Portugal Travel Series

Portugal travel series

In case this is your first visit to my blog… the month of November 2010 was been about Portugal. This month long series included travel tips and photo highlights along with special “Story Behind the Photo” posts.

Go back and read more or click on the name of one of the cities below for a direct link to the post. Enjoy!

What was covered this month on Portugal:

–      Lisbon

–       Sintra

–       Porto

–       Coimbra

–       Palace Hotel of Bussaco

To see more photos of Portugal visit The Monica Store or my stock photography site.

Travel Tips for the Palace Hotel of Bussaco in Portugal

Bussaco Palace Hotel in PortugalPalace Hotel of Bussaco – Portugal – Photography and Travel Tips

Palacio do Bucaco (Palace Hotel of Bussaco) is another fairytale palace in Portugal. If you have been following this Portugal series you will remember the post on Sintra, which described three storybook palaces, well the Bussaco palace is another one.


Last summer I went to Coimbra and knew I wanted to see the Palacio do Bucaco and actually went within an hour of arriving in Coimbra. Luckily I went to the tourist information office for a map of Coimbra and inquired about the bus to Bussaco only to find out I had to go right away in order to see it, as the bus does not run on Sundays. Also the bus to Bussaco runs at odd times leaving you at the Palace for about four or five hours before you can return to Coimbra. (Buy the bus tickets at the bus station, which is about a 20-minute walk from the tourist information site).

The bus ride to Bussaco is quite nice with country views and you pass through a few towns. You also have the option of getting off to see Luso, the town below the Palace Hotel of Bussaco and the surrounding park.


Bucaco Palace is now a luxury hotel and unless you stay there or eat an expensive meal at the restaurant (which serves small portions with strange sauces) you cannot see much of the inside. But it is worth stepping into the lobby and poking around before you are politely asked to leave.

There is a Carmelite convent attached to the hotel. The convent was established in 1628 and is now a museum. The hotel building itself is like a storybook palace with many carved details, gargoyles, and a twisting tower reaching towards the sky. The covered corridors outside are beautiful and one features panels with azulejos depicting scenes from Portuguese literature and historical events.

The surrounding grounds include hiking trails. The gardens right in front of the palace are beautiful and include a well-manicured maze of hedges.

Overall the Palace Hotel of Bussaco is an interesting place to visit and a bit surreal to see in person let alone in photos.

Travel Tips for Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra, Portugal – Photography and Travel Tips

Coimbra, PortugalCoimbra, Portugal is a short train ride away from Porto and it is a nice university city. Coimbra is right on a river, as is Porto, on the Mondego River.

I stayed in Coimbra last summer for a couple of days. I recommend the Astoria Hotel, which is right at the edge of the historical city center, across from the tourist information center, and by the river. The Astoria Hotel is also in a charming building with a fun elevator (I happen to be a fan of elevators, especially the older models by Otis) with a fold down seat (first time I have seen that in an elevator)!

*Side note: Hotel beds in Portugal tend to be extremely hard and frankly not much different then lying on the floor. Just a fair warning that if you don’t exhaust yourself during the day with site seeing and walking all over, chances are it will be hard to get a good night sleep.


What to see in Coimbra:

1 – University of Coimbra

Since Coimbra is a University city the main site is the University of Coimbra which is one of the oldest in Europe as it was established in 1290!

There are many buildings that you can visit of the University of Coimbra and it does take a good portion of the day. (There are varying ticket prices according to how many buildings you want to see).

I saw all of the buildings around the old courtyard, all of which are impressive, especially the library and chapel. All the rooms have a stand with papers with descriptive explanations in different languages.

*Also, big tip here! You might think you can’t get into any of these buildings because the doors aren’t open and do not open from the outside. In fact there is a room caretaker, if you will, who opens the doors to let people in and out. Of course since they only open the door to let people out they don’t know when people are waiting to get it. So… stand by the doors and wait! It is a strange system but seems to work for them and if anything it is rather humorous.


