Side Trip To Sintra

On the Sunday of our weekend trip to Portugal, the husband I and decided to get a bit outside of Lisbon and head to Sintra.  We woke up a bit late, again, so decided to take an Uber to get there to save some time. Everyone that we’d talked to that had been to Portugal said that Sintra was a must-see.  It’s located about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, making it an easy half-day, day, or weekend trip.  Sintra itself is both a town and municipality and there is a LOT to explore in the area.

View out to the Ocean from the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We were dropped off by our super nice Uber driver in the center of the city right outside the Sintra National Palace.  Whilst beautiful, and I’m sure very interesting, we were short on time and had two other stops on our list, so decided to skip it.  We walked 1.5 blocks to a bus stop and hopped on a bus to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which stands on top of a hill above Sintra.  You can walk to the Castle from the town, but it’s about 45 minutes straight uphill. We were lazy short on time, so we hopped on the bus.

Exploring the Moorish Castle

I didn’t do a ton of research into the castle before going, and needless to say I was a bit unprepared for the terrain. I always used to laugh at the people who visit a tourist site in the completely wrong attire. To the people at Machu Picchu wearing high heels, I’m sorry I judged you for your inappropriate choice in shoes. I´ve since felt your pain.  You see, the castle is not really a castle, but ruins. This means lots of cobblestone, dirt pathways, and uneven walking surfaces. As we arrived, it became clear that nearly everyone except us was in hiking gear. I had read that it was in a National Park, but clearly didn’t put two and two together enough to not wear skinny jeans and booties. Hiking is, quite literally, the only form of exercise that I love. I was more than a little bummed that we were going to have to miss out on the beautiful hiking/picnicking in the National Park just because I chose 10 more minutes of sleep over doing proper research into what exactly these sites we planned on visiting entailed.  I eventually got over it and had a lovely time exploring the grounds of the castle, even if it did take a toll on my shoes (and my ankles).

Not pictured: my horrible choice in footwear.  Pictured: the only coat I brought to Europe and thus my awkward look for hiking

Located in the Sintra National Park, the Castelo dos Mouros was built by the Moors in the 10th century to defend the city of Sintra during the reconquest.  It’s been in various hands, including Ferdinand I, since that time, and suffered significant damage from an earthquake in the 18th century.  It ended up overgrown and in need of TLC.  Thankfully, it was cleaned up and is now a lovely spot to explore for an hour or so before hiking through the park in which it resides and enjoying the views of the sea from the vistas.  Admission is only 8 euros and well worth the cost.

A little better than the topography of Columbus, Ohio, I’d say

After the castle, we walked to arguably the most famous site in Sintra, and definitely the one that appears on the front of all of the postcards, the Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).  It, like the Moorish Castle, stands on top of a hill, and can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day.  It’s brightly colored to say the least, and is one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and, as if that’s not enough to get me to want to go there, one of the seven wonders of Portugal (we’d already seen two of the wonders–Bélem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery).


After grabbing a quick snack in the little cafe in the palace, and enjoying the views for a few minutes, we explored the Palace.  It started off as a chapel constructed in the middle ages after an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and later a monastery was constructed on the site.  It, like the moorish castle ,was damaged in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and remained in ruins until King Ferdinand II came around in the 1830s.  From the ruins of the monastery, he created a palace to be used as the Portuguese royal family’s summer home.  The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amelia, lived there until her exile, after which point it became a popular monument.


A rare non-selfie

I must admit, the outside was quite impressive and beautiful.  There are clearly islamic influences, among others, in the design, and I found its bright colors beautiful and not at all garish.  The inside is worth a quick walk through, but not as impressive as other palaces I’ve visited.  (Perhaps that’s because the two that come to mind are Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, both of which serve as homes for real-live royal families to this day.)

This reminded me of the tiles decorating Mosques in Turkey


An inner courtyard again with lots of islamic influences

After Sintra, we took a 45 minute train back into the heart of Lisbon.  We explored the Praça do Comércio for a bit, popped in a very strange but also cool free (at least the first floor was free) art museum, the Museu do Design, and then headed down the street to our lunch spot, where we ate, arguably, the best burgers we’ve ever had.


