I first fell in love with Portugal when I was 15 years old when a crazy teenage crush began on Manchester United Portuguese Striker Cristiano Ronaldo. However it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, 11 years later, that I would actually take my first trip to Portugal.
I was nervous on whether Portugal would live up to my teenage fantasy love and especially more so nervous because this was my first solo trip. Within 20 minutes of reaching my base, Lisbon Lounge Hostel, and getting my bearings of the city (insert standard tourist with a map here), it was clear my fears were dumbfounded & this trip would be everything I could have hoped for & even ended up exceeding those expectations.
There are two ways of touring Lisbon, by Tram (including the famous Tram 28) or by foot. One thing to understand is that Lisbon is actually a small city. When looking at the map it feels much bigger than it is & main attractions seem further away. One Portuguese friend told me is that Lisbon is small & it could be covered in one day. Throughout my trip there was wall to wall sunshine, so inside of spending money on tram fare & being packed like Portuguese sardines, I just walked around the many districts of Lisbon. Now one thing to understand is that Lisbon is made up of seven hills and the oldest district of Alfama is no mean feat. For someone like me, fit healthy 26 year old, there were some parts I was struggling with & this may be the benefit of taking a tram instead but either way the view at the top is worth it.
While the Alfama district is much more of an older vibe full of architecture & historical points, Barrio Alto on the opposite side of central Lisbon has a more younger hipster vibe popular with Fabo music and the once sketchy Pink street that was in the past considered to be Lisbon Red Light district but now is the top clubbing scene in Lisbon.
As a big foodie, Portugal has many great eats. I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve eaten the famous Pastel de Nata (Portuguse egg custard tart). I was urged not to try any of the tarts until I had tried it first at the place of origin Pasteis de Belem (after being given the ancient secret recipe from Mosteiro dos Jeronimos). This place gets very busy during the day time with queues snaking around the block so I came back early evening at around 7pm & there was no queues at all. After eating countless of Pastel de Nata all over Lisbon & other parts of Portugal, the best one is hands down at Pasteis de Belem in Belem district. The pastry is much more crispy & solid and the custard filling does not have too much of an eggy taste like some others I’ve tried.
Another great dish to try is Bacalhau (salted cod). Oh my word I could eat Bacalhau for the rest of my days & believe me I tried as much as I could while in Portugal. The best meal I had was in a small local family restaurant in Sintra with great company and views of the family land & Pena Palace in the distance. At this point time slowed down, I forgot all about my phone and the stresses of life and just enjoyed that moment.
I went through so many emotions on this trip, the main one being fear. Fear of being lonely going on my first solo travel, fear that no one would talk to me, fear of the fear being in a new different country. But I had never felt more safe, more social, more myself than I had in Portugal.
The love and kindness I felt and received from the locals in Lisbon and surrounding Portugal towns was immense. Everyone I met & spoke to was so eager to help, tell you about their city and country & all about the wonderful things that Portugal has to offer. And what a beautiful country it is.
Let me know if you’ve ever been to Lisbon or other parts of Portugal and what were your experiences.