Now that the weeks I have left in Europe are in the single digits, I have made it a priority to visit as many cities on my bucket list. This weekend I took a two-day trip to Lisbon, a city that has fascinated me through pictures and by word of mouth. It has been a while since I visited a city that I did not know anything about its culture and history. With only a one-hour flight standing between me and Portugal’s capital, I knew I had to go explore.
Like every city, Lisbon has its charm, but it looks very different from any other European city I have visited. The rows of townhouses and buildings are in need of a fresh coat of paint to bring back its once lively yellow, blue, and even pink facades. To make up for the lackluster, some buildings are adorned with tiles from the base to the roof, which gave me quite the inspiration for my future home. Looking at the city from the top of the Santa Justa Lift or Saint George’s Castle provides a beautiful skyline with the clump red rooftops barely outlining the plazas and city streets.
Without leaving Lisbon, it takes you places. Their cobbled streets are split by cable car tracks. The cable cars—which must be from the 1950s—are rickety, old, and simulate a roller coaster depending on whose driving it. They are a time traveling tool that drops you off in front of a medieval castle or a 500-year-old monastery. The best part is seeing it cross near the 25 de Abril Bridge, which is the twin sister of the Golden Gate. The sight echoes San Francisco.
However, a trip to Portugal is not complete without visiting Sintra. The hilltop city is speckled with castles, palaces, and ruins that once belonged to the Romans, Muslims, and Portuguese royal family. Sintra is known for its fairytale qualities. As someone who grew up an hour away from Disney World, I felt like I was back in the Magic Kingdom at the Pena Palace. Built in the 1840s, the castle’s blue tiled, burgundy, and yellow walls housed the Portuguese royal family until the 1920s. The domes, Arabic arches, medieval lookouts, and pointy pinnacles make the castle look like as if could only be found in a five year olds’ imagination.
The second must-see is the Portuguese royal family’s summerhouse, the Regalerira Estate. Although the buildings are less fictitious than the Pena, the gardens must have inspired every fantasy ever written. Several pathways to the top of the garden are lined with mythological symbols and extravagant fountains. However, looking beyond “what you see” is what makes the gardens spectacular. Several ponds are connected to grottos, which are accessed by long, winding, and dark secret passageways. The only way to cross one pond and waterfall is by stepping-stones. The main attraction is finding the secret spiral staircase that symbolizes death leading to the entrance of Heaven or Heaven to earth, depending on which way to climb it. Seriously, the only thing missing from these gardens are fairies.
Lisbon was the perfect getaway because it really took me somewhere else. The sights were different, the language was easy to understand, and their cheese pastries are to die for. Visiting a city without any knowledge of what to expect makes everything shine a little brighter.