Late August last year, in sweltering hot temperatures my friends and I decided to venture into even hotter temperatures by going from Toronto to Lisbon, Portugal. I will have a post about how planning for our trip went a little later; but first! Let’s talk about our actual experiences there. We landed in Lisbon after about a 7-8 hour plane ride. As soon as we got off the plane, the warm unusually dry air hits our faces, it was about 30 degrees. And voila, just like that we were in a city hundreds of miles away from our home.
As soon as we entered Portugal the red rooftops on beige/yellow houses were very dominant. There were cobblestone roads and hills for days. My ears kept popping on our ride from the airport.
First stop we had was a huge mansion in Madragoa, where my friend’s uncle lives. The view was very breathtaking, facing the sea. We were treated to some delicious food and tea. After catching up with the family we headed on our way to the hostel, which we had booked called “Hostel4u”.
The hostel is right in the centre around Praca do Comercio (the Square of Commerce), which is one of the main centrally located plaza in Lisbon Baixa district (downtown area of Lisbon) and extends to Chiado. There is an arc called Rua Augusta Arch that leads to a shopping and dining area on one side; and on the other side of it you can enjoy the view of the Tagus River along with numerous restaurants. Definitely a must see when you visit Lisbon. In the plaza, later in the evening, we saw a lot of street performers, in some corners there were also people selling selfie sticks, souvenirs and even guys selling some kush (so be mindful or not, whatever floats your boat), nonetheless, they don’t bother you unless you are interested.
It was probably around 8 pm, we were starving and tired from the flight and all the walking in the plaza; so we picked the closest restaurant by the river on the other side of the arc, and it turned out to be a great decision. It’s called Nosolo Italia. It was comfortable weather so we sat outside on their patio. If you go here be sure to order their fresh juices, we had their fresh strawberry juice and I still savour over it till today. It was so fresh; I could feel a bit of the gritty texture in some sips, it’s hard to describe, but if you go to Lisbon definitely try their fresh juices. I had their seafood pizza, and honestly it was AMAZING. I have yet to try a seafood pizza here that I fell in love with that much. At the end, wrapped it all up with some tiramisu cake. You just can’t go wrong with Tiramisu. The price of this place is a bit on the mid to expensive range, but if you are on vacation, it is worth indulging. Great location and restaurant, service was a bit slow, as it was busy, but when you have a great view to enjoy, you can’t complain.
Hostel4U, had a great environment, breakfast was included with our stay, consisting of cereal, sandwiches, fruits, coffee, bread etc. There were also 2 swing sets in the lobby; people from all walks of life; teens, families, solo travelers, were with us eating breakfast. Afterwards, we went to visit Castle Sao George, another worthy visit and fairly close to where we were staying.
Entrance fee for Castle Sao George, was about 10 Euros but since I had my student ID with me, I got a discount and paid only about 5 euros. (tip: if you are a student in whatever country, be sure to bring your student id card with you, as a lot of attractions & museums in Europe provide a student discount.) Once inside the castle, we could see the breathtaking view of the city, all the red roof tops on white houses, 25 de Abril Bridge, Tagus River and since the castle is on a hilltop, you can see far and wide. The fortress like structure of the castle shows a lot of its history. Once, we were done taking the view of the castle on the outer edge, we moved inside and there was a lot of climbing and navigating involved to find our way around the castle. It was extremely hot as the time came closer to noon, so it is definitely a good idea to come earlier in the morning when there is a fresh breeze.
After Sao George, we stumbled into the neighbourhood of Alfama, went inside a church to explore a bit more and once done we went into a small diner (sorry cannot recall the name of it) and had a full sized fish. If you are going to Portugal, you have to try their seafood.
Once finished, we went back to our hostel for some resting. Woke up and went again to Praca do Comercio, and had some late afternoon snack in one of the restaurants on the strip called Sao Nicolau restaurant. We had some of their expresso coffee and sandwiches. Some street performers came from Brazil and started dancing and doing acrobatics around people sitting and eating. It was great entertainment and at the end they bring around their hats because nothing is free. It is optional to pay them though. The music and ambiance in the plaza is very relaxing and peaceful.
