Portugal

Sintra, the land of Portuguese Castles

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Just a short train ride from Lisbon, the charming town of Sintra makes for a perfect day trip and a great way to escape the hustle-bustle of the city. Sintra itself is a small, charming little town but the main highlights are the castles in which the town and surrounding area is literally filled! It's like being in a fairytale and you don't even have to venture too far to experience it. If you've rented a car, the drive from Lisbon is only about 30min or it is about 45min by train. Just take the Linha de Sintra from Lisboa Rossio station to the end of the line which is Sintra station and you're there. Regardless of how you get there, it is a must see, so plan accordingly! Here is what you should see and do while you're there:

Palácio da Pena - A colorful palace adorned with azulejos and perched on a hill with wonderful views. Highly recommend purchasing tickets to see this amazing place. Perhaps THE highlight in all of Sintra and my absolute favorite.

Castelo dos Mouros - A moorish-style fortress with views of the sea. Also a popular one to visit and you feel like you've taken a step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor. 

Parque das Merendas - A lovely park full of trails through what feels like an enchanted forest. Forego the taxi to Pena Palace or the Moorish Castle and instead take these trails. Quite the little workout since it is mostly going uphill but not too rigorous. Enter the park from the street called Estrada da Pena.

Sintra Town - A charming little place with cobblestone streets and cute shops, restaurants and cafes. From the train station, about a 7-10min walk. Can get pretty lively and worth a stroll through. 

Queijadas da Sapa - What's a day in Portugal without having the local pastry? Lisbon may have pasteis de nata, but Sintra has these delectable cheesecake-like tarts. You can't go wrong with the traditional and almond flavors from Fabrica das Verdadeiras so be sure to stop in.

A full day in Sintra should be sufficient to see the highlights but if you want to see more than 2 castles, I'd recommend staying overnight in the lux but surprisingly moderately priced Ritz Carlton Penha Longa Resort located in an old royal monastery just outside town in the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. Boa viagem!

The town of Sintra

The town of Sintra

City Hall of Sintra

City Hall of Sintra

Fonte dos Mouros

Fonte dos Mouros

Entrance

Entrance

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

The walk up to Pena Palace via Parque das Merendas

The walk up to Pena Palace via Parque das Merendas

Palácio da Pena

Palácio da Pena

View from Pena Palace...the clouds are crazy!

View from Pena Palace...the clouds are crazy!

Exploring the grounds of Pena Palace

Exploring the grounds of Pena Palace

Parque das Merendas

Parque das Merendas

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Path to the Palace

Path to the Palace

Entrance to Pena Palace...crazy detail!

Entrance to Pena Palace...crazy detail!

Azulejos & Amazing Views in Lisboa

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My first impression of Lisbon, Portugal's capital, was that I've been to this city before even though I hadn't. The bridge looked familiar, the trolley cars going up the steep hills, the morning fog....San Francisco! Yes, that's it, this city is the Portuguese version of San Fran! Technically the bridge was constructed by the same people who designed the Bay Bridge (not Golden Gate) but the paint color on this bridge going across the Tagus, known as the 25 de Abril Bridge or simply the Tagus Bridge, is the same color as the Golden Gate making its resemblance uncanny. 

the Tagus Bridge

the Tagus Bridge

In addition to its San Fran like beauty, Lisbon gets some of its unique flair from the many buildings adorned with stunning tiles (azulejos). In fact most of my photos from this city are of azulejos and when I wasn't fixated on the tiles, I was capturing the breathtaking views from all the many hilltops (my butt and thighs were barking this entire trip, BTW). There is so much eye candy here, a photographer's dream!

Getting to Lisbon is super easy from the east coast and Portugal's national airline TAP makes a visit to this city quite enticing with its free stopover program. Since Lisbon is the airline's hub, travelers en route to Europe with TAP will naturally stop in Lisbon and have the option to stay up to 3 days to explore what the city has to offer free of charge before continuing on. Seriously, it's great for us travelers and great for the country's tourism. A true win-win!

Ready to pack those bags? If you're not convinced yet, then keep on reading about this lovely city! 

Praça Rossio

Praça Rossio

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Go for a stroll through the central Baixa district (and do a little shopping if the wallet permits) to get your bearings. Start at the northern end in the big square known as Praça Rossio and walk south towards the river ending at the impressive, scenic Praça do Comércio.

Praça do Comércio

Praça do Comércio

Venture into the elegant Chiado district and stop in Praça Luís de Camões for a coffee and Portuguese pastry. Café A Brasileira is one of the city's oldest, grandest cafés perfect for a caffeine fix with some people watching. But the highlight of this quaint square is Manteigaria for its pastéis de nata (amazing Portuguese custard pastries and I don't even really like custard). Usually a line out the door but worth the wait. Don't forget to sprinkle some cinnamon and powdered sugar on top!

