2 Weeks in Portugal: Christmas & New Year’s Holiday

Portugal was such an amazing country to visit during the Christmas and New Year’s period. It was not too crowded, the food was fresh and tasty (and it was great to taste the Christmas cakes/breads that are only available during this period), buildings have architecture that I have never seen before, the landscape looked like it was out of a movie and the people were friendly and happy to help. To say the least, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Portugal and would go back in a heartbeat. If you are looking for a European holiday during the Christmas and New Year’s period, I would highly recommend Portugal.

If you are looking for a jam-packed itinerary of Portugal, look no further. I am excited to share our two-week itinerary of Portugal and happy to answer any queries you may have on Portugal. We started our trip in the north of Portugal in Porto and worked our way down south to the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. Of course, you can change the order of travel but this worked well for us.

 So, here we go 🙂 

Day 1: Madrid → Porto

  • Arrived in Porto; 
  • Porto is a coastal city known for its stately bridges and port wine production;
  • Transport: Ryanair from Madrid (Ryanair is an Irish budget airline);
  • Stay: Go2Oporto River apartments. Highly recommend this apartment – not only were the rooms clean, the staff were very professional and willing to help at any time of the day. It is in the old city and part of the UNESCO heritage buildings. The best part with the apartment is the river views that we got from rooms – it was surreal 😊;

    View from our apartment in Porto.
  • Things to do: Explore the old city of Porto and take in the architecture, buy some groceries/snacks from local supermarket (the apartment has cooking facilities);
  • Snack: Portuguese egg tarts (yum!) and Christmas bread from local bakeries;
  • Dinner: Home cooked as it was Christmas Eve and no restaurants were open;
  • Take it easy and relax for the rest of the night and enjoy the river views from our apartment.

    Pretty architecture in Porto

Day 2: Porto (half day trip to Braga)

  • Breakfast: Home cooked as it was Christmas Day and no cafes were open; 
  • Half day trip to Braga (northeast of Porto):
  1. Braga is known for its religious heritage and events. Hence, visiting Braga on Christmas Day was an auspicious affair;

    Entrance to Braga town centre.
  2. Transport: Regional train from Porto (took just over an hour);

    Poncha in Braga.
  3. Walk to the main area of Braga (which is east of the train station) and explore the many shops and cafes, attend a Christmas mass (or just a mass) at a cathedral, try Poncha (rum + orange juice), admire the many churches and buildings with beautiful and unusual architecture;

    Christmas mass in a church in Braga.
  • Remaining half day in Porto:
  1. Visit monuments around Porto (churches, the castle);
  2. Watch the sunset by the Porto Bridge;

    Sunset by the Porto bridge. #nofilter
  3. Walk up to Santa Marinha which has spectacular view of the Douro River and the Porto Bridge (in particular at night when all the lights are switched on);

    View from Santa Marinha.
  4. Dinner: Rib Beef & Wine restaurant – has mouth-watering steak and tasty Porto sour.

Day 3: Porto → Ferradosa (the Douro Region)

  • Porto:
  1. Breakfast: Local sweet and savoury pastries at a café;
  2. Things to do: Walk around Porto town centre and enjoy its amazing architecture;
  • Ferradosa:
  1. Ferradosa is in the Douro region and is home to some of the best-known Portuguese port wines;
  2. Transport: Regional train towards Pocinho (almost a 3-hour journey) – after the first hour on the train, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Douro region;
  3. Stay: Douro Chalets & Yachts – has amazing views of the Douro region. It was very relaxing, away from the hustle and bustle of the Porto city, has no Wi-Fi and only its tranquillity to enjoy. This would be the perfect getaway during the summer months as there are yachts/boats you can use to see the Douro region on the river;
  4. If you love wine, then you must get off at Pinhao on the Pocinho train and there are multiple wineries you can visit for wine tasting as well overnight escapes;

    View from our chalet.