Next, at night time we went to Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Miradouro is basically a vantage or viewpoint, where you can witness the beauty of the city. It was walking distance from the plaza. To get up the viewpoint, we had to walk up a very steep cobblestone hill (be careful if it rains, as it can get slippery), but there is also a funicular that goes up the hill (costs about 3- 4 euros), they usually wait till it’s filled up before the funicular goes up and it only take about a minute or less to get up there. It is a beautiful view when you get up here, people young and old hanging out sitting, standing and just enjoying the view. Be a little cautious during late nights, as pick pockets and weird drunk people may approach. Just make sure to spend time here and take in the view.
Once done we bought some Portuguese McDonalds which tastes the same as regular McDonalds and brought a little bit of familiar taste to our trip.
The next day we woke up bright and early and headed towards Fatima, which is a parish (Christian Church) for a day trip. We took a car and it took us about an hour, we passed through a lot of mountain hill areas. Once parked, it is a bit of walk to the front of the parish, you will pass by a wall carved with scripture sayings in various languages.
Once we got there, we had to do a bit of a walk to get to the actual location of the church. There was a way paved for people to crawl, I found out that these people are on their pilgrimage and crawling all the way to the front of the parish signifies them repenting for their sins. We went inside and saw the shrines of the little Sheppard’s.
We walked around and explored, it is a very spiritual place and a great place to learn about the story of Fatima and history and we only needed half a day or a few hours to explore this entire place. Once we were done getting our spiritual on, we went to a nearby restaurant called “Tia Alice” This place is very high end and was certainly expensive. It had families and a bit of a mature crowd. We had chicken noodle soup for starters, baked seafood for main course and top it all off with the best black fudge cake which just melted in my mouth. Also tried some Crème Brule but nothing could beat that cake :D.
After finishing our lunch we headed back to our hostel, rested up a bit and went out in the praca de comercio to find a hair straightener, yes a girl needs a hair straightener! In doing so, we also found a perfect store for everything in Lisbon, its kind of like our Walmart here but better; called “Pollux”, it has a bit of everything.
Next morning bright and early we headed up to Sintra, Portugal. This is a must do day trip if you are in Lisbon. We had a car, so it took us about 45 minutes to get there. It is a small town up on the hills of Portugal Sintra mountains. You can view the mountains, hilltops and a gorgeous fairy tale like view and on top of the hilltop lies Pena National Palace.
Before heading up to the Pena National Palace, we stopped to eat at Café Paris, then we made our way up to the palace. We actually drove further up the mountain to the point where you can’t drive. If you don’t have a car it can be quiet a hike. There are busses that go up there as well. Once at the entrance of the castle we bought our tickets (Again, student ID can get you a discount).
Once inside, we waited for another bus that takes you all the way up to the palace (it was an extra cost to the ticket price), you can also hike all the way up but we chose to take the bus. About 5 minutes.
Once inside the castle, we checked out all the rooms inside and the breathtaking views outside and took those memorable pictures.
After spending a few hours exploring, we went to their cafeteria and grabbed some scones, coffee, and chocolate cake, for some energy 🙂
Later that night we again spent time at the main square, ate, strolled around the nearby squares and finally sat by the water and enjoyed the view, one last time, before we headed to Madrid, the next morning.
Highlights of Portugal
- Day trip to Sintra, Portugal and Pena National Palace
- Visiting neighbourhoods of Bairro Alto, Chiado, Alfama and Baixa; just to name a few.
- Castle Sao George ; amazing views of the city.
- Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara (vantage point to have great views of the city for free!)
This trip was a bit relaxed, we didn’t pack it with extreme amount of activities in 4 days. We took in the culture, spoke with the locals, explored the various neighbourhoods of the city and did a few day trips. If you are tight on time, one thing I would skip is Fatima church , it had a historical significance but not a must see in my opinion. Let me know what other places you would or have visited 🙂
Next stop Spain; blog post coming up soon!