Praça Luís de Camões

Praça Luís de Camões

Forget a guided tour and instead take a nostalgic ride on the yellow Tram 28. Riders are in for a treat as the tramcar screeches and rattles through the narrow streets of the city. Perfect for when your legs need a rest from all the hills! 

Visit the city's oldest neighborhood, the Alfama & take in the view from Castelo de São Jorge. You can either reach this neighborhood on foot (be prepared to walk uphill) or hop on Tram 28 (above) at either the Chiado stop or the Rua da Conceição stop in southern Baixa. Get off at Portas do Sol and the castle is a short walk (uphill). After your visit make your way down the hill through the narrow charming side streets and get your camera ready.

The view from Castelo de São Jorge, with the bridge in the distance

The view from Castelo de São Jorge, with the bridge in the distance

Admire the gorgeous views from various viewpoints (miradouros) throughout the city. Brave the super tall Elevador de Santa Justa (which looks like an old-school elevator, but outdoors) or take the yellow funicular a.k.a. Elevador da Bica to the top for views from the Miradouro de Santa Caterina. Either way, you won't be disappointed!

Experience the beautiful melancholy music native to this city known as fado at A Tasca do Chico. Located in the hip Bairro Alto neighborhood, which is full of nightlife, and often a wait to get in but worth it. While you're there order the caldo verde (Portuguese kale) soup, which was quite yummy. Note that the entire bar falls completely silent while the performers sing their tune but there are frequent breaks to talk about how amazing they are.

Beautiful façade of azulejos

Beautiful façade of azulejos

Do some souvenir shopping at Conserveira de Lisboa. This shop caters to the tinned-fish lovers in your life. Don't know any? Well that's your/their loss because these little tins actually make some tasty snacks alongside a crusty loaf of bread. The labels are super artsy and fun and the employees do a wonderful job wrapping them up in parchment paper & baker's twine.

Warm up and take a shot of Portuguese sour cherry liqueur called ginjinha at A Ginjinha. Join the locals as they congregate here after a long day at the office. If you're brave, eat the cherry on the bottom! 

the Baixa district at sunset

the Baixa district at sunset

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Cantinho do Avillez for amazing food in a cozy, upscale, trendy setting. Rezzies needed. For a little more casual, opt for Bairro do Avillez by the same chef. Specifically request to sit out back in the patio. It's lovely!

Pharmacia for yummy small plates in a quirky, fun and charming space. As the name suggests, this place has a medicinal theme incorporating a bit of the building's history as a pharmacy. Great views from this area and there is an outdoor patio for when it's nice out.

Sea Me for seafood in an upscale atmosphere. Perfect for bubbly and oysters.

Cervejaria Ramiro for seafood in a casual locals' spot.

Mercado da Ribeira for a gourmet lunch in a large indoor marketplace. The market is huge and has many great options for casual dining or with sit-down service. I recommend O Prego da Peixaria for a prego (Portuguese steak) sandwich.

Yao Pressed Juicery for when you've had too many pasteis de nata. This tiny little place makes their own cold-pressed, organic juices, smoothies & mylks and each one we tried was super fresh and tasty.

Duque Brewpub for great craft beers in the buzzing Bairro Alto neighborhood. Get a flight.

Quimera Brewpub for craft beer in a super cool space that used to be an old stagecoach tunnel. Located a little outside the city center, in the Estrela neighborhood so you will need to hop in a taxi but it's a cheap ride.

Elevador da Bica

Elevador da Bica

Fresh, cold-pressed juices

Fresh, cold-pressed juices

Cobblestone streets

Cobblestone streets

WHERE TO STAY

Memmo Alfama or Santiago de Alfama for charming, boutique properties in the city's oldest neighborhood.

Bairro Alto Hotel to be a little closer to the action without losing the lux boutique feel.

Also to note is that Airbnb is a great option in this city. Many offer private terraces with outstanding views of the river. Specifically look for one in the trendy Bairro Alto neighborhood or next door in the sophisticated Chiado neighborhood. 

Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature a place out of a fairytale that makes a great day trip from Lisbon. As always, obrigada for reading. Bom dia!

Colorful buildings

Colorful buildings

Azulejos in the Alfama

Azulejos in the Alfama

Windy roads in the Alfama

Windy roads in the Alfama

Lisboeta streets

Lisboeta streets

Praça do Comércio getting ready for Christmas

Praça do Comércio getting ready for Christmas