I went on a spontaneous, short trip to Portugal for my birthday last fall, and out of the 23 countries I’ve visited so far, it’s honestly one of the prettiest countries I’ve been to. Portugal is easy to travel to, especially if you’re on the east coast of the United States, and is one of the more affordable European countries to visit. The capital of Lisbon is so charismatic with its rich history, blended architecture and mild climate. I see why Lisbon and Portugal as a whole country has a big expat community.
I spent most of my first day in Portugal (my birthday!) eating and drinking my way through Lisbon. I mean is there a better way to spend your birthday?! I spent a few hours at a restaurant in the square, drinking sangria, eating fresh, delicious seafood, and chatting with another young woman who was traveling solo all throughout Europe!
The evening was also relaxing, with a cultural experience of attending a Fado show! Fado is the folk music of Lisbon’s rustic neighborhoods and has been around since the 1800’s. The music is beautiful and somber, with many songs reflecting on the loss of sailors and broken hearts. So beautiful and haunting!
During day two of my birthday long weekend, I took a day trip out of Lisbon to Sesimbra and Arrabida. Arrabida offers picturesque hills along one of Portugal’s spectacular highways. Sesimbra is a seaside town well-known for its seafood, dramatic cliffside and sandy beaches. The area did not have many tourists, which made for a quiet and relaxing day. And I have to say Portugal’s scenery and wine scene does not disappoint!
I spent my third day exploring a different side of Lisbon, wandering around Belém. My first stop was Belém Tower, officially known as the Tower of Saint Vincent, which is a 16th-century fortification located in Lisbon that served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers. I also visited Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument celebrating 15th and 16th century Portuguese explorers and visionaries.
Walking around the area naturally made me hungry so I had to try the famous Pastéis de Belém. After my dessert, I bought a book and a beverage to relax by the water with. I couldn’t think of a more relaxing day to spend in Lisbon.
That evening, I had booked a sunset sailing tour and it was my absolute favorite night in Portugal! I befriended two older couples on the sailboat and the five of us had a great time drinking too much wine and sharing lots of laughs. They even invited me to grab pizza with them after the sunset tour!
My last full day in Portugal was spent exploring more of the coast and the fairytale town of Sintra! We grabbed our caffeine fix and pastries while wandering around Sintra village. From the colorful houses to the fountains and narrow streets, I felt as if I were in a Disney movie.
Not too far from Sintra is Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point in continental Europe. We also made another stop near Colares, which offered some of the most stunning coastal views I have ever seen!
One of the top experiences I was looking forward to during this trip was to explore the famous Pena Palace, just outside of Sintra village. The palace dates back to the 12th century, a point in time when there was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena here. With the colored tones of the palace and the pinnacle of Romanticism in Portugal, you could feel the influences this palace has had in several Disney films.
I couldn’t think of a better country to spend my first solo birthday trip in than Portugal! Four days was certainly not long enough to explore this beautiful country, so I will definitely be back again someday.
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