Summer is a great time for many things — working, volunteering, and travel. The first two are great, but what I personally love doing the most is travelling. I was given the opportunity to travel to Lisbon for a short while earlier this summer. If you haven’t gone to a foreign country before, the whole experience might seem a bit intimidating. There are difficulties communicating if you don’t speak the language, and a lot of the time you won’t know anybody else except those you’re going with. My advice is: take any possible chance you can get to go abroad. The experiences you will have and the people you will meet will heavily outweigh any concerns you might have. To encourage you, I will give a peek into my experiences on my most recent vacation.
This is arguably one of the most important aspects of travel to take into account. Being adventurous and trying new foods in different locations is good, but do some research to see if the cuisine of your designation is to your taste. For example, you might have a hard time in Thailand if you can’t stand spicy food, or your options will be restricted if you go to Japan and have a burning hatred for seafood. These following observations are based on personal experience and do not necessarily encompass the whole of Portuguese cuisine: dishes with potatoes and fish are popular, as are pork and clams. What you will see on almost any street however, is a pastry shop selling Portuguese egg tarts. The most famous store (and allegedly the origin of the dessert) is Pastéis de Belém, located in the area of Belém. If you had to eat only one place’s take on the egg tart, definitely go to Pastéis de Belém.
Things to Do and Places to Go
Okay great, you decided that you like or at least want to try Portuguese cuisine. Next, it is essential to figure out if you would actually be into the tourist sites and places Portugal has to offer. Many of the most famous sites will be interesting to history and/or architecture buffs:
- Jerónimos Monastery
- Gulbenkian Museum
- Church of Saint Roch (home to the world’s most expensive chapel)
- Castle of St. George (climb the ramparts and take in views of the city, or sit in the gardens populated by peacocks)
If these don’t pique your interest, then the country’s beaches and the casino in Estoril (about an hour away by train) might be more your jam. Baixa, an area of central Lisbon, offers many pedestrian streets with cafes and shops. There are also many other day trips you can take: Sintra (with its fairytale-like Pena Palace) or Cascais. From either city you can easily reach Cabo da Roca, known for its dramatic seascape overlooking a cliff. It is also the most westernmost point of the European continent. I went to most of these attractions, but the very unique Pena Palace remains a favourite.
Assuming your housing isn’t already taken care of, you’ll want to be on the lookout for affordable yet safe and comfortable options, if you can swing it. I did not stay in one, but hostels can often be one such option. Many sites are available for booking your stay, including Hostel World. If cash isn’t an issue, you can try more general hotel websites like Expedia.
Times to Go
All right, so you’ve decided on Portugal as your destination. Granted you aren’t restricted by available days off or an otherwise tight schedule, you need to plan on what time of the year to go. I went during the first few weeks of June. There were benefits and downsides to this — the Feast of St. Anthony occurs on the 12th to the 14th of June, and the parade, streamers, festivals and celebrations are truly sights to behold. However, it was also uncomfortably hot on some days with temperatures in the low 30s. Try to visit during the breezy and not-too-hot seasons of Spring and Autumn.
And that’s it! The cities I visited were extremely welcoming and I absolutely enjoyed my time there. But as they say, all things must regrettably come to an end. As with all my travels, I found myself wishing I could go back — if you go to Portugal, be prepared to say goodbye.