I went to Portugal to celebrate my 28th birthday with a few friends. I had been to the country once before, but it was on a work trip and no co-worker was around to entertain me. While I explored many areas and did the typical sight-seeing, it wasn’t quite as fun because I had to do it on my own. Needless to say, this more recent trip blew the previous one out of the water.
For my birthday celebration, I decided to skip the regular city adventure and book something along the coastline instead. My friend Pedro and his wife own a wonderful beach house on the Arrabida coast called Casa Sul Mar (South Sea House) and our group of six were willing to give that a try. The house, which goes for around 1100 for a week, has three bedrooms and can house six adults comfortably (or eight singles who don’t mind using bunk beds).
I am so glad we chose this option. The beach house is absolutely fantastic and highly recommended by everyone who has been. There is a giant patio that overlooks the sea- we had breakfast out there every morning. Nearby there is a beach area to lounge, a winery to purchase tasty adult beverages, and cute little restaurants that serve delicious seafood dishes. Behind the house there is private beachfront property that gave us a secluded area to relax, sunbathe, and drink. But if anyone else happened to be there, it was no big deal… we just retired to the pool on the balcony of the house instead. Oh, and did I mention the Arrabida coastline is one of the “hidden gems” of Portugal, and this place specifically has been mentioned as a great place to visit in Portugal promotions? With views like this, it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be known already.
As you can see, even if you don’t want to stay at Casa Sul Mar (you crazy person, you), there are still other great places and things to explore in Portugal. Because you will need a car to get anywhere out of the city anyway, here are some suggested places you check out.
If you’re already in the Arrabida area, you might as well check out the city of Setúbal. Setúbal is a sleepy village that has been known for fishing in the past, and now serves as a great area to get local goods at the week day markets from vendors and residents alike. Tourism is a big pull for the city, since the location is so well situated along the coastline, though beware on the drive because the mountain path is very narrow. You should also note that most vendors don’t speak English that well, so haggling on prices is a bit difficult unless you want to test your Portuguese. Or your hand signaling.
Still, I admit, the cherries were delicious.
Okay, Lisbon is awesome. The main streets are bustling, with many bright attractions and places to take photos. But it’s the back alleys, the less-explored, the kind of grungy and graffitied areas that are really the best. Don’t get me wrong, even the touristy areas of Lisbon are great. The Castle of Saint Jorge can take hours in itself to explore, and there are peacocks galore to feast your lens on. The Santa Justa elevator gives you a great panoramic, aerial view of the city, and is, surprisingly, not too crowded. There’s the Nicola Cafe near the main square for drinking coffee and people watching. There’s the Barrio Alto region that has a wonderful night life full of great restaurants, bars, and places pumping out live music. And then, there’s my new favorite area…. the LX Factory.
The LX Factory is in an urban area of Lisbon that may take a wild, graffitied path to get to. It’s in an area that may seem a bit out of the way, but is full of bars and shops that boast great fashion, fine arts, music, and architecture. My favorite place in the LX Factory is the Ler Devagar (Read Slowly), a library bar that not only sells books, but serves beers as well. There is a small printing press inside as well, if you’re into that sort of thing. …which I am.
Belem, a city whose name is derived from “Bethlehem,” is located very close to Lisbon. I only went there because I had a spare day to kill (on my work trip), but I’m really glad I went. The first thing I noticed on the ride into the city was a bridge that looked very similar to the Golden Gate in San Fransisco… as it turns out, the same architect (bridge builder?) created the piece! Talk about unoriginal! 🙂
Just kidding, it was cool to see.
The main thing to do in Belem is to get a pastry from the Pastry of Belem, a store that has a similar reputation to the fake soup kitchen in Seinfield. Seriously, people wait in line for HOURS to get one of these little custards. Once you get into the restaurant, you have to take a ticket and push your way to the front to hand it to a person on the wait staff. If you want to be polite, you will most likely starve- the waiters have no time or acknowledgement for this type of behavior because they want you in and out as soon as possible.
The pastries are okay. I mean, they are probably pretty good, but I don’t like custard type treats anyway. And, to be honest, I will choose a savory treat over something sweet any day. Shut up, you’re not my mom, you don’t own me. And mom, you don’t own me either. Give me a salt lick! Give me cheese!
The other thing to do in Belem is check out the tower along the coast. It’s old and abandonned and uber cool. Or muito cool, since you’re in Portugal.
In case you got bored reading this article, let me sum it up for you: Lisbon = way cool. Belem is a place to get sweet treats. And please, Please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and book a week at Casa Sul Mar on the Arrabida coast.
THE TRAVELIN’ SONG: In the Sunshine (AB & the Sea). It’s the song that I used in the highlight video I created for my friends. I had never heard it before, but Katie was adamant that it was the perfect soundtrack to our trip. And you know what? She was right.
BUDGET: A week long birthday celebration with friends; approximately $500 spent for airfare, lodging, car rental, and food. (The “real cost” was split between 6 people.)
TIP FOR TRAVELERS: Even though the weather is hot and the scenery is beautiful, the water in the Arrabida area is freezing cold. Just be prepared. Also, if you’re checking out the night life in the Barrio Alto region of Lisbon, don’t wear heels! The roads are all up and down hills and are made completely of cobblestone.
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: Lisbon. It’s artsy and grungy and is one of my favorite cities.