Sintra, Portugal

The hilltop town of Sintra is what fairy tales are made of. A series of mosaicked, vibrant castles – fit for royalty- looking down over Lisbon and the Atlantic coastline of Portugal.

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Getting there

As a popular excursion for tourists visiting Lisbon, Sintra is quick and easy to get to/from. The journey to the castle requires a train from Lisbon to Sintra town, followed by a bus up the steep, pine-covered hills to the castles. We took the train from Rossio station, Lisbon’s central station, where a return ticket cost €5. The 40 minute train chugs through Lisbon’s suburban districts terminating at Sintra town. I would recommend spending some time strolling through the quaint little town full of cute cafes and boutique shops, or alternatively you can take the bus upon arrival from outside of the station to the hill’s summit. The buses are frequent, and will set you back a further €5.

The Castles

Contained within the small town of Sintra are 10 castles, the most impressive being Pena Palace. Entry to the grounds is relatively costly, or at least far more than we were expecting. We opted to pay for entry to the gardens and the grounds of Pena Palace which left us enough for a sandwich and a coffee after.

The castle is magnificent: the blood-red and mustard-yellow walls radiate in the sun, which casts enchanting shadows and shapes through the delicate arches and patterns of the building. The ground are perfectly manicured and unspoilt by the volumes of tourists. We were enjoying the fresh air and views so much we decided to walk the 3 km walk back down the cobbled stairways to the station, which was a little adventure within itself

Sintra was one of the highlights of my travels to Portugal, and an absolute must for anyone travelling to Lisbon.

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Sintra castle price list

 

 

 

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Lisbon, Portugal

There’s something to be said about a place where you don’t have to be doing anything to  enjoy it. This is precisely the case with Lisbon, the effortlessly-cool capital of Portugal which feels like a life-size game of Snakes and Ladders: with yellow funicular trams taking you up the steep, cobbled streets, and narrow secret stairways leading down to the coast.

The city just oozes charm…

Walking through the labyrinth of typical white-washed homes  around the imposing Sao Jorge castle (which glow a sort of gold in the Mediterranean sun); enjoying espresso coffees and Pasties de Nata’s (Portugese custard tarts); perusing through snoozey local markets and by night getting lost is Biarro Alto sipping Sangria until the wee hours was enough for us. Three days passed at a leisurly pace, more time or poor weather would have meant we’d have been able to explore the other hilly districts, visited some of the museums/ castles and made the short journey to Balem (home of the Pasties de Nata, yum). We were quite happy keeping it casual around Alfama and our fabulous afternoon in Sintra but have left much more for my next trip to Lisbon – which there certainly will be.

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Arriving into the main station in Lisbon from our 3.5 hour train from Lagos

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Waking up fresh from our fantastic hostel Liv In about to start a day of hiking (in style) around the town

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Little trams

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A level part of Lisbon – a rare site – looking up at Sao Jorge

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Rossio Station

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Beautiful Lisbon

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Residential Streets

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Secret passages

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Meow

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Nearly at the top!

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Alfama

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X Marks the spot

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Thought-provoking street art is evident all over Portugal

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Tatty, tratitional houses

 

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Pasteis de Nata… mmmmm

 

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Heading back down from Alfama

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Sangria O’Clock!

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Delicious fresh peaches

 

 

 

 

Liv’in Hostel, Lisbon

I really feel compelled to share with you the Liv’in hostel in Lisbon, not because I’m being incentivised to, but because it was probably the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

 

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The stylish reception/ lounge area

It can be difficult to find a comfort and style in budget hostels, so after picking the cheapest hostel in Lisbon I was astounded by quality of the facilities and the funky vibe of Liv’in. Why? Firstly all bunk beds have memory foam mattresses. That’s right MEMORY FOAM: Say goodbye to dubious stains, bed bugs and loose springs my friends!

 

 

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The most comfortable bunks I’ve ever slept in!

Secondly, Liv’in hostel has nailed its service. Not only in terms of the fun and attentive backpackers they recruit on reception, but also the kitchen and bathroom facilities which make you feel like you’ve walked into a trendy, airy apartment. For a mere £12 per night the hostel includes breakfast, but not your run-of-the-mill coffee and limp toast, rather pancakes with spreads, yogurt and jam and muesli. Impressive, huh!

