Almost four years ago, in 2008, I headed to Portugal – armed with just a point and shoot and five months before my big sabbatical “that started it all“. A friend and I spent a few days in Lisbon, followed by a couple of days in Albufeira (Algarve region) for some beach time. Portugal is a place I hope to revisit – if only to walk those hilly cobblestone alleys again, sip on red wine, devour a pastel de nata every morning and some delicious (cheap!) seafood at night to sound of fado music. And I can’t not mention the beaches and that rugged coastline. Or the fact that Portuguese men are oh-so easy on the eyes (just throwing it out there for the single people!). Portugal is affordable and has a friendly, laid-back and almost “tropical” vibe.
Here’s more on what you should do and see, and some of my “old” images:
- Savor a “pastel de nata” at Pasteis de Belem, a historic Portuguese pastry shop and cafe in the Belem district. The pastel de nata is a traditional Portuguese tart made of thick custard. Need I say more? (This is the first thing I did in Lisbon, straight from the airport and jet-lagged as can be!)
- Take a cruise on Lisbon’s Tejo River for a breathtaking view of Lisbon from the water. It’s a two-hour journey down the Lisbon coastline, highlighting off the city’s landmarks and history. Well worth it.
- Visit the Castle of Saint George (Castelo de Saõ Jorge) in the Alfama district. There’s an option to catch the Tram 28 up to the Castle — Lisbon’s cute vintage trams are actually a form of public transportation, and will remind you of San Francisco. Once up there, the views of Lisbon and of the river will have you snapping away.
- Stroll down Rua Augusta: Located off Praça do Comercio, Rua Augusta is a pedestrian street with independent shops, cafes and a fabulous ambiance. Grab some gelato or sit outdoors. You’ll find this area filled with locals.
- Spend an afternoon at the Parque de Nações: Built for “EXPO ’98” – a world exposition held in Lisbon – the area includes a park, an aquarium (the largest in Europe) and cable car rides. On the other end are more cafes and restaurants, most playing music.
- Walk through the Baixa/Chiado districts of Lisbon: The Baixa/Chiado neighborhoods have many cafes and shops, and this is where you’ll find Lisboetas enjoying their afternoons and weekends.
- Book dinner at an authentic Portuguese restaurant for some seafood and “fado”: Fado is a form of Portuguese music with melodious and mournful tones. The songs evoke “saudade” (or sentiment). Prepare to fall in love if you’re out on a date – even if you don’t understand the words.
- Dance at one of several African nightclubs that are open until dawn: A large community of African immigrants exists here, and they hail from Portugal’s former colonies like Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Angola. They have their own restaurants and nightclubs and the party goes on well into six in the morning. Just don’t head out until 2 am, the place will be empty. Ask around to find out which club is the current hotspot.
- Head south to the Algarve region to experience some beach and Portugal’s beautiful coastline: About forty-five minutes by plane from Lisbon is the Algarve region – beach town after beach town, each with its distinct character and framed by gorgeous cliffs and rock formations. Old Town Albufeira is ideal for a day or night out – with cobblestone alleys and waterfront restaurants, bars and shops. Villamoura is another good option for a day excursion – with a gorgeous marina and boardwalk. This is where you can catch a cruise to go up and down the Algarve coastline (a must-not miss).
- Last but not least, throw in some basic Portuguese and you’ll win fans fast (“obrigada” for thank you and “bom dia” for Good morning).