Travelled in: May 2018
Earlier this month I ticked off a new country from my growing list of places I want to go, Portugal. I have wanted to visit Lisbon for a while, so over the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May my sister and I went on a little adventure to explore this colourful capital city.
Lisbon is not only the capital of Portugal it is also the countries largest city. It is a city most well known for it’s unique colourful buildings, beautiful ceramics, old school city trams and it’s seven hills.
Lisbon is a deceivingly vast city and there is a lot to see spread over a large area. Three days was the perfect amount of time for two city exploring days and one day trip.
This is what we got up to…
Getting to Lisbon…
We flew to Lisbon from Heathrow with TAP Air Portugal. Flights were £170 return Saturday – Tuesday. Prices were slightly inflated due to the bank holiday and Eurovision song contest being hosted in Lisbon that same week.
Having never flown TAP Portugal before I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. The planes are pretty nice and they even offer you a free *meal! (*meal being a sandwich, some really cute plane shaped jelly sweets and a drink).
One downside was their hand luggage allowance as they restrict you to only 8kg in your cabin bag. They were quite strict at the gate and on both journeys they asked me to check my bag in (luckily at no extra cost.)
Getting around Lisbon…
The best way to really see and feel Lisbon is on foot. Lisbon is very hilly so you are guaranteed a good work out. On average we walked around 22km a day, by the end of our trip our feet literally felt like they were about to fall off, so be sure to pack comfortable shoes!
Lisbon has a lot of public transport options… Trams, metro, buses and trains! Despite this the service they offer is not all that efficient and certainly does not cater for the amount of people that use the transport system. It is however the cheapest option for longer journeys, but might not necessarily be the fastest.
UBER is a popular and cheap way to get around the city. We used this a couple of times and saved ourselves a lot of time trying to figure out public transport. We paid €8 from the airport to Alfama.
Other options are taxis, tuk tuks and I also saw a few segways, bikes and even go karts flying around.
Eating in Lisbon…
As always my favourite part of travel is trying the local food and Lisbon has some amazing cuisine to check out…
A couple of MUST TRIES…
- Pastel de Nata aka A Custard filled Egg Tart.
- Chocolate Cake – No explanation needed, but the Portuguese seem to make a great one!
- Portonico aka Port with Tonic Water & lime.
Some recommendations for Lunch & Dinner…
Taberna Da Rua Das Flores, Chiado – This restaurant served us by far the best meal we had in Lisbon! We tried to eat here a couple of times over the weekend, but couldn’t get in as they do not take reservations and it is always full, with a huge waiting list.
On our last day we were determined to eat here, we arrived at 12pm when the restaurant opened for lunch. Luckily we were the first people there and got a table as soon as they opened the door.
This place is genuinely amazing, the staff offer brilliant personalized service and they change the menu daily with a very interesting offering each day. We tried the daily special of Stingray, followed by a delicious chocolate cake.
Barracao de Alfama, A super popular restaurant in Alfama. I ordered the seafood rice dish, which was really good! They also serve very nice local Lisboa wine which is worth a try. It would be worth reserving here as it gets very busy.
Cantina ze Avilez, Baixa – Jose Avilez is a well known chef in Lisbon with 11 restaurants in total dotted around the city. We stumbled across this one which is really reasonably priced and in a great location. We ate Codfish cakes followed by Steak with Egg, and a typical dessert called Touchinho Do Ceu, which is a cake made with almond, egg and sugar.
Things to do in Lisbon…
As I already mentioned Lisbon is huge and the attractions of the city are really spread out. To make for easier planning I have separated all of the things to do by the area they are in…
Belem is on the south west side of the city, set along the Tagus River. This is the part of the city where you will find most of Lisbons historical attractions. Belem is highly associated with early Portuguese explorers, so a lot of the attractions here are to commemorate their achievements.
To get to Belem the easiest way is to hop on a bus. A single fare was €1.80. Most buses seemed to go to Belem, the most popular place to get on is outside the Cais Do Sodre station, and most get off at the Jeronimos Monastery. From Alfama the bus journey took around 20 minutes. You can find the timetables here!
Torre de Belem is one of the most iconic sights in Lisbon. I have to say I was a little underwhelmed having seen some incredible pictures of this place, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations… This may have been because I arrived at low tide and during the day, when probably the best time to go is at high tide around sunset. The queue to get in to the tower was over an hour long so we skipped a visit inside.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a monument located on the river front opposite the Jeronimos Monastery. The monument celebrates the Portuguese discoveries during in the 15th and 16th century. Inside there is an exhibition space, there is also a viewing platform at the top where you can admire the surrounding views of the river, the Monastery and the Ponte de 25 Abril.
