Exploring Portugal: Lisbon, Cascais and Sintra

Posted by Christine moghadam

Portugal is cornerstone of the Corc Yoga story. The idea for the company was born in Portugal, all of our cork comes from Portugal, and a portion of each sale goes towards supporting youth in Portugal. Since it’s so important to us, we’d love to share a bit about our favorite country and encourage others to experience its magic, too. But Portugal is a country bursting with culture and tradition, and we wouldn’t be doing it justice if we tried to squeeze all of it into one post. Instead, we’re splitting this guide up into smaller parts centered around the major areas. First up, Lisbon!

Lisbon

If you’re only going to visit one place in Portugal, it should be Lisbon. Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal and has something for every kind of traveler. There are museums, cafes, historic architecture, a vibrant nightlife scene, and some of the most flavorful food you’ll find. Plus, it’s less than an hour away from some pretty swell surfing.

A Walking City

Lisbon is a city that you’re going to want to see by foot. As with many old cities, time has seen every crack and crevice in Lisbon put to good use. With something around every corner, the city practically invites you to stop often, peep into stores, and take things slow. A great area to wander around is Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district. It’s a maze of cobblestone roads, crisscrossing street car wires, and quiet alleyways that will make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Home to St. George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), which dates back to the 6th century, Alfama is a visual representation of Portugal’s long, complex history.

Picture Perfect

If you’re into photography or just love a great view, Lisbon offers endless opportunity for those picture-perfect moments. While you’re sure to find photo-worthy scenes nearly anywhere you turn, there are a few places that stand above the rest.

A Walking City

The Rua Augusta Arch (Arco da Rua Augusta) is the centerpiece of Lisbon’s Baixa district. You can take an elevator to the top of the arch for 360° views of Baixa and the River Tagus. During the summer, the arch also becomes a canvas for a nightly light show!

The Miradouro da Senhora do Monte is one of the best places to see the immensity of the city from above.  From this vantage point, you can see the city, the river, and even Lisbon Castle and Cristo Rei from afar. The views are nearly always fantastic, but the best time to go is at sunset.

Another breathtaking viewpoint is the Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Aside from the sweeping views of the white walls, red roofs, and chapel domes of Alfama below, the viewpoint itself is a sight to behold. Featuring a pond as well as unique decorative tiles, you’ll very likely want to spend some time here.

Right in the middle of the city is Edward VII Park (Parque de Eduardo VII). One of the largest parks in the city, Edward VII Park is situated on a hill and offers a lovely view down into the city stretching out to the river. For the nature-inclined, the park also has three

The Must-sees

Although everybody prefers to do different things when they travel, there are a few places in each city that you just haveto go to. Lisbon has more than its fair share, but we’ve pared down the list to our absolute favorites that we feel really capture the spirit of Lisbon and Portugal.

A Walking City

A UNESCO World Heritage Monument, Jeronimos Monastery stands as a reminder of the wealth of Portugal during the Age of Exploration. Built in 1502, the monastery features ornate, detailed carvings and is the resting place of the explorer Vasco da Gama.

A UNESCO World Heritage Monument, Jeronimos Monastery stands as a reminder of the wealth of Portugal during the Age of Exploration. Built in 1502, the monastery features ornate, detailed carvings and is the resting place of the explorer Vasco da Gama.

shouldn’t be missed. A quick ferry ride away in Almada, the monument was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. The main draw for many is the viewing platform where you can see all of Lisbon from afar.

Don’t Forget the Food!

We’re of the opinion that it’s impossible to get to know a culture without embracing its cuisine. Portuguese food is like its people – warm, hearty, and full of personality and flavor. Like all countries, the cuisine varies from region to region, but some staples of Portuguese cuisine are bread, spices, pastries, sausages, and seafood.

For a great overview of Portuguese food and anything else you might want, visit the Time Out Market run by the international urbanite magazine Time Out. For the true foodies, though, here are the things to look out for:

Perhaps the most well-known of Portugal’s culinary creations are egg tarts (pasteis de nata).  Crisp, custardy, and oh-so-sweet, these delightful little bites have left their mark on every place they’ve been (think Hong Kong and Macao, for example). While you can find fantastic egg tarts all over the city, our favorites are from Manteigaria. With a crust that’s a little thinner and a filling that’s a little richer than the rest, Manteigaria can’t be beat.