Day 4: Ferradosa → Porto

  • Ferradosa:
  1. Breakfast: Home cooked as the only restaurant available was closed;

    Breakfast with a view 🙂
  2. Things to do: Enjoy the beautiful sunrise in the Douro region from our chalet – this was breath-taking, hike the vineyard trails, paddleboat/swim the Douro river (weather permitting);
  • Porto:
  1. Transport: Afternoon regional train back to Porto;

    Pretty architecture inside Sao Bento train station in Porto.
  2. Stay: Living Porto apartments – this was in the new city of Porto and it was not as nice as the Go2Oporto River apartments;
  3. Snack: Local food of Francesinha and more egg tarts in local café in Porto;
  4. Things to do: Port tasting tour at Graham’s Port. I highly recommend this even if you do not like port – I do not like port but thoroughly enjoyed this tour and learning how port is made in the Douro region. If you love port/wine, I recommend going to more wineries for tasting;

    Inside Graham’s Port.
  5. Dinner: Ostras Coisas – extravagant seafood dinner. This restaurant is known for their seafood and it did not disappoint;

Day 5: Porto → Coimbra

  • Porto:
  1. Breakfast: Local café near Living Porto apartments;
  2. Things to do: take a tourist tram and admire Porto’s beauty (we took tram 18 and it was a 30-40-minute round trip);

    Tourist tram in Porto.
  • Coimbra:
  1. Coimbra is in the central region of Portugal and a university town to Universidade de Coimbra;
  2. Transport: Afternoon intercity train to Coimbra (took approximately 90 minutes) – it is a good idea to book your tickets online as you do not want to risk tickets being sold out when you arrive at the train station (this goes with any intercity trains);
  3. Stay: Airbnb duplex in the old city of Coimbra which is part of the UNESCO heritage listed site – centrally located and only a 10-minute downhill walk to the town centre;
  4. Things to do: Explore Coimbra town centre, see cathedrals and buildings with beautiful architecture;

    Coimbra town centre.
  5. Snack: Savoury flakey buttery pastry filled with meat – we tried cod, veal and spicy chicken;
  6. Dinner: Fangas Maior (opposite our Airbnb) – have a selection of petiscos (Portuguese version of tapas).

Day 6: Coimbra

  • Breakfast: Briosa Pastelaria – has a range of sweet and savoury pastries as well as sandwiches and western breakfast of eggs and toast;
  • Lunch: Frangos Chicken – makes traditional grilled chicken with Portuguese spices. Half chicken + chips + rice for only €4.50!!;
  • Snack: Nicola café – has a selection of delicious sweet and savoury pastries;

    Universidade de Coimbra.
  • Dinner: Tapas nas Costas Bistro & Café – have a selection of petiscos;
  • Places to visit: Botanical Garden (Jardim Botanica) – there is a beautiful view of the Montego river/bridge at the top of garden, walk across the Montego river on the bridge towards Santa Clara, Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, hike up the old city to visit Universidade de Coimbra (large university with many campuses)

    Botanical Gardens in Coimbra.

Day 7: Coimbra → Lisbon

  • Coimbra:
  1. Breakfast: Pestana café – has a selection of delicious sweet and savoury pastries;
  2. Things to do: Explore Coimbra Centro, search for unique souvenirs at local mom and dad shops and relax before your train ride to Lisbon;

    Monument in Coimbra town centre.
  3. Lunch: Purchased savoury snacks/pastries from Nicola café for the train ride to Lisbon;
  • Lisbon:
  1. Lisbon is in the south of Portugal and the capital of Portugal;
  2. Transport: Afternoon intercity train from Coimbra to Lisbon (took approximately 2 hours);
  3. Stay: Airbnb near Martim Moniz train station – it was an uphill walk but the apartment has beautiful views of Lisbon;

    View from our Airbnb.
  4. Things to do: Explore Lisbon town centre;

    Exploring Lisbon town centre.
  5. Dinner: Did a traditional Portuguese cooking class with a local.

