I cannot believe it has been almost two months that we stepped foot onto that KLM flight en-route to Lisbon!
If I am truly honest with myself, Portugal had never made into my ‘top places to visit’ list and if it wasn’t for the wedding of Jed and Lara that we were attending (which was magnificent) I don’t know when I would have actually ventured to this part of Europe.
Ummmmm – what was I thinking (or not thinking?!) It turned out to be one of the most amazing countries I have had the pleasure of visiting; one which I hope to visit again and again!
You are probably thinking “but this chick finds every place to be AMAZING” and although there may be a touch of truth to that, I found Portugal to be a fantastic surprise!
Sam’s recent post on her thoughts on turning 30 may have inspired me to hijack her ‘list’ idea for this post and decided to give you my twenty-something worth of highlights, snippets and some do’s and don’ts from our two week experience. (Thanks for the good idea, bru!)
1. Lisbon is an exquisite city which blends rich history with modern elements; small enough to explore on foot but big and interesting enough to be there for more than just a day or two.
2. Free walking tours are the best way to really see the city; our three hour tour of downtown Lisbon helped us understand so much about the history of the city. Did you know that almost the entire place was destroyed in one of the biggest earthquakes in 1775?
3. Belem is an area in the city where Vasco De Gama first set sail on his explorations. It really is stunning and is set on the banks of the Targus River. It is a great place to do one of the above mentioned walking tours BUT the only way to get to this part of the city is on the no. 28 Tram line which moves at a snail’s pace so if you are not careful, you will miss it – much like we did.
4. Missing our tour only meant one thing – queuing for pasteis de nata (custard tarts) at the very famous Pasteis de Belem bakery. Best. Pastries. Ever
5. Talking of pastries, expect to eat a minimum of around three a day in this fascinating country. You will not come back weighing the same, but it is totally worth it. There is literally a pastry shop on every single corner and all it takes is one sniff to be sold!
6. Bairro Alto – the tiniest area in Lisbon – contains over 250 bars, restaurants and hang-outs. Expect 2XL Mojitos, crazy salsa music and buying beer from a whole in the wall.
7. Dinner before 9:30pm is a NO-GO! The evening only really starts around that time and extends into the early hours of the morning.
8. Before being completely ripped off at the touristy restaurants, understand that no main meal should ever cost you more than 10 – 12 EUR. We did not know this until a local almost fainted when we told her how much we paid on our first night. #touristfail
9. Follow these rules when picking a restaurant: handwritten, Portuguese-only menu, very simple decor and rude staff – the food will be AMAZING. The formula is weird but it works.
10. If you want to tour central Portugal, try and make Lisbon your hub. Most hotels have a baggage storage facility so it will make travelling to the surrounding cities a lot easier. We did not do this. Steph was my baggage storing facility (the poor man carried my luggage EVERYWHERE)
11. If you do travel from city to city, the transport systems are first class; the buses are very reasonable, clean and efficient.
12. Even the inner city transport in Lisbon is superb – the metros are clean and easy to navigate. It is also such an exciting way to learn your way around the city.
13. On a whole, the prices in Portugal are far more reasonable than anywhere else I have visited in Europe.
14. Peri-peri chicken is not actually that peri-peri.
15. The locals consider ‘Gin and Tonic’ a cocktail – they are served in the most beautiful (huge) glasses and are the perfect drink on a hot day. We had too many to count!
16. The Algarve region of Portugal is a feast for the eyes of anyone who appreciates a beautiful coastline. Our bride and groom hosts spoilt us with a catamaran boat cruise for a few hours which was a definite highlight and an absolute MUST DO if you are in the area. There is an indescribable feeling that comes over you when jumping off a boat for a mid-sea swim!
17. And if you do make it to this southern coastline, Vilamoura and Albufeira are the definite party spots of the area!
18. It really is a country that prides itself on seafood. Never-ending supply of prawns, clams, oysters – the works! I am a seafood girl, but I was even taken aback by some of the ‘interesting’ ways in which the squid was served. Eeek.
19. Portuguese wines are a must! They are much lighter than SA wines, but they are the best compliment to a traditional meal.
20. Speaking of traditional meals, make sure you get advice from the locals. We were sent to the most authentic, ‘mamma and papa’ restaurant for lunch in Sintra. Beef in a creamy mushroom and wine sauce is a local favorite – served with a carafe of light red wine. OMG I’m drooling as I type.
21. Beautiful Sintra, a UNESCO site, is home to a Moor’s castle dating back to the 8th century, the most extraordinary and lavish palaces and the western-most point of Europe! Take something warm though – when our hop on-hop off bus left us behind at Cabo de Roca, we froze and the only thing to eat was Ice-cream! Go figure.
22. Evora is a magical, must-see town enclosed within a medieval wall. It contains a vast amount of Roman, Moorish and Portuguese history. Also, it houses the eerie but interesting bone chapel decorated with human bones.
23. You will come back wanting to decorate everything in gorgeous Portuguese tiles; these tiles are rich, colorful and are a true symbol of the country.
24. The best piece of advice that we were given by a local was to get lost in every city we visited. We tried to adhere to that as best we could and it led to many magical moments that I will remember forever.
25. Ditch the heels; cobbled streets make an appearance everywhere. My Superga’s were my best friend.
25. Try not mix Spanish and Portuguese. There were a few times when I got my ‘obrigados’ and ‘gracias’ mixed up and I didn’t get very friendly looks.
26. No matter the coastal town, a fartura (traditional Portuguese doughnut) at midnight on the beach promenade is a thing. It has to be done.
27. Each city or town we visited was alive with laughter, music, food, wine and history. Expect to find beauty in the simplicity and authenticity of everyday living.
Portugal, to me, is vastly underrated. I feel blessed that we got to experience it sooner than later – it is a place I would choose to visit many times over and a place I would highly recommend to any interested traveler.
We did have the help of a few very special people and their pieces of advice to guide us along the way.
I am not sure if my descriptions and photos do enough justice to this vibrant country but I hope this post may have enticed you to give Portugal a visit!