Reasons why Portugal is so popular
Portugal was once an ancient kingdom with hilltop castles and walled towns, almost akin to a setting in Game of Thrones. One of the most memorable things when I first visited was how friendly and open the locals were, even more so if you were a dedicated football fan.
The country is made up of high mountains and deep valleys with stone-built villages. In colonial times, Portugal had former colonies in Africa, Asia and most commonly known, Brazil.
Looking around Lisbon
Arriving in Lisbon to a warm and sunny climate got me in the mode of exploration. I didn’t realise how close the city was to the golden beaches and excellent swimming spots, but I decided to put that in the backburner until later on.
First I wanted to see the Castelo de Sao Jorge, a rediscovered castle in the early 20th century during an excavation. The 1000-year-old castle is now a national monument and an exciting place to learn about the city’s history. Another historic landmark I had time to check out was the Torre de Belem, built sometime in the 16th century to protect the city from the sea. The tower is frequently a hotspot for tourists to take snaps due to its dramatic location.
There’s a heap of other interesting places I visited afterwards, most notably the Pharmacy museum which showcases 5000 years’ worth of medicine and the Jeronimos Monastery (a national monument and UNESCO World Heritage site).
After much sightseeing, I headed to the main square in the city, Praça do Comércio, an entertaining place with restaurants on both sides. I tried fish cakes and fresh cod though it came smoked and cured too. For dessert, I had a custard tart which was so good that I had two more. Hahaha!
Another great spot for grabbing grub is at Alfama. Here you can listen to traditional Portuguese music known as Fado. After gaining some newfound energy, it was time for a bit of shopping, and there is nothing I enjoy more than a flea market. Feira da Ladra aka flea market was located in Alfama coincidently. It had loads of 80s memorabilia as well as artisan crafts and funky clothes.
I took a tram around the city because it was easier than walking up all the steep hills. I decided to end the evening in a car park. Park Bar isn’t the most glamorous places in the city, but a friend recommended it since it’s a quirky place to have a drink and you get a great view of the town as the sun goes down. Another unusual location is the Pavilhão Chinês which is a part pub, part museum and a load of junk inside too. There is loads of random objects and art on the walls, but I liked it.
Frolicking around in Faro
Faro is the largest city in Southern Portugal and lies next to the coast, overlooking the incredible lagoons of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. I discovered the city to have a wealth of historic buildings dating back to the 16-17th century. The city is one that flourishes on lively locals and its maritime heritage.
The first thing I did was go to the compact Old Town which was encircled in medieval walls originating from Roman rule. There were many orange trees planted around which combined with the cobbled streets. It felt like I was taking a step back in time. After a little bit of walking, I came across the chunky cathedral, and nearby was the Bishops’ palace (though this wasn’t open to the public).
I later found out that the land train or also known as tourist train was a novel way to discover Faro as it circles all over the city, giving glimpses into different areas. Walking around though made me appreciate the climate and scenic routes in every corner, I wanted to get lost.
The Ria Formosa nature reserve is a park that is full of lagoons, marshlands, islets and everything else you might envision in a Disney movie. I opted for a cruise to see more of the natural and protected ecosystem. I saw flamingos and spoonbills, and the vessel stopped on a desert island (Ilha Deserta). The island had a restaurant which was surrounded by a sandy beach, and the lunch was excellent. I think I saw a chameleon while I was walking out but I’m not too sure.
In the evening I headed to Milreu, recommended by a local I met at the restaurant. The Roman site was estimated to have been founded as far back as 1st or 2nd century AD. Built around a courtyard, the owner was someone with prominent wealth and power. There was a range of interesting marble busts that I took a moment to admire.
A few days in Porto
Spending a few days in Porto would barely scratch the surface with all the exciting things to see and do. Porto is a lively city with so much going on, and yet it is the kind of place where you can find solace and peace.
As I’m an avid reader, I heard about Livraria Lello. The bookstore is one of JK Rowling’s favourite places to visit when she is in the city. The bookstore was impeccable and has been open since 1906. There is even a cover charge to enter. After buying a book, I jetted across the street where there was a street full of cafes to unwind in.
The picturesque city is known for its beautiful buildings, streets and even homes made with azulejo tiles. It was hard to miss. No matter where I walked around, I noticed many locals having picnics on terraced gardens. It looked like something I would enjoy if I weren’t on my own. Leah, I wish you had been there ;( Hahaha!
To get a great view of the city, I made my way to the Dom Luís I Bridge which was built in the 19th century. It’s one of the city’s most iconic landmarks (though if you are afraid of heights, I wouldn’t recommend it).
Porto is famous for its wine and in particular, port. I took a detour to a few wine cellars for a few tasting samples. To me, Graham’s Port Lodge had the best wine available.
In the evening it was time to head to the beach for a sunset. I had procured a few treats nearby to accompany the experience. When it got dark, I was in the mood for a drink and headed to the Ribeira Square where there were cafés and restaurants everywhere to accommodate me. I sat outside on a terrace with a glass of port and did a little people watching.
My Portugal trip was excellent. As always, I love to make a couple of new friends through Couchsurfing and InterNations. David is one of my new Portuguese friends from the app. The funny thing was we didn’t hang out when I was in Lisbon because he was preparing for a big test. Though, we kept in touch and managed to meet up in Bangkok a few months later.
That’s all about my Portugal trip folks! Let me know your favourite places to visit in Portugal. Read my other blogs here, don’t forget to like and share this post with your friends and family 🙂 Stay safe and enjoy your trip!