2 – The Old Cathedral

This Cathedral looks like a sand castle from the outside and it is beautiful inside. This Romanesque Cathedral dates back to the 12th century and the small cloister was built in the early 13th century.

3 – Santa Cruz Monastery

The original monastery was actually reformed in the 16th century. The church interior has blue and white tiles adorning the walls and a most impressive red organ.

These are just a few highlights of Coimbra. Of course I also recommend wandering around the streets to see the local houses and make sure to visit a few bakeries which all seemed to have enormous pastries.

If you are looking to buy pottery I recommend “Casa de Artesanato se Velha” which is owned by a kind older man whose family does all of the hand painted ceramics. This pottery store is right across from the Old Cathedral. The owner proudly pointed out that he also has everything available on-line and you can click on the store name for the link.


There is more to see in Coimbra, especially across the river. My stay didn’t allow for further exploration but I intend to return one day and see more! I do suggest going on the one hour tour bus – you can get it right in front of the Astoria Hotel and tickets are available in the hotel or at the tourist office. The bus ride is an hour and takes you all around Coimbra, even to the outskirts so you really get a sense of the city.

So enjoy! And if you have been to Coimbra and seen more sites leave a comment and let me know what I shouldn’t miss on my next visit.

* For more photos click here to see my stock photography website for images of Coimbra, Portugal.


Interesting and helpful links about Coimbra, Portugal:

1 – To read more about Coimbra University click here.

2 – To read more about The Old Cathedral of Coimbra click here.

3 – For a helpful and quick guide of what to see in Coimbra, Portugal click here.

Travel Tips for Porto, Portugal – Part Three

Santo Ildegonson Church in Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal – Part Three – Photography and Travel Tips

This is part three of what to see in Porto, Portugal!


When visiting Porto last summer I dragged my mom, who is often my travel-mate, to the main churches with azulejos – blue and white decorative tiles. Azulejo is both a Spanish and Portuguese painted ceramic tile work. These tiles are a main part of Portuguese architecture and used for exterior and interior decoration on churches and houses.

* Interesting fact – azulejos have been produced in Portugal for five centuries and still going! To read more about the history of azulejos click here.


To see some of the best examples of the azulejos make sure to see the following sites and the Saint Benedict train station as mentioned in Part Two of Porto, Portugal.

1 – Carmo Church and Carmelitas Church – These churches are situated right next to each other and in fact look like one church from the outside. Carmo Church was built in the 18th century and one outer wall is a mural of blue and white tiles. These churches also site on the edge of a pleasant square and just cattycorner to the Livraria Lello bookshop (mentioned in part two).

2 – Santo Ildefonson Church – This 18th century church almost stands alone at the top of a hill in Porto and the façade and the sides show the blue and white tiles. It is a charming church, however I was unable to go inside, as it was not open when I went, but the outside is worth seeing anyway.

* This church is not far from the Majestic Café, which is a tourist attraction but of course for a reason. I would try to eat at the café if you can as it is a beautiful setting and the food is good and not expensive. I recommend sitting inside and if you go for an early dinner you are guaranteed a table and fast service (early meaning 7 or 7:30 as this is the time typically for drinks in Portugal).

3 – Capela das Almas – This church is probably one of the most photogenic in Porto although with the mobs of tourists it makes it a bit difficult. Nevertheless make sure to see this church as the azulejos are gorgeous and the interior is equally beautiful with more blue and white tiles!


*Not far from this church is a traditional market, Mercado do Bolhao, which I recommend popping into. As a side note – if you are squeamish be warned that you will see whole fish, an array of seafood, live rabbit and chickens for sale, and more meat produce that does not hide the source of that food. But local markets are always fascinating and they show you a lot about a culture. So tour the market, many tourists do, and if you buy anything just make sure you wash or cook it before you eat it!