Jeronimos Monastery is the heart of Belem. This religious building was historically associated with the early explorers, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the main attractions in Lisbon. On Sunday mornings it is free to go inside, however it is also the busiest time to go, sadly we didn’t make it inside due to this crazy queue which went around the side of the building…
Pasteis De Belem is a bakery on the street next to the Monastery. This is the most famous place in Lisbon to try a Pastel de Nata! There is always a queue outside, but it goes down really quickly and is definitely worth the wait. I was worried this was going to be a massive tourist trap and totally over hyped, but I was not disappointed. It was definitely the best Nata I ate over the weekend and believe me I ate quite a few.
MAAT aka The Museum of Art and Architecture was on my list of places to go, but unfortunately it was closed when we arrived. They were hosting an event for the Eurovision that evening so they were closed for the set up. If you are in Belem though this place is meant to be a must do, especially if you are in to art.
LX Factory is not technically in Belem, but close enough to combine your visits. It is a great place to stop for lunch or a drink after a morning of sightseeing. From MAAT it is about a 15 minute walk to LX Factory.
LX Factory is an old industrial style estate that has been converted in to retail spaces, bars, restaurants and offices. It was one of my highlights of Lisbon due to it’s quirky urban concept. Each vendor has something unique about them, there is street art on every wall and there was a great outdoor flea market on during my visit.
We also couldn’t resist trying some of the supposed “best cake in the world” at Landeau Chocolate. Admittedly it was very good cake, but super rich so I would recommend sharing!
The main city centre is spread across the areas known as Bairo Altro, Baixa, Chiado and Rossio.
One of the main areas in Lisbon is Praca de Comercio… There is a real buzz in this area, even more so when I visited because of the Eurovision events being held here. Opposite you can also find another iconic sight in Lisbon the Rua Augusta Arch. This is a great place to start your city center exploring.
Shopping is really good in Lisbon. There are loads of shops spread out across the city center. The main shopping streets being Rua Augusta and Avenida da Liberdade. There are also loads of cute old school antiques, book and food stores dotted around the city, which are well worth popping in to.
Just going to put it out there that the famous Santa Justa Lift is a huge tourist trap. Tourists queue in their dozens to pay €5 for a few seconds elevator ride to a view point. Would you believe you can actually get near enough the same view for free. If you head up to Piazza del Chiado and take the pathway next to the museum you can walk on to the Santa Justa elevation bridge and check out the view from here without spending a penny.
Trams are a huge part of Lisbons culture and history. Being the city of seven hills a tram ride is a welcomed rest on the old legs. Unfortunately as with a lot of things in Lisbon the old school trams are a huge tourist attraction and the tram ride experience might not be as fun as it seems. Tram 28 is the most popular route. Getting on a tram can prove difficult because they get so busy. Tram 12 takes a very similar route to 28 and is a lot less crowded.
Rooftoop views are incredible in Lisbon. Best enjoyed at sunset. We found a great bar called Park Rooftop which is literally a bar on top of a city center car-park. Definitely worth heading here for a drink and amazing sunset vibes.
The pathway along the River Tagus was one of my favourite places to walk in Lisbon. Mainly because unlike the rest of Lisbon it is on flat ground, but it is also really beautiful next to the water.
A must check out is the super cool Riverside bar Quiosque Ribeira das Naus… This is an amazing place to spend an afternoon tanning in one of their riverside deckchairs whilst sipping on a Portonico.
Time Out Market is a popular place to eat in Lisbon and supposedly home to some of the best eateries in the city. Personally I thought this place was again another big tourist trap and the food I ate here actually made me sick. In winter or bad weather I imagine it would be a good place to come for an afternoon aperitif as it gets pretty lively.
Alfama is Lisbons old town. This was definitely my favourite and in my opinion the most beautiful area of the city.
Miradouros aka viewpoints are all over Alfama and are well sign posted. GoLisbon has a great roundup of the best ones. My favourites were…
Miradouro Da Graca – there is a great litte cafe/bar here as well to enjoy a nice apertivo at sunset. It is a bit of an uphill trek to get to, but the view is SO worth it!
Miradouro De Santa Lucia – I liked this one more for the pretty rose garden than the view.
Fado is a style of Portuguese music. There are plenty of restaurants in Alfama where you can enjoy a live Fado performance whilst you dine, however always check how much the cover charge you will be asked to pay for the pleasure. There’s a good chance you might be stuck with a much bigger bill than you were expecting!
Sao Jorge Castle is set on a hill overlooking the whole city. From what I have seen it offers some incredible views, however I think the views of the castle from afar are just as impressive. I was a bit castled out after my day trip to Sintra so gave this one a miss.
We also did a day trip to Sintra. The city of colourful, fairytale castles. This deserves its own post as there is so much to tell you about so a Sintra post will be coming soon!
Overall I really enjoyed my weekend in Lisbon. It is a really amazing city has a lot of culture, friendly people, but far too many annoying tourists.
Usually I come away from places knowing I will go back again, however I didn’t get that feeling upon leaving Lisbon. I feel like I did and saw everything I wanted to in the short time I had. I do however definitely want to go back and explore more of Portugal as it is a really beautiful country. I need one of those Pastel de Natas back in my life asap!