With a few days off thanks to the Dutch version of reading week, I needed to get out of town for a vacation, but to where? With so many countries packed closely together and cheap flights to many of them, it can be tough deciding where to go in Europe. The struggle was real. But then a friend studying in Lisbon offered me a room for a few days. I had never really thought about Portugal as a must-see destination, but with sunshine and free boarding, why not right?
What I found was spectacular. Lisbon is a beautiful city with such diverse areas that you can easily just walk around all day without doing anything and still have fun. But if you’re looking for some entertainment other than walking, don’t fret, because Lisbon is insanely cheap. Like massive meals for 6€ cheap. Like got a small stain on your pants, just buy another pair cheap. Like go on a student budget and spend without thinking cheap. But that’s just one reason why Lisbon should be one of your top travel destinations, read on for more:
Lisbon is a city of hills, you’re either walking up or down. And while it’s tiring (and a good workout), it makes for some great site seeing. The city is famous for it’s more than dozen miradouros aka viewpoints where you can see the whole city, the land across the massive Tagus River and more. You can grab food or drinks at the many cafes on top of them or just lie on the grass with hours on end with the locals and listen to the random guy with a guitar that seems to be at each one.
Pastéis de Belém
Just a short train ride along the river away, Belém is a small civil parish west of Lisbon’s centre (sort of like Lisbon’s Etobicoke). Apart from beaches, small castles and giant palaces, you’ll find a tiny, inconspicuous store with a blue awning out front. Inside, you’ll find what is possibly the greatest dessert of all time: the Pastéis de Belém. It’s rather simple, just egg tart stuffed inside crispy pastry, but the bakers in there have some sort of secret mode of preparation that makes it taste like someone threw a massive surprise birthday party for your taste buds.
Obviously surfing isn’t unique to Lisbon, but it’s definitely something you need to try while you’re there. Because it’s one of the warmer European countries, you can get out on the waves almost any time of year. Instead of one giant, crowded beach, Lisbon has multiple smaller beaches along the river separated by houses and rocks, each populated by a different surfing school. We went with the Lisbon Surf House, who pick you up in the city and drop you back home, give you a board, wetsuit and two hour lesson for just 15€. And while surfing is physically gruelling and can be really frustrating, there’s almost no better feeling than finally standing up and riding your first wave in.
The Home Lisbon Hostel
Now this isn’t exactly a site to see but it’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience, so much so that my friend insisted I stay there for a night before heading to her place. Voted Best Medium Sized Hostel in the world and at roughly 12€ a night, the Home Lisbon Hostel is not like any hostel you’ve ever seen. Owned by a lady affectionately known only as “Mama” and run by her children and other young adults, the hostel is clean and cozy and comes with a lounge with a flat screen TV, a PlayStation and hundreds of movies.
But that’s just the beginning. For a mere 10€, you can get an all-you-can-eat-and-drink home cooked meal from mama that includes a starter (I had broccoli soup), main (Quiches, rice and salad) and dessert (Cake – note that these foods always change). Throw in another 10€ and they’ll take you on a three-stop pub crawl with free drinks. Then wake up in the morning before 10 a.m. for a buffet breakfast and head out on one of their FREE walking tours of all the spots in Lisbon most tourists won’t know about.