One day earlier this summer, Patrick and I were looking at our calendars and realized August was delightfully empty. We decided to make our house available on Airbnb for the month and see what rented, then try to travel during those dates. Thankfully we got some rentals and started looking for flights. Renting out our home on Airbnb has (for the most part) been awesome and totally helps justify the cost of travel. Plus it forces us to keep our home really clean!
Patrick came across a super reasonable flight from Chicago to Barcelona, so we snagged them. Obviously there are endless possibilities for traveling to multiple cities while in Europe, and we definitely considered a variety of places. We chose Lisbon, Portugal—the contrast between Barcelona and Lisbon made for a great variation of experiences during our 10-day trip. We had a layover in Charlotte, but the rest was about as convenient of a flight time as international travel can get — leave the U.S. around 9:00pm, drink a couple glasses of free wine on the flight, and sleep as much as possible until landing.
Once we landed, we hit the ground running. It was mid-morning in Barcelona, 3:00am back home. We took the Aerobus from the Barcelona airport to the City Centre and walked to our Airbnb from there. I highly recommend the Aerobus — it was super easy, clean, and cheap. It was €5.90 one way, so about $6.50 a person.
Our Airbnb was in Gràcia, which we would later come to find was our favorite neighborhood in the city by a landslide. There were lots of great areas — but this one felt the most our vibe. We had the sweetest Airbnb host, Ceci, who provided wonderful recommendations. Her apartment was one of the cutest places I have ever stayed, it felt very much like home.
After settling in and changing clothes to try to trick our bodies onto our new schedule, we needed coffee (or a cocktail?) desperately. Patrick’s best bud and now one of my dear friends met up with us here — Johnny! We were so happy to have him along for the first leg of the trip. We stopped at a place called Cafe Adonis which was right around the corner from our new temporary home. After an Aperol Spritz and some beet hummus, we decided to get the touristy stuff out of the way. Though touristy, these places were absolutely magnificent. Antoni Gaudí is a famous architect — his buildings encompass Barcelona. There are several around the city, and they are hard to miss. Their whimsically wavy style feels somewhere between a real-life gingerbread house and medieval times. His most famous work is La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished basilica that will forever be under construction. You can pay for a tour of the inside, but we opted to admire its’ beauty from the outside and move on. Though if you do want to tour the inside, I recommend getting tickets online beforehand because it seemed they were sold out for the day when we arrived.
Park Güell was another fascinating spot that seemed like a never-ending jungle in a city. We walked many steps to get to the top and continued for miles around the park— running on adrenaline and excitement at this point. You can pay to get into the inner part of the park, but there are miles of walkways around the park that are free to explore and still display a lot of Gaudí’s vision. Anytime nature can be intertwined with a city, I am stoked. (Gaudí architecture pictured below, from left to right + top to bottom: Sagrada Familia, one of the many structures in Park Güell, Patrick in Park Güell, and Casa Milà.)
Realizing we had walked over 11 miles this day, we agreed that we deserved a gooood meal. Our friend Justine recommended Cañete. This was hands down one of our best meals of the trip, where we ordered several tapas to share. Paella is a staple in Spain; usually consisting of rice, seafood, and spices. It kinda reminds me of jambalaya. Conceptually, it isn’t my idea of favorite foods but I am almost always down to try any kind of food. It was definitely good and we ate every last grain, but not something that is about to become a staple in my diet. John and Patrick were taking advantage of how amazing the sangria is in Spain, but usually I find it a bit too sweet to order a whole one so I just take sips of Patrick’s. (I do that with a lot of things. I’m sure he loves it.)
After some gelato (soft serve, so not the real hand-scooped stuff but we needed a sweet treat and it was still delicious), we walked our tired feet back to the Airbnb where we left the bedroom window open and let the breeze blow in all night. Despite hearing it would be a very hot time of the year to visit Barcelona, it was a bit unseasonably cool for us — and though sweaty at times, it most always felt temperate.
The next day was for straight chillllling. What’s more relaxing than laying in the sand until you’re so hot you can’t stand it, running into the refreshing ocean water, and then falling asleep on your towel with a beer half buried in the sand beside you? This is what we did.
