Most Americans flood the cities and towns of France, The UK, Southern Spain, Italy, and Germany, bringing back photos and stories from the same recognizable monuments. Little is to be said of continental Europe’s westernmost country, but now after a brief sample of Portugal, I feel the need to shed light on Portugal’s stunning regions. Portugal’s attractions are not just only underrated, but they are extraordinary and unique to Europe. I know when I’m back in the states, I won’t be raving about the same ol’ Paris, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, or Rome. Instead, I’ll be enlightening my friends with Portugal, especially the gem of Lisbon.
The petit, coastal country of Portugal seemed to have a strong motorhome culture, so strong, that there had recently been a crackdown on the motorhomes along Lisbon’s Tagus river. But despite all the signs, motorhomes continued to park in the PARKING-EXCEPT CARAVANS lots in Lisbon’s neighboring Belem. We, along with a dozen others, free camped in Belem for a couple nights without any issues.
Staying in the less-touristy town of Belem more than suited our needs. Two blocks away from the lot was the country’s most famous custard tart shop, Pasteis de Belem. For €1.05 per tart, hot and fresh from the oven, it’s no wonder that they serve 30,000+ tarts per day! Tourists from Lisbon flooded its doors all day long, but we had the convenience of strolling over any time of day, even for breakfast!
Also down the street from us was the famous Tower of Belem, once a defense structure along the Tagus river and a symbol of the gateway to Lisbon.
And finally, one of the most notable landmarks of the area, the Jeronimos Monastery:
Once in Lisbon, I was immediately struck by what was near impossible to find in Paris–head-spinning vista points everywhere. Like San Francisco, Lisbon was a tangle of steep streets and colorful buildings, boasting viewpoint after viewpoint. Hours could be spent walking around the city from mirador to mirador, admiring the different panoramas each stop had to offer.
Our favorite viewpoint was from the city’s highest mirador, the Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte. From the far left of the panorama, the Castelo de Sao Jorge stood tall with pride, and to the far right, the 24 de Abril Bridge gleamed like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Speaking of the bridge, the 24 de Abril Bridge looked identical to the Golden Gate Bridge in terms of color. But structurally, it was more comparable to Oakland’s Bay Bridge. Unsurprisingly, we discovered that it was the same architect who worked on both the Bay Bridge and the 24 de Abril bridge! Strolling, jogging, and biking along the riverfront was clearly an enjoyable activity for everyone. This bridge was only a 20-minute walk from Belem.
Also like San Francisco, old, charming street cars ran along the city streets, including up the steep, narrow hills. Tourists lined up for Tram 28 the same way tourists line up for Powell and Hyde Street cable cars. Because the line wasn’t horribly long the early evening we rode Tram 28, we waited and finally hopped in for the ride. While we enjoyed the ride, I can’t recommend waiting more than 20 minutes for the 40-minute round trip tram ride around Lisbon.
Lisbon’s Castelo de Sao Jorge seemed to be the primary attraction, but after I discovered the castle was merely nothing more than a mirador and not a museum/castle, I stuck with enjoying its exterior from afar, particularly from the Carmo Convent.
From the city streets, we enjoyed wandering through the steep, narrow cobblestone alleys, dodging tuk-tuks and the Portuguese drivers whom we consider nutso for even driving and parking on the mess of streets.
My favorite cafe was Cafe da Garagem, perched on a steep hill with jaw-dropping views. With plenty of electrical outlets, comfortable seating, lamps, pleasant music, and inexpensive prices, everyone lingered longer than they planned.
I keep raving about the gorgeous miradors. At the bottom of the hills, even the plazas were a delightful site, particularly the Praco do Comercio along the river.
Also eye-catching was the Rossio Square, particularly its spiral-tiled floor.
And further north was the city’s aqueduct!
Honestly, I don’t know if I loved Lisbon because it was so strikingly beautiful and typically doesn’t see as many tourists as other mainstream European cities, or because it reminded me so much of home (San Francisco). Either way, a trip to Lisbon and its surrounding area (which is basically the whole country considering it’s so damn small) will promise everything: a gorgeous city, fairytale castles in neighboring Sintra, and the famous beaches in the south.