Immerse Yourself in Historical Portugal:
Over nine-hundred years old, Portugal is a historic country with a diverse landscape. Portuguese is one of the major languages, if not the major language, spoken in the World. A rustic countryside and a culturally rich urban life provide a unique blend. The golden beaches along a 180 kilometers coastline provide a haven for family trips – golfing, bird-watching, windsurfing, and scuba-diving – there is something for everyone.
Take a quiet stroll in the forests among the Iberian Peninsula and witness the magical beauty of great cork and almond trees. A poplar tree in Portuguese is called a “choupas” and that’s where the Choupal National Forest gets its name from. Head to this popular tourist destination in Coimbra to enjoy a leisurely day with your family or plan a trip with friends for some much-needed exercise to make-up for your cramped up lifestyle in the city.
The weather in Portugal is mostly sunny and warm. Winters last from November to March and it’s a bad idea to visit then because the country receives a lot of rainfall and some tourist spots close down. Conversely, if you are on a tight budget then this is the best time for you. High season for tourism is from June till September. However, Uberholiday personally advises you to visit in Spring or Autumn when the crowds are thin and the weather is still pleasant enough to allow for enjoyment.
If you belong to the Schengen group of countries you just need a valid passport to enter Portugal – no visa is required. Visitors from the United States of America, Vatican City, Singapore and Canada along with many others also don’t have any visa requirement. You can find out if your country is one of the lucky few by visiting the Portuguese Embassy’s official website for your region.
For those of you short on time don’t try to do cram too much and concentrate on getting a real feel for the country. As they say, look for quality rather than quantity. Your best bet is taking a trip from Lisbon to Sintra. Lisbon is home to an International airport with airlines from almost all countries traveling in from around the world.
Home to the New World Discoveries:
Situated next to Barcelona, Lisbon is the most visited city in Europe. An ancient spirit with cathedrals, museums and monasteries greet visitors warmly to the port city that once warmly greeted Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, coming back from his amazing discovery of a new land. Meandering cobbled streets take you to discover quaint little places tucked in the heart of the city. Rattling trams add to the dreamlike charm the city presents. At the same time they bring you back to the present reminding you that Lisbon also has a very young spirit infused with the charm of delightful historical drama.
Just as you feel the melodious fadistas pulling you into itself, jazz and reggae embrace you into their contemporariness. One minute you are in a trance following the ancient spirit that floats through the narrow tree-lined streets with whispering voices chanting in ancient Alfama, and before you know it the smell of warm bica (coffee) served in modern cafes and restaurants brings you back to a different kind of experience all together.
The 15th century Belem Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated at the Tagus River. It’s not surprising if you feel a pleasant chill run down your spine as you behold Belem – this is the place from where the discovery of the New Worlds started. Celebrated with a monument dedicated to Henry the Navigator, the Monument to the Discoveries is shaped like one of the caravels with a carved figure of Vasco da Gama as one of its main crew members among others including Henry the Navigator himself.
The Jeronimos Monastery is also one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. This colossal 16th century building took almost a hundred years to build. Pay your respects to the discoverer of India, and the famous poet Luis de Camóes, who are buried here.
St. George’s Castle
St. George’s Castle sits proudly at the highest point right in the middle of the city. Dated back to the 6th century, the citadel offers a restaurant, a park, a multimedia room playing an exhibit on Lisbon’s history. The climb up the São Jorge offers stunning views to visitors and is totally worth it.
For art-lovers, the Gulbenkian Museum is an absolute treat. With over 6000 pieces from a highly eccentric collection of an art lover and private collector, the museum offers paintings from Monet, Degas and Burne-Jones, as well as, breathtaking artifacts from Egypt, Middle East and Asia.
Baixa, Oceanarium, Fado Bars, Monsanto Forest park and Christ the King’s Statue are other experiences that one just can’t miss. Remember one thing though – avoid being in Lisbon on a Monday as some tourist sites are closed on the day.
Sintra – Eden for Inspiration:
Sintra is only a forty-minute train journey from Lisbon with a round-trip ticket costing about €4. Keep in mind though that most tourist spots in Sintra charge a fee so it’s not really as cheap as you may think. Leave early morning from Lisbon. Enjoy the scenery on the short train journey. If you are a literature lover like me, you will be thrilled to know the town was a special favorite of Lord Byron. It was here his Muses inspired him to write the famous Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Breathing in the same air as Byron; the very same that inspired him – it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Here is what I find ironic but at the same time charming about Sintra. It’s the city of palaces and castles showing the splendid wealth of the rich and famous. The exotic Monserrate Palace, Quinta da Regaliera and national Palace of Sintra are testament to the prosperity and affluence of the town. On the other hand, the Convent of Capuchos, a simple building built by the Franciscan friars in the 16th century testifies to the fact that one can find beauty in the simplest things. It’s mystical and austere aura is enhanced by natural surroundings.
Your inner-child will enjoy the Museu de Brinquedo with its colorful collection of over 40,000 toys. On another note, don’t at any cost miss eating at Piriquita, Sintra’s most famous restaurant even if it’s only for a quick dessert. Their pastries are to die for.
Head back to Lisbon for the night and relax at one of the Fado bars in Alfama or head to Bairro Alto to enjoy its famous nightlife.
Divide your trip into three parts and plan carefully. Spend a day in Lisbon visiting popular sites I have already mentioned above. Again, don’t try to do too much at once. Savor each and every place and don’t hurry. The goal is not touch-and-go but to really get a feel for the place while you are there. Next day, head for Sintra. Spend the day and go back to Lisbon for the night. On your third and last day in Lisbon, visit remaining places; relish the sights, sounds and flavors. Mingle with the locals.
Another alternative to the Lisbon-Sintra trip would be a Lisbon-Faro trip. You will have to take a 40 minutes flight into Faro from Lisbon – a resort town in the South of Portugal. If you are a fan of Goth, you have to see the Igreja do Carmo. Entirely made of skeletons of dead monks, the extremely morbid Bone Chapel is a ghastly reminder of Man’s mortality. You will find signs of Islamic occupation in the local museum with intricate blue and white and blue mosaic tiles. The Faro Cathedral is also built on the site of a mosque and offers a mixture of the Gothic and Baroque style of architecture and design. The town offers incredible attraction for tourists and should be visited at leisure.
Just some last notes before packing your bag for Portugal – check out the dates for famous festivals in Lisbon and Sintra like the Carnaval, Holy Week, International Lisbon Tango Festival, Sintra Festival and the Ballet Festival. Dates vary each year so make sure you check with the tourism information center.