After a week in the far reaches of Portugal’s islands and two days tracing our ancient human roots near the border of Spain. I was excited for my last stop in the amazing city of Lisbon. I had heard many great things about this ancient, coastal, capital city. I just hoped that I could muster enough energy to experience it all during my short 36 hour stay.
I arrived via the train from Porto. After a week spent bouncing from Madeira island to the Azores to the Douro and Coa Valley. Porto had amazed me with it’s perfectly preserved buildings from the 1500’s, amazing churches and one of the most beautiful train stations I had seen anywhere filled with Azulejo tile showing the history of Portugal’s past.
I knew Lisbon would be more of a metropolitan city as it had sustained a devastating earthquake that leveled it to the ground in 1755. After that the city had been completely rebuilt.
I arrived into Lisbon in the early evening. Made way to my amazing hotel The Inspira Santa Marta, and set out on foot to see the city. I began by walking through the Miradouro do Parque Eduardo VII. A large city park built with perfect lines that extend down through the city and all the way to the water. The park was filled with people enjoying the beautiful weather and the parks many acres of green space and fountains. From here I continued on to the Avenue de Liberdade, a massive sweeping street lined with huge trees on either side. It had many fancy shops and street cafes with live music and happy people enjoying the upbeat energy.
Lisbon is the oldest city in Western Europe, with history rich in different cultures. A mixing of Greek, Moorish, Italian and local architecture blend seamlessly together. It’s majestic, bold and enriching. The earthquake gave them a fresh start, and they were able to take the best things from Paris, London, Rome and Northern Africa. Tying them all together making a city with clean lines and vibrant colors.
I eventually made way through the theater district. If you are looking for a bite to eat this is definitely the place to go. This pedestrian zone is filled with restaurants serving everything from Indian food to pizza to local seafood. It took me a good while to decide on which place to choose, but I finally did decide on a fantastic seafood place. I sat outside to people watch and had the best grouper of my entire life.
After dinner I continued my journey South towards the river. With a few pit stops along the way for some Ginjinha. Ginjinha is cherry liquor and it is a very popular thing to drink pre or post dinner. I had no idea what it was at first, but I kept seeing people with teeny tiny cups gathered around small store fronts. My curiosity had been picked so I stopped in and asked what all the men were drinking, and had my first shot of Ginjinha. You will see these little watering holes throughout the town usually with a long line behind them. Make sure you stop and have at least a taste.
With a happy buzz and a full belly, I continued my scenic evening tour. The city is beautiful, especially in the evening. Walking around made me forget how tired I was and filled me with energy. I passed the Santa Justa Lift, an ancient elevator that takes you from the street level up to the top of the town connecting you to other parts of the city. A long line awaited even at 9PM. I continued on through the Baixa Pombalina which is city hall. This building serves almost as a boundary. With a grand arched opening for visitors to pass through from one section of the city to the next. It reminded me of some areas in the city of London. After a few more minutes of walking past shops and restaurants I reached the Praca do Comercio. This huge town square sits right on the river and is filled with shops, cafes and street performers at this time of day. You have probably seen it in photos if you have ever seen anything about Lisbon.
I spent a while taking in my surroundings and enjoying the evening before heading back to my room at the Inspira Santa Marta.
The amount of cultural icons, castles, churches and history in Lisbon is enough to get you dizzy. 36 hours in this city is not nearly enough to see it all. Narrowing my options of what to do was no easy task. However, there was one place that I really wanted to see and that was Sintra. Sintra was the ancient capital for the Kings and Queens and houses several of Portugal’s ancient castles.
My plan was to head there by train, but after looking at how long that was going to take me, I caved and ordered an Uber. This was the perfect option for me on this particular day as I had a lot to see and not a lot of time to do it. After grabbing a quick croissant from the neighborhood café I hopped in my car and headed 45 minutes West to the city of Sintra.
When you come into the town of Sintra you will first pass the National Palace, built in the 11th century. This castle is also called the town palace and houses a nice museum of tiles and historic pieces. From there you head up the mountain that houses both the ancient Moorish castle and Pena National Palace.
Travel Tip: Don’t plan on walking from town to the Palace it is a few miles up a winding and extremely steep road with no shoulders.
