When you are on the road and soaking up the best of travel you become a morning person even if you don’t want to be one!
Our journey through Switzerland (Interlaken and Geneva) had finished and was followed by another early morning flight to what would become one of my favourite places to visit in the world, Lisbon (Lisboa).
In late Autumn it was still in the mid 20 degrees Celsius (mid-70s in Fahrenheit), which was a much refreshing surprise for Johnny and I after the cold of Switzerland.
We stayed near the Marquês de Pombal metro station at the Lisboa Central Hostel. This this isn’t a paid-for plug, but it was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. The staff were so friendly, and it inspired a positive community for travelers.
We decided to venture down into the center of town along Av. da Liberdade towards Square Dom Pedro IV, one of many squares in Lisbon with ornate water fountains and cafes and restaurants around the square for people to sit outside and enjoy the vibes of the city.
And so began one of the stranger things about Lisboa. You know that feeling when you are walking around in an unfamiliar city and you stand still to soak in the sights, and you notice the locals can see this? Well in Lisboa, these locals don’t just stare at you, they walk past you and ever so quietly say under their breath, “cocaína”. The first time this happens you double take to make sure it actually happened. By the hundredth time you learn to completely zone out what they are saying.
I don’t mean to take anything away from the city – this was probably the ‘seediest’ thing about Lisboa, and they don’t harass you once you don’t react in the way they want.
Next we went to Comércio Plaza, which is one of many gems in Lisboa. It is situated right on the Tagus river, with a grand statue of King José I in the center and a bold splash of yellow on the commercial buildings surrounding the square, which were once part of the Ribeira Palace. The entrance to the square is a beautiful Rua Augusta Arch which really tops off the square. All my photos do not do it justice!
We finished off our sightseeing for the day by venturing down the windy and historic streets towards Sé De Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral). There is an amazing Europe-meets-Arabia vibe to the streets, highlighting the civilisations who have come and gone through this city, with the bright pop of the trams that zip through the tiny streets. Sé De Lisboa did not disappoint. Yes, it was another cathedral in Europe, but the views of the sun setting over the Tagus river really set the tone of our visit – magical.
Day two was just as packed sorry Johnny 😉 ).
Comércio Plaza is a focal point in the city, so we decided to begin day 2 there. It’s important to see cities at different times of day, as the vibes of a city at night are very different from the morning. Different people emerge at different times, doing different things, so I highly recommend making the effort to go back and visit parts of a place more than once, if you have the time.
We weaved in and out of the tiny streets, making our way up the slopes where those colourful trams speed along, until we reached the top of the hill where the São Jorge Castle overlooked the entire city. It is in the Moorish style, and we took time to explore the castle and look out at the different vantage points over the city.
You can really see where the old city of Lisboa meets the new city, with different styles of architecture, including Medieval, Gothic, Regency, Beaux-Arts and Modern. There is no avoiding this today, especially in major metropolitan hubs, As long as cities don’t pave over their culture and history I think it’s fine – as these are where the true heart of a place lies.
I finally got my chance to ride on a tram. It zipped downhill in no time and whisked us back to the center of town. I do love any opportunity to ride public transport when I travel – o what the locals do.
It was time for us to take a walk down the Tagus river, past the Ponte 25 de Abril, which looks similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, USA. We couldn’t walk across this bridge as it was too far and unsafe for pedestrians, and because we didn’t catch a ferry either we were sadly unable to see the Cristo Rei (a Christ the Redeemer inspired statue from Rio in Brazil) up close.
Nevertheless, we carried on to Padrao dos Descobrimentos, which is a very large memorial statue to the navigators that set sail to the “new world”, just under 500 years ago. The statues of the sailors and pioneers are beautifully detailed, and the monument even had an observation point which I couldn’t resist.
Thankfully our next stop wasn’t too far away (our legs were starting to tire), and we headed to the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), which is a small fort constructed to protect Lisboa from invaders. It is one of the more well-known sites in Lisboa, was constructed in the 15th century, and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. There is a lot of history to learn inside, and it has its own small walkway off the mainland (only a couple meters) on to the floating tower.
After a nice photoshoot getting Belém Tower from all angles (my ‘looking off into the distance’ selfies hadn’t become ingrained yet) we needed to get out of the sun, and after a quick ice-cream we made our way into the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. They had a great exhibition of Portuguese history, and it was a welcome break from the heat.
Our final stop in that part of town was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which didn’t have the same amazing views of Sé de Lisboa, but was beautiful nonetheless. The Catholic Church does know how to spend its money!
We ate fish for dinner (fish dishes were literally everywhere!) and some great wine, and at such a low cost. We then made our way to the “party” district where many of the locals and tourists go to the bars, listen to live music and dance in the street. These bars are so small you can literally only fit 10 people inside them, and they were always packed with so many more. But, the beer was only €1!!!
What a bargain. Johnny and I certain sank a few down. I like to try and meet locals, and I ‘met’ a local Portuguese guy, who took me to a variety of places to hang out, chat, swap travel and life stories over a few drinks. Street cafes turned into bars at night and being a Mediterranean country things where open very late. To this day I am still friends with the Portuguese guy and he actually joined me on my future travels to Berlin (a story for you to read about later).
Even with the worst hangover in the world, Johnny and I still woke up at the crack of dawn (why Jesus….) as we had heard about an amazing area known as Sintra, which is an hour train ride from Lisboa.
This city is known for its hilly landscape with four major palaces situated on top of different hills.
1. Pena Palace
2. Castle of Moors
3. Quinta da Regaleira
4. Monserrate Palace
We knew with our limited time we couldn’t see all of them (Something I am certainly going to go back and do in future), so we decided to hike up to Quinta da Regaleira (take a bus if walking up hill isn’t your thing – there are regular services that go between all the palaces). The entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I highly recommend spending at LEAST two days in the area as there is so much to see, and it is all beautiful.
The walk up to Quinta da Regaleira was a fast-paced one as we wanted to make sure we had enough time to see as much as we could.
The palace was created in a Neo-Manueline style, found particularly in Portugal. The building was lavish. The details in the design really caught my eye, from the railings to the roofs there were decorative pieces of artwork carved into the stone of the building.
We explored all the rooms and really enjoyed the views of the other palaces perched on top of other hills.
One thing I did find slightly frustrating were the school trips. 40-50 school kids roaming around, getting in the way and being loud can get on one’s nerves! Unfortunately, when you travel around Europe this can be a common thing.
We then decided to explore the gardens. They were huge and contained grottos, fountains, statues and hidden passages. You could explore those gardens at a reasonable pace for hours. There was so much to see and enjoy.
Our journey ended with a flight to Madrid the next day, and we had only seen a minute part of Sintra and even Portugal. Johnny and I were really kicking ourselves, wishing we had stayed longer. This happens sometimes with travel, leaving you with such an urge to go back. Portugal certainly had that effect on me.
Overall, Portugal has a similar vibe to Spain, but is cheaper with somewhat fewer tourists. Get in there before the rest of the world truly finds out and authentic travel experiences might be ruined. You certainly will be reading future stories of my return.
I hope you enjoyed this story and it inspired you to give Portugal a visit if you haven’t already done so.
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