Late is an understatement when talking about how long it took me to get this post up, but I’m going to shrug it off with ‘better late than never!’ and go for it anyway! For my senior spring break, my roommates and I decided to go all-out and plan a trip to Portugal. We seriously lucked out and found super cheap flights around December (less than $400 round trip!), and decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Portugal is a beautiful, understated European destination that’s rich in culture and heritage. When you first arrive, it’s easy to fall in love with the detailed architecture and colorful buildings. We knew we wanted to explore a lot of the country, but we decided to stay in Lisbon since it was the capital city and also close to the coast. The wonderful thing about Lisbon is that there are tons of things to do that cost little to no money, making it a great destination for anyone looking to keep to a budget!
One such place that we ended up spending hours at was the Lisbon Botanical Gardens. Full disclosure: the gardens themselves actually aren’t that big, and truthfully I’ve been to much more extravagant botanic gardens in the past. However, the gardens were full of beautiful statues and walls of gorgeous hanging flowers which made the perfect backdrop for an outdoor photoshoot. From the top level of the gardens you get a gorgeous view of the city and the bridge that looks strikingly like the Golden Gate. It was hours of photographic entertainment for only 1 Euro a piece.
Another inexpensive but highly popular destination in Lisbon is the Tile Museum. This multi-level indoor-outdoor exhibition features hundreds of years of tile designs that give a glimpse into Portugal’s artistic and cultural history. It’s full of gorgeous exhibits and plenty of opportunities for photos. After a few hours in the museum you’ll have a much greater appreciation for all the architecture you’ll see throughout Portugal. Plus I will shamelessly admit that the place is totally Instagram worthy ;).
We then decided to stray away from playing tourist, and check out an “underground” shopping scene known as LX Factory. It’s essentially one big hipster shopping alley, with a quirky bookstore, fashionable boutiques, and lots of good food. Sadly, we happened to go on the one day where several of the shops were closed, but even still we managed to spend hours there exploring. It was one of the best parts of the day! Anyone who loves shopping or discovering secret gems of a city should definitely check it out! Although I doubt it will stay much of a “secret” for long!
Now a trip to Lisbon wouldn’t be complete without visiting some of the city’s beautiful monuments and famous viewing points. One of the most memorable sites we visited was the National Pantheon, also known as the Church of Santa Engrácia. My first impression of the building was just “wow”. It’s enormous in person and takes your breath away at its massive beauty. In order to even get the entire building into a picture we had to walk to the top of a hill on a nearby street and stand on a 3-foot curb because it’s that big. And the inside is even more beautiful. Like all Lisbon cathedrals, it’s full of intricate and detailed designs that impress everyone who gaze upon it. But the best part was the roof. After climbing a few dozen stairs, the doorway opens up to reveal a massive stone patio that circles the entire exterior, giving way to an incredible view of Lisbon’s coastal skyline. It boasts one of the best views of the city, and is a must-stop for anyone traveling through Lisbon.
A smaller, but perhaps equally well-known monument is the Belem Tower, located on the other side of Lisbon. Though not as big as the Pantheon, the tower was still huge and beautifully crafted with the same artistic care as all the architecture in Portugal. Being beautifully set against the sea, it’s a great stop for photos and there are even a few cafes nearby for those who want to enjoy a quick snack while taking in the view. And if you’re lucky like us, a street violinist will be present as well, playing lively music to help set a happy tone to your visit.
Last but certainly not least is the Jerónimos Monastery, conveniently located just across the road from the Belem Tower. This beautiful monument extends out, rather than up, but still impresses with its masterful construction. I know I’ve said it a million times in this post, but it truly is magnificent how much detail goes into all these structures. You could stare at one archway for hours and still not see every carved element. And while the up-close view is mesmerizing, it’s just as worthwhile to take a step back to look at the entire structure in full. There are plenty of benches back near the road that allow you to do exactly that, and if you cross the street you can even sit by the large park fountain while you enjoy the view.
Portugal has so many beautiful sites to offer, it’s surprising to me that it’s not a more popular destination. But I guarantee if you have the chance to visit, you will not be disappointed. In addition to all the places we went within the capital city, we also ventured outside of Lisbon for some excursions that were probably my favorite part of the entire trip! If you’re looking for more to do in Portugal, stay tuned for that next post.
Have you ever been to Portugal? Let me know in the comments what your favorite part was! And if you haven’t been, let me know what you’d look forward to most!