Visiting Portugal from Spain to Experience “A Vida Portuguesa”

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I think Portugal has been an overlooked destination for study abroad students and travelers. Recently, it seems that people have finally started realizing what an interesting place Portugal is to visit — it has so much to offer. I recently got to visit Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon on an AIFS program-led excursion from my host city of Salamanca, Spain.

Along the way, we made a few stops along the coast, visiting Nazaré, Sintra and Cabo De Roca. Nazaré is a beautiful little coastal town that owns the title of the world’s biggest waves. As much as I hate to say it, the waves back home at Wrightsville beach couldn’t compare to these! Cabo de Roca was so picturesque. This cliff coastline is known as the most western most point of continental Europe.

Finally, after a grueling hour in traffic, we arrived in Lisbon. I had highly underestimated the size and density of the city, which expands inland from the coast for several kilometers. It hosts major offices of some of the world’s biggest international companies and industries, such as PWC and Amazon.

During our first night in Lisbon, we ventured out to see LxFactory, which is a revamped industrial park turned into an urban hotspot. This pocket of streets is filled with Lisbon’s cutest coffee shops, restaurants and craft stores. Being a port city, Lisbon was not much but industry and shipping containers for a long time. However, they have converted into a modern and progressive city while maintaining these roots. One of their old shipping container parks has turned into an artist community today, filled with murals and cafes. Lisbon also has an overwhelming presence of history pertaining to the discovery age since it was a huge hub for voyages during the age of exploration. There is no lack of history in this growing city.

One piece of Portuguese cuisine that you see in every café you enter is the beloved pastel de nata. This cream-filled, doughy pastry is so delicious. There is one place in all of Portugal that hosts the original recipe: a bakery near the cathedral, because it used to be made by the monks. They claim to have the best pastels and are the only place that has the rights to call them Pasteis de Belem. The line is out the door but worth every minute waiting. There was no lack of amazing pastries in Lisbon.

Portugal was so nice that we decided to go twice.

After our program-led excursion through AIFS, we returned the next following weekend, this time exploring the city of Porto. Porto is a short bus ride away from Salamanca, heading directly west to the coast. Porto is smaller than Lisbon but still a significantly unique, modern and beautiful city.

The trademark of Porto is the famous Dom Luis I bridge. The bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also constructed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The bridge itself is an incredible panoramic scenic view of the city, and the views of the city standing from the bridge are nothing short of amazing as well.

Porto also hosts one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, Livraria Lello, which is said to be the bookstore where J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for the Harry Potter series. The bookstore is now an attraction with a ticketed entrance, but is well-worth the €5 fee. The red staircase gives off major Hogwarts vibes and the bookcases are filled with every type of book imaginable. The Serralves is also worth a visit, a modern art museum in art deco style with gardens that could be explored for days. Porto also surprised me with the coolest local stores selling Portuguese goods. They are known for many local products such as crafted soap, port wine and cork. My favorite store was A Vida Portuguesa, which translates to The Portuguese Life, because it sold all of the local products and captured the essence of their culture, new and old.

I would highly recommend that anyone studying abroad in Spain to makes the journey west to visit Portugal.

It is a short plane, bus, or car ride away and very worthwhile. Not only is it a cheap place to get to, but the cost of accommodations, food and attractions are also very inexpensive for a vacation spot. The Portuguese people are incredibly friendly and are more than willing to talk to you and show off their cities. Since it has just recently become a popular place to visit, the locals are prideful and excited to welcome foreigners. I thoroughly enjoyed living a vida Portuguesa.

This post was contributed by Andrea Maspons, a student from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.

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