Updated: Jan 19
Portugal always seemed kind of like an unattainable dream to me. It looked too picture-perfect with its endless brightly-colored rooftops. However, on my way to Morocco, I flew through Lisbon, and I knew I had to get back. So, fast forward about 6 months, I stumbled across a super cheap flight to Dublin, and (me being myself) I had to book it. Flights, once you're in mainland Europe, are always cheaper, so I knew as long as I could get to Dublin, I could still afford to go to Portugal. Just about a month after I booked my flights, I boarded a plane and quickly arrived in Portugal.
In total I was in Portugal for three days, which let me tell you is not enough for this gem of a country, but I work with what time I have! Anyway, I decided to book an AirBnb in the Santa Cruz area of Lisbon for the three nights I was there. This allowed me to have a hub to go back to every night regardless of where I ventured during the day.
I arrived around noon on the first day after a quick flight from Dublin on Portugal's airline TAP Air Portugal (Free wine!). The public transport system runs from the airport to downtown Lisbon, so I bought a reusable card and hopped on. It's worth noting that out of all of the countries I have been to (including living in Australia for a year), Lisbon has one of the easiest to use systems I have ever seen, and I don't even speak Portuguese. Most of my first day was spent orienting myself to the area which not only helps you adjust to the unfamiliar region but since I was outside it also helps with jet-lag.
I wandered all through Lisbon looking for a way to see all of the clay rooftops and finally found the Santa Justa Lift which is a gothic styled elevator that goes just over the buildings to give you a fantastic birds-eye view. As though getting lost in Lisbon for several hours wasn't enough walking, I also decided to head even further uphill to Castelo De St. Jorge (Saint George Castle). The hike up here is beautiful because you get to see a majority of the city as well as unique houses with tons of different mosaics. I had to pay five dollars to get into the actual castle, but it was well worth it. I ended up walking around the grounds playing with some of the (apparently) local peacocks for hours until I headed to downtown for a delicious salted cod dinner.
After hearing so many great things about Cascais and Sintra, I knew I had to dedicate at least a day to them. There are local longer distance trains that travel around the area for relatively cheap, so I got up around 6 and hopped on the first train to the area because I knew I needed to get there early. I wanted to see the Pena Palace which is at the top of a massive hill and there aren't many options to get up there. There's a bus that travels up to the castles, exclusive tours or a private ride, but the latter two are fairly pricey. You could also walk up to the castles if you're in shape, but after driving up to it, I'm not sure how safe that is with the hundreds of blind turns (the bus drivers deserve a major raise). Looking back I would've loved to stay in Sintra for another day seeing even more of the palaces and castles, but it is definitely exhausting! Sintra is a super hilly area of Portugal and hiking up and down the hills wore me out in about five hours.
Tip: Get there early to avoid huge crowds & take nice pictures in front of the castle. If you want nice pictures in the back of the castle wait until a little afternoon so there aren't a ton of shadows!
After grabbing a quick lunch, I hiked back down to the main bus station and caught a bus to the beach town of Cascais to see what all the hype was about. I didn't have much of an agenda here other than to explore and see what it was all about. Thankfully it was a beautiful summer day so walking around allowed me to skip the crowds at the beach! I ended up walking along a promenade that led me to an oceanside view of Boca do Inferno which is a stunning rocky coastline great for sunsets and wave watching.
As if walking all over Sintra and Cascais wasn't enough, I hopped on a train back to Lisbon to explore the Belem area. Belem is known for many things such as the Tower of Belem and the Navigators monument, but my personal favorite from Belem is the custard tart - Pastel de Belem. This pastry was originally made from a family recipe in the Jerónimos Monastery, an iconic monastery in Belem. People often debate if this pastry or its sister pastry, the Pastel de Nata, is superior. This is because most people think it's a north vs. south situation, but actually, everywhere besides Belem produces Pastel de Nata because the family recipe is so exclusive. These pastries are essentially a puff pastry with an egg cream in the middle and believe me, they're worth traveling to Portugal for. I craved them so much while writing this that I actually went to a local Portuguese bakery and bought four!
After I got back from Belem the night before, I started wondering what else I would do in Lisbon or if I should book an excursion to go on. I took a break from research and logged on to Instagram to post some things on the blog, and as if it were a sign, I got a message from someone in Portugal asking if I had been up to Porto yet. So, as a lover of Port wine, I had to go. I booked a roundtrip train ticket for just fifty dollars, and there I went. The trains were comfortable and upscale and the three-hour ride went by in a blink. I don't think I'll ever forget when the hills opened up we got a glimpse of Porto for the first time. It doesn't even look real. As any newcomer does, I went straight to the water, and I was not disappointed. It was about 70 degrees and the water was reflecting the sun onto all the colorful mosaic buildings. I sat down for a traditional chorizo meal by the water with a glass of Port while taking in the city. I spotted a gondola going up towards a monastery while eating, so headed over to buy a ticket and was given a free voucher for more port!
I took the gondola up to where the monastery was, but I ended up exploring because the view over the city of Porto and the Douro River was absolutely incredible. I wandered across the bridge taking in all of the clay rooftops, and I happened to spot a tour store. I couldn't get enough of the city, so I booked a river cruise that went up and down the Douro giving amazing views of the many bridges across steep ravines. After the cruise wrapped up (and I was certain enough that I was sunburned!), I finished my day in Porto with a Pastel de Nata while I was waiting for my train back to Lisbon.
Portugal is one of those places you fall in love within a second. You're sad to leave, but you know you'll make it back! After spending just a few days there, I can see why so many people choose to retire there and enjoy all that the country has to offer.