Unexpectedly, I fell in love with Lisbon hard this time around. This trip has already opened up my eyes to so many new things and changed my mindset a lot, but one change that I didn’t expect was how incredibly different my experience and impression of a place can be, even just one year since the last time I visited. My opinion of Lisbon differed greatly this time based on so many external and internal factors – I was with the squad and a great group of Busabouters instead of solo; I already knew the basics of the city’s history and orientation; the weather wasn’t so excruciatingly hot; and I had grown, done and learnt so much in the last year.
Carlos’ Lisbon Adventure
One of the best parts about meeting new people on Busabout is that your circle isn’t limited to other passengers – some of my favourite memories and most treasured friendships were built with guides and drivers. When we arrived in Lisbon, we were lucky that our Portuguese driver, Carlos, took us out for a personalised little tour of the city. Our first stop was for a pastel de nata, which is a dangerously delicious dessert, served hot with its flakey, buttery pastry holding in the gooey custard. They are only €1 each and that is both a blessing and a curse, as I personally ended up eating four in each sitting… oops! Our next stop was Ginginha do Carmo, a hole-in-the-wall bar, where you can order a local sour cherry liqueur served in a chocolate shot glass. I sat out on that one, but Faith assured me it was good!
Just down the road, we couldn’t walk past The Fantastic World of Sardines, a quirky store where you can buy Portugal’s favourite salty seafood treat in tins with your birth year on it (don’t worry, the sardines inside aren’t from that particular year, though that was my first impression!). We exited the rows of colourful tins, passed the pastel column buildings and entered the black and white pavement of the downtown area. The monochrome mosaic of tiles beneath our feet and the wide streets lined with yellow facades eventually came to the wide Commerce Square, with its majestic statue of King José I In the centre, who was the King of Portugal in 1755, when an earthquake destroyed the majority of Lisbon and it had to be rebuilt from scratch. We watched the sun set from the farthest side of the square that backs onto the water, before all of us headed to a little restaurant with cheap local food that Carlos recommended. What a night!
Cinderella Moments In Sintra
I didn’t mind the early start the next morning, as I was super excited for the day trip to Sintra with Sandeman’s New Europe. I had heard such wonderful things about this beautiful area, just 40 minutes outside of Lisbon, that I couldn’t wait to explore and learn about it for myself. Sintra is like a fairytale place, with pastel coloured mansions dotting the green mountains, and adorable shops, restaurants and bakeries throughout the central area. Our first stop of the tour was at the Town Hall for some background on Sintra, which has always predominately been a playground for the wealthy. We then had a rundown on its noble connections at the Sintra National Palace, before tasting some traditional pastries. The overwhelmingly sweet travesseiro is a roll of puff pastry, filled with egg yolk, sugar and almond, with more sugar on top; while the milder queijadas de Sintra is a small cup of pastry filled with a local type of unsalted cottage cheese and cinnamon – both will satisfy any sweet tooth!
After an informative walking tour around the highlights of the town, we headed to Quinta da Regaleira, a beautifully decorated residence built in the late 20th century by a wealthy man who was thought to be involved in alchemy and freemasonry. Throughout the gardens, there are towers, wells, caves, hidden passageways and statues, and each were built to signify a process of self enlightenment or a biblical or mythological story. We got to walk down the spiral staircase of an inverted tower (often called a well), through the tunnels underneath and out through the stepping stones of the waterfall, which was thought to have been used as an initiation test for Freemasons (except they had to find their way out in the dark with a blindfold on). After wandering further through the gardens and checking out the interior of the house, the squad and I went back to town for a bite to eat before Faith and I headed to the Pena Palace.
After finding a tuk-tuk in town that sped us dubiously up the winding, steep mountain road, we finally reached the entrance, where we walked up to the incredible Pena Palace. This place is every bit as magnificent as it looks from a distance (or on Instagram), and Faith and I spent about 2 hours exploring it and capturing as many pictures as we could. With beautiful views on either side, of Sintra and the ocean, it was truly a highlight of the trip. After the gates began to shut, we got a taxi to the train station and began our trip back to Lisbon, feeling like princesses after our time at the yellow and red fairytale palace. Back in the city, we decided to get our heart rates up and tackle all of the stairs to São Jorge Castle to watch the sunset, only to find it was closed one we ran up there. Instead we found a beautiful free balcony to watch the sun set over the terracotta rooftops, before heading to the Time Out Market, where we ate an awesome dinner to fuel our final day of adventures.
The Last Lisbon Adventure – Belem
We couldn’t possibly cover everything that Lisbon has to offer in three nights, but Faith and I got a head start by heading to Belem, aiming to see the Belem Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, and try the famous pasteis de Belem custard tarts from the original bakery that started making them after acquiring the recipe from the nearby monks. When I was here last year, the weather had been so unbearably hot that I’d spent most of the day in the Modern Art Gallery’s air conditioning, so I was excited to see more of this side of Lisbon. After seeing the landmarks, Faith and I walked back past the iconic red 25 de Abril Bridge, giving Faith flashbacks of San Fransisco. As we wandered home, we had a “treat yo’ self” dinner at a restaurant on the marina, before heading back to the hostel. We didn’t have time to revisit some of my favourite sunset spots from last year (the Miradouro das Portas do Sol deck overlooking Alfama was my pick); the charming Alfama region; or Pink Street, the infamous party hotspot, but what we’d seen was enough to make us absolutely love Lisbon (and its incredible custard pastries).
The Recommended Hostel: Hans Brinker Hostel
Despite its self touted reputation as being the “worst hostel chain in Europe”, Hans Brinker Lisbon is actually awesome. Located only a short walk to the train station and a 20 minute walk from the city centre, you won’t miss a thing. In the hostel itself, it has a popping bar with cheap drinks, and bustling indoor and outdoor areas for socialising, no matter what the weather is like. At the far corner of the huge outdoor space, there is even a little pool to dip in when you’ve had too many beers on the picnic tables and need to cool off. With a reasonable buffet breakfast and clean, modern rooms, this place ticks all the boxes.