Like many cash strapped students, I dreamt about the possibility of gap year travels. When you see your friends touring far flung destinations like India or Thailand, it is easy to become envious. My gap year intentions were to amass loads of money to spend while at university. Instead of sailing towards the Orient, I chose to discover Europe, on a budget, starting with Lisbon.
If the reference to Vasco de Gama’s voyage to India doesn’t put you in holiday mode, then arriving in sunny Lisbon will. Tucked away in the Southwest corner of Europe and bordering Spain, Portugal’s mediterranean climate offers sunshine all-year-round. It is important to note that the further north and inland you travel, the cooler it gets, so for an ideal summer holiday stay in the South. Temperatures in summer average around 27C and this region is one of the driest in Europe, so forget packing an umbrella. Getting there could not be easier, with low-cost airlines departing almost daily from major UK airports; return tickets are available for as low as £30 when booked in advance.
Older than Paris and London, this 750 year old city boasts medieval market streets, countless cafes, and the largest indoor aquarium on the continent. Getting bored here is a challenge. Staying in the centre of Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district, I had the chance to lose myself in winding alleys and explore the ruins of Sao Jorge Castle. Offering views of red tiled roofs, the winding Tagus River, and the famous Tower of Belem, I spent hours gazing from this monumental hilltop. The city is situated on numerous hills so be sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes, something I had not done.
Staying at a guesthouse run by a local offered me the experience to live like a resident of Lisbon. My welcoming host offered to show me the local shop, where he introduced me to the custard tart, or pastel de natás as they are locally called. Produced in the city since the 18th century, they are a national delicacy. It was love at first bite. This coastal capital is also known for its seafood, but if you are vegetarian, don’t panic. Every menu I saw had at least two veggie options. I recommend visiting Canto da Villa Bistro on Largo do Limoeiro for dinner or tapas. Dining on freshly made pasta with a glass of wine on a warm summer evening, while the quintessential Lisbon trams hurtle past, is something I urge everyone to experience.
Lisbon, being a transport hub, offers easy access to various different waterfronts. A straightforward train route from central Lisbon will take you west to the resort town of Cascais; along the way there are a number of scattered beaches, the largest in Carcavelos. Situated off a commuter train line, it will be bustling with people even on a weekday morning. If you want a quieter beach, head south of Lisbon; the journey will take around an hour and will require a ferry trip. Troia is a relaxed resort village located in Portugal’s Setubal region and it’s a lovely place where local Portuguese own holiday homes. The beaches here offer white sand and clearer waters than the ones closer to Lisbon and you may even see the elusive Atlantic dolphins nearby at the Sado River estuary.
For those who hoping to get the most out of their gap year, but don’t have a fortune to spend, Lisbon is the ideal place.