Transportation: For those not on a tour there is a shuttle from town to the castles which departs every few minutes. Cost is about 5 Euros RT.
My Uber driver was a trooper and dropped me off at the entrance to Pena National Palace at the top of the hill. The ride from Lisbon cost me about 40 Euros, significantly more than the train but it saved me several hours.
When I arrived it was an overcast morning making the castle grounds nearly invisible. A layer of thick fog had rolled in overnight and was currently stuck on top of the hill that housed both the castles.
After paying my entrance fee I hiked up more hill to the entrance to the castle.
Pena National Palace seems to have been modeled on fairytale dreams; painted in pastels of yellow, purple and red it is a stark contrast to most real life castles in Europe. It seems like you are in a Disney movie rather than in real life.
Its history is also really interestin. Most of the castle is new, but one tower has been there for hundreds of years. Starting as a place of worship for monks it served as a spiritual retreat for Kings, Queens and nobleman across cultures and states. For hundreds of years monks were the only residents. In the 1800's the King of Portugal decided he would bring the property back to life and build a proper castle on its site.
Travel Tip: For those less mobile or active, there is a shuttle from the ticket booth to the castle, as well as golf carts that can be rented to take you through the castle grounds.
Travel Tip: Go before 12. You may deal with the fog, but the crowds will be less. This is one of the most visited spots in Portugal.
The ground surrounding this castle is the real highlight though, at least it was to me as a real forest gal. Give yourself plenty of time to walk around and wear comfortable shoes as the estate spans dozens of acres. If you plan ahead, you may even be able to go horseback riding. If you are like me and don’t pre plan you will have to be satisfied with saying howdy do to the horses and other farm animals, they have on the grounds. The forest on the property is magical and you will be sure to feel like you are in a fairytale while you walk past the many ponds, moss covered staircases and ancient trees that surround you.
On the hill across from Pena National Palace is the ancient Moorish Castle. I found this especially cool. It was built in the 11th century and was the first castle in this epic local. From its location you can see all the way to Lisbon and for miles in every direction. It is the perfect fortress and would have given the Moors the ability to know well in advance of any enemies coming their way.
After taking my share of history for the day I headed down the hill to explore the streets of Sintra. This hilly village is filled with shops selling tiles, pottery and housewares. The mixing of all the colors from the various stores is really remarkable. Not needing to shop I found a quiet little wine bar and settled in for an afternoon cheese plate and glass of wine. It was probably close to 2 o’clock in the afternoon by now, and the town of Sintra was filled to the brim with tourists. During my moment of relaxation, I took a minute to decide on my next destination.
Google Maps is my best friend while on Solo trips, so out came my phone to look for the next best place. I had heard about the Westernmost point in Portugal being a popular landmark and the photos on my map looked gorgeous. So off to Cabo da Roca I went in my second Uber of the day.
Cabo Do Roca is on the tourist route and there are several tours that take you to both of the castles I had visited then over to Cabo da Roca. It is quite stunning with huge cliffs that look down more than one hundred feet to the ocean crashing against the rocks.
My Uber driver waited for me while I took pictures and videos of the gorgeous coastline.
I had originally hoped to visit several more places like Jeronimos Monastery and the Castle of Almoural, but my short time was already coming to a close.
I headed back to Lisbon in my Uber for my last dinner in Portugal and some pampering.
The Inspira Santa Marta not only has an awesome central location but it's eco conscious, has a fantastic spa and an amazing farm to table restaurant. They sell crafts made by autistic children and water that raises money to build water pumps in Africa. If I'd stayed longer I could have even made use of thier loaner bikes to explore more of the city.
The Inspira is exactly my kind of hotel, good for the planet and for me. Upon my return I indulged in some freshly made pumpkin gnocchi while looking at the beautifully handcrafted origami chandeliers made from recycled paper at thier restaurant Open Brasserie. No dinner in Portugal would be complete without wine. My fantastic server suggested a delicious red from the Douro Valley to compliment my meal. Everything was just perfect, even with only my own company as my date.
After dinner I slipped into the spa for a soak in the hot tub and a relaxing steam before heading off to slumber in my Feng shui inspired room.
All in all, even though my stay in Lisbon was nowhere near long enough, it was the perfect ending to a perfect trip in Portugal.
Thanks for reading!
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