One of the hallmarks of Portuguese food is cod (bacalhau). You might think you’ve tried cod before, but we guarantee you that any Portuguese preparation of the humble fish will make you feel like you’re tasting it for the first time. According to the Portuguese, there are over 1000 ways to cook cod. Preparations vary from north to south, and each region has their own styles and specialties. Try to taste as many different varieties as possible – one of our favorites is bacalhua a bras, salted cod with eggs and potatoes.

Another seafood that the Portuguese do better than anywhere else is octopus. Even if you’re apprehensive about the tentacles, give it a try and you might just change your mind.

If you’re wandering around and find yourself in need of a little pick-me-up, it might be time to try bifana, a traditional Portuguese sandwich featuring pork and a mustard spread. Our favorite spot (also visited by Anthony Bourdain) is a shop called O Trevo. But if you can’t make it there, you can find great bifanaall around the city for as little as 2-3 euros.
Of course, you can’t forget the ginjinha, a cherry liqueur that originated in Lisbon. Sweet and strong, it’s normally served straight – with or without an alcohol-soaked cherry. The best place to try this sinfully sweet drink is the place that started it all, A Ginjinha, a bar so small that only three people can fit inside at once. And yet, its popularity means that there’s often a large crowd of people gathered outside its door, socializing over tiny glasses of ginjinha.
If you’re a fan of prix fixe courses, you’ll find no shortage of fine dining in Lisbon. Personally, we recommend Bairro do Avillez, which has two Michelin stars and is described by our founder Christine as “amazing.” But sometimes the most exquisite foods are those with the humblest beginnings. If you get the chance to join a Portuguese family in their home for some home cooking, do it. It’ll be the most delicious meal you can have in the entire country.

Sintra

An easy 30-minute train ride from Lisbon is the picturesque city of Sintra. Like something straight out of a fairytale, Sintra is all rolling hills and ancient castles. While anything you decide to do in this enchanting city will surely be worth your while, here are a couple of our favorite places.

Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena) is one of the most popular attractions in Sintra. It perfectly embodies 19thcentury Romanticism architecture and its interior has been restored to reflect the décor of 1910. Vividly painted and covered with elaborate carvings, Pena Palace is truly a vision. However, its popularity means that it can get pretty crowded, so try to go as soon as it opens to beat the crowd.

For a bit of a calmer experience, check out Quinta da Regaleira, a 20th residence featuring an eclectic mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline architectural styles. The building itself is a sight to behold, but don’t skip out on the gardens either. Fountains, statues, ponds, and even an aquarium speckle the hillside grounds.  

Before heading back to Lisbon, make a stop in at the charming Café Saudade for pastries and tea.

Cascais

For those who need a little bit of beach relaxation in order for a vacation to be complete, not to worry, we’ve got just the place for you! Less than an hour outside of Lisbon is the coastal resort town of Cascais.

Its beaches are perfect for all types of beach-goers from sunbathers to surfers. You can even get a massage on the beach for less than 35 euros! Naturally, the seafood here is some of the best that you can find in the country. Most of the seafood you’ll find in Cascais is sea-to-table fresh. Local specialties include cod, octopus, sea bass, and shellfish.

Perhaps the most famous attractions in Cascais is Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe. Standing at the edge of the outcropping, you’re treated to dramatic panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Visiting Lisbon is the best way to get a feel for the tradition and culture of Portugal. But in order to really get to know its heart and soul, you need to get to know its people. You can visit as many UNESCO sites as you want, but if you don’t chat with shopkeepers or strike up a conversation with a stranger or two, you’re missing out on a huge part of what makes Portugal so special. The people of Portugal are some of the warmest, most inviting people you’ll meet. We promise, you won’t regret stepping out of your comfort zone a little. And who knows, you might just get some better recommendations than these!