Overall Porto is an interesting city with a lot to see. I was there almost three days and I didn’t see everything. I do recommend taking the city tour bus  – there are many routes some of which include going to castles outside of the city and driving along the shore.

Porto might not be the typical tourist stop but it has its charms and it does grow on you as you explore it. Hopefully this three part series encourages you to visit Porto, Portugal!

For more photos of Porto you can visit my stock photography site. For posters, cards, and canvas prints of Porto, Portugal visit The Monica Store.


Travel Tips for Porto, Portugal – Part Two


Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal – Part Two – Photography and Travel Tips

What else to see in Porto Portugal continues… I last spoke of the main sites to see by the river in Porto, and now I move up the hill and further.

1 – Cathedral of Porto– This is one of the oldest monuments in Portugal. The Porto Cathedral was constructed in the 12th century. The Gothic cloisters are beautiful as the entire lower and upper portions are covered in the classical blue and white Portuguese tiles, azulejos.

2 – Train Station of Saint Benedict– This train station is actually located within the historical center and even if you are not planning on taking a train from this station you need to visit it because of the azulejos – the blue and white tiles decorating the lobby. The tiles depict different historical scenes of Portugal in great detail. When I was there the tiles were in the process of being cleaned so I hope to return one day to see them in all their glory.


Heading outside of the historical city center there is still more to see!

3 – Livraria Lello – This is a bookshop that is a must see for it is considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in Europe! Again, no photos are allowed inside and unfortunately they do not even sell postcards that give the space enough credit so you need to stop by and see for yourself. Notice the tracks on the floor for the book cart – so cute! And if you just can’t wait and curiosity is eating away at you… click here for a full 360 degree panoramic view of the bookstore via a Portugal virtual tourist site.

4 – Walk down the Avenida dos Aliados to see City Hall as well as some magnificent buildings lining this broad avenue.  Also venture off onto the side streets to find local cafes and charming stores. A Vida Portuguesa is a wonderful store with a second floor of just Portuguese made goods that include wonderful soaps!

And… that is not all! There is still more to see which will be revealed in Porto, Portugal Part Three.


*For more photos of Porto visit my stock photography site by clicking here. And for photos of Porto, Portugal to purchase as posters, canvas prints, and cards visit The Monica Store.


Useful Links for Porto, Portugal:


1 – For more information on Porto Cathedral click here.

2 – To read more about the Saint Benedict Train Station click here.

3 – For a quick guide of what to see in Porto click here.

4 – To read more about Porto, Portugal click here.

5 – For a useful and simple guide to Porto, Portugal click here for Wikipedia’s travel guide.

Flying in Porto

Flying in Porto, PortugalPorto, Portugal – Story Behind the Photograph

This past summer I was walking across the Don Luis iron bridge in Porto, Portugal when I noticed a group of boys in front of me that stopped and put their backpacks down. As I passed the group, one boy placed his foot on a gap in the railing of the bridge; I kept walking. I realized those kids were going to jump. I quickly got off the bridge and got to a level where I could get a good view and hopefully a great photo. Crowds started to gather and watch as the kids climbed over the railings and one by one they jumped off the bridge into the river only to swim back to the rocky shore and run back up to the bridge to jump again.

I took many photographs of these kids as more and more showed up and gathered to join in the fun.

To see more photographs of these kids jumping into the Douro River in Porto, Portugal click here to see my stock photography site.

Travel Tips for Porto, Portugal – Part One

Porto, PortugalPorto, Portugal – Part One – Photography and Travel Tips

I went to Porto, Portugal this past summer planning to see all of the tiled churches and the wine boats and that is just what I did. I highly recommend visiting Porto if you like old world charm.


Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. Porto spans the Douro River and reaches out to the ocean. Now fishing towns touch the outer limits of the city. If you visit Porto I suggest staying just outside the historical center and make sure you get a map from your hotel before you venture out and ask for directions as it takes at least a day to get your bearings.

The historical center is on a steep hill that meets the rivers edge. I would recommend getting lost in the historical center and exploring the streets but this will undoubtedly happen anyway.


