The first thing that struck me upon arrival in Lisbon (via train) was the fresh sea air and relaxed atmosphere. It’s a hilly city with beautifully-tiled buildings and old-style trams plying the routes. Get ready for some beautiful architecture, mellow music, and awesome food!
Padrão dos Descobrimentos — Monument to explorers / Henry the Navigator. I started at the museum and viewing platform, which made for a nice introduction to the city.
Arco da Rua Augusta – triumphal arch dating back to the late 1800’s, with a viewing platform. This marks one entrance to the old city and several of the key attractions.
Fado — all over downtown and especially in the eastern part of Lisbon, there are restaurants with people singing traditional Fado music — melancholic, nostalgic, soulful Portuguese songs. While some places require advance reservations for a proper Fado show, you can also book a dinner at a place that offers live performances, or just walk the streets in the evening and pop into a Fado bar and listen over a drink and tapas. For an example of the music, I recommend checking out Amelia Rodriguez, the Queen of Fado.
I booked a Fado dinner engagement with my family. Give that we hadn’t eaten for 8 hours, we figured we’d be famished…but our huge octopus lunch and the hot sun killed out appetites. We were awkwardly given a huge dinner table in the center of the room, with nobody ordering food. At least the restaurant took it in stride : )
Lisbon has a million great restaurants, museums, churches, and tree-lined streets for walking. Praça do Comércio is a massive plaza on the water and is a good place to start exploring. Go check it out!
While all the food is great in Lisbon, one particularly memorable restaurant was As Salgadeiras, a brick-lined cavernous, fancy traditional restaurant, with exceptional food! I had stuffed calamari, which was awesome, but the real winner of the night was an incredible cheese block, where you pull off the top and its basically liquid inside.
Azeitão Cheese — if you pop into any little corner store, you can find little blocks of hockey-puck shaped cheese for about one Euro. They’re soft and creamy inside, with heavenly flavor! This is something you MUST try in Portugal! Goes great with Port wine and octopus : )
Looking for a unique place to stay in Portugal, but not necessarily a random apartment? Check out Pousadas! They have a huge collection of palaces, castles, and other world-class lodging options and reasonable prices. We stayed at Pestana Palace Hotel in Lisbon — which is an actual palace right downtown — and you have free run of the place!
I’ve briefly visited Sintra on two occasions, but highliy recommend visiting– you’ll be struck by the natural and architectural beauty of this former sanctuary of royalty.
Pena Palace — if you can only see one thing in Sintra, this colorful, whimsical Moorish palace is it! It’s really quite spectacular, and worth taking a tour. I did it on a half-day jaunt from Lisbon via train, which was quite manageable.
Downtown Sintra — while there are several palaces and castles in the area, I also enjoyed walking around the town. It’s got winding medieval streets that wind around steep hills, with cafes that offer awesome views of the region. This link provides a good set of recommendations for additional attractions, depending on how much time you have.
Fatima is the site of appearances by the Virgin Mary in 1917. It is a major draw for religious pilgrims and tourists alike. In addition to the main sanctuary, there are several other churches, shrines, and museums in the area.
Sanctuary of Fatima: This is the main stop — it has a massive plaza in the style of the Vatican.
Proceeding through the plaza, we came to the Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, a church that sits at the site of the viewing. We got here just as a mass was starting. Mass times can be found here.
We walked around the town, which has several shops and restaurants, along with religious items for sale. In addition to candles, you can buy various wax figures to burn as petitions during prayer.