Tag Archives: Lisboa

Sintra: Medieval Portugal

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Kevin and I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for a few days in late-September, and we took a day-trip to visit Sintra. Since we spent an entire day, and this is a popular option for folks visiting Lisbon, I made Sintra it’s own post. To fill you in if you didn’t read about Lisbon, the temperature was hot and everything was crowded. We were surprised because we thought travel at the end of September would be ideal (kids back in school, European holidays over, etc.), but I guess a lot of other travelers had the same idea!) Generally, Portugal has really warm summers, so I’d advise going in late-fall or early-spring if traveling in the heat isn’t your cup of tea.

Sintra is a medieval city that is a 40-45-minute train ride from Lisbon and costs about 5 Euro round-trip. Two train lines will get you there: Oriente-Sintra and the Rossio-Sintra. Since this is a city train, you can’t pre-purchase your tickets. Once you get off the train, be prepared, like in Lisbon, to walk up-hill. A lot. There is a bus system in Sintra to take tourists to the visitor sites, but also be prepared to wait in long lines for the bus. Even though we fought the heat and lines (I swear, I don’t usually complain this much!), Sintra is definitely a worthwhile day-trip from Lisbon if you’re already there.

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Sintra from above

The cool part about Sintra is, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so there is a lot of history. We did 3 big things on our day in Sintra:

  • National Palace: If we’re being honest, I’d skip this. We arrived pretty early in the day and still had to wait in line quite a while for tickets. Plus once we got in, we were crammed into the palace rooms like sardines. It is tempting to do this first because after getting off the train and into the heart of Sintra, it seems to be the most obvious thing to do. If you go in off-season and the lines are short, this would be a good option. My favorite part was the elaborate ceilings in all of the rooms!

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  • Moorish Castle: Even though a lot of walking was involved, a lot of it was in the shade (hallelujah!). We got some amazing photographs and enjoyed sitting and looking at the incredible view.

 

  • Pena Palace: The colors of the palace and overall experience were awesome. Trust me on this one: pay for the bus to take you up and down. Seriously. It is worth a few bucks.

 

For one final tip: most of the food is down in the city (not much to eat at the sites), so be sure to grab some lunch before heading up to the Moorish castle and Pena Palace!

Lisbon, The City of Seven Hills

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For the last several years, I have been hearing a buzz about Portugal. Kevin and I finally decided to take a trip there in early fall. While there were a lot of things I loved about Portugal, I wouldn’t put it in my “Top 10.” Overall I would recommend Lisbon (known by Europeans as Lisboa) and Sintra to someone who is a novice European traveler (see my next post to learn more about Sintra). Like Prague, it is easy for Americans to get around in Lisbon because most speak English.

Like I mentioned, my husband and I went in late September, but it was HOT in Lisbon. Most businesses/restaurants do not have air conditioning (our hotel did, thank goodness), so traveling in the off-season is advised.  When we arrived, all of the taxis were on strike, so we had to take the metro from the airport to the nearest station and lug our suitcases about 20+ minutes up cobblestone roads in 90 degree heat. Normally we don’t mind walking/taking public transport and we rarely get taxis when we travel, but with luggage, walking to our hotel was a challenge. We stayed at the Casa Das Janelas Com Vista, a boutique hotel running about $180 a night. I would certainly recommend the hotel for those who like to walk a lot and want a neighborhood feel. For those who have read my other blog posts, you know that my husband and I prefer boutique hotels because they are often quieter and we feel like we get a more local experience. My favorite part about our hotel in Lisbon (other than the A/C!) was the breakfast area. It was an eclectic mix of furniture/dishes and had a great breakfast spread. The staff was also extremely helpful. The hotel was in the Barrio Alto district of Lisbon, a thriving bar and restaurant neighborhood. While there were some great views nearby and it was nice to be near a lot of restaurants at night, the mornings were dirty and smelly in the nightlife aftermath. Lisbon is known as the City of Seven Hills. When we booked our hotel, we were willing to be further from the metro to be in a cool neighborhood, but when the taxis are on strike (and no Uber), it is the City of Seven Million Hills. One cool feature of the area was the Ascensor da Bica funicular which could assuage the steep slopes of Lisbon (plus the street art was awesome).

Kevin and I spent the money to get the Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus (Gray Line), and I wouldn’t really recommend this in Lisbon during high season. We usually do this in all the big cities (for a day or two), and they are really convenient, but the taxis being on strike, the heat, and the wait-times made the experience irritating. Although without taxis, I’m not sure how else we would have gotten to these places!

I won’t tell you about all of the stops we made, but one of our favorites was the National Coach Museum which houses carriages/vehicles from the 17th-19th centuries. I had never heard of such a place, and it was a pleasant surprise! The building itself is in an old riding school, so the sense of place was unique. It was only about 6 Euro to get in and it was air-conditioned! Kids under 12 get in for free. We also enjoyed visiting Belem Tower and got some great pictures (see below). Belem Tower is a 16th century fortification right on the water. We waited in line, but it moved pretty quickly since it was nearing the end of the day.

One of our favorite spots to visit was a bar named…Bar (no mincing words, apparently) near our hotel. One of our favorite experiences in Lisbon was the opportunity to find a watering hole run by locals that we could chat with other people. We met the owner, John a native Lisbon-ite who loved quoting American action films (black t-shirt below), met a German couple on their honeymoon and an American-born Ukrainian woman, among others. We had to drink outside because it was too hot to stay indoors! If you ever travel, try to take the opportunity to meet people and strike up a conversation (this is very American of me, I know). Our international crew spent the night talking about politics, travel, and our interests. Isn’t that what travel is all about?

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Our next full day in Lisbon, Kevin and I went to the Jeronimos Monestary. We took some nice pictures, but the line was so long. If you want to do this, go first thing in the morning!

Then, we decided to ditch the Hop-On-Hop-Off and take a ferry to the Cristo Rei Statue. We actually had to take a ferry AND to a bus to get there, but it was a beautiful day, and the breeze near the water was glorious. It wasn’t crowded at all, so compared to our other experiences of waiting in line everywhere, it was so pleasant! If you are in Lisbon, do not miss this experience. The views of the statue and the water were breathtaking. To get there, you depart from Cais do Sodré ferry terminal and then take a short bus ride from the Cacilhas bus station. Cristo Rei, built in the 1950s, was created by the same artist who did Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janero (Portugal colonized Brazil many years ago, so this makes sense). You can pay 6 Euros to go all the way up into the statue, but we thought the views were fantastic at the bottom. By the way, the bridge below is NOT the Golden Gate…it’s the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge over the River Tagus.

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Our last night in Lisbon we stopped for a cocktail and had dinner at Lost In with an amazing view back in the Barrio Alto district. Of all the places we ate in Lisbon, this is the restaurant I would recommend (ask for outside or a spot with a view – WOWZA).

While the experience is Lisbon wasn’t as amazing as we expected or as life-changing as other places we’ve visited, it was definitely enjoyable and we have many great memories there. If you are a city-person, it is worth exploring – cheers!

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