Day 8: Lisbon

  • It was NYE, so it was going to be an extra special day;
  • Breakfast: Local café in the big square of Lisbon – as many Portuguese cafes, this café was no different with a large selection of sweet and savoury pastries;
  • Lunch: Ramiro – known for its fresh and delicious seafood. Highly recommend this restaurant but be warned you may have to wait up to 45 minutes for a table;
  • Dinner: NYE dinner at A Travessa – had the special NYE menu which encompassed of 10 starters, a main with sides and three desserts!;
  • Things to do: Take a ride on Tram 28 and enjoy the view from the tram, walk up to the Castello de Sao George, Santa Justa Elevator, explore the Alfama district (the city’s oldest district).

    Tram 28 in Lisbon.

Day 9: Lisbon → Lagos

  • Lisbon:
  1. Breakfast: Nicola café in Lisbon’s big square – has a large selection of sweet and savoury pastries;
  2. Things to do: buy some souvenirs to remember your time in Lisbon;
  • Lagos:
  1. Lagos (pronounced Lagoosh) is a city in the Algarve which is the southernmost region of Portugal, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean;
  2. Transport: Bus from Oriente train station (takes 3.5-4 hours) – worth the long bus rise;
  3. Stay: Aqualuz Suite Hotel – located just 15-20-minute walk from Lagos town centre
  4. Dinner: La Palacio Chinese restaurant – has good Chinese food. If you are feeling like some Chinese food, I highly recommend this restaurant;
  5. Things to do: Explore the Lagos town centre, walk along the beach.

    Church in Lagos.

Day 10: Lagos

  • Breakfast: Buffet breakfast at the hotel (€8 pp) – had a wide selection of juices, coffee/tea, cereal, western breakfast, savoury/sweet pastries, croissant, yogurt, fruit, bread, etc;
  • Lunch: Taninos (near Santa Maria church) – has a selection of petiscos;
  • Dinner: Portofino’s Restaurante Italiano – located on the marina and has one of the best Italian food that I have had in a while;

    Posing by the marina in Lagos.
  • Things to do: Go for a swim at the beach, take a boat ride across the islands of Lagos (there are usually little boots set up along the marina selling tickets for this), walk along the marina/sea walls, enjoy cocktails at the beach bar, walk along the beach, explore the Lagos town centre during the day, buy some souvenirs.

    The marina in Lagos.

Day 11: Lagos → Lisbon

  • Lagos:
  1. Breakfast: Café Britaica snack bar – located in Lagos town centre;
  2. Things to do: Enjoy a morning stroll along the beach/beach walls before departing for Lisbon;
  • Lisbon:
  1. Transport: Bus – takes 4 hours depending on traffic;
  2. Stay: Airbnb – it was a 3-bedroom apartment located just off tram 28 line and close to Lisbon harbour in Principe Real;
  3. Dinner: Faz Gostos – has fresh seafood and the lamb shank was falling off the bone;
  4. Things to do: Walk along Lisbon harbour and explore the town centre at night to experience Lisbon’s nightlife.

    Building in Lisbon town centre.

Day 12: Lisbon (Day trip to Sintra)

  • Sintra:
  1. Sintra is a town in the Estoril coast region (which is part of the Lisbon region) of Portugal. It is 28km from Lisbon and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with multiple castles and palaces;

    Castle in Sintra.
  2. Transport: Morning intercity train from Lisboa Rossio station – takes 40 minutes;
  3. Breakfast: Café Saudade – highly recommend having breakfast in Sintra at this café rather than in Lisbon. This café has a range of pastries (sweet and savoury), panini, croissant, toast, delicious cakes, etc. It is just a 5-minute walk from Sintra station;
  4. Lunch: Try some good seafood in Azoia (a local fishing village);

    Cabo da Roca.
  5. Things to do: Rent an eBike or eCar to see the palaces and castles around Sintra – we went with Go2Cintra Tours, located just opposite Sintra station. If you have limited time, make sure you see Quinta da Regaleira, Cabo da Roca, Castelo dos Mourus and Palacio da Pena;

    Palacio da Pena.

  • Lisbon:
  1. Dinner: Bairro do Avillez – it is a Peruvian Portuguese restaurant – make sure you make a booking as this restaurant tends to be packed on any day of the week.

