Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal
Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal
As a graduation gift to ourselves, my friends and I pushed for a backpacking trip around Portugal. You might wonder why Portugal? Well, it was a collective decision. First, we definitely targeted to go to a European country after we finish our college education. Second, we wanted to do a backpacking trip in a European country that is not as famous as a backpacking destination as other Central European countries. This is why we agreed to do our backpacking trip around Portugal. There is actually no profoundness in our decision. Anyway we knew that wherever we go it will be fun because we are celebrating a milestone in our lives.
Here is how to apply a Portugal visa before Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal
First order of business to realize our backpacking trip is to apply for a Schengen visa. Since it is our first time to travel to Europe and we want to secure an approved tourist visa, we sought assistance from an experienced travel agent that guided us through the entire process. We suggest you do the same so that you don’t make any unnecessary mistakes that might compromise your Schengen visa application. If you are wondering how we secured approved Schengen visas, here are what you need to have:
- A filled out Schengen visa application form
- Valid passport and copies of the front and back pages
- A couple of recent passport photos with white background
- Travel Insurance – Get insured for Schengen countries.
- Proof of Travel – flight booking, hotel booking, and travel itinerary. You may get a Flight Booking, Hotel Booking, and Travel Itinerary just to get a Schengen Visa without having to pay for the ticket, reservation, or tour packages.
- Personal Coverage Letter
- No Objection Letter – This may come in handy when applying for a Schengen Visa.
- Bank documents
Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal – The Four Ultimate Portuguese Cities
We didn’t know much about Portugal. What we know is that its historical past is rich and we expected to find a lot of grand structures that tell stories about Portugal’s powerful years. When we were arranging our travel itinerary, which we had to submit to the embassy by the way, we first researched about the transportation system of the country. Of course, the success of our backpacking trip around Portugal depends on the efficiency of Portugal’s train and metro system. We agreed to just fly in one of Portugal’s cities and then just take the train until we fly back home.
Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal: First City – Porto
Looking at Portugal’s map, we decided to make our entry via Porto International Airport or locally known as Francisco SA Carneiro Airport. It was quite a long travel – 19 hours and 55 minutes to be exact which included an almost 4-hour layover in Amsterdam – but it was all okay and bearable. We flew via KLM which offered the fastest and cheapest fare to Porto. We arrived in Porto City at 1:30pm which gave us enough time to get to know the city and the area of our hostel.
As soon as we arrived at Porto Airport and got through immigration, we looked for the metro station right away. It was very easy to locate the station because the airport had many signs. From the Aeropuerto station, we got off the Carolina Michaelis station which is the nearest stop to our chosen hostel So Cool Hostel. We chose this hostel not only for its affordable price but also its proximity to the metro and other Porto landmarks.
After checking in, we checked out the area around the hostel. We were happy that the location is like a 10-minnute walk from a lot of nice sites. We first stopped at a building called Casa da Musica or the House of Music. The structure looks so unique and modern. It is irregularly shaped and one would deduce that it is an art gallery of some sort. When we got in, we found out that it is large auditorium that hosts various music orchestra performances. We also learned that Casa da Musica gives free concerts for those who are into classical music.
We also visited the famous Sao Francisco Church. The exterior façade of the church looked plain with a hint of Baroque architecture but what was astonishing was the church’s interiors. We totally didn’t expect to see such lavish and intricate wood carvings and gold embellishments. Everywhere we looked inside the church sparkled in gold. It was just a sight to see!
Our most favourite part of Porto is probably the Cais de Gaia because of its excellent view of the famous Dom Luis Bridge, a double-decker iron arch bridge that is used by cars and pedestrians on one level and the metro on the upper level. When we were looking at the bridge, a friend of mine said that it looked like the Eiffel Tower. As he said this we were overheard by one of the waiters and said it is designed by the same person.
Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal: Second City – Faro
We wanted to experience the fast European train so we decided to travel from the northern part of Portugal down to the southern city of Faro. If I remember it right, the ticket costs €53 for a one-way ticket to Faro via Intercidades or the intercity train. The travel took more than 5 hours but the ride wasn’t a bore at all. We saw a lot of meadows, pastures, buildings, and many more landscapes. We took the 4pm train and arrived Faro before 10pm. From there we walked to the Algarve Hostel where we will stay the next couple of days.
