CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH WETHERWAX
April is here and the weather is slowly turning warm again. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been reminiscing about our trip last summer to Lisbon, Portugal.
It was an easy 2 ½ hour flight from Cologne/Bonn on Germanwings direct into Lisbon. We rented a car partly because we have kids and also to be free to explore the coast and other areas beyond the city.
Lisbon – New City
Lisbon – Old CitFirst stop was the Lisbon Oceanarium. The building itself is built over the water with great views of the surrounding sea. The kids loved getting to see the different kinds of sea life in one of the world’s biggest aquariums; their favorite was the giant sunfish.
From the Oceanarium, we took a cable car that carried us up over the Parque Das Nacoes (Nations Park, where the 1998 World Expo was held). From here were breathtaking views of modern buildings and bridges and rows of flags of different nations. We rode the cable car one way and casually strolled back along the riverfront park and shopping area.
Lisbon – Old City
In contrast to the contemporary architecture of the new city, the old city has a more Central or South American feel. European-styled buildings covered with decorative ceramic tiles in every pattern lined narrow hilly streets. The yellow electric tram, an icon of Lisbon, rumbled past pastel-colored buildings.
Our wanderings took us to Commerce Square where the Portuguese had regulated customs and port activities. Yellow buildings line the square in a U shape along three sides, which are the city’s administrative buildings. We then proceeded through the grand city arch into a pedestrian-friendly shopping district. With the evidence of such successful maritime exploration, I could just imagine ships at port bursting with exotic spices and gold from afar.
Another favorite neighborhood of Lisbon we visited is called Belém. It’s located on the mouth of the Tagus River and provides some stunning scenery. Rua de Belém is the main street and historical avenue with a picturesque row of 160-year-old buildings now surviving as cafés and shops.
Perhaps the most important café of Rua de Belém is the famous pastry shop Fábrica de Pasteis de Belém, home of the Portuguese egg tart pastel de nata made with flaky pastry. You can get them from any bakery in Lisbon, but these are said to be some of the best, served with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
You can choose to sit and eat your pastel de nata in the café where they busily crank out thousands of the sweet treats, or you can get them to go and eat them in the nearby park, which overlooks the river. The Praça do Império has a playground for the kids, shady, tree-lined walkways, open spaces, and gardens, with a beautiful central fountain in front of the Jerónimos Monastery.
The Monument to the Discoveries is just short walk over to the river bank. The monument commemorates the explorers who set out from Portugal and features dozens of figures from Portuguese history.
Just a 45-minute drive from Lisbon is Ericeira Beach. Bracing ourselves against a crisp, cold wind blowing up off the ocean, we looked out across the vast blue sea knowing that just across that great expanse was America on the other side. We stood on the edge of a cliff just up the coast from the westernmost point of mainland Europe, and, despite the heat of summer, we were greeted with a blast of cold air, which created patches of fog obscuring parts of our view.
Despite the wild and remote feeling of Ericeira, the area is known for having world class surf breaks and international competitions. Finding surfboard and wetsuit rental is fairly easy, and there is even a popular surf school.
Closer to Lisbon are the less remote beaches of Cascais and Estoril, which are located on the banks of the Tagus estuary. Lined with bars, cafes, and castles, this coastline offers a different type of beauty.
Also about a 45-minute drive out of Lisbon up into the Sintra mountain range, is the town of Sintra overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a huge tourist attraction, but for good reason. Imagine a place where kings and royalty built their summer “cottages,” each home’s owner trying to transcend their neighbor.
With only a half of a day to spend in Sintra, we chose to visit the Quinta da Regaleria. The manor itself wasn’t the most impressive in town, but the surrounding exotic gardens were spectacular. The villa’s original owner was a Brazilian coffee tycoon, who had the estate built to be his own magical hideaway. The gardens achieve just that.
With secret passageways, a romantic chapel, and hidden grottos, it’s not your average garden. Perhaps the most exciting feature is the inverted tower. Its spiral staircase descends the well down 88 feet and leads to a concealed passage at the bottom connecting to a series of tunnels that run the length of the gardens.
We spent several hours exploring the gardens discovering its many hidden treasures. Our time constraints (and the hordes of tourists) prevented us from visiting any of the other numerous castles and palaces in Sintra. I feel like I could have easily spent an entire day or two there sightseeing.
Tips for Your Trip:
Peak season: mid-June – August
Shoulder season: April through mid-June and September through October
Off-season: November through March
Address: Esplanada Dom Carlos I s/nº, 1990-005 Lisboa
Buy your tickets online here for 10% off and skip the line
Hours: Open from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Cable Car Ride: Telecabine Lisboa
Address: Avenida Marech. Gomes Da Costa Nr. 37, Lisboa, 1800, Portugal
Address: Praça do Comércio 1105, 1100 038, Portugal
Fábrica de Pasteis de Belém
Address: R. Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Monument to the Discoveries
Address: Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal
Quinta da Regaleria
Address: 2710-567 Sintra, Portugal
Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Heading to Portugal? Check out these Germany Ja articles!