Our Airbnb host recommended heading to Playa Ocata since it is a little further from the city and less crowded/touristy. We trusted her and headed to the train station where we got tickets to. Playa Ocata for about $5 a person, one way. The train line was directly parallel to the beach, so it was fascinating looking out the crowded train window to see the ocean right there.
After some time in the sunshine and a few beers later, we walked up barefoot to a little restaurant on the beach for a snack. There are several spots to have a sit-down meal while putting your feet in the sand in this area.
We took the train back to the city and walked by a pretty little park called Parc de l'Estació del Nord. It would be a sweet spot for a picnic, if you have the time.
After going to our Airbnb to shower and attempt to look halfway decent, we went to a place called El Nacional which was basically a bougie food hall, it reminded me of Denver Central Market. It was super pretty, though, and the food was good. A bit overpriced, but sometimes ya gotta.
At dinner, we decided to plan out the next day. We all went into this trip with an open mindset and very little planning at all. Often times this is my favorite way to travel, it makes it way less stressful and it is so fun to stumble upon gems while exploring. We searched online and once we realized the horseback tour of the mountains was unavailable, we decided to take a cable car up to the Montserrat Monastery. I’m usually not into the whole tour guide deal, but we were convinced by the fact that it was about $55 a person and included transportation to the cable car, cable car ride, and lunch at a local restaurant in the mountains. This was about a 7 hour commitment and it was so beyond worth the money. I’ll attach a link to the tour we booked here. We met our guide, Mark, at their central office in the city. Mark was basically the Spanish Patrick, by the way —
We got into a nice, air-conditioned van and headed toward the mountains. There were about 8 other tourists from Canada, Australia, The Virgin Islands, and Romania. Once we got to the cable car, we beat the line and were able to hop right on. It was about 10 minutes to the top, and it was eerily incredible because of the dense fog.
Mark gave us a brief history and was open to any questions we had. He was super knowledgable but not over bearing at all. We were about 4,050 feet high at the Montserrat Monastery. I won’t bore you with all the history we learned about this place, but it truly was fascinating so here’s a link if you want to read more. The view from the top is unbelievable — we got so lucky and got to witness both dense incredible fog as well as clear blue skies, and all the beauty in between.
We had about two hours to explore on our own, and there were a few great options to consider: paying respects to the Black Madonna of Montserrat, shopping at their market, roaming around the grounds, visiting the art museum that houses work from many Catalonian artists as well as Dalí, Picasso, Monet (woah), or hiking. Of course we chose to hike! It was a bit of a climb, but very worth it. The view was breathtaking, and there were monuments and sculptures along the way.
Once we reconvened, we took the cable car back down and the van was waiting for us. We rode about 10 minutes to another side of the mountain and ate at a Catalan restaurant called L’illa. There, we chatted with the group and shared a few bottles of wine before heading back down the mountain and into Barcelona.
We met back up with Johnny after taking a moment to chill at our Airbnb, then found a couple spots for drinks. Our host told us about some festivals happening, but we had no idea how big of a deal it was. We just so happened to be staying in Gràcia during the Fiesta de Gràcia, and it was the wildest street party I have ever witnessed. The neighbors take great pride in decorating their streets for the festival, and all sort of ribbons/installations/banners were running above each street. There were makeshift bars slinging drinks every few meters, and stages set up with a variety of live music.
Our last full day of our first leg of the trip had come, and it was jam packed. After coffee, we met John at The Owl. (This was our code name for the meeting spot between our Airbnb and his hotel, where a massive Owl was always watching from the top of a building…hahaha.)
We wanted to walk to the beach closest to the city, so we had a few miles of exploring ahead of us. We walked through Parc de la Ciutadella, which was kind of like Central Park in NYC. Not nearly as magnificent or large, but lovely nonetheless.
We walked to Platja de Sant Sebastià, the city beach where there were tall buildings, lots of shops, and lots of people. This is where we probably saw the most modern architecture, as well. We decided to rent Birds and ride around which somehow felt so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud while flying by on my little scooter. We zipped up by the super fancy W hotel where there was a totally empty area — perfect for Birding at full speed. We hung out up there for a bit before we realized our Birds were chirping due to being out of the allowed zone. We rode around some more until we stumbled upon another cable car. Not really knowing where it went, we rode across the street to check it out. It was the Telerifico del Puerto cable car leading up to Castell de Montjuïc. We locked up our Birds and stood in line for quite a while to get onto the cable car, but it was very worth it.
