I arrived in Lisbon on Monday afternoon and navigated through the narrow, winding cobblestone streets to my place atop Barrio Alto. I was anxious to check in to my apartment, which was a three-bedroom flat with a great view for a rate so cheap I was convinced there must have been a pricing mistake.
I checked in and sat for a few moments on the balcony overlooking the city. I didn't bother unpacking, and instead wandered down toward the waterfront. On the way down I stopped at various miradouros and each time I was met with striking views of the city.
The ornate architecture and azulejos were a constant reminder of Lisbon's history as a wealthy capital city. The grit around the city's edges was a constant reminder that Lisbon was a wealthy capital city three centuries ago.
Like many buildings in Lisbon, the Castelo de São Jorge sits atop a hill overlooking the Tagus River. Unlike those other buildings, however, the Castelo survived the Great Earthquake of 1755 (as well as a prior earthquake in 1531) and has served as the centerpiece of the city for centuries.
Despite its importance to the city's history, and therefore its status as a central tourist destination, the Castelo is extraordinarily aloof. There are no guides, no signs, and no vendors hawking selfie sticks. I paid 10 euro to enter, and was left to my own devices. I climbed up and down the walls and tours like I was in a medieval jungle gym, and the views did not disappoint.
The next day I jumped aboard a vintage, open-roof Jeep and headed out on an off-roading excursion to Sintra, the royal countryside retreat outside of Lisbon. The Portuguese monarchs maintained their extravagant summer homes among the rolling hills, not very far from the ragged coastal cliffs.
Our driver and tour guide was a Portuguese local who had grown up in a small town on the outskirts of Sintra. We jolted around in the Jeep as Francisco took us exploring along back roads and steep ascents.
The main attraction was a sprawling estate called Quinta de Regaleira. Alongside the main castle stood several guest houses, beautiful stonework, and some truly off-the-wall attractions, like an underground tower leading to a hidden waterfall.
Following our adventure in Sintra, we stopped at a local eatery for heaping plates of grilled meats, char-broiled fish, and roasted potatoes. Of course, there was no shortage of table wine and beer. Each of us ate until we could barely move.
From lunch, we headed out to the coast, ultimately arriving at the westernmost point in continental Europe. Along the way we toured a variety of beaches and watched the vicious surf from atop the rugged cliff line. The views of the Atlantic were truly spectacular - the waves towered as tall as multi-story buildings and crashed against the coast with a thunderous rumble, spraying mist high into the air.
I spent my final day in Lisbon exploring Belem and the Jeronimos Monastery.
My first stop was the Belem Tower. The tower is a popular tourist site, for good reason - it remains remarkably intact and sits almost fully in the river, offering fantastic waterfront views. A violinist stood vigil out front playing the Game of Thrones theme song, completing the medieval illusion.
The Monastery sits just inland from the tower, and is at once a remarkable yet humble attraction. The attention to detail inside the Monastery is astounding (the painted stonework in particular was incredible) and its many rooms offer ample opportunities for quiet reflection away from other tourists.
After leaving the Monastery, I walked back to Lisbon along the waterfront esplanade. Along the way, I made a stop at a grungy indie market called LxFactory filled with local art, independent shops, and outdoor eateries.