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Brilliant kitchen facilities to make your own meals in

If one evening you’re looking to do something a little more social, or something a little more cheaply, the hostel lays on an evening meal for €4 which includes a couple of glasses of sangria! It was a super informal and relaxed way to connect with our dorm-mates which was followed by a (not so relaxed) bar crawl, if you felt so inclined. For us, we rolled into the little convenience shop next door called Namaste for a €2 bottle of wine and Portuguese snacks, and sunk into our mattresses giggling.

Liv’in, you rocked it.


Lagos, Portugal

Lagos offers the very best of Portuguese vistas, beaches, authenticity and charm. With a  crumbling coastline, white-wash town and hippy vibe, it is really deserves credit for being the best destination along the Algarve.

 

Getting to Lagos

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We opted to take the rusty old tank of a train to Lagos which was ideal. The views along the coast are stunning – you’ll pass through rolling hills with earthy shades of soil and thirsty shrubs as well as traditional hamlets off the beaten track. The train set us back all of €5 (if you are 25 and younger make sure to show the ticket officer your passport/ID so you get a young persons discount!), and took approximately 1.5 hours.

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Let’s talk about the beach…

I’d love to tell you that we did loads when we in Lagos. It would be lying. We had an absolute ball soaking up the sun, gorging on delicious Portuguese dishes (make sure you try the sardines and swordfish, and make a point of visiting Bar Inna for traditional meals costing only 5 euros!) and drinking lots of wine and sangria.

The beaches are out of this world. The azure Atlantic contrasts the golden coast which has crumbled away leaving behind giant rocks and secret tunnels to explore. It’s said these are best viewed from one of the excursions which takes you along the coast by kayak or catamaran, but we were happy exploring different beaches by foot each day. Personally, my favourite beach was Praia dos Estudantes – though all of them are unique and worth checking out.

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Lagos Town

 

Accommodation

I’m the world’s biggest fan of Air BnB. Seriously. There’s nothing I enjoy more than living like a local. We found a steal of a deal with this gorgeous, homely apartment just outside of the town centre. It was brilliant to have our access to private facilities like a sun terrace and really enriched our holiday with the sense of uniqueness. If you’re heading to Lagos, make sure you drop Claudio a message to stay in his wonderful home: www.airbnb.co.uk/lagos-apartment

 

 

 

 

Street Art in Portugal

There’s a story to be told on every street corner in Portugal, with the street art giving the likes of Berlin a run for its money. These public masterpieces are as impressive as they are thought-provoking, making some of the uglier structures more beautiful and some traditional areas more contemporary. These were just a few of my favourite/ most memorable…

 

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Faro, Portugal

Many tour books, blogs and forums will advise that upon arrival into Faro airport you should hop into your transfer and disperse along the Algarve coastline. If this is your plan, I urge you not to.

Whilst petit and only really worth setting one day aside for, Faro is a white-washed warren of traditional buildings and coastal views.

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Once you’ve landed into the currently-expanding international airport you can opt to take a taxi or a bus into the town centre. A taxi will cost around 10-15 euros (depending on party size/time) whereas the bus is merely 2.20 euros. Take bus number 14 or 16 to the bus terminal, approximately 10 minutes drive away from the airport – the bus terminal is situated next door to Faro train station if you’re looking to make a connection by public transport.

We spent our one night in Faro at the Algarve Hostel  (click here for the link to the Air BnB) which was perfectly comfortable and reasonably good value. Positioned next to the bus/train station and a five minute walk to the old town, the rustic hostel was a warm welcome after a late arrival into Portugal.

Make sure you allow a couple of hours to stroll through the cobbled streets of the old town, soaking up the traditional architecture, enjoying a coffee and a Patsel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart) alfresco style, of course. In the evening the snoozy town comes to life with bars and restaurants entertaining guests looking for a casual beer or a big night out.

I wouldn’t spend more than one or two days in Faro, but it’s certainly an underrated stopover.  We were pleasantly surprised by it’s charm and allure, not to mention it’s convenient (and affordable!) public transport links to the rest of the Algarve coast.

 

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Strolling through the Old Town

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Faro Old Town

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I’m in love with the tiles in Portugal!

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Faro Old Town

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Faro Old Town

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Faro Old Town

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Even the fire stations are pretty!

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Coastal blues

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Keavy being awesome and candid

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Faro Old Town

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Bunches of bougainvillea flowers

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An adorable scene of Punch and Judy for the children

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One quick coffee to fuel a day of travelling