My sensible hiking attire


How pretty is this street?  All the sidewalks and pedestrian zones are this beautiful cobblestone laid in a pattern

We had an awesome trip to Lisbon and Sintra.  It didn’t hurt that we found the Portuguese to be among some of the nicest people we’ve encountered while traveling.  We also loved low-key, ocean side vibe of Lisbon.  It’s a lot smaller than the other popular tourist destinations in Europe, but has a very distinct culture and authentic feel to it that can’t be beat.  We tend to enjoy the places that don’t feel as though half the population is tourists, and Lisbon feels more local than most.  I could stare at the washed out tile facades of the buildings with a nice glass of vinho verde and a book all day long.  The husband and I definitely want to make it back to explore more of Portugal, indulging in all the delicious food along the way.  Maybe I’ll even get super adventurous and try some fish.  Let’s be honest, probably not.


Love this guy and loved Lisbon


Portuguese Eats

If you like food, and good food at that, Lisbon will not disappoint.  I love trying new food when traveling, and some of my favorite dishes are those that I’ve tried on my international travels.  (Ecuador’s jugo de mora, Peru’s lomo saltado, or England’s Sunday Lunch, anyone?!?)  I will try anything that wasn’t once a living animal, but pretty much the only meats that I eat are chicken, turkey, pork, and beef, and I don’t go anywhere near seafood.  For some reason I feel too bad for those little guys swimming under the sea to eat them.  I know, pigs and cows are much cuter and it makes no rational sense whatsoever.  All I can say is that bacon is delicious and I just can’t help myself sometimes.  All of my food recommendations will obviously also subscribe to that illogical logic.  I think we managed to eat some pretty delicious food while in Lisbon, anyway, even if they do specialize in seafood.


Very close to the Mosterio dos Jerónimos, which we visited on our first day in Lisbon, is Pastéis de Belem, which many say has the best pastel de nata in Lisbon.  Naturally, we headed over to the pastelaria for a late morning snack to try a few ourselves.  The pastel de nata is an egg tart pastry topped with cinnamon and icing sugar, which gives an effect and taste much like the top of creme brulee (read: delicious).  I’ve since had them at a few other places, namely, at the Borough Market in London, and I can’t lie, the Pastéis de Belem was the best.  They sell so quickly that it’s nearly impossible not to get a fresh, warm one, which makes a huge difference.


About  to enjoy a delicious pastel de nata

If you’re in the market for a place to sit, relax, and people watch for a while, the Mercado da Ribera is the place to be.  It’s great for lunch, a very casual dinner, or a snack and a beer anytime.  It, like most things in Lisbon, has been around a long time (aka the 13th century).  It used to be Europe’s most famous fish market, and still holds a more traditional food market, but since 2010 has also had a market featuring some of the city’s favorite food stores and restaurants.


Traditional Part of the Mercado da Ribera


One of  the Kiosks

There are a total of 35 kiosks (read: lots of options for picky eaters).  It’s definitely worth a visit while in Lisbon.  The selections are a bit overwhelming, however, and we ended up at a place that wasn’t my favorite.  I definitely had food envy of people around us, though, so do your research about what’s good before you go.  We didn’t and I wish that we had.  We didn’t eat lunch at the market, but the husband had a beer, and we snacked on some bread and cheese before heading to our actual (late) lunch stop.

