Portugal is gaining in popularity though it still seems to be left off a lot of people’s European itineraries in favour of Spain.
But if you’re after a city with interesting attractions, cheap food and accommodation, and good nightlife then head to Lisbon.
While in Portugal, Porto and Lagos are also worth visiting if you have time.
Portugal is the cheapest country I’ve found on my European travels and Lisbon and nearby Sintra is fun to explore.
Towering above Lisbon is Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George’s Castle). The complex has been used as a military fortification and royal palace during its life, which dates back to the 11th century. The castle complex also includes a small archaeological museum and restaurant.
If you love walking along medieval castle walls, you will love this place. The walls are expansive and give good views of the city below.
You can walk up to the castle via the fascinating Alfama district (Lisbon’s oldest district) or take bus 37. It’s open from 9am. When I went, entry was A$13 (€8.50). There are also guided tours of the castle included in the ticket price daily at 1pm and 4pm.
On the way to and from the castle, check out Lisbon’s cathedral, built in 1150 on the site of an old mosque.
The Santa Engracia Church or National Pantheon is also worth visiting, as well as the Belem Tower. The Belem Tower is slightly outside the central Lisbon area but is accessible by bus or tram.
If you’re thirsty or hungry, head down to the waterfront of the Tagus River below the Alfama district, near the Santa Apolonia train station. This area has fairly recently been transformed into a trendy area full of bars and restaurants.
A promenade stretches along the river and lots of locals and tourists take a seat on the stairs along the riverside to have a drink or take in the setting sun.
Lisbon has many viewpoints (miradouros) spread throughout the city, including Miradouro De Santa Luzia – a balcony which has views over the river, Alfama district and the Pantheon. Tram 28 will take you here if you don’t want to walk up the steep hill. The nearby Miradoura das Portas do Sol has further views over the Alfama district, and Miradouro da Graça has views to the castle.
Some of the miradouros throughout the city can be accessed by Lisbon’s funicular railways. The Gloria Funicular will take you to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The funicular cost only a few euros for a return trip.
It’s hard to go wrong with a hostel in Lisbon. Most of their hostels get top marks in HostelWorld reviews so pick your accommodation based on the vibe or location you’re after.
I recommend Sunset Destination Hostel and Oasis Backpackers Mansion Lisbon. These two are located in different parts of the city – Sunset is near the Alfama District and Oasis is near the Baixa central downtown area of Lisbon.
If you’re going inside a lot of historical sites or using public transport a lot, you might consider getting the Lisboa Card offering discounted or free entry into a number of sites. You can also use the card on Lisbon public transport such as the metro, buses and trams. When I went, it was A$30 (€18.50) for 24 hours, A$50 (€31.50) for 48 hours and A$60 (€39) for 72 hours.
The metro is very efficient and easy to navigate in Lisbon. It’s a big city so you’ll find yourself catching it a few times.
From Lisbon, it’s an easy 45 minute train ride to the town of Sintra. The trains leave every hour from the Rossio train station near the Baixa district. Within a small area, Sintra has several major attractions which bring many a day-tripper from Lisbon.
You can walk into the centre from the train station in about 15 minutes and it’s a nice walk along wide footpaths. Your first stop should be the Quinta da Regaleira, a 10 minute walk from the centre. This was my favourite spot in Sintra because it was so unique.
The Quinta da Regaleira estate served as a summer residence for many years for a wealthy family, before it was sold to Carvalho Monteiro who added a range of buildings and gardens in various styles.
The unique gardens feature underground tunnels, a fascinating 27-metre well with a spiral stairway, grottoes, waterfall and towers.
The Regaleira Place is topped with an octagonal towers and gargoyles and has five floors.
Once back in Sintra’s centre, make your way up to Pena Place and Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). The 434 bus does a continuous loop to ferry people up to the castle and palace from the train station or town centre. Just look for the bus stops with the blue signs. You could also choose to take the hop on hop off bus around Sintra to reach the many sights.
The Pena Palace can only be described as a fairy-tale palace – it’s like nothing you’ve seen in real life with its artistic and vivid colour scheme.
The castle was built in the Romanticism style during the 1840s and 1850s, and was intended for the then owners as a summer residence. The palace was built from the ruins of a monastery, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.
The palace is open from 10am and costs A$18 (€11.50) to enter.
The Castelo dos Mouros is not far from the palace, and was built in the 9th century as a military fortress. Entry is A$10 (€6.50)
The Convent of the Capuchos is also a worthwhile stop. It’s a Franciscan monastery dating from 1560, and located a few kilometres outside the centre. It’s accessible by bus. Entry is A$8 (€5).
Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors.
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