To clear up some confusion about my whereabouts this weekend, I did not take a flight to San Francisco. Although my Instagram post with “the Golden Gate Bridge” may lead you to believe so, I was actually in Lisbon, Portugal. Regarding the bridge, it turns out that the same architect who built San Francisco’s Bay Bridge (not the Golden Gate) designed Lisbon’s 25th of April Bridge. Coincidence? I think not. The bridge was originally named the Salazar bridge after Portugal’s 20th century dictator, but the name was changed in 1974 after the dictatorship ended on the 25th of April. Surprisingly, suspension bridges aren’t the only thing San Francisco and Lisbon have in common. Due to being hilly cities, San Francisco and Lisbon both make use of the modern trolley to get around their cities. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but our fabulous tour guide told us that many San Francisco natives feel quite at home in Lisbon. As I absolutely adored this charming riverside city, San Francisco is definitely on my list.
As for my weekend vacation, it was once again spectacular. It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many interesting cities in Europe with their own unique architecture, history, and cultures that are geographically so close to one another. In the time it takes me to drive from my house in the U.S. to the airport (1.5 hours…yes, I live dreadfully far from an airport), I can travel to different worlds in Europe. Although Portugal and Spain share the Iberian peninsula, the countries are different from each other. In particular, Lisbon feels nothing like Barcelona. To begin, there are much less tourists and many more hills in Lisbon. Also, all of Lisbon’s streets are made of tiles that can’t be easily found beyond La Rambla in Barcelona. On the other hand, Barcelona is more spread out and feels vastly bigger than Lisbon. That being said, one couldn’t begin to conquer it in 3 days. However, we did try!
This trip was different from my others in that I only went with one person: my roommate in Barcelona, Allie. Allie and I actually planned this trip first, before we could confirm that our other friends who are abroad could come (they couldn’t). It turned out to be nice to just travel with the two of us because it’s so much easier to please 2 people than 4, 6, or even 10! We also decided to stay in a hostel rather than an Airbnb for this trip. Best. Decision. Ever. We stayed in Lost Inn Lisbon where we were given a free daily breakfast, two different 3-hour free walking tours, free sangria happy hour, and endless priceless resources to help us learn where to go in Lisbon. We met people from England, Argentina, Chile, Sweden, and Canada and had much more of a genuine cultural experience than we have had in our past Airbnbs. The name of the hostel is fitting because we spent the majority of our time doing just that: getting lost in Lisbon’s picturesque streets. both really liked the hostel experience and definitely plan to book more hostels for our other trips!
As for what we did, we spent both Friday and Saturday morning on the Wild Walkers free walking tours. Our first tour was through the Bairro Alto/Chiado neighborhood and the second was through Lisbon’s Alfama district. Bairro Alto/Chiado are Lisbon’s more energetic areas that include the bars, great restaurants, trendy shops, and more. On the other hand, Alfama is the oldest part of Lisbon and is home to the famous São Jorge castle. After trying our first Pastels de Nata (a classic Portuguese pastry) and ending our tour of Bairro Alto on Friday, Allie and I explored the different lookout points in Lisbon. As a city built on 7 hills, there are plenty of free places to go to find a fabulous view. Later, we got lost walking in the streets and found ourselves at the famous Magnum Factory Store where we got to make our own Magnum ice cream bars. Although they were incredibly messy, they were absolutely delicious.
That night, we went out to dinner in Bairro Alto with two friends that we met in Barcelona through our study abroad program. I had my first ceviche experience, and it was amazing! Later, we went to the PARK rooftop bar which was one of the coolest bars I’ve been to in Europe. Situated on top of a parking garage and quite difficult to find, this rooftop bar boasts beautiful views of the city and a fun, relaxed vibe. After enjoying some time there, we went to Bairro Alto’s bar district.
Lisbon doesn’t have any open container laws, so naturally its nightlife scene is great. In Bairro Alto, people grab drinks in to-go cups at the bars, then bring the drinks outside to mingle with other bar goers. The streets are absolutely packed with people just chatting and enjoying themselves. It’s such a cool, international experience as everyone is so friendly and eager to make conversation. We made friends with people from all over the world just walking up and down the street. It was definitely a cool nightlife scene and different from anything I’ve experienced in other European cities.
As for other things we did in Lisbon, we went to Belém and LX Factory. Belém is one of the most historical districts in Lisbon known for its monastery, tower, and other monuments recognizing Portugal’s Golden Age. The famous Pastéis de Nata pastry is originally from Belém, where they’re actually called Pastéis de Belém – distinguishing their authenticity from the “knock-offs” that can be found anywhere in the city. We agreed that Belém felt completely different from the other parts of Lisbon as it lacked the colorful houses and hilly streets. Instead, Belém is situated right on the river with French-style gardens and a perfect view of the 25th of April Bridge. It genuinely feels like another city. We felt the same about LX Factory – Lisbon’s old manufacturing district turned into a trendy strip of riverside restaurants and bars located directly underneath the 25th of April Bridge. However, differently from Belém, LX Factory felt quite modern and almost American. We had Sunday brunch here at UAU – a cool restaurant on the water. For €12, I got the brunch special which included a sweet and a savory plate (I chose eggs benedict with arugula and smoked salmon and a yogurt parfait), coffee, a fresh juice, a bread platter with a spread of jams, and a fruit Popsicle. Needless to say, it was spectacular and was definitely one of the better meals I’ve had while abroad.
Overall, Allie and I adored Lisbon. I was honestly slightly dreading the trip because I was insanely tired after turning in my first midterm last week and I really just wanted to stay home and rest. However, Lisbon certainly proved to be worthwhile. Everything from the people to the food to the sight seeing was exciting, and I really felt like I was able to fit in so much in so little time. It’s definitely a place that I’d label as a must see city, especially for young people. In fact, Allie says that it’s now her favorite city in Europe.
This next week, I’ll be staying in Barcelona. I’m so excited to be home for the weekend and to have the opportunity to explore my city even more. Last week, Allie, Eliza, and I discovered a really cool area with fun, trendy restaurants in our Les Corts neighborhood, so we’re hoping to check out at least one of them this week. We don’t have school on Wednesday due to a holiday, so I’m sure I’ll have time to do so. Time abroad is flying so quickly, and I can’t even begin to think of what it will be like to leave. Luckily, I still have 11 weeks of adventure ahead of me.