Day 13: Lisbon

  • Breakfast: Local café in Lisbon’s big square;
  • Dinner: We did not have a big dinner but just got some Portuguese chicken takeaway from a local shop and enjoyed the meal in our Airbnb apartment;
  • Things to do: Walk along the harbour (if you are lucky, you will get to see cruise ships – we saw Queen Elizabeth the II), see the Ponte 25 de Abril (sister bridge of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge), Ponte Vasco da Gama, visit the Belem district (and do not forget to try their famous egg tarts – they have the best egg tarts in Portugal), Jardim Botanica, Praca do Comercio.

    Praca do Comercio.

Day 14: Lisbon → Home

 After having your breakfast, it is time to go home

I hope you find this itinerary useful.

Happy travelling,


Cannot get enough of the Douro region.


Camping in the Otway National Park

It was Australia Day over a month ago and it happen to fall on a Friday. So, most Australians enjoyed a three-day weekend. Naturally, most Australians took this opportunity to go on road trips, visit places that they have been wanting to see for a long time, spend precious time with their family and friends or simply had a barbeque in their backyard to celebrate Australia Day (a very Aussie thing to do!). We, however decided to go camping. I was pretty excited about this as I have only been camping once and it was quite an adventure (and I loved eating warm gooey marshmallows).

We did not know exactly where to camp in Victoria but we were hoping that it would be near a beach or waterfall. After some research and calls to Parks Victoria (the ranger/guide on the phone was very helpful), Dorian decided that Beauchamp Falls Reserve would be the best place to camp. It was near a waterfall, in the Great Otway National Park, had acceptable toilet facilities (not that this would be much of a problem) and the campgrounds had no fees. There are some campgrounds that you need to book in advance and pay a fee and these campgrounds tend to have better facilities. If you have young children, these campgrounds may be more appropriate.

We ended up spending two days on our road trip and camped for a night at the Beauchamp Falls Reserve. We did not spend a second night camping as I wanted a day to prepare and get organised for the work week ahead. So, this itinerary may be a little condensed, but feel free to spend more time at any of the stops/places I am about to mention.

In summary, if you are looking for a 2-day, 1-night camping trip on the Great Ocean Road, this is my suggested itinerary:

Day 1:

·         Aireys Inlet – see the Split Point Lighthouse, walk along cliff top tracks;

·         Anglesea – stop for quick lunch/snack;

·         Great Ocean Road – stop at a scenic lookout for breath-taking views of the coast;

·         Apollo Bay – walk up Marriner’s Lookout for a view of Apollo Bay; and

·         Beauchamp Falls Reserve – do the falls reserve waterfall walk;

Day 2:

·         Johanna Beach – enjoy a stroll along the beach and take in the beautiful view;

·         Port Campbell National Park – see the Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge and 12 Apostles;

·         Cape Otway Lighthouse; and

·         Lorne – stop for some fresh fish and chips.

Before starting our road trip, we had a little detour to the supermarket to get some food/water for the trip. If you are planning a similar road trip, I recommend buying food locally rather than the towns near the campgrounds as they can get expensive and there are limited grocery choices.

The start of the Great Ocean Road.

We took the Great Ocean Road instead of the highway (although it’s a longer trip) as Dorian loves the coast and wanted to see and smell the ocean as we drove past. The Great Ocean Road starts near Torquay, a seaside town and home to surf beaches such as Bells Beach. Given it was the long weekend, Torquay was already busy with surfers. The road continues to Anglesea, known for its white beaches and trail walks. There are many scenic lookouts along the Great Ocean Road that you can stop at to take in the breath-taking view of the coast. We stopped at Aireys Inlet, approximately 10km from Anglesea to see the Split Point Lighthouse and walked along cliff top tracks. Our next stop was Apollo Bay, a beautiful village at the foothills of the Otway National Park. We walked up Marriner’s Lookout where we got a panoramic view of Apollo Bay. This is just a short 10 minutes’ walk-up hill from the carpark and worth the views from the top.

