A Late Summer Trip to Lisbon
I have never been a traveller. Hands up – I’ve never seemed to find the time or the money to holiday abroad. Before September 2015, the last time I had left the country was summer 2008 (which explains my unearthly pale skin tone). Sadly and over time, the fear of jumping on a plane set in, rock solid like Matt Stevenson’s cheese and jalapeño sauce the day after a party. How many months worth of wages am I going to have to fork out? How am I meant to know how to navigate around a crowded airport? How would I get through security without accidentally being arrested? What if the air pressure in the plane made me go deaf for the entirety of the holiday? What if I caught dysentery so far away from our beloved NHS? What if I just straight up died?
Yes, fine. I admit it: I was a twat. Common sense prevailed in the end though and I agreed to break my holiday hiatus by visiting Lisbon, in sunny Portugal with my two fellow intrepid explorers (as we liked to call ourselves because we couldn't get Google Maps to work).
From the off, I was surprised at how easy and unexpectedly cheap the whole thing was. The key to our success was Lucy’s impressive bargain hunting skills and a very handy little website called SkyScanner.
If you’ve not heard of SkyScanner before, it’s a must-have tool for travellers searching out the cheapest flights going - and it’s not all mouth either. We managed to bag return flights from London to Lisbon for £108 (including the booking fee) with Ryan Air.
My first ever experience of a hostel was an impressive one. Lucy found the details of The Independente Hostel, which cost €90 for a week (roughly £60) in a dorm that held six – and it was a delight. High, gilded ceilings, a very fancy restaurant, comfy beds and all in a great location, where a pint of beer was cheaper than a bottle of water.
As we arrived at the end of September, the weather was a little less sunny than we had hoped. But there was plenty to do to keep us entertained; from wandering round the historic town and it's "holy-hell-this-is-steep" cobbled pathways, to weekend street parties and exploring the cultural hub and hipster-friendly LX Factory - where you'll experience the best sandwich you've ever had in your life if you pop by Para Sempre, FYI.
I've never been on a city break before (and I'll be the first to admit that I didn't really see the point in them - why would I leave a city, to go on holiday in another city? It seemed barmy), but Lisbon was far more relaxed than I had anticipated. We still got to visit the beach a couple of times; it only cost around €5 to hop on the train to Cascais and spend an afternoon lazing on the sand, beer in hand and paddling to our heart's content.
Now, you can't really go to somewhere like Portugal and not be incredibly excited to try the local cuisine. After being tricked into one of those dodgy back street restaurants during our first night, we were determined to do it properly from then on. A good amount of research led us to the Cervejaria Ramiro; a three floor seafood restaurant that's been doing it's thing since the 1950's. You want fresh fish? You'll get fresh fish. It was one of those places where you get to pick your lunch whilst it's still alive. Originally, this did put me off a bit. How could I look that crayfish in the eye as I pointed at it and said "That one"? All doubts vanished, however, once the food arrived. It was absolutely phenomenal and any form of seafood I've had since has paled in comparison. We may have gotten a little carried away and ordered half the menu, sure, and we may have gone massively over budget, but I am (uncharacteristically) glad we did. We still talk about it sometimes and I am now definitely going to be thinking about it for the rest of day. TVM.
If you ever pay Lisbon a visit, you must, must, must go to this hidden gem and try it out - it will definitely be a delicious, shellfishy highlight.
Another place you can add to your 'Must Visit' list, is a town called Sintra, about 45 minutes away on the train. Take a walk up the steep hillside and spend the day exploring the gardens of the gothic Quinta Da Regaleira. The best way to describe it, is like Neverland for grown ups; the grounds span for miles and are filled with turrets, towers, chapels, hidden passageways, grottos and waterfalls - a vast playground. To describe it as 'stunning' would be an understatement and we must have been wandering around happily for about eight hours before we finally gave in and caught the train home.
The pictures I took don't quite do it justice - you're simply just going to have to go and see for yourself. The only disappointment was the stately home itself, it's been stripped inside and filled with dull information boards about the surrounding area, so I wouldn't recommend choosing to spend time inside when you can be running around the grounds like children.
Overall, Lisbon was a mighty fine week away from London, not only did it give me incredibly itchy feet, but I also made new friends that resulted in a trip to Germany a couple of months later (I'll tell you more about another time). So, if you're looking for a budget friendly, active, food and culture filled city break, Lisbon is definitely worth a trip.
Lisbon Flights & Accom: £170 each (approx)