At the top, you could eat, drink, hike, wander, whatever. It was like a playland. We immediately got gelato, and the boys double fisted beers while I double fisted rosé wine. We chilled for a bit before starting our trek up the hill to the castle. The Montjuïc Castle is an old military fortress, originally built in the 1600s and later destroyed / later built again in the 1700s. We saw perfectly hedged landscaping, people practicing archery, and views that really made you imagine what it would be like to be there during a battle. Kinda eerie, but really interesting.
We didn’t end up using our cable car return ride because we walked all the way down the hill, taking a ton of little turns and stumbling upon the super fancy Miramar hotel, where we considered having a drink but decided it was way too fancy for us. Once we were back in the Gothic Quarter, we went to a cool place called La Tasca del Corral — a divey looking place with meats hanging from the ceiling, cheap drinks, and good music. Wayyy more our speed. We ordered a dish that was sausage on fire, and we were responsible for making sure it finished cooking through. Though entertaining, I wasn’t a huge fan. Though I was a fan of the sangria that came out in an old clay jug.
For dinner, John scouted out a place called El Salón. We sat outside in what looked like a courtyard in the middle of a castle. There were tall stone buildings surrounding us, and it felt so medieval. We were in the Gothic Quarter, after all. We ordered some suuuper good food to share, including risotto, shrimp linguine, burrata with ham, and baked brie.
The next morning we had an early flight to Lisbon. Since it was so early, we splurged on their version of Uber, which is called Cabify. It’s mostly like Uber, except the cars are all actual cabs and you have the option to pay cash or through the app. We had all good experiences with it. We landed in Lisbon as it was still morning, and our Airbnb host offered to pick us up. Our Airbnb wasn’t available for a couple hours, so we found a breakfast spot nearby and then literally laid on a park bench and almost fell asleep — haha. The park across the street from our temporary Lisbon home was called Jardim Botto Machado. There was even a little bar/cafe stand in the middle of it, along with playground and equipment and my personal favorite, a DOG PARK. We would’ve started exploring but we had our carry on with us and with the cobblestone roads and lots of hills, that wouldn’t have been fun — so we people (and dog) watched for a while.
Once we checked in, we took a much needed nap. Lisbon is an hour behind Barcelona, so luckily we gained an hour and taking a nap didn’t set us back too much. I usually try to avoid naps / sleeping too much when traveling because I want to soak in as much as possible, but sometimes you need to listen to your body and let it take a little rest.
Once we had a little more in our tanks, we were off to wander around on foot. We stayed in Alfama, which is one of Lisbon’s oldest areas.
After roaming around all day, we went for an early happy hour / dinner at Noobai. Situated on the top of a hill and having a rooftop, this place was stunning. We got super lucky, since we were total early birds I’m sure, and got the table in the corner with the best view overlooking the water and Lisbon’s skyline.
We had the charcuterie spread of our dreams, along with a few drinks. I ordered what I think is possibly my new favorite drink, a caipirinha. I have tried them in the states a couple times, but it isn’t a customary cocktail at typical American bars. It is made with cachaça (Brazillian liquor) , sugar, and lime. I mean, a looottt of lime. I opt for no sugar because I love the tartness. You should definitely try it.
We were a few miles from our Airbnb but opted to walk so that we could people watch and see more of the city. We stopped in at a super funky bar/restaurant across the street from our place called Santa Clara Dos Cogumelos — a self-proclaimed mushroom sanctuary. They have drinks, desserts, and almost all their food made with mushrooms. It was honestly pretty freakin’ awesome, even if a bit weird.
The next day was for Belém — the museum + monuments district. It’s pretty far from Alfama, and after a day of walking, we opted for an Uber. Uber is all over in Lisbon — unlike Barcelona, where it goes back and forth between being banned and not.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a fascinating monument that honors Portugal’s “Age of Discovery” in the 15th-16th centuries.
Belém Tower is very close by, and a stroll along this boardwalk will afford you sights of several historic monuments.
Conveniently located right by the water and in view of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, we took a break and ordered a bottle of rosé at 11:00am because why not? Espaço Espelho d'Água was a nice little oasis where you can drink wine, people watch, look out at the water, and even view some art that was hanging on the walls inside.
