Have you been looking for a city break with lots of sun, culture and mouth-watering food? Then Lisbon is the place for you. As the one of the oldest cities in Europe (second only to Athens), you can expect that they’ve found their way of doing things in their own unique style that’s stuck.
I recently visited Lisbon and I’m already excited to go back! So, take a seat while I take you on my journey retracing my many footsteps.
The first thing you’ll be taken aback by is how colourful and vibrant Lisbon is, with buzzing nightlife down every street that’s the very spirit of the city and its people. Due to the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which almost destroyed the whole city, it’s a huge mix of old and new in its architecture. Lisbon’s built on seven hills (like a smaller version Rome) and as it’s the hottest capital city in Europe, so you’ll want to keep hydrated with all the walking you’ll be doing!
We arrived in Lisbon after a nice and early 2.5-hour flight and had a swift transfer to our apartment. We then dropped our bags and set off exploring.
First stop was Belém, as we were hungry for our first Pastel De Nata…and where better to start than Pasteis de Belem, where the recipe was invented by the monks from the Jeronimos Monastery next door?!
We grabbed our pack of six, which came with small packets of cinnamon and icing sugar, and savoured every mouthful before heading to the Tagus River.
Along the river, we stopped in awe at the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). This is a monument located on the Tagus river that pays tribute to the Portuguese Age of Discovery/Exploration of the 15th/16th centuries. A few moments later, we saw Belém Tower, which goes hand-in-hand with the monument as it’s also an icon of the Age of Discovery and is seen as the celebratory gateway to Lisbon. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with Jeronimos Monastery).
We headed backs towards the centre after noticing the 25th of April bridge (which bears a striking resemblance to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) as well as the scaled-down Christ the Redeemer on the other side of the River Tagus.
If you’ve seen anything about Lisbon, it’ll likely be Comércio Square. The sun-soaked plaza faces the River Tagus and is what remains of Paços da Ribeira (Ribeira Palace), the main residence of the Kings of Portugal for around 250 years. Nowadays, it’s a tourist hotspot, filled with bars and restaurants, and as I relaxed in the glorious sunshine with a Mojito in-hand and a smile on my face, I certainly felt like a King too!
We arrived in Rossio Square, the beating heart of the Baixa district, and figured there was no time like the present to wander around the centre of the city. We took in the sights and smells, as well as people-watched; it’s a great place to feel the energy of Lisbon. While you’re in Rossio Square, be sure to have a tipple at A Ginjinha; the home of a cherry liquor born in Lisbon, traditionally drunk from a chocolate shot glass, which makes for a wonderful chaser!
You also can’t miss the Santa Justa Elevator, designed by Gustav Eiffel (you may have heard of his work in Paris). It’s hard not to be impressed by the sight from the ground, but if you have time to queue, you can go to the top for a view over Rossio.
Now that I’d seen the new, there was only one place left to go: Alfama. This old town district has been remarkably left intact after the earthquake which shook much of Lisbon, so it feels like a step back in time. After the encouragement of a couple of locals (serenading us from their balcony with a folky rendition of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’), I made it to the most rewarding view in all of Lisbon at St George’s Castle, which is right at the top of Alfama.
Top tip: there are a few steeper slopes in Lisbon, but while I chose to burn (well, I hope) a fair few calories, there’s always the fun option of taking a tram or one of the many Tuk Tuks around the city. However, keep in mind that the famous Tram 28 which makes its way up Alfama is a hotspot for pickpockets.
As a musician, I was drawn to Lisbon’s traditional Portuguese music genre of Fado, which is known for being particularly expressive and provides the soundtrack to the city. So before heading to dinner, we stopped by a Fado bar to go and see some as Alfama is Fado-central! Getting (purposely) lost in Alfama and wandering the quirky streets was one of the highlights of my trip.
Last stop of the day was to indulge ourselves in some local cuisine. From the cheeses and cured meats to the wine and port…let’s just say it’s taken me a while to stop seeing that meal in my dreams.
Time Out Market
The next morning, we still had a taste for the local dishes, so we strolled over to Time Out Market. Lisbon is one of the most affordable places to eat in Europe, but while this market’s prices were only a little higher than what we’d grown used to, it’s worth every single penny. This was the first of several food halls that Time Out bought and you can see why it’s become a hit around the world. They review everything to make sure that every product sold is up to their 5-star standard, so you’ll find some of the best local cuisine here.
The next stop on our big adventure took us just outside of Lisbon, to Sintra, which is something of a hidden gem (and another UNESCO World Heritage Site). Sintra is a city in the mountains, which acted as a royal haven for years. Everywhere you turn there’s another stunning palace or castle. You feel like you’ve walked into a fairy tale.
Quinta da Regaleira is a Quinta (Portuguese Estate) with wonderful gardens you can walk around, as well as a chapel and even grottos. However, its most intriguing features are the Initiation Wells where you can walk down the staircase and through some tunnels to the next one. Its design was cleverly based off Dante’s Inferno (the 9 stages of hell), which is just as uncanny as it is beautiful, but not recommended for those who don’t like confined spaces!
The jewel in the crown of Sintra is, of course, Pena Palace. It’s magical: nothing less. Standing tall at the top of the mountains, the yellow and red towers are hard to miss, but being up-close to see the incredible blue and white tiling…and the view over Lisbon. Wow. This place really knows how to leave an impression, and it might just be my highlight of the trip.
We hurried back with rumbling tummies ready for our final holiday feast! Salted Cod is a renowned dish in Lisbon, and with seafood being so fresh here, I couldn’t resist. Again, I was blown away by the food that night – I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Finally, we ventured out into Bairro Alto, an area with fantastic nightlife and cool street art. You’re spoilt for choice for rooftop bars in Lisbon, but we ended our trip reminiscing our highlights at PARK, a hip bar on top of a multi-storey car park. Here, we watched the sunset over my favourite view of the city.
With a bottle of Ginjinha from Duty Free tucked safely under my arm, I stepped on board my flight home and then watched the city disappear beneath me. Lisbon is perfect for a weekend break, or a couples adventure. See the sights, go on a Food Walking Tour, soak up the sun, pay attention to the architecture and see how many buildings with gorgeous Portuguese tiling you can spot! And most importantly, wander around: there’s so much to see, so don’t spend too long looking through a camera lens.
Farewell Lisbon, I’ll be seeing you again soon!