For my first trip to Europe, I traveled to Portugal for a wedding and toured around a few parts of the country that I would put in the hidden gem category. Focusing on the northern region of the country, I was lucky enough to have access to local intel for activities scattered throughout these picturesque lands.
I had the pleasure of first getting acquainted with the city of Viseu, which served as the home base for my stay. The calm and slow-paced atmosphere of this little city actually forces you to relax – you have no choice! Starting at the top of the hill, which is the location of the Viseu cathedral Sé, you can tour through the property that dates back to sometime in the 5th or 6th century, though many parts have been renovated through time as styles and rulers evolved.
Misericórdia Church of Viseu
Directly across from the cathedral is the Church of Mercy, boasting a super grand, rococco style facade.
Do not pass up the baked goods
I have never been great at being a morning person, but waking up to get pastries at the cafes almost made me convert to one of those sunshiney souls. The baked goods here are that good, plus almost everything has custard in it. They also have interesting toast: thick like Texas toast, grilled, drenched in butter, and fantastic.
Exploring the Market Streets
Many little shops are sprinkled throughout the hill around the Sé cathedral.
Parque da Cidade
Another mellow spot to hang around in is the city park, which has not only has some great architecture but also a playground with a pretty intense rope-based jungle gym gym structure.
Lamego, Portugal (Viseu District)
Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios
I dubbed this place “city in the sky” for its breathtaking views and whimsical statues inhabiting the landscape. The church at the top of the St. Stephen hill, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies, can be accessed via a winding road up the hill OR 686 impressive stone steps. We went down the stairs and walked back up after a pleasant lunch in town; somehow, I survived!
Porto has all the excitement of a bustling city life without breaking completely out of the relaxed vibe contained in the other places I visited.
Outside the hot spot bookstore Livraria Lello (of J.K. Rowling Harry Potter fame) is a really cool multi-level area that includes a park above and shopping & eateries below.
Of course, wander down any street in Porto and you’ll find quaint restaurants tucked away from the busier downtown area.
Fonte dos Leões
This fountain sits next to a magnificently-tiled church, Igreja do Carmo, and serves as another leisurely spot where you can absorb the allure of Porto.
Sernancelhe, Portugal (Viseu District)
We visited Santuario Nossa Senhora da Lapa, a chapel built around a rock with a colorful religious backstory. If you’ll believe the myth, a crocodile once sat on top of this famed rock. I’m not sure if this is true, but this church has tons of character. A little trip around the rock inside displays ancient stone sculptures, giving me my Indiana Jones moment.
The ornate church interior blended with the unfinished rock make for a unique visual experience.
Legend has it that if you don’t make it through these tight cracks within the rock, you’re a sinner. But I made it through…
And here is a replica of the infamous rock-croc!