The museums (and famous tarts) were across the road — there’s a huge pedestrian bridge to get across. We were told we couldn’t leave Lisbon without trying pastel de natas, so we had to stop at Pastéis de Belém — a famous bakery. It reminded me of Cafe du Monde in that there’s a huge line, but it goes very fast and is very worth it. These Portuguese custard tarts are sprinkled with powdered sugar and super delicious. I’m more of a chocolate and/or fruit dessert kinda person, so I’m not the biggest fan of custard tart type things, but I would happily eat another right this second if I was able.
Patrick noticed that there was a pop-up Banksy exhibit, so that was immediately on our to-do list. First, we hit the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology.) It was a small but modern, and had some neat exhibits. There was a video installation as you walk past the ticket desk that was pretty interesting, as you walk through a designed corridor to experience the different films being shown at once.
The Banksy pop-up at Cordoaria Nacional was incredible. Though not endorsed by Banksy, because obviously he isn’t about self promotion, the exhibit was very well done. It made me feel like shit for being such a consumer, which is definitely the goal. I don’t mind the inspiration boost to be a better person. The political work he does is always brilliant, and it’s awesome to even be alive at the same time as such an influential artist as him. The only crappy part about this museum was that you LITERALLY EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. This blew my mind, as that is literally the name of a documentary made by Banksy. People were buying Banksy memorabilia and though I understand that the museum needs to make money, it was still very strange to see that. Haha!
We had a quick lunch at the LX Factory, which is like a miniature neighborhood fin a historical industrial complex filled with restaurants, bars, and little shops / art exhibits.
Next was the Convento do Carmo, an archaeological ruins museum that used to be a Catholic convent that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755. The skeleton still stands, and when you’re inside looking up at the sky, it is crazy to think about the history of where you’re standing. Additionally, there is a museum in the back with lots of historical artifacts, including two actual mummies. The tickets to get into the ruins / museum were about 5€, so not a bad price at all to see something truly unique.
Our sweet Barcelona Airbnb host, Ceci, recommended a few spots in Lisbon. I totally trust her judgment, as she seems to have very similar interests to us. She mentioned a bar called Pensão Amor. This bar was fabulous. It is dimly lit, and kind of a mix between burlesque, erotica, and the theme of love. There were several rooms, some with a library full of erotica books and others with poles for dancing. Sounds a little more intense than it actually was, it was super chill and the bartenders knew how to make a damn good drink. It was very romantic with plush furniture and lots of quirky art all around.
Now that we had a small buzz, we were feeling like adventurous eaters. We wanted some seafood. We walked around the area of our new favorite Lisbon bar, and found Sol & Pesca. It is not a typical order for either of us to get sardines as an appetizer, but there was literally a wall in the tiny, cozy restaurant filled with sardine cans, so we gave it a shot. Placed upon a crostini and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, and chives, this was honestly so good. We couldn’t had three of them, I’m sure. Side note: On our way back to the U.S., I watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Lisbon and he ate here, loved it, and sat super close to the table we were at. RIP Anthony, a true legend and big inspiration to me.
Our last full day in Lisbon was full of changes and surprises, and ultimately ended up incredible. We started out by going to our neighborhood market in Alfama, that happens every Tuesday and Saturday. It is a massive market that has people selling antiques, vintage clothing, art, etc. We couldn’t decide between going to the beach and going to Sintra, but we decided on beaching it since it was closer. We got a train ticket to Praia da Conceição, a beach in Cascais. Once we arrived, it was an absolute sea of people. We were so hungry and desperate to eat that we went to a below-mediocre restaurant. After taking a couple bites, paying, and escaping as quickly as possible, our beach day wasn’t off to a great start.
We laid on the crowded beach for a little bit, dipped our toes in the ICE cold water, and decided that we should venture to our other considered plan: Sintra. Sintra is a small town in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. Distinguished by colorful buildings, detailed tilework, and many palaces, this felt almost dream-like.
