Morning in Sintra
Sintra. We’d heard all about Sintra. We’d planned a visit. In fact, we even took the 40 minute train ride out there from Lisbon. Everyone had promised it was a magical, fairytale kind of village, full of palaces and castles and wonders worth visiting. And I’m sure they weren’t wrong. However, we picked the wrong date to visit, because everyone else had decided it was a good idea to go there too.
That Saturday, Sintra was so packed with tourists we had to queue to get out of the train station! We wandered up the hill with the crowds who had dodged the tour sellers, following the signs to Palacio da Pena, only to realise it was an hour hike from the village and the bus stop was back down where the big line of people had been waiting in the square.
Standing there, wondering what to do, it dawned on us that we’d wasted over an hour by now and still hadn’t seen anything worthwhile.
We’d joined the queue in hopes of seeing what we’d come to see, but tired of pointless waiting, we gave up on the idea of Sintra all together after the second bus had passed by without barely picking up any passengers. Instead, we headed to a coffee shop for cake and a galao.
Stepping in from the street, it felt like we’d found the only quiet spot in town. Then we realised most of the tables were reserved for lunch, even though that was still a few hours away. Still, they had room for us, at least for the time being.
A while later, energy restored, we headed back to the train, the carriage almost empty now, unlike the ‘sardines in a can’ version we had ridden on the way up.
disappointed and slightly frustrated we arrived back in Lisbon where we still had more places we wanted to see before the weekend was up. Sintra would have to wait for next time.
Afternoon in Alfama
The sunny streets of Alfama welcomed us that afternoon. They weren’t empty, by any means, but anything felt quiet compared to Sintra. We wandered through Lisbon’s oldest district, the only one to have survived the earthquake, apparently. Colourful doors, winding streets and the crisscrossing tram lines winding up and down the hills, provided all the charm we needed to cheer us up again.
Here we explored a flea market with all sorts of artifacts, antiques and a few souvenirs here and there. They set up on the esplanade behind the National Pantheon on Tuesdays and Saturdays, not far from the Arco de São Vicente, close to where the famous tram number 28 stops.
It’s an interesting place to walk around. You might find a lot of junk, but if you know how to look closely, you just might find yourself a bargain.
Alfama also has many little bars and restaurants where they put on Fado shows, so if you’re looking for a meal and some traditional Portuguese music, you might like to drop in here in the evenings.
We simply enjoyed wondering and admiring the traditional architecture, the little souvenir shops, the pretty tiled walls, colourful doors and cute windows that made up the neighbourhood.
Our final morning in Lisbon we headed out of the historical city centre towards the newer part of town. The Parque das Naçoes was not far from the bus station and we headed over there to check it out.
Home to the 1998 Expo, today this area of town hosts numerous museums and exhibitions in the pavilions.
Most noteworthy is the Oceanarium, one of the biggest in Europe, with 4 marine habitats and hundreds of species. If you have time, I would definitely recommend a visit. This is also a great option if you are visiting Lisbon with children, as they’re sure to love discovering the numerous tanks, the colourful fish and the other birds and animals here.
Another great place to visit with kids at the Parque das Naçoes is the Science Museum. It’s just opposite the Oceanarium and its interactive exhibits will keep them entertained while teaching them fascinating facts about science. I’d bet even the adults will have fun too!
Even if you don’t visit any of the pavilions, it’s fun to just walk around here. It’s right by the river Tejo, or Tagus in English, which can be admired from the cable car that runs along the river edge.
The whole area is peppered with fountains and waterfalls, which helps if you visit in hot weather, and there are plenty of benches in the shade too, which are ideal for a picnic.
Visiting on this occasion, we came across an exhibition on traditional Brazilian carnival outfits. There were going to be concerts in the afternoon, too, but unfortunately our bus was leaving before then. It was an interesting surprise, really. They were pretty colourful!
Lunch, then back to Seville
Just before heading back to the station to catch our bus we stopped at the nearby shopping centre and had some lunch. It’s right between the Parque das Naçoes and the Estaçao do Oriente and just a few minutes walk away from either.
There were plenty of options to choose from here but we went for a traditional soup and bifanas place, serving some scrumptious traditional lunches. It was cheap and delicious and very Portuguese. I highly recommend it! I think it was just called Bifanas, but it’s not hard to find.
What did I miss? If you’ve visited Lisbon, leave me a comment and let me know what your favourite places are.