We knew that Faro was not as lively a place as Porto. Faro is actually a laid back place surrounded by the Gulf of Cadiz so we saw a lot of quiet marinas. Prior to arriving in Portugal, we already set our entire itinerary and our travel agenda in Faro included a special outdoor activity. We booked a Jeep Safari Tour a month ahead since we knew that there is no subway metro in Faro and travelling from one place to the next may be quite difficult to do.
We got picked up early the next day at our hostel and we rode 4×4 white Jeep. The driver greeted us and briefed us about safety, the itinerary of the day, and what to expect. He drove to another meeting point where we met the other groups touring with us. It became a four Jeep convoy with more or less 20 tourists who are all eager to see the outskirts of Portugal. Who would’ve thought that Portugal had a safari adventure right?
We drove through dry lands, narrow trails up a hill, crossed rivers, and passed several Portuguese ethnic communities. My favourite part of the journey was seeing the view of the city from the top of a hill. We also took a short stop to see the view of the Gulf. It was such a great adventure. The operators did a great job in organizing the trip because we saw both nature and ancient structures of Faro. The land trip lasted for 7 hours and we never felt sleepy or bored all throughout. I suggest you take this safari trip when you do your own backpacking trip around Portugal.
Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal: Third City – Sintra
After a couple of days, we moved to our third Portuguese city Sintra via train. The train ride took more than 2 hours and the scenery is also spectacular. In Sintra we stayed at Nice Way Sintra Palace. The location is quite central and the rates are affordable. It was also a short walk away from the train station which was the main reason why we chose this place. We stayed in a small room with bunk beds which was okay considering we’ll just sleep there.
Sintra is probably the most romantic place out of all the cities we’ve been in Portugal. Even if I were with my buddies, I still felt the strong vibe of romance oozing in the place. It’s one of the places I’d go back to with a loved one.
On our first full day in Sintra, we decided to walk to a nearby Moorish castle called Sintra National Palace. This white 11th century palace was built during the strong Moorish times when Portugal was heavily influenced by the Moors. The interiors of the palace is laced by intricately designed tiles. How I wish I can bring home those tiles and use it as flooring in our patio.
From there, we walked to another palace known as Quinta da Regaleira. Just by looking at the structure, we easily assumed that this palace is a lot more modern than the Sintra Palace, yet even if it is more modern this site was declared by UNESCO as a heritage site. Inside the palace, there were several secret tunnels that leads to a Labyrinthic Grotto. You must go here yourself to experience the mysterious tunnel. It felt mystical walking through that tunnel! From there, we proceeded to a place called Poço Iniciatico. Literally translates to the Initiation Well this place is the site for the inverted tower. We were able to access this one-of-a-kind tower through the Quinta da Regaleira. I believe this inverted tower was used as one of the shooting locations of Batman Dark Knight Movie where Christian Bale was in a prison.
Our Backpacking Trip around Portugal: Fourth City – Lisbon
We finally arrived in our last Portuguese city, Lisbon. We really intentionally made Lisbon the last city in our itinerary because this is where we will take our return flight to our home town. It just took an hour to get to Lisbon from Sintra via train. The train ride was quite comfortable but it had a stop in the middle where we had to change trains. Good thing we only brought backpacks so it was not a hassle to transfer trains.
We stayed at Home Lisbon Hostel which is the cheapest yet the one of the best hostels in the area. In Lisbon we did a walking tour of the different churches and a grand palace that are all situated within striking distance from the hostel. We first passed by Igreja de Magdalena or the Magdalene Church. Originally built in the 1100s, this church underwent major renovations in the late 1800s. From there we walked to Se Lisboa or the Lisbon Cathedral. This Gothic inspired cathedral stands as the religious icon of the entire city. It is indeed grander and more beautiful than the smaller Magdalene Church. We took the brief tour of the cathedral for a cheap price. After the short tour, we visited the Museo da Teatro Romano or the Ancient Roman Theater. This museum holds recently unearthed relics and artefacts of an ancient Roman Theater. As we moved closer to our main destination, we stopped by the symbolic Arco do Castelo. This is actually the main gate to our main destination, the Castelo de S. Jorge. This grand, sprawling castle was the perfect end to our backpacking trip around Portugal.
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