“Travelling leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller” – IBN Battuta
Lisbon ranks as one of the worlds longest founded cities. It’s truly beautiful. It was probably even more beautiful before the 1755 earthquake that practically demolished the city, however it’s been almost entirely rebuilt and has great character.
It is one of those cities where you don’t need a map. I recommend wandering around the small laneways decorated with Portugese streamers and colourful flags. If you get lost, don’t worry, just look up and spot the castle on the hill to get your bearings again!
Where to stay?
I stayed in Lisbon Old Town Hostel which was a great location for what we wanted. It was close to Baixa Chiada station (which takes you directly to airport or bus station), close to bars and cafes and walkable to the main square and the castle. The dorms were huge which was great for storing bags and they even put on weekly dinners to allow travellers to socialise (8 euros got us a 3 course traditional meal and unlimited wine!)
6 TOP LISBON EXPERIENCES
1. V I S I T B E L E M
My friend and I are foodies to our core. We will travel far and wide once we hear about an exciting dish or appealing food recommendation. From day one, we were set on getting our hands on the best Pastel de Nata available (traditional Portugese tart). We had heard the best of the best was from Belem.
Considering we were about to stuff our faces with tarts, we decided to take our time and power walk to Belem for exercise (6km west of the city) however by the time we got 2km in – we were too eager. We saw a bicycle hire shop and immediately looked at each other with a smile. We could get there in half the time on a bike! We hired bikes for about 4 euros and continued on along the river to Belem. It was such a beautiful ride. It is perfectly designed with cycle lanes and stunning scenery. It took us about an hour in total however most people tend to take tram 15 from the city centre which takes 22 minutes. We chained our bikes up to a pole and walked towards the famous Pastiel de Belem Pastry cafe.
The line outside was huge! But I had heard to walk straight in as the cafe is bigger than it appears from the outside. We cut right through to the front of the line, passed the counters and tables and through to a whole other dining room full of tables. The restaurant could probably seat about 300 people at a time! When walking through, you can also view the entire kitchen through glass windows. There was an entire team of pastry chefs engaged in various steps and literally hundreds of tarts were laid out on a table. They apparently sell thousands of pastries everyday! We managed to find a table and order immediately.
TIP: Don’t be fooled by the line outside Pastiel De Belem – walk straight in and through to the dining rooms and grab a seat yourself. The line is generally for takeaway but many are mistaken and end up lining up unnecessarily for hours!
We didn’t even need to see a menu. We wanted tarts and fresh orange juice. It was incredible. It was creamy, delicious and even better than I expected from the reviews! I should add that it took us 10 minutes once we received the tarts take a perfect photo of them! I think we nailed it (photo featured above).
Once we had come back down to earth, we left the cafe and wandered around Belem. It is an incredibly beautiful part of Lisbon. The buildings are decorated and painted in vivd colours. In the main park opposite the cafe is a hugely popular local market selling antiques, jewellery, bags and carefully designed Portugese tiles. We wandered around here for awhile and then had a picnic in the park with fresh baguettes. It was such a perfect day!
2. T R Y T H E L O C A L F O O D
We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend who lives in Lisbon. He wanted to make sure we were acquainted with a good Portugese meal. He took us to a local restaurant called Taberna Ideal. It was a complete gastronomical experience! We had the amazing mushroom and chestnut tart, codfish salad and the famous peach crumble with agua de choc mousse with firewater! A few mouthfuls we felt a bit tipsy so go easy! After a long dining session (and a few bottles of wine) he took us down to the main square and we wandered down one of the side streets. It was time to try Ginja liqueur – a traditional Portugese drink and the drink of choice by locals in Lisbon. It is a sour cherry liqueur made from infusing ginja berries and sugar and generally served in a shot glass with a piece of fruit at the bottom. We stood at the counter of a tiny bar (2 metres by 3 metres?) and asked for 3 shots. I thought it was delicious. My friend thought it was disgusting but I guess we all have different tastes! Definitely something to try while you are in Lisbon. Not just for the unique taste, but for the people watching and humour in ordering one.
