river.

North of Porto

Of interest are these towns

  • Guimarãres
  • Viana do Castelo
  • Braga

Barcelona

Barcelona, despite being the most touristed city in Europe, is still my favorite place to travel in Europe (other than Amsterdam, which was my home for 11 years). Why? It has good weather (for Europe), very low prices (for Europe), good food, sea, mountains, wonderful neighborhoods and architecture, including plenty of my favorite kind – late 19th century and early 20th century in the very large neighborhood called Eixample (pronounced Uh-SHAHM-pluh in Catalan). In the height of summer however, the amount of tourists is so overwhelming that I would want to avoid the medieval core of the city altogether, so for a first time in Barcelona I think May or September is a better bet.

The main street through the medieval core is called La Rambla and although you may find yourself walking it once, you’ll want to avoid it. Definitely do not eat there as restaurants and cafés are tourist traps. However, one side of La Rambla is the Born neighborhood, which is the upscale part of the medieval core, and well worth exploring at quieter times. Also the Boqueria market is on La Rambla which is a must-see, but again, go at a quiet time. On the other side of La Rambla is the El Raval neighborhood, also medieval, and full of more recent immigrants, particularly from Arab countries, Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

I tend to stay in Eixample within walking distance of the grand Passeig de Gràcia, which is full of the major Spanish and European upscale chain shops for clothing and household items.

I love just walking around the central neighborhoods that are quieter like Sant Antoni and Poble Sec and just enjoying the atmosphere, the trees, the cafés.

In summary, for a short stay, choose from the following short list:

  • A stroll along the Passeig de Gràcia (upscale chain stores for shopping, cafés, admire Gaudi’s building “Casa Batlló”
  • Wander through the Born neighborhood from the Plaça de Catalunya down to the Plaça Reial  and visit the Boqueria market – you will see La Rambla along the way – you must do this at as early in the morning as possible as the crowds are awful in the afternoons
  • Visit the individual Gaudi works La Sagrada Familia church (2.5 km from Plaça de Catalunya) and my personal favorite, Parc Güell (a park, 4 km from Plaça de Catalunya) – you will probably want to take the subway, bus or a taxi
  • Walk the busy but wide boardwalk along Barceloneta beach which is immediately adjacent to the central area. Stop for a drink at one of the many beachfront cafés or have a meal at Aqua restaurant (be sure to reserve during peak times)
  • Enjoy an aimless stroll in a neighborhood such as the Eixample, Sant Antoni, Poble Sec
  • Visit the Miró museum (the “other” great surreal artist besides Dalí) on top of Montjuic mountain – you can also admire a castle or two and some of the Olympic venues. There is a fun and slightly scary old teleférico (aerial tramway) that will take you to the old city and Barceloneta beach from here, but the wait can be very long during tourist season.

My restaurant list is not very extensive (just what I know):

  • Cerveceria Catalana for good tapas; however you really cannot go at lunchtime (say 1-4) or dinnertime (say 7-11) because the waits are very long. Carrer Mallorca 236 at Rambla de Catalunya
  • for Basque tapas, Sagardi’s tapas bar (not its restaurant), Carrer Muntaner 70
  • for a casual restaurant meal, Bosque Palermo, Carrer Valencia 163
  • Me, for upscale but casual world fusion cuisine, Carrer Paris 162 at Muntaner, catarsiscuisine.com
  • Agua, on Barceloneta beach, elegant but casual: Passeig Maritim 30, tel. 932251272

The language you see on most signs is Catalan, which is close to Spanish but many words are more like French or Italian; it is not as some people believe a “mix” of Spanish and French but rather an old language with its own history and culture.

However, in the city, a slight majority actually has Spanish as a native language and is the more common language of communication. I have never had any issue whatsoever speaking Spanish in Barcelona, although I have heard this is completely different outside the city. Of course many or most people in the more touristed areas know English to some extent.

Favorite hotels is the Cram as it’s well priced, in Eixample and near the Passeig de Gracia.