Main Sites in Porto’s historical center:


1 – Church of San Francisco – To visit the church you buy tickets in the convent right next to it, which is now a museum. What makes this church unique is that the entire interior is completely covered with wood and painted gold! It is truly astounding. No photos are allowed inside so you simply must visit it to see for yourself.

* Side note – There is an adorable English restaurant, Pimms, across the street from the Church of San Francisco that serves wonderful food (a very good vegetarian chilli!) and the all white interior is charming.

2 – Stock Exchange Palace/Palacio da Bolsa – You must be on a tour to visit the palace and when you purchase your tickets you will be given a tour time. This is a must see site and unfortunately no photographs are allowed inside so again you really have to go to see it! The Palace is still in use but you see the main rooms and they are all spectacular and the central courtyard has an exquisite mosaic floor. The palace also has an Arab room, which is breathtaking in all its detail and is shown with great pride as the last room on the tour.

3 – Ribeira – the Riberia is the portion of the city near the river and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will find classic tiled buildings lining the river. There are also boat tour companies along the river walkway.

4 – Ribeira de Gaia – This is the area right across the river from the Ribeira. I suggest walking across the D. Luis Iron Bridge, which is an impressive bridge with two levels to accommodate trains, cars, and pedestrians. Once on the other side of the river you will have a closer view of the old boats once used to transport wine barrels. You can also visit various wine cellars and taste the famous port wine.

After exploring the riverbanks, make your way up the hill to see more – to be discussed in Porto, Portugal Part Two.

* To see more photos of Porto visit my stock photography site by clicking here. And to buy a photo of Porto for home or office decoration click here for The Monica Store.


Useful Links for Porto, Portugal:


1 – For a quick guide of what to see in Porto click here.

2 – To read more about Porto, Portugal click here.

3 – For a useful and simple guide to Porto, Portugal click here for Wikipedia’s travel guide.

Horse and Carriage in Sintra, Portugal – Story Behind the Photo

Horse Carriage in Sintra, PortugalHorse and Carriage in Sintra, Portugal

I took this photograph while in Sintra, Portugal. I was walking towards the Sintra National Palace and noticed a horse and carriage pulling into a shady spot just below the palace wall. I took a series of photographs as the carriage driver pulled in but this is my favorite shot as it shows the driver relaxing by smoking a cigarette and the horses resting in the shade.


This photograph of a horse carriage in Portugal is available for sale on my store site; click here for the direct link to The Monica Store.

Or to purchase another photograph of a horse carriage in Sintra, Portugal for editorial use click here for my stock photography site.

Travel Tips for Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, PortugalSintra, Portugal – Photography and Travel Tips

Sintra, Portugal is a charming town not far from the coast. I went to Sintra via the train from Lisbon – an hour ride with rural scenery. Although not far from the coast you can’t really see the ocean from Sintra and the town is located in the mountains so even in the summer’s it is cooler then expected.


What is there to see in Sintra, Portugal:

1 – Pena National Palace – Perhaps the main attraction, this Palace is certainly not to be missed. The palace is a whimsical fairytale castle that looks like a mish-mash architectural styles.

— Brief history of the Pena National Palace

The complex started with a 15th century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena and a monastery was added later on. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the Earthquake of 1755 the monastery lay in ruins until 1838 when Ferdinand II decided to build a palace around the ruins and the chapel to be used as a summer residence for the royal family. Now the palace is owned by the Portuguese state and stands as a museum.

— Visiting the Pena National Palace

The Pena National Palace sits atop a mountain above the town of Sintra and I advise you take advantage of the bus that delivers you right to the Palace gates. You can walk but I think this would take a couple of hours. (The bus tickets can be purchased at the tourist information center and the bus stop is right across from it. And remember to bring a sweater, as it is quite chilly on top of the mountain and windy!).

