After a difficult few months and a long winter, escaping to sunny Portugal sounded like the perfect therapy. My basic itinerary for this trip was to stay in Lisbon for 3 nights, Sintra for 2, finishing in Porto for 3. I started off strong, excited to bask in the sunshine, become acquainted with the people, and indulge in many custard based desserts.
Landing in Lisbon provided the magnificent view over the multi-coloured mosaic town I was expecting. On my first night here I met a cool Californian girl in my dorm and together we gathered a group at dinner. The dinner at Yes! Hostel is worth mentioning. Never have I had such a tasty 3 course meal, including an open bar, for just 1o euros! Plus it was such a pleasure to be served by the adorable and very talented in-house chef herself. After dinner, we moved on to the pub crawl and into Bairro-Alto nightlife.
I visited the Castle of St. Jorge, Belem Monastery and devoured many Pastel de Nata (custard tarts) while wandering the old town roads in Alfama. Then on my last night, I made sure to get amongst the locals in a Fado bar. Intimate and emotional is the best way I can describe this music, and a must experience for any first time visit.
My hopes were very high for this trip. Unfortunately, I had organised to spend my actual birthday in spectacular Sintra; the ideal location for a romantic getaway, not so much for celebrating a quarter century. It was pretty dam lonely to say the least, but also the reminder I needed that it’s up to me to make my own story and no matter how independent I like to be, I do actually need and enjoy the company of others. My accommodation here was the lovely tranquil Moonhill Hostel.
Until there were more people to meet, I decided to focus all my energy on conquering as many of Sintra’s natural and human-made wonders as possible. First was Cabo da Roca; you don’t get any further west in mainland Europe than this. The same day I made it to the top of the Castle of the Moors half an hour before closing, and Pena Palace the following morning, before departing for Porto around midday.
The moment I got out of the station in Porto I knew I was going to love this city. I make no exaggeration when I say this is my new favourite European city. I absolutely loved it here! Think riverfront promenade. Street dancers. Port houses. Grand bridges. Colour. Sunshine. Fashion. Food. Tiles. People. Beaches. Porto has it all. And all of it is wonderfully assembled over this sloping terrain, keeping things interesting, constantly curious.
My accommodation in Porto was the Garden House Hostel which I can recommend for it’s friendly staff, inviting decor and relaxed, yet sociable atmosphere. From here I explored the vibrant city centre, but mostly hung out with new friends from the hostel. Coming together on our last night in the street bars near the University of Porto, where J.K. Rowlings inspiration for Hogwarts prefect uniforms still wander the early hours.
Portugal has so much to offer. Don’t let the comparatively low tourism coverage put you off. Take your time here in the sun.