When people plan a Euro trip, there are some regular and expected names of cities, sights and monuments that keep cropping up: Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Munich, Rome, Venice, London, Prague. There is a formulaic itinerary in just about every new place; you visit the cathedral, historic centre, perhaps a museum or two and check some sights off the Bucket list. Eiffel tower check, Louvre check, eating a croissant in a cute cafe in Montmartre check that one too: “I’ve done Paris”. There are a few destinations which get less tourism than they deserve, but have something different to offer. Lisbon is definitely among the most underrated cities in Europe. As someone who has visited Rio, it was strangely familiar to step foot in the capital of the country that made Brazil the country it is today.
Here are some reasons you should check out Portugal’s capital city:
- Lisbon is one of the cheapest capital cities in Western Europe. If the super cheap Ryanair and Easyjet flights connecting the city to the United Kingdom weren’t enough, a (damn good) coffee will only set you back 50 cents in most bars in Lisbon. Food is relatively cheap, as is public transport. My friend and I made the most of our hard-earned pennies, flying to Faro instead of Lisbon as it was much cheaper for the outbound flight, and getting an overnight bus to the capital. This only cost around £15.
- Food is healthy, delicious and fresh. Veganism is surprisingly common in this Portuguese city, and the populace is becoming increasingly health/environmentally conscious. Though the supermarkets often have a less-than-appetising selection of goods, specialist stores and fresh produce markets will not disappoint. Portuguese cuisine focuses on simple, fresh ingredients, and is heavy in garlic. There are of course some less healthy delicacies which you may be tempted to try. Pastéis de Nata are on most traveler’s ‘must-try’ list, and locals love them too: An nutmeg flavoured, almost caramelised egg custard smothered in icing sugar and cinnamon, sitting in a crispy sweet pastry crust. Pastéis de Belém is a good place to try them, as it’s said they were invented here by nuns who needed to find a way to use up eggs.
3. Nature is a stone’s throw away from the city. Lisbon is surprisingly close to some beautiful coastlines, boasting long, white, sandy beaches and dramatic craggy cliffs. This was initially my reason for visiting Portugal, I figured it would make for an inexpensive climbing holiday. My friend and I easily found a local guy who knew all the best routes around through couchsurfing, and spent quite a few days glued to the rock. The exclusive views from the top made all the sweating and swearing worth it.
4. Lisbon is a photographer’s dream. Unfortunately I went there with my low-resolution phone camera and without a real story to tell, but Lisbon really is a photogenic city. The buildings are colourful and evade uniformity in their different shapes and sizes, sunlight is likely all year round, and in many parts of the town you can still find neighbourhoods where most, if not all people are dressed in black. The culture and traditions are still present and the streets are not dominated by ubiquitous brand names.
5. It’s easy to see Portugal outside of the capital. Not so far from Lisbon are many beautiful and historical sights, plus it’s super easy to travel around. Sintra makes for a very easy day excursion, reachable by train in just 40 minutes from Lisbon. Sintra is home to what was once the 14th century summer palace of the royal family, the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Up on the craggy hill and surrounded by pine forests you can find the 8th century Moorish Castle, from which you can get an awe-inspiring view of the Lisbon plains and Serra de Sintra mountain range. This hill is also perfect for those who love the great outdoors, boasting some of the best bouldering routes in Portugal.