Considering the close proximity of all the countries in Europe. It’s hard to believe that you wouldn’t take this geographical opportunity to visit as many of the European countries as possible. I usually say to people: for most of those that I know, that live and work in London . They want either to find one destination they love and frequently return or chose not to stay in Europe. Using their limited vacation days and spend their time on another continent.
The reason I bring this up is I haven’t particularly travelled that much around Europe. Even though I’ve been to Spain now a number of times, I had never visited its neighbouring country Portugal! Until now…
Lisbon was my first stop when arriving in Portugal. It’s probably the easiest place to fly into with it being the capital of the country. I knew Portugal was my last country on my recent European road trip. As excited as I was to experience Portugal for the first time I was more excited about 30 degrees weather in the middle of October! Something which turned out to be an unusual exception that I definitely enjoyed.
Getting around Lisbon was really easy. Including to and from the airport as Uber was available in the city. (As well as the major part of the rest of the country). Not only was Uber available it was actually quite cheap compared to most other cities. My transfer from the airport cost me €7 each way. Although be aware not all drivers speak perfect English so there is a slight language barrier in some cases.
Around the City
After visiting San Fransisco earlier in the year, I couldn’t help but pick up on the similarities between the two cities. Apart from the obvious April 25th and Bay Bridge comparisons. Lisbon like San Fran is built on top of many hills. So in certain cases, you can be struggling to make your way up a street and in others trying not to slip down one. I would recommend caution when walking around Lisbon. The majority of the streets are actually tiled and are very slippery even when walking.
Views from above
If its views you’re after there is one great place I can recommend to see Lisbon from heights. Arco da Rua Augusta is located at the top of Comércio Square. Unknown to me at the time this is publically accessible and you can climb to the top (via very narrow staircases). I would recommend going here at least 20/30 minutes before sunset to give you perfect golden hour views over the city and then you can see the city lights sparkle at night. I would also suggest that if you visit at any time outside peak summer you bring a light jacket with you as it will get slightly cold during this time.
Sangria and Pastries
The best places to find the perfect drinks and food are to follow the locals. Well in my case, I got lost and happen to stumble across great places by absolute chance. The best area for drinks is the urban area of Barrio Alto. You will be able to find all the best bars and cheap drinks, like sangria from around €1. Unfortunately, most of these bars are only open after 7 in the evening. So If you’re looking too day drink you can still stay in the same area you just have to, like us, divert your focus away from the alleys and towards the main streets.
One great bar/restaurant I can recommend with really nice sangria on TAP! Is the one in the following image… I can’t remember the name, however, I’m sure if you’re really trying to find it you will! it’s located on a split level street corner and covered with beautiful blue tiling. (Also if anyone knows the name, please let me know and I can update it here for everyone to know).
Finding great pastries in Portugal was probably the easiest and best thing you can do! I’m probably going to get a lot of slack for saying this but Portuguese pastries are way better than those you can get in France! So just pop into your nearest local spot and give it a go, they’re so cheap and delicious you won’t regret it.
Road Trip to Sintra
Renting a car on the weekend In Lisbon can be a bit tricky. Even though there are multiple car vendors they’re placed all over the city and charge different rates for different size cars. As we decided to rent a car it turned out (as guessed) the best option was to find a local vendor and not a big name brand. We had initially tried booking through Europcar, however even after reserving and paying for a car the night before when we went to pick up the vehicle the next morning they had given it away and taken our payment. On top of that, they tried to sell us a more expensive car!
We ended up booking via a local car rental company called Dscar and our road trip was underway!
Cabo da Roca
Driving to Sintra is actually really easy from Lisbon. Using any form of Maps you will be able to see there’s a highway that can take you right there in about 20 minutes.
Although to me that just sounded boring. Instead, we planned to loop around the coast and make a quick stop over at Cabo Da Roca the most western point in mainland Europe! This gave us a nice coastal drive with beautiful views rather than having to stare out at concrete and other cars on our journey to Sintra.
Surprisingly it’s rather easy to park at Cabo da Roca. As it’s a popular surfing destination, we could easily jump out the car, snap some pictures enjoy the experience and be on our way.
Not known to many tourists and a tad difficult to find was the beautiful Monserrate Palace in Sintra. This was partly the main reason we decided to head on this road trip.
The Palace is located in a small national park in Sintra. It is filled with old ruins and beautiful gardens that cover its hillside landscape. I would definitely recommend visiting this area, you could bring food and have a wonderful afternoon picnic along the fields that look onto the palace.
It also turns out that you can rent the palace as a venue for parties and weddings. Let’s just say we were very close to reenacting wedding crashers.
It’s usually relatively easy to get to the Algarve from Lisbon. Unfortunately for me, I was flying during a time when there were air strikes. This meant I was delayed for an extended period of time, arriving in Faro 3 hours later than planned.
To be honest, I was quite excited to experience Faro. Although it ended up falling a bit short for me. Not through its own faults but just a mixture of circumstance.
My initial plan involved me meeting my friend Keenan in Faro. We were going to rent a car and explore the Algarve area. This did not go to plan and due to mass Ryanair cancellations. Keenan at the last minute was told his flight was cancelled so I arrived in Faro alone, with the inability to rent a car due to a lack of license. Not having a car in the Faro area really does impact your ability to really experience the area and the Algarve fully.
You might ask, why did you not plan to fly directly to Lagos and stay there? The reason behind that is: Faro is the cheaper destination both to fly to and for finding reasonably priced accommodation. As we were renting a car, Faro placed more centrally in the Algarve would easily allow us to drive along the coastal regions and experience the best the Algarve has to offer.
Being the optimist I am, I tried to make the most of a bad situation. As Keenan’s bed at the hostel was already paid for, I offered it to a French couple that was stranded with no accommodation. We ended up hanging out together in Faro. Along with their friends, we filled our day eating and drinking and enjoying the sunset on one of the most beautiful golden sand beaches. Even though the water was freezing around October the weather was still warm. You never know how you might make friends in the most unlikely of situations.
My overall experience in Portugal was a great one, Lisbon has now become my favourite city in Europe (…so far). I cannot wait to return to experience more of Portugal!
Well, I hope you guys found this short experience article interesting and insightful!
Let me know below if you have any questions!
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