The lighthouse in Aireys Inlet.
Walking through tracks in Aireys Inlet.
Taking in the view of Apollo Bay.
Some sheep at Marriner’s Lookout.

Then, it was time to make our way to the campgrounds. We drove through the Otway National Park for approximately 35km before continuing our trip on a dirt road for 4.5km and arrived at the campgrounds at 4pm. Given that it was the long weekend, there were already many groups with tents set up and fireplace going at the campgrounds. However, we were lucky enough to find a ‘quiet’ spot on the east side of the reserve. After setting up our tent and getting organised, we did the falls reserve walk towards the waterfalls. It is about a 45-minute walk (each way), with some steep stretches along the way. The waterfall itself is spectacular but you cannot swim in it. We sat on the large rocks across from the waterfalls and enjoyed the serenity of the reserve.   

Our tent all set up 🙂
Enjoying the serenity of the waterfalls.

Then, it was time to head to our tent and get dinner going. We boiled some corn and sweet potato, made a delicious ham and cheese sandwich and had grapes and chai tea for dessert. After a satisfying meal, we read for a bit before falling asleep under the stars in the sky.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and left the campgrounds for our next adventure. We headed to Johanna beach, which is approximately 30 minutes from Beauchamp Falls Reserve. The views from this beach is simply breath-taking! I have never seen anything like it. You are not allowed to swim or surf at this beach, so we walked along the shoreline taking in the tranquillity of our surroundings. Johanna beach has a campground but there is a fee (AUD 34 per night). However, with a fee comes better facilities and less crowd.

Johanna Beach!

After enjoying ourselves at the beach, we headed to the Port Campbell National Park. Our first stop was Loch Ard Gorge. Words cannot explain the beauty of this gorge. Then, we headed to London Bridge. Again, more picturesque views that money cannot buy. And we saved the best for the last and headed to the 12 Apostles. It was very busy at the 12 Apostles as it was lovely summer’s day and everyone visiting the region had the same idea to take in the beautiful views of the world known heritage site. We wanted to do the helicopter ride but there was a long queue for this. Instead, we enjoyed the views that the 12 Apostles had to offer. But the helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles is definitely on our bucket list and we will be back soon.

London Bridge.
The 12 Apostles. #nofilter

After a full day of visiting world-famous places along the Great Ocean Road, it was time for us to head home. But we made a slight detour to Lorne to enjoy some delicious fish and chips. Yum!

Fish and chips in Lorne. Simply delicious!

What is favourite camping spot?

Jumping for joy in the Beauchamp Falls Reserve.

Happy camping,










My Guide to Madrid

I have always wanted to go Europe, but the opportunity did not present itself until the recent (feels like a lifetime ago though) Christmas/New Year’s holiday period. I wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny during this holiday period and so I suggested Cairns. I was looking forward to relaxing on the beach and sipping on cocktails as well as visiting the Great Barrier Reef. However, Dorian did not think this was exciting enough and suggested Japan. But flight tickets and accommodation were going to be too costly during this holiday period and we quickly scrapped this idea.

Whilst doing some holiday research online, I came across Western/Southern Europe being relatively affordable and low tourist season during the Christmas/New Year’s break due to the winter season. I jumped at the idea of visiting Europe but had to choose between Spain, Portugal and Italy due to our limited time (we had about 2.5 weeks). After a little more research, we chose Portugal as it typically has the warmest winters as well as being the most affordable.

However, before starting our Portuguese adventure, we had a little stopover in Madrid to try out the Paella and Sangria the whole world raves about when they visit Spain! And the whole world is NOT wrong 😊

So, what is there to see/do in Madrid during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period?

  1. Visit the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid)

The architecture of this palace is something that I have never seen before – it was a pretty surreal experience. If you get the chance, I would highly recommend seeing the sunrise from the palace as it is very pretty. The sunset behind the Royal Palace is also quite spectacular to watch, especially on a clear night.

Sunrise by the Palacio Real de Madrid.
Sunset from the back of the Palacio Real de Madrid.

