Portugal was an absolute dream to visit and its underrated landscapes made it all the more worthwhile to explore during this year's spring break! I visited the country for around 10 days with my best friend in mid March, which isn't typically the most crowded time in Portugal because its still a little chilly in the evenings, but definitely way more upbeat than gloomy London. This is Part 1 of the Portugal Getaway Guide, covering Lisbon and Sintra! Stay tuned for the second instalment that will take you to the stunning beaches of Lagos and the quaint town of Porto.
PLACES TO VISIT
1. Santa Justa Lift: There are plenty of places to get amazing views of Lisbon but Santa Justa Lift is definitely among the top spots on that list. Its ticketed entry but I would recommend coming as early as possible (we went around 9am) so as to avoid the long queues. Waking up early is the best thing to do in Lisbon because you get the streets all to yourselves.
2. Bairro Alto: This area is definitely for the party lovers and night owls, it's constantly buzzing and a great place to explore the nightlife that Lisbon has to offer. Save your feet by avoiding heels in this city but especially at night because Lisbon streets are extremely cobbled, uneven and hilly (I speak from personal experience as I fell down twice haha}.
3. Miradouro de Santa Luzia: Miradouro literally translates to 'viewpoints' and there is an abundant amount of those in Portugal. In the evenings you'll find crowds of locals with drinks enjoying the sunset whilst being entertained by street musicians. Put your phone away and take in the Portuguese sunshine x
4. Pink Street: If I hear the word 'pink' attached to anything, you can bet I'll be there in a second. This is a must visit spot for every tourist (as cliche as that sounds) and although the street isn't the cleanest, it doesn't hurt to have a look!
5. LX Factory: This was by far my favourite area in Lisbon, housing a variety of artsy shops, restaurants and bars. It was like a Portuguese version of Camden (a similar place in London) and I wish I had more time to explore it. The one place I did manage to see is the breath taking library called 'Ler Devagar' .
6. Belem Tower: Blue waters in the background, picturesque views, food trucks on the side and street performers everywhere- Belem Tower comes with a complete package. I'd recommend going in the evening to catch a beautiful sunset.
PLACES TO EAT
For all vegetarians out there, it is a bit of a task to find places to eat in Portugal that don't have meat or fish in ALL their dishes. However, I did manage to find a few cafes that had plenty of amazing vegetarian options (Frutaria Cafe and Amelia Cafe) .
Time Out Market in Lisbon is always raved about but I personally think its perhaps more suitable for non vegetarians because I struggled to find a dish for myself haha. Here's a list of places that I went to and had a great experience, along with some other names that come highly recommended through other travel guides and trusty Instagram (although we didn't have the time to explore them all).
1. Frutaria Cafe
2. Dear Breakfast
3. Cafe Janis
4. Time Out Market
5. Amelia Cafe
Pasteis de Belem is an iconic spot in Lisbon to try out the famous custard tarts of Portugal, called 'pastel de nata'. Check out @currysmoodles on Instagram, my best friend's brilliant food page, where she zeroes down on some of the must-eat dishes in Portugal.
PLACES TO SHOP
The best places to shop in Lisbon are the tiny flea markets that can be found across the city (if you are lucky enough to spot them). They have unique jewellery pieces with traditional Portuguese designs that resemble the beautiful tiles that are spread across the city. Rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, homeware and artwork are abundantly found in these markets and the prices are pretty reasonable too (€5 -10) as compared to high-end stores.
Sintra is a 1 hour train ride away from Lisbon and so a day trip is a good option for those looking to visit this town. It has numerous castles and palaces, so take a decision regarding which ones you'd like to cover (its impossible to do all of them properly in a day), and book the tickets for them online in advance here. This way you can skip ahead of the queues and make your way to it before the crowds. The 2 castles that we headed to were Pena Palace and Moorish Castle, which are accessible by the buses that operate right outside the Sintra railway station. You can catch bus 434 by purchasing a ticket, it will take you outside the palace gates from where one can walk uphill or take another bus (this one isn't ticketed) to reach the palace.
PENA PALACE: This palace is by far the most magnificent one I've ever seen, no pictures online or words could do it any justice. The bright colours on a warm spring day were the perfect combination to explore this wonder. This beauty is obviously going to attract hoards of tourists so if you are looking for a good photo opportunity minus the crowds, it would be best to visit early morning or just before closing time. It is quite a big castle so keep aside a full 2 to 3 hours and then move on to any other palaces on your list.
MOORISH CASTLE: Moorish Castle looks like its straight out of a 18th century war novel, and has a completely different vibe to all the other palaces in the Sintra. With its high stone walls and dominant gates, the castle was used for military purposes, giving a stunning view of the landscape below which would eventually help the former party to look out for incoming enemies.
We reached there a while before closing time and ended up staying for a long time without realising that the castle was closing soon. Unfortunately, the announcement for that was made in Portuguese so by the time we came down there was not a soul in sight and the main entry door of the castle was locked. So we eventually ended up contacting the police who seemed to have a good laugh at our predicament, and they rescued us after an hour (the guard who came to unlock the door did not look happy haha]. So a GREAT TIP would be to never ignore any castle announcements and carry enough food or water just in case you are locked inside a medieval war castle that begins to scare you a bit past sunset!
Thank you for reading, have a lovely week and keep a look out for Part 2 of the Portugal Getaway Guide!