Lisbon, Glasgow, Madrid, Belfast and Porto
This is a part of a series of ‘A guide for one day in (City)’. This post series includes an informative guide, shared by well-traveled and experienced travelers, about their favorite popular European cities and the ways to explore it in one day. If you are short on time or want to make use the quick city stop, this is the perfect place to know where to go and what to see. Keep reading to know how to spend one day in Lisbon, Glasgow, Madrid, Belfast and Porto in this part.
Check out other of this series.
To start your day in Lisbon, get up early to witness a beautiful sunrise over the River Tagus and the steeple rooftops looking down on it. Then take a tram to the historic district of Belém where you can visit the Mosteiros dos Jeronimos. A UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 15th century, inside this stunning monastery you’ll walk on marbled floors underneath meticulously decorated ceilings and carved pillars. (Tip: many attractions have free entry on lazy Sundays between 10 am and 2 pm.) Belém is also home to Lisbon’s famous ‘natas’ (custard tarts) which are a must-try!
In the afternoon, put your feet up and take a 90-minute boat tour on the Tagus River with Yellow Bus Tours. You’ll pass and learn the history of some of the city’s most characteristic monuments, including the Ponte 25 de Abril, Cristo Rei, and Torre de Belém.
After your tour, treat yourself to some delicious ice cream from the gelateria on Rua da Prata. (I recommended banana and pistachio flavor). You can burn it off by taking a fairly steep climb along the backroads between Martim Moniz and Castelo de São Jorge to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, where you’ll find a quiet viewpoint of the city.
A special place to spend the evening is Alfama, the Old Town district of Lisbon. The lowering sun casts a relaxing warm glow as you wander down quiet cobbled streets serenaded by the sounds of fado music from a nearby restaurant. Decorated with baskets of pretty flowers and a gorgeous mural, St Luzia Church is a dreamy oasis for dozing in the evening sun. An area oozing with character, you can easily get lost admiring street upon street of buildings decorated with beautiful pastel colors and distinctive tiled patterns.
After an evening meal when the sun has finally set, tourists and locals tend to gather on the steps in Praça do Comércio to watch the moonbeam down over the river. It’s a lovely way to end a long day exploring this charming city.
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To have a perfect day in Glasgow, you’ll first need to choose a day when it doesn’t rain. Tough, but it’s doable.
To start, you could visit Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum with a stop at the park. Then head to the University of Glasgow, which does remind us a lot of Hogwarts. Have lunch at the many lovely pubs around, and if you haven’t yet, try Scotland’s traditional food like the haggis or the Scotch eggs! Then take the subway to the city center, take a stroll around Buchanan street and it’s little stores, walk around the city, explore the alleys. Have a coffee in one of the many coffee shops in the area and rest your legs for the next part. Climb up the 140 steps to the top of the Lighthouse (which isn’t really a lighthouse, but a building) and watch the city from above. (no strollers!) To finish the day, walk by the riverside and watch the sunset there. I love the magical colors of the sunset reflecting on the water!
Glasgow is an incredible city with lots to offer, don’t skip it!
Seeing Madrid in one day is possible thanks to the late-night culture you’ll find there, especially in the summer! Due to the late-night culture, days tend to start quite late too. Start your morning with a tips-based walking tour to get an overview of Madrid city center’s top historical sights. We loved Free Walking Tours Madrid for this. Find them online or in purple t-shirts in Madrid’s “Times Square” – Plaza del Callao.
At their recommendation, we went to a local restaurant for a very madrileño lunch: “cocido madrileño” a stew of vegetables, chickpeas, chorizo and more! Tasty! Now refueled, get ready to tackle a long afternoon of more walking! This time through the Golden Triangle of Art: this is Madrid’s three main art museums that happen to be located walking distance from each other in a triangular formation. The Paseo del Prado is the national museum for pre 20th-century art including Goya’s “Black Paintings”. The Reina Sofia is the national museum of 20th-century modern art and is well known for housing Picasso’s “Guernica”. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is a private collection museum containing pieces from the 20th century and prior. There is a discounted pass to visit all three museums or catch some entries for free if visiting in the last hour of their opening hours daily (be prepared to queue though!)
Having thoroughly worked up an appetite choose to either rest your feet at the world’s (Guinness Book of Records official) oldest restaurant! Founded in 1725, the Restaurante Sobrino de Botín is still open nightly for dinner (but not drinks alone). Or if you’re feeling spritely still, do as the madrileño’s do, and try “tapeando” culture – bar hopping from place to place for drinks and tapas. Find desert (liqueur) at El Madroño an alfresco tapas bar which offers patrons the chance to sample the fruit of the madroño tree in the very best format possible: as a liqueur served in a tiny waffle cone! This neighborhood is a good spot to center a night of tapeando wanderings with multiple bars side by side on every street.
In the 80’s and 90’s, and even the early millennium, Belfast was really a destination to avoid, and for decades the only tourism the city shared was on little more than boozers, terrorism, and a sinking ship (The Titanic). But recently I have found a new and unprecedented appreciation for Belfast, and I can now say it is one of my favorite cities in Europe. But what makes Belfast the perfect city for a weekend, or even a day, is just how compact and close-knit the attractions are.
For a day tour, I would likely start at the Lagan side area (Belfast Central Station) which is really just a nice stroll along the banks of the Lagan, dotted with various landmarks. And maybe grab a traditional Ulster Fry at the ‘Fed & Watered’ Cafe. From the Lagan side, a short walk then finds Belfast’s main shopping area, and Victoria Square, an open-air complex with a viewpoint dome on the roof, sharing panoramic views of all sides of Belfast city. These areas are also well known for buskers, backstreets, and quaint Belfast charm.
Next stop is then Belfast City Hall, which is somewhat central to the city and offers free public tours through the building and inside the museum in the early afternoons. The surrounding grounds are also the main gathering point in the city, and through the year will host all sorts of events. Finally, to end the perfect day in Belfast, is the Cathedral Quarter, next to Saint Anne’s Cathedral, which is home to cobbled paths and many of Belfast’s oldest building and bars. The recommended tipple would be pints of Harp in the Duke of York.
Every day in Portugal, regardless of whether you’re in Porto or The Algarve, begins with coffee. People generally associate coffee, and especially espressos, with France and Italy, but they’re what keeps Portugal functioning as well. You’ll find pastelarias (cafes) all over Porto, all offering a selection of cakes and savory snacks. If you haven’t already tried a pastel de nata, Portugal’s most famous cake, this is definitely a good opportunity to do so.
My favorite way to explore a city is via a walking tour, and there are now several in Porto including Pancho Tours, Porto Walkers, and City Lovers. A walking tour is a good way to get a feel for the layout of the city, a quick overview of the most important pieces of history and culture, as well as a little local insight that you might not find in the guidebooks.
When it comes to lunch in Porto, most people go for Porto’s most famous dish: The Francesinha. Made up of pork, beef, sausage, cheese, and a beer and tomato sauce, to some this is a thing of beauty while to others it’s a culinary monstrosity. Either way, it’s a long way from what the creator originally set out to make when he invited it: a croque-monsieur.
After lunch, cross the beautiful Dom Luís I Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia where the Port houses are located. Port is one of Portugal’s biggest and most famous exports, and a trip to Porto gives you a chance to really discover what makes this drink to special. Most of the Port houses have tours, and all will give you a chance to taste their different styles which include Tawny, Ruby, LBV, Crusted, and Rose.
Finally, head back onto the Dom Luís I Bridge to capture your most Instagram-worthy photos as the sun set over Porto.