You can also enter the palace and tickets are €11 per person. It took us almost three hours to take in the beauty of the inside of the palace as well as see various exhibitions within the palace, but it could have easily been a half day trip at the palace. There is also a scenic viewpoint within the palace grounds which has one of the most amazing views of Madrid.

Ticket to the Palacio Real de Madrid.
Scenic viewpoint from inside the Royal Palace grounds.

There are also interesting random acts outside palace grounds. Some of these acts were pretty remarkable, others were pretty normal and something you would find in Melbourne. If you would like to take a photo with any of these random acts, they would appreciate a gold coin donation.

Random acts outside the Royal Palace.
  1. Visit the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid (Madrid’s botanical garden)

This botanical garden is one of the biggest garden I have been to. It is 8 hectares in size and again you can spend as little as an hour to as long as the entire day if you are into plants/trees. We only spent a couple of hours at this garden.

  1. Walk along Gran Via

This street is known as the Spanish Broadway and located in central Madrid. It is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe and famous for being the street that never sleeps. It starts at Calle de Alcala, through to Plaza de Cibeles and ending at Plaza de Espana.

The street is filled with shopping areas/malls, some hotels and large movie theatres. When we there, the El Rey Leon (Lion King) musical was on tour (located in the Lope de Vega theatre on Gran Via), but did we did not get the chance to watch it. However, it is highly recommended by the experts even though it is in Spanish!

Christmas tree in Gran Via.
  1. Visit the many squares of Madrid:
  • Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) – one of Madrid’s busiest squares and it is the exact centre of Spain. There were also many pretty Christmas decorations around this square;
    Christmas tree in Puerta del Sol.

    Famous statue in Puerta del Sol.
  • Plaza de Cibeles – located just off Gran Via in one Madrid’s busiest traffic hubs;

    Plaza de Cibeles.
  • Plaza Mayor – enclosed with nine entrance archways and surrounded by many cafes and restaurants. During the Christmas period, there was a huge Christmas night market and it was decked out with lights and was bustling with locals and tourists;

    Christmas night market at Plaza Mayor.
  • Plaza del Callao – located in Gran Via with art-deco architecture (check out Callao Cinema building and the Carrion building with the Schweppes billboard);

    Famous Schweppes/Vodafone building.
  • Plaza de Espana – located in the western end of Gran Via;
  • Plaza Oriente – open square with a backdrop of the Royal Palace. It is the perfect place to take in the beautiful site of the Royal Palace; and

    Sunrise in Plaza de Oriente with the Royal Palace in the backdrop.
  • Plaza de Paja – located in the La Latina district with a café terrace where you can enjoy a cup of coffee/tea and cakes/pastries.Of course, there are many other squares you could visit, but these were squares we managed to visit during our limited time in Madrid.
  1. Visit the Salamanca district

This district is known for its posh cafes and world class restaurants. We walked to Salamanca from Madrid central and I would highly recommend this walk as you would pass many famous buildings/squares. We started off the walk from Puerta del Sol, via Gran Via, towards Plaza de Cibeles, walked past the famous arch of Recoletos and then walked through Buen Retiro park to get to Salamanca. The walk took a bit over an hour, but could take longer if you spend some time at the various buildings/squares.

Famous arch of Recoletos which is located in the middle of a roundabout.
  1. Visit the Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market)

This market is great if you are looking for tapas style food as you can get paellas, empanadas, churros/porras, tortillas, fried calamari, sangria and pastries, just to name a few. It can get relatively busy at the market during meal times, so if you are not into queueing up in line patiently, I suggest you go during non-peak times. Otherwise, you would not find the experience pleasant.

Bustling Mercado de San Miguel during dinner.
Yummy chicken & chorizo paella at Mercado de San Miguel.

Of course, there are other places you could visit in Madrid. But I believe, if you are pressed for time, these are the must-see places in Madrid. Also, I would recommend spending three nights (four days) in Madrid. But if you are looking for a less jam-packed itinerary, an extra night or two in Madrid would be advisable.

For some good food and cafes/restaurants in Madrid, check out my blog post here.

Happy travelling 🙂

Palacio Real de Madrid at night.