A Portuguese royal wedding was responsible for my first ever trip to Portugal from 3 to 9 October 2023. Unexpectedly warm summer weather – each day around 30 C – made it a bit of a challenge to keep track of my schedule, but in the end I managed to see almost everything I wanted. Did I already say I prefer to walk instead of using transport?
Tuesday, 3 October 2023
From Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I took a flight in the afternoon to Lisbon, Portugal. After meeting a long-time Portuguese friend, whom I finally managed to meet after nearly 25 years online, all I was able to do was to stroll through the Parque Eduardo VII near my hotel.
Wednesday, 4 October 2023
Picking up my accreditation as a journalist/photographer – and for some colleagues also – for the royal wedding first. The Fundação Dom Manuel II turned out to have a very nice small office close to the waterfront. After having enjoyed the views around the Cais do Sodré I slowly strolled to the Praça do Comercio. I loved the old cars in which drivers are offering tours through Lisbon, but they were a bit expensive for my liking. Being a folk dancer, I very much enjoyed schoolchildren performing mainly Portuguese folk dances underneath the passage in the direction of the shopping streets, to raise money for their school.
My first real touristic stop was the beautiful Sé cathedral that had some wonderful tombs and monuments for important people. My next stop was the Castelo de S. Jorge. The many people and my tight schedule made me skip a visit to the inside. Several people had told me that it shouldn’t be too high on my list. Of course, I got lost on my way out of the area, but the backstreets of Lisbon were quite interesting also.
High on my list was the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora with the royal pantheon. I spent quite a bit of time inside, especially the pantheon turned out to be most interesting for a royalty watcher. Also the views were lovely, like everywhere in the city. The nearby National Pantheon was somewhat expensive, but the building itself, and the views from the balcony of the dome, were amazing. On my way back to the waterfront, I heard my one and only live fado of the week outside the Fado Museum. At the Praça do Comercio the school children were replaced by beggars. A warning: don’t try to photograph them or their animals … Via the Praça da Figueira and the Praça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio) I went back to my hotel and had dinner.
Thursday, 5 October 2023
National day in Portugal. I had planned a visit to the National Palace of Sintra and the National Palace of Pena. Taking the train from Rossio to Sintra turned out to be easy. I started early to be sure I could visit both palaces, and walked from the railway station of Sintra to the first palace. I was too early, but never mind. It gave me some time to get a few pastel de nata at the Casa Piriquita just opposite the National Palace of Sintra. Ate them later that day and I can only say: more than worth it! I very much enjoyed the National Palace of Sintra. It was quite touristic, but not too bad. It might have been my luck that I visited in the morning.
I left in time to take the bus to the National Palace of Pena. Take AT LEAST one hour for it, if not more. The traffic is horrible, lots of other cars, small tourist transportation, people walking. The best you can do is buy your tickets for the National Palace of Pena beforehand, as the queue might be huge. It however means you have to be there at the time given on your ticket to be able to get inside. While the palace itself and the views were wonderful, I can’t say I liked the huge amount of other visitors. It might have been because of national day, but from what I heard it is always crowded. In my opinion, it is impossible to visit more than two Sintra palaces/castles on one day. Back in the centre of the town, I had a look at some souvenir shops before going back to Lisbon.
Friday, 6 October 2023
Time to explore Belém. Seeing the already huge queue at the Jerónimos Monastery – that was for everybody, including people, that already had a ticket – I decided to get on with the rest of my program. I would have loved to go inside, but just thought I wouldn’t be able to see the other places. The Belém Palace is in use by the president, so most of the time – except for sometimes on Saturdays – not open to visit. My first stop: the National Museum of Coaches, full of amazing coaches of the former Portuguese Royal Family. There is a brand new, very modern building, with a lot of them inside. But don’t miss the interesting old royal riding school with some more coaches, on the other side of the street. I was about the only visitor for most of the time, and the entrance was even free.
I walked up towards to the National Palace of Ajuda. But first I had to visit the newly opened museum next door: the Royal Treasury Museum. I actually walked already too far up the hill, because the first you see is a very white modern building, in which the treasury is, while I expected something old. It has the crown jewels, royal jewelry, a good museum shop. It was quite good, although very dark. I also very much enjoyed the National Palace of Ajuda. Much more quiet than the palaces in Sintra too. I probably stayed inside for too long, but it was so nice and cool. So sorry, Jerónimos Monastery, I missed you, as well as the Belém Tower and some other lovely places. Maybe I come back one day. The only thing about Belém I didn’t like was the huge highway between the waterfront and Belém itself. I didn’t manage to find a place to cross the street.
Saturday, 7 October 2023
The day of the royal wedding of Dona Infanta Maria Francisca de Bragança, Duquesa de Coimbra, and Duarte de Sousa Araújo Martins at the Real Basilica de Mafra. Mafra is outside Lisbon, and if it had been open, I would have loved seeing the palace and the basilica from the inside. A report with photos can be found on my royal blog.
Sunday, 8 October 2023
Tired from the previous day, I took it slowly and arrived at the National Palace of Queluz only in the afternoon. I once again took the train, and walked from the railway station. The area around the station doesn’t feel very safe and comfortable. I think I wouldn’t walk around there on my own in the dark. Upon arrival I didn’t think the palace looked very impressive, but it turns out the garden side is by far the best. Again very quiet with few visitors, which I absolutely didn’t mind.
After I had something to eat, I went back to Lisbon. After a walk I ended up at a place, that I had missed out on my first day: the Basilica da Estrela with the tomb of Queen Maria II of Portugal.
Monday, 9 October 2023
Not much time left in the morning to do something. I had breakfast at my hotel, packed my stuff and got myself something to eat. I took the metro to the airport, a very good, cheap and quick service when you stay in or around the centre. After a bit of shopping at the airport I travelled back to Schiphol and took the train back home. Such a pity that the next evening I discovered I – the first time for me – a certain famous illness.
Pastries and ice cream
I had pastries at several places, and there is so much great stuff to buy. Pastel de nata has to be eaten at least once. I tried them in two hotels, where they were just OK. But in cafés and bakeries, they are often delicious. If you’re in Sintra, a visit to the Casa Piriquita is a must.
Here’s a new fan of Portuguese ice cream. Had gelados de Portugal at least twice. They come in all kind of flavours.
To be honest, I was not impressed by the restaurants in the main touristic street from the Praça do Comercio to Rossio. For the same amount of money or a bit more, you can have much better food elsewhere. On my last evening for example, I discovered an Indian restaurant called Natraj Tandoori, in a backstreet of the popular shopping street for tourists. I am not a foodie, but really enjoyed my meal there, with freshly made naan bread.
Overall, the public transport is quite good, and cheap. Be in time, as there might be queues at railway and metro stations full of people wanting to buy tickets. There are buses, trains and the old trams, that are very cute. Especially during busy times, it might take much longer to get somewhere than expected. My experience is that bus stops don’t always show timetables, and often even tell you, that there are no buses on a particular day, even if they are actually going. Better use an app like Carris, CP or Moovit, or ask at your hotel.