For breakfast, our friend took us to a local cafe and we had a Portugese speciality – a coconut brioche and espresso coffee. It was amazing! You can find them everywhere so give it a go!
TIP: Ask the waitress to add ham and cheese to your coconut brioche and toast it! Yum!
If the food and drink has kept you standing – try and make it to a cool small bar called The Spot. It was fairly late when i went there so don’t remember the exact location and it doesn’t appear on google maps but it was around Rue da Atalaia – along with plenty of other quirky small bars so its worth a visit!
3. W A L K I N G T O U R
Knowing very little about Lisbon, or Portugese history in general, we opted to join a walking tour of the city. There are hundreds of free tours starting all over the city so check which one is closest to you. Our guide was really nice and he gave some really interesting information but after 2 hours – I couldn’t take it anymore. He was going into way too much detail for me. Too many specifics just made me tune out and we ended up ditching the tour and grabbing some food! In hindsight, I must have just been impatient that day. I still remember some really fascinating stories and I have a much better understand of why the city is the way it is, however it just wasn’t my day. Would I still recommend doing a walking tour? Absolutely. Just have a large coffee before you go because there is a lot to take in!
4. V I S I T T H E C A S T L E
Lisbon can be distinctly recognised by Castelo St Jorge – perched high above the city on a grand hill. It is quite a beautiful site and the view from the top is fantastic! Some opt to walk up through the spirals of markets and shops (which I would normally love) however due to heat and sheer laziness we were driven to the top. You also have the option to get tram no.28 and enjoy the ride. We stopped halfway up for some photos and a bite to eat from the local market and then continued to the top. Once you get to the top, you need to pay to get into the castle – this includes the front garden with the best view. Entry is 7.50 euros and you can have a picnic up there and enjoy the view. You can see right across to the other side of the river. Most of the shops up here are very overpriced (as you would expect) so leave the shopping for elsewhere. It’s a really nice day out and we enjoyed taking in the view and admiring the moats, castle design and grand rooms inside!
5. D A Y T R I P T O O B I D O S
Obidos is small walled city filled with a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets and brightly painted shop doors. Located about an hour north of Lisbon, it is quite easy to visit in a day. I did a road trip from Lisbon to Porto so had a hire car with me however I have heard of many tours and buses running this route too.
Wandering around is the best way to picture what life was like for its old inhabitants. Tiny street side vendors sell crafts and food and if you are lucky enough to be there in July, the castle hosts a traditional ‘Medieval Market’. For two weeks the castle and the surrounding town recreate the spirit of medieval Europe. Everyone gets involved and dressed up as jugglers, soliders, merchants and jesters! They feast on grilled meats and a pig on the spit. I would recommend drinking from the pewter tankards and eating from a wooden trencher to add to the experience!
We went for a walk around the walls. I was wearing flip flops which certainly wasn’t smart. The wall is about 5m high and there has been no safety precautions put in place so wear enclosed shoes. The wall is crumbly and it’s easy to lose your footing. I was careful and walked slowly. It was beautiful. As you walk around, you gain a 360 degree view of the walled city and the beautiful mountain side too.
6. S U N S E T O N T H E P I E R
One afternoon we wandered down to the pier and was surprised to see a cute pop up bar. They had set up sun lounges along the edge and had a small bar serving ciders and beer. With classic hits playing and people sunbathing, it was such a perfect spot to relax and watch the sunset. We sat there chatting for hours and enjoyed people watching. This was a pop up restaurant at the time but apparently they are constantly promoting new spirits there and have new pop ups all the time. Walk down and check out what’s on!
Santo Amaro docks has a number of bars and restaurants permanently set up too and often have live music playing and a great atmosphere to chill out next to the water.
Lisbon is an amazing city and I only managed to explore one side of the river!
Happy wandering 🙂