There is absolutely no easy way to describe Portugal. It really does have everything any traveller could want. Spending just a little over a week in Lisbon & Sintra. I’ve gotten to see only a sliver its beauty. However, with so much to see in beautiful Portugal, it is important to be prepared for your trip and have a plan. Below are some tips based on my travel to Lisbon & Sintra.
On my first day of Lisbon I ventured out to see Belem as well as Jeronimos Monastery. It’s a good idea to visit both these sites on the same day as you can get combined discounted tickets to both venues for only 12 euros a person. A single ticket for Belem alone is 6 euros. The tickets however do not sell online and need to be purchased at either Jeronimos or Belem. Both of these venues are widely popular among tourists and you are thus guaranteed to wait in line for quite a bit in order to access either one. I waited approximately 1.5 hours to get into Belem. Built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour, Belem is an interesting sight. It’s beauty and historical significance leaves no room for question as to why it is classified a UNESCO World Heritage sight. One of the most interesting things I found when exploring the interior of Belem is that it’s basement used to serve as cells for political prisoners. Walking inside the tiny cells is a memorable experience sure to leave you with goose bumps.
An important thing to note when visiting Belem is that it is located right beside Confeitaria Nacional. Proudly marking itself as the café with the original recipe to the Pastel de Nata (from 1852), Confeitaria Nacional is quite popular among tourists. Personally I’m not a huge fan of Pastel de Nata but of course, if you’re going to try one, you have to try it right from where it originated.
Next off was Jeronimos Monastery. The Monastery is a walking distance from Belem and quite easy to locate. You’ll find that most of the people you were with at Belem will actually walk straight to the Monastery afterwards. A single adult ticket to the Monastery is 7 euros but however is oh so worth it. The Monastery anything but short of magnificent with each single 32 meter high stone column carved in corals and sea monsters. Inside the monastery you’ll also find an exhibit detailing the history and timeline of it’s construction relevant to other major world wide events. It’s truly fascinating to see just how long ago the beautiful structure dates back to. The history of the monastery is also quite fascinating given that it was house to monks whose spiritual job was to pray for the king’s ( as well as his relatives’) souls.
Now for food. I absolutely love a good steak. Hence, after doing some searching about the best restaurants around the area, I decided I had to venture out to Café De Sao Bento. This was definitely one of the more expensive meals I had in Lisbon however the reviews I’ve read about the place told me it would be oh so worth it. People even claimed that local politicians love to stop by this place! So of course I had to try. One of the things I loved about the restaurant is that it is closed. The only way you can enter is if you ring the doorbell outside. Once you ring the doorbell, a waiter will open the door for you from the inside inviting you into the beautiful Victorian style restaurant. Now one of the things that Café De Sao Bento is known the most for is indeed their traditional steak covered in a cream sauce prepared to the same recipe for over 30 years. I personally loved the steak and the sauce however I definitely can’t say that this was my favourite restaurant of the trip. Especially given the price points, I’d say Lisbon has plenty of other restaurants that are worth a visit.
For day 2 I ventured off to Sintra. Getting to Sintra from Lisbon is actually quite easy. You can take a train from Rossio Station for around 4.50 euros per person (round trip). The train comes around every 30 minutes and the ride itself is about 40 minutes long. A lot of people will do a day trip in Sintra. With so much to see in Sintra however I decided to split my trip into 2 days. Even with two days however it’s still hard to cover all of the beauty of Sintra and not feel like you’re rushing. The great thing about Sintra however is that there are plenty of buses available that will take you from one main attraction to the next. There are three buses in particular that you should keep in mind – 435, 434 and 433. On the first day I took bus 434 which is called The Circuito da Pena Route. This bus will stop at the Moors as well as the Pena Palace and its gardens. The first stop is the Castle of the Moors.
The entrance fee for the Castle of the Moors is 7.50 euros. While a little expensive if taking your family, this is definitely one of the most beautiful sights of Sintra and is worth visiting. The fortification built around the 10th century is located right at the top of the Sintra hills and provides an incredible view of the landscape, the Sintra Town, the Pena Palace the Atlantic Ocean and the never ending hills. When you climb up the walls of the Moors you truly do feel like you’re leaving the world behind. It becomes just you, the castle and the walls, and it is a magnificent feeling. With all other top sights in Lisbon and Sintra being quite busy and touristy, the Moors are a perfect spot to sit down and just appreciate the beauty around you.
The next place I visited on Day 2 is the Pena Palace. Pena was probably the one location I was most excited to visit because it is often described as “a true Disney castle”. Pena truly is a childhood fantasy come true with all of its bold colours – each single column and face of the castle painted a bright red, yellow or blue. However as you begin to explore the castle you’ll find that it goes far beyond the colours, and that each single arc features intricate mosaic work and carvings too beautiful to describe. While the inside of the castle is also fascinating and it is interesting to see the bedrooms and the living rooms of the kings and queens, the most beautiful sights are located right outside the Palace. The Palace is constructed in such a way as to be visible from any point within the park which consists of over five hundred different types of trees originating from across the world. Hours can be spent wondering the romantic gardens.
For more about my travel to Lisbon & Sintra, look out for Part II of the guide!