My mom and I fell in love with Portugal all over again this weekend on a trip to the capital to meet one of her friends from home. We thought maybe we just loved the beaches from our Labor Day Weekend trip to Lagos, but traveling in Lisbon reminded us just how underrated Portugal really is.
The scenery is stunning and so different than Germany, the food is so fresh and delicious, but the people are really what puts it at the top of my list of favorite countries I’ve visited. They are quite possibly the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Our first night, Mom and I had just landed and we met our friend for dinner at a charming little seafood restaurant, where the owner took the time to explain all of their dishes to us and she seemed genuinely honored to have us dining at her restaurant. Shop owners were equally welcoming and we even had nice conversations with our Uber drivers. Above all, I’ve never been anywhere where such a large majority of the people speak good English and are happy to talk to you even if you don’t speak Portuguese, which makes me feel relaxed and less like I’m an obnoxious tourist. Although Germans are generally nice to us, they don’t show that level of enthusiasm when speaking English.
We really only had one day to explore the city because we were going to spend our Sunday on a day trip to Sintra. We were supposed to have Friday and Saturday to sightsee but our flight on Friday got changed from the early morning to the late afternoon. The things that stuck out to me the most were 1.) the hills 2.) the colorful buildings and 3.) the patterns in the sidewalks and plazas. I can’t say that walking the streets was all that pleasant because on so many of them we were either walking straight up or straight down, but the beautiful architecture and intricate stone patterns of the paths did make up for it a little.
One day definitely wasn’t enough to see all the sights, but we crammed in as much as we could. We started with taking the Santa Justa Lift to an observation deck with 360-degree views of red-roofed houses and all the major icons, like the city’s oldest cathedral, called the Sé, and São Jorge Castle. In the evening we got even better views after someone recommended we go to the castle for sunset. We sat within the castle walls overlooking the city and drank wine we bought from a little stand called “Wine with a View” as the sun retreated behind the iconic 25 de Abril bridge. One of the coolest things about Lisbon is that they took advantage of all the hills to build tons of lookout points with views of every part of the city.
On our second day, we took a guided tour to the towns of Sintra and Cascais. Sintra had this super cool Moorish-style palace (Pena Palace) at the top of a mountain. For me it was particularly interesting seeing a castle in a totally different style of architecture than the ones I see in Germany. We had some time to walk around the small town of Sintra before heading to lunch, where I had octopus in garlic and olive oil. I love seafood, but I don’t eat it very often because it’s hard to find it fresh, so in Portugal, I knew I had to go all in, and as unappetizing as it looked to have tentacles on my plate, it was the perfect lunch.
Shortly after lunch, our guide drove us down winding cliffside roads to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe. The water and cliffs were beautiful, but it was the windiest place I’ve ever been in my life. I have never felt like wind could be strong enough to blow me over until that moment, and I was concerned to even take my phone out for pictures because I thought it would blow right out of my hands. Needless to say that was a quick stop. Our last stop was in the beach town of Cascais, which is conveniently close to Lisbon, something to keep in mind if I feel like going back in the summer. As we drove back, we could see the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean, a perfect end to our trip.
I miss Portugal already. I miss friendly people. I can still taste the amazing food. It’s probably the sunniest place in Europe (as you can tell from the pictures) and Germany has been dark and cloudy ever since we got back. But I should probably get over that quickly because I leave tomorrow morning for a 5-day trip to Scotland, a complete change of scenery but exciting nevertheless.