You do not need to take part in a tour, you can simply roam through the palace and every room has information in English. It does take a whole day to see the palace, the monastery and the gardens, which are very extensive (you need to use the map provided at the ticket desk to navigate the garden paths).


2 – Castle of the Moors – A castle that dates back to the 9th and 10th centuries with a long squiggly wall that provides wonderful views of Sintra and the Pena National Palace. The castle suffered from neglect and little use after the 15th century until King Ferdinand II started to renovate it.

3 – Quinta da Regaleira – This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and this palace and gardens is yet another whimsical site in Sintra. The Quinta da Regaleira is an estate that was owned by three different families and constructed and reconstructed throughout the 1900s. The gardens ascend up a hill with several tiers, caves, tunnels, ponds, and fountains. The whimsicality of the gardens continues in the palace where elaborate carvings and colorful tiles decorate the rooms and twisted and playful chimneys are guarded by sweet gargoyles that are bunny rabbits and kangaroos. The Quinta da Regaleria is strangely fascinating and a must see!

4 – Sintra National Palace – The Sintra National Palace is in the center of town and appears rather subdued from the other sites as it is all while and features few adornments on the façade. However the interior has a few stately rooms with decorative tiles. I found the kitchen rooms particularly interested with the large smoke stacks for the fireplaces – these chimneys rise high above the palace and distinguish the palace from afar.

For a brief History of the Sintra National Palace (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) click on the link below at the end of this post.


A few practical tips: Make sure to wander around and see the local houses with the tiled details. There are many steep paths as the town is built on a mountain so I advise good walking shoes. As for food, the cuisine is good and fresh and there are of course many seafood options. The tourist information center is not only useful but in a very nice building with clean public restrooms (always good to know). And a final tip – try to see the Moorish fountain which can be reached by following the road leading to the train station for it is really a work of art.

Overall Sintra is lovely town perfect for romantics and those who want to live in a fairytale world even just for a day.

To see more photographs of Sintra visit themonicastore or my stock photography site.


To read more about Sintra, Portugal click on the links below:


1 – Read more about the Pena National Palace

2 – Read more about the Castle of the Moors

3 – Read more about Quinta da Regaleira

4 – Read more about Sintra National Palace

5 – Read more about Sintra

Travel Tips for Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal fountain

What to see and due in Lisbon, Portugal

I have only spent two afternoons in Lisbon so my experience was tragically brief but nonetheless I got a taste for the city and hope to visit it again.


My few hours involved taking a bus from Lisbon airport right into the city center – the bus ride was about 20 to 30 minutes and provides almost a tour bus view into Lisbon. The bus rambles down the main streets and circles one of the main squares, Don Pedro IV Square. The square has small black and white stones making patterns on the floor – you will find these stones and different patterns all over Portugal in squares and on sidewalks just make sure you admire the patterns and remember to look up so you don’t run into anything.

From the Don Pedro IV Square (which has beautiful fountains) you can walk to the train station which is another picturesque site. Also if you ride up the escalators where the trains depart and go to your left there is a great outdoor area with panoramic views of the city and the Castelo de Sao Jorge. (Europe has many grand train stations that are works of art in themselves but Portugal has some of the most elegant train stations, I think!)

The Don Pedro IV Square also acts as a good reference point. From there you can walk down towards the water and eventually to the Praca do Comercio, another main square. While walking towards this square you will pass the main shopping streets. Make sure to note the tiled buildings (a characteristic of the country) and be mindful of the trams; I believe they have the right of way.


I only had time to stand in the middle of the Praca do Comercio square and turn in circles to see all the buildings before rushing back to catch my bus and catch my plane. Nevertheless during my few hours in Lisbon I saw the highlights in a quick flash and hope to return soon to explore everything in more detail.

– Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what I shouldn’t miss on my next trip to Lisbon, Portugal!

To see more photos of Lisbon click here for my stock photography site – Monica Goslin Photography. To purchase a framed photo of Lisbon visit The Monica Store site.