The Algarve is widely considered to be the heart of Portugal’s tourist industry. Europeans have been visiting for years, lured by the guarantee of good weather, short flight times and range of accommodation and activities. After a long and challenging year of work, many find themselves living for their two-week break, where they can relax and drift away from reality, which is why I think my family was surprised that I announced my wish to take a few days out of the holiday to go and explore Lisbon.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, and therefore very accessible from the Algarve. Trains take around three hours with a change at Tunes. Simple enough because the majority of people are doing the same thing. It is easy to buy tickets online, and the website is also in French and English. You do not have to pick up the tickets physically, the printout is sufficient, which is useful when travelling. It is, however, required that you sit in your allocated seat and the Portuguese with having no qualms about telling you to shift.
Lisbon is just one of those great European cities. Like the locals, it is very laid back, yet teeming with things to do, including a beach which I enjoyed unwinding on after a long day exploring; there is a strong bar and café culture and lots of people enjoying traditional Portuguese cakes and strong cocktails. People gather in the squares, basking in the sunshine and relaxing. I recommend Rossio Square as a great place to relax and watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand. Here is a city where it is not necessary to have a plan, big enough to keep you entertained, yet small enough to ensure nothing essential is missed. I thoroughly enjoyed my three days of wandering.
The castle of St George is a highlight of the city. (€8.50/€5.) Visiting here gives you a daily dose of history and culture, as well as the best views in town. After the long walk up, there are numerous cafés tucked away in the shade and beautiful handmade jewellery sold by local vendors. The twisty cobbled streets are a challenge, yet invitingly covered with bunting and artwork. Alfama is a quirky, old district, filled with markets and has a traditional village atmosphere. Here the feelings of being an intruder in the private streets are balanced by the friendly, welcoming locals.
The Praça de Comércio is a natural hub of the city, and when I visited was almost filled by a huge screen for the Euro final. (Congratulations Portugal!) The Rua Augusta Arch remembers the 1755 earthquake and celebrates the success of the city’s rebuilding. For those interested in exploring; head to Belem: the tower located in the sea and monastery warrant a few hours of attention.
So for those lucky people headed to relax in the Algarve this summer, as well as those looking for a great city break; don’t forget Lisboa!