The Pena Palace was remarkable, but our vision was a bit clouded by how damn busy it was. Like seriously, maybe the most crowded tourist area I have ever seen. It is totally worth seeing because it is so unique, but I highly recommend going super early in the morning. We were there on a weekday afternoon and it was still just insanely busy. Maybe I was just hangry or maybe I’m a hypocrite because I obviously take a shit ton of photos, but people posing and having full blown photoshoots in front of these historical markers irked me.
BUT, once we saw what we needed to see, we took the less-traveled option and walked down the massive hillside. There weren’t many other walkers, and it is kind of like being hot-boxed by the exhaust of tour buses, but I’m glad we took the 40 minute stroll down to Quinta da Regaleira, a massive palace surrounded by forests, wells, plants, and more. The grounds were absolutely stunning. The women we met the night before while getting gelato were from Chicago, and they told us about the Initiatic Well. We waited in line for 45 minutes or so, but it was kinda nice to take a breather. Once inside, it was an eerie spiral of stairs around the 88-feet-deep well — but neat to see. I didn’t look up much of the history beforehand, so I was coming up with all sorts of possibilities for why this existed in my head. Most were pretty grim, haha. Turns out, it wasn’t really used for a well — but for secret ceremonial purposes.
We walked back to the city of Sintra and hopped on a train to take us back to Lisbon. Sintra itself was pretty cute, and if we had more time, I would’ve liked to explore more and have a meal. It seemed much more peaceful than the crowded palaces from earlier.
Super hungry, we searched some spots online. We decided upon Cantinho do Avillez which was exactly what we needed. The bartender made the most perfect caipirinha, Patrick got a gin + tonic, and we got seated after a very short wait. It turns out the chef is pretty famous, and this was yet another spot that Anthony Bourdain featured on his Lisbon episode. I swear this was one of the best meals of our lives. We shared mushroom risotto, a pork chop, and their famous hazelnut dessert — consisting of hazelnut ice cream, hazelnut foam, topped with hazelnuts. I am too lazy to copy/paste the drooling emoji, but this was a perfect dessert.
The next day, we flew back to Barcelona. We booked our Lisbon flight inside of our Barcelona flight because it made the most sense financially, as the flight we got from Chicago to Barcelona was such a great deal. If we would have done it over again, we probably would have stayed one more day in Lisbon and just returned to Barcelona for the day before flying home. Our second Barcelona Airbnb wasn’t as nice as the first and was pretty far away from the areas we fell in love with the first leg of the trip, but it was totally fine. We had a pretty chill day and just walked around the city some more after landing.
Our last full day was one of the best. We started out going to a cute coffee shop that Patrick’s sister Bridget recommended, called The Hidden Cafe. A couple weeks prior, while we were still in the U.S., I planned a surprise sailboating excursion for Patrick and I. I kept it a secret almost the whole time, but I blew it when we were having coffee and I mentioned how far away we were from the pier. Haha! Didn’t matter at this point — now we could navigate how to get there together. I booked this on Airbnb experiences, which I totally recommend. We met our guide and fellow travelers at the pier and embarked on our journey. Our captain, Mark, lived on his sailboat with his girlfriend. They were fascinating and it was awesome hearing what they had to say.
They provided beer and snacks, which is always a perk. We chatted with other travelers and just basked in the sun and the fact that we were on a freaking sailboat in the Mediterranean Sea. I hiiighly recommend this experience, as it was everything we needed and more. I’ll link it here!
Once we were out in the open, we were given the option to jump off the boat into the warm, salty sea. This was a totally surreal moment that I will treasure forever.
Afterward, we stopped at the beach to lay out for just a little more sunshine. You’re allowed to be topless, and I’m pretty sure just straight up naked if you want, and I absolutely took my top off for a bit. It’s oddly liberating, I highly recommend it. #freethenipple. We then hopped on Bird’s again and scootered around, ending up back in our favorite neighborhood of Gracia. We found a cute tapas bar, La Pepita, and reminisced about everything we had done.
The next day, we packed up our things and went to the airport to fly back home, rich in new experiences and a pretty solid tan.
We were away just long enough to start missing home, and we were ready to get back to our pup and a routine. This adventure was such a blessing, and I am endlessly lucky I get to travel with my best friend + love of my life.
If you made it this far, you are probably either my mom, Patrick, or Colleen, who I’m going to ask to proofread for me. JK, but for real, thanks for reading and please feel free to ask any questions.