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Looks better than it tasted

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Such a cool spot

Given our new obsession with Nando’s and piri piri chicken, we had to try some authentic piri piri for ourselves while in Portugal (yes, I realize that Nando’s is South African).  Roughly 2 hours of time went into finding the best place for piri piri chicken in Lisbon, and my researched landed me right where I started, Bon Jardim.  If you’re looking for luxury, this is not your place.  It’s no frills and the decor is a little worn, but it’s filled with locals and delicious food…in my opinion, it’s the best kind of place to eat.  Our favorite way to eat piri piri chicken is on a sandwich; you can’t order sandwiches there, but all the meals come with rolls and a delicious spreadable cheese, so we made our own.  Luckily, it’s the sort of place where making  your own sandwich at the table is totally okay.  Honestly, though, even if it weren’t, I’m pretty sure I would have done it anyway.  If you’re not a vegetarian, you really must go to Bon Jardim next time you are in Lisbon.  The food, and the empty fish tank that is one of the front windows of the restaurant, will not disappoint.  Sadly, I did not snap a photo of the fish tank, but I assure you, it’s there.

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I’d do anything for one of these sandwiches right now


Making his sandwich


All smiles and ready to eat!

When we travel, we never go for expensive restaurants.  We prefer to try smaller, family owned, local spots and avoid the super swanky places, especially for dinner.  For our only dinner in Lisbon, we found the perfect place that fit the bill.  There was a long wait outside the Taberna da Rua Das Flores, even though we’d arrived early.  We were in no hurry, and they let us wander the streets around the restaurant while we waited.  The place was super cute and quaint, and we were confident that a great meal was to come when an expat we met while waiting outside assured it that it’s the best place in Lisbon.  His only regret was that it was starting to become very popular, which meant frequent waits for a table.  One of the tables was actually on a small set of stairs going nowhere, with a wine box as a table.  I really wanted to eat there, the husband did not.  He won (it was available to sit at without a wait when we arrived).


Taberna da rua das Flores

We ordered tapas style foods, and shared everything.  Lisbon is filled with seafood, and at least 50% of the dishes were fish, which really limited our choices.  Nevertheless, the food was delicious and reasonably priced.  Better yet, I washed it all down with some delicious Vinho Verde.  Don’t skip dessert- I don’t eat it usually, but the chocolate cake can’t be missed.


So excited to eat the amazing chocolate cake

It’s a tradition for the husband and me to eat a burger in every city we visit.  I have a strict no american food policy while traveling, but this is the one exception that I make.  We do a lot of research on the best burger places, as we only have one shot to get it right in each city.  The husband is usually the researcher, and I’m not going to lie, he knocked it out of the park on this one.  It just may be my favorite burger I’ve ever eaten.  That’s not a statement I make lightly, and I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my lifetime.


The very cute  Hamburgueria do Bairro

While google maps rarely disappoints, it led us astray on our walk to Hamburgueria do Bairro and I was a bit of a brat (I was hangry), complaining every 5 steps about how he got us lost, and that I was so hungry I was going to eat my arm.  Luckily, the husband ignored me and forced me to keep walking rather than ditch our plans and grab the first thing we saw that qualified as food.


Probably smiling mostly because our food had arrived which had meant I had stopped complaining about how hungry I was

Located in a less touristy, more neighborhood-y area of Lisbon, the Hamburgueria do Bairro was packed, and the only people out in the streets surrounding the restaurant were those waiting to eat.  We both had our usual- burger with cheese and onion, the simpler the better.  Why ruin a good thing with too many toppings?  The burger was delicious, as were the fries and aioli on the side.  I love aioli so much I could drink it, and this was one of the best.


Ready to eat- make sure you try a Brisa next time you’re in Portugal.  So Good

We were totally called out for our burger eating ways when the Swedish travelers next to us laughed when they realized that we were from the US.  They told us that they always thought that the idea that all americans love burgers was just a stereotype, but since we were americans eating burgers in Lisbon, it must be true.  Isn’t that just how stereotypes start- thinking that, because a few people from a certain culture do something, that means all of them do?


A closeup of the fries and aioli in case you weren’t hungry enough after reading the rest of this post

After a lovely weekend in Lisbon our bellies were full and we were ready to head back to London.  My stomach is growling just thinking of the delicious food we ate.  If you’re ever in Libson, make sure to hit up at least a few of these spots and wash down the delicious food with some Vinho Verde.  I promise you won’t regret it.