Just a short flight from London is the city of Lisbon. The Portuguese capital has become hugely popular lately as a travel destination. With cute architecture, delicious cuisine and gorgeous views, it is no wonder why so many people are stopping by. A few days in Lisbon is a welcomed break, with sunshine and lots to see, do and eat. A perfect place for a weekend getaway!
Get Your Bearings
Located on the West side of Portugal, the city’s airport is a travel hub for those flying in. In fact, I was surprised by the large size of the airport and the number of flights coming in from London, the rest of Europe and the States. TAP Portugal are aggressively expanding but has been relatively less heard of in the travel world. I was pleasantly surprised by the flights to and from London and would recommend flying with them when planning your visit it Lisbon. Added bonus is that the airline’s flight crew has been named most handsome crew!
Start Off with a Market
Start your visit with a trip to the Time Out Market, an enormous food market in the centre of town serving up some unique and delicious dishes. The food hall is packed with restaurants and stalls, serving up some of the most incredible seafood, cold cut meats and delicious local dishes! Do be mindful that during peak hours, it might take a while to get a seat and table. Make sure to check out the store that only sells canned food!
Hike and Explore
Lisbon is famously known as the City of Seven Hills. This means that pretty much every corner or street you walk down, you will somehow end up walking up one of the hills. This also means that there are numerous lookout points around the city that all offer some incredible views! There is something mesmerizing about those tiled roofs, all in that gorgeous orange!
A walk around Lisbon and you will discover endless cute little streets, squares, monuments and beautifully decorated buildings. This makes getting lost a real treat!
For those who don’t fancy too much hill walking, take the famous Tram 28 and go for a little tour around town. It is a great way to get away from the heat while seeing loads of the city.
Lisbon Free walking Tour
The best way to get to know a city is through a free walking tour! They are usually run by genuine people who know the city and you will end up only paying for what you want. These are normally tip based services and you quite literally decide how much the tour was worth at the end. I usually look for tours run by Sandeman’s– they are really enjoyable, dynamic and run by fun guides!
The tour gives you a deep understanding of the city’s history, local heroes, top spots and great tips for the rest of your stay in Lisbon. Some of my highlights were the oldest book store in the world, endless squares, the Santa Justa lift and some incredible city stories!
On the Edge of Lisbon
Just outside of the center of Lisbon is the historical area of Belem. You should spend at least half a day or a morning in this area. The first stop would be to get to Pastéis de Belém early in the morning, before the queues start. This is the world most famous bakery shop that sells the best pastel de nata in town. It is freshly made in store and the queue gets really long. So definitely get there for their 8am opening. You cannot beat a hot pastry first thing in the morning, with a nice cup of coffee.
After your heavy and sweet breakfast, you could stop by the Palace and do a quick tour, or check out the Jerónimos Monastery. I skipped the Palace and headed for the later, where I was met with a grand looking building with incredible interiors. This monastery was opened in 1495 and still has regular services.
The last part of the morning in Belem would be a nice gentle stroll down the riverside. You will first see Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument representing the concept of Portuguese exploration.
It is such a nice little walk along the river, with plenty of cafes and restaurants to sit at and people watch. Before you know it, you will have reached the Belem Tower, a medieval defensive tower that is worth stopping for photos. What a nice morning spent in Belem!
This neighborhood in central Lisbon is worth exploring and wondering around. It has this really nice vibe to it, with low buildings and lots of bars! Definitely a spot to pop by for some drinks! Wine lovers have to head to BA Wine Bar – this is a cute little spot serving up some great local wines!
One of the best things I managed to experience in Lisbon was an intimate Fado performance. Fado is a music genre from 1820s and usually played by a small band with some very intense singing and usually portraying some very emotional and sad events. The songs are all in Portuguese but you can really feel the emotions from the music and the singing alone. It is an experience really worth having! So much emotion. I would suggest heading to Mascote da Atalaia in Barrio Alto the day before to book a spot for dinner the next day. The food is decent, there is this amazing sparkling white wine on tap and the music is just completely out of the world!
The last area of Lisbon worth mentioning is Alfama. During the day, the tiny and cobbled streets are filled with old grandmas shouting at each other and having a good time. At night, it is where all the bars and parties are at! This former red light district was ironically the only area in the whole of Lisbon that did not get destroyed during the last massive earthquake! You can walk down the streets at night and head into any bar, fado or restaurant, to really get a taste of Lisbon’s night life!
Where To Eat
One of my favorite travel shows is Somebody Feed Phil. This short series is really centered around places to eat and is based around a city per episode. When Phil was in Lisbon, there was one restaurant that I just knew I had to go check out – Ponto Final. A short ferry ride from the centre of Lisbon and you will be on the other side, with some of the best views of the city. About a 15 minute walk along the waters and you will come across this cute little restaurant literally on the side of the water! Make sure to call well in advance if you want a table on the edge. It is definitely worth it, especially with the view of the whole of Lisbon. Perfect while you feast on the freshest seafood ever – grilled fish, octopus and all. I spent a ridiculous amount of time here for lunch (3 hours!). It was so relaxing with incredible food and great wine too! A definite must when in Lisbon.
For more traditional Portuguese or local food, there are two decent spots in town. One is Taberna da Rua das Flores, a super cute and artisan tavern-like contemporary restaurant. The food was seasonal, with black boards as menu. The staff are nice enough to point out each dish in detail and recommended things to try. Its like Portuguese tapas, sharing small plates and trying lots of different things! The dim lighting and vibe makes this place really intimate for dates as well!
Word of caution – this place is very popular! I went at around 6pm and was asked to come back 1.5 hours later! It is a small place and it is fair enough. Pop your name down and then head next door to By The Wine for some quality local wines and snacks.
For a more traditional setting, try out Casa do Alentejo. This is an old palace that was built around the 17th century and contains some beautiful mosaics and interior designs. Finding the spot was a bit challenging but once inside from the busy high street, you enter into a tranquil courtyard and get absolutely transported into some Spanish or Moorish setting. I spent some time walking around just to see the place! The stairs and the interior were all really well designed and preserved.
Food was served upstairs and consisted of great local dishes from the Alentejo region, with the likes of lamb stews, pork loins and rabbit. What makes this place so special is the dining hall. One of the most incredibly designed places I have eaten at!
Peri Peri What? How can you come to Portugal and not try out the famous Peri Peri chicken? Rumour has it that Frangasqueira Nacional has the best chicken in town. This little take out spot is famous for the meat and runs out of chicken on most days! I was so looking forward to this but only to find out that it was closed on a bank holiday! Feeling gutted, I walked aimless around the empty streets to find an alternative. Luckily, I walked into a little park with a small spot for dinner. In a green house like building is Esplanada Cafe. This is such a cute spot with large open windows and is a perfect place to sit and sip wine and enjoy some gorgeous chicken! One of the most relaxed evenings I had in Lisbon!
All in All
Lisbon was such a lovely city to explore and enjoy. This is a perfect destination for a long weekend. Spend a few days in the city and you will be eating great seafood, getting lost in beautiful architecture and learning so much about the history and life of this great city! Stay tuned for my next post – a day trip to Sintra!