I’m all for a spontaneous trip, and last summer my friend Verity and I went to Lisbon for a wholesome week of sun, sangria and definitely no suspicious parents.
Airbnb is a lifesaver for cheap and unique places to stay; we found a really sweet little apartment in the centre of Alfama and it was perfect. What we didn’t know is every June Lisbon holds a festival for St. Antony (also called the Festival of Sardines) in Alfama. As the sun sets, the neighbourhood becomes alive with music, street food and celebration. Pop up restaurants line the streets, all selling the same, but I’m sure delicious, charcoal cooked sardines and homemade sangria, tiny pots of rice pudding and pastel de nata. Obviously, the focus on sardines is not great for veggies as they don’t sell anything savoury apart from fish, so we normally ate elsewhere first and then joined the streets for pudding. The festival continued every night we were in Lisbon, so we never left Alfama in the evenings. We stayed five minutes away from the centre of the fiesta, and so we spent our evenings getting tipsy off sangria and people watching on the steps of a beautiful white chapel. The party continued into the early hours of the morning, so we fell asleep listening to Portuguese pop songs and very full on street food.
We both developed a strong love for sangria and could easily drink a jug a night, same goes for pastel de nata, the Portuguese egg tart, which is now one of my favourite foods. We found a little café a few minutes’ walk away from our apartment and had breakfast there every day of our stay, so much so the old ladies who ran it soon recognised us and knew our order!
After our daily breakfast of pata del nata and freshly squeezed orange juice (I can’t think of a more ideal way to start the day), we did a huge amount of exploring. Lisbon is a beautiful and lively city with so much to see. It is also really close to the beaches, so we took the train to the sea and sunbathed a few days, which was a nice break from the busy city.
One day trip we took was to Sintra (there is a train from Lisbon which runs half-hourly and is very cheap). Although touristy, Sintra is a must stop if you’re visiting Lisbon, purely because it is utterly stunning and has lots to see. I would definitely like to return as we did not see enough of the palaces or the castle! Most of our fellow day trippers took the bus straight to Palácio Nacional de Pena, an impressive castle built in the hills. It is pretty spectacular because of its bright colours. However, though we were warned that walking up there took a while and was difficult in the afternoon heat, but of course, we chose to ignore that and start out anyway, determined not to shed out on the expensive coach. If you’ve ever been anywhere with me, you’ll know I’m pretty horrendous (but determined) at directions so, of course, we got quite lost and after an hour ended up getting the bus. We didn’t pay to go inside because had already been to Palacio Nacional de Sintra and also it was so warm we just wanted to explore the gardens. Palacio Nacional de Pena is incredibly gorgeous but very touristy. If you’re short on time, I would recommend going to Palacio Nacional de Sintra instead because it was completely empty when we went there and just as interesting. It has stunning architecture and beautiful, old hand-painted tiles.
Verity is very interested and knowledgeable about churches, so of course we went to quite a few including the Monastery of São Vicente De Fora. This was actually a brilliant shout because it was almost completely empty and we had the place to ourselves to explore and learn about the Monastery and its history. The Monastery is breathtaking, with architecture from all periods including Renaissance and Baroque, and beautiful tiles of the fables of La Fontaine. If in Lisbon, I would definitely recommend visiting because it has a flat roof which has the most amazing views of the city. I’m not entirely sure if this was allowed, but we ate our picnic on their roof and enjoyed the sun for a good hour, all by ourselves!
Lisbon is such a stunning city and so lively, 5 days was just enough to see everything we wanted and not rush it but I definitely want to return and explore more.