Last year from May to July I embarked on a slightly intimidating, yet totally awesome 9 1/2 week adventure through Europe (mostly solo). The trip started in Portugal, from there I headed to Croatia (with a day trip to Bosnia), then Austria, Germany & finally Belgium. It truly was a trip of a lifetime, one which I thought I’d blog about as I progressed, but the reality was that I was on the go pretty much 24/7 and therefore didn’t end up having the time (or energy) to review & edit my millions of photos and then create informative blog posts with all the details I wanted to share.
Then when I got back home I had to deal with the struggle of getting back into a normal routine, starting work again (and at a new client on top of that), and dealing with some post-travel depression, something that tends to hit me quite hard after every trip.
This is how we got to 9 months later (from date of departure that is) & now only getting to my first post. But hey, better late than never, right? So here goes…
My first stop in Portugal was their capital city, Lisbon, where I spent a lovely 7 days & 6 nights getting to know this beautiful “city of seven hills”. (warning: that’s not just a cute nickname, you do a lot of steep climbing in this city) I really loved Lisbon – the people, the food, the wine, the shopping, the sights, everything really. I stayed in Alfama, the city’s oldest district and therefore a very charming & picturesque area. For those who want to be closer to the nightlife action, I would rather recommend staying in the Bairro Alto area. And for those who want to be closer to all the major sights & high street shops, I would recommend the Baixa area. Alfama treated me well though, it was a little more laid back & “old school”, but also felt a bit more authentically Portuguese. Plus it was an easy 20min walk to the hustle and bustle of the city.
There really is so much to experience in Lisbon, but I’ve decided to create a list of top 10 things I think every visitor should add to their Lisbon itinerary. So here goes:
- Chill at TOPO rooftop bar
A lot of people will brave the queues at the Santa Justa Lift to enjoy its fantastic views of the city. BUT, why not skip the queues and enjoy those same views while sipping on a cocktail, beer or glass of wine instead? Enter TOPO Chiado – a chic, rooftop bar where you can sit back and relax while enjoying the view, which actually includes that of the top of the Santa Justa Lift. You’ll thank me for this one… ain’t nobody got time for crazy queues.
- Book a food & wine walking tour
One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with the city is to do a walking tour. Because I’m also a huge lover of food & wine, I decided to combine the walking tour element with a foodie element by booking the “Lisbon Small-Group Gourmet Portuguese Food and Wine Tour” which I found on Viator.com for 45 euros. During this 3 hour tour, we got to taste some delicious things & learnt a lot of interesting facts about the Lisbon food & wine scene. It’s also a great way to meet people if you’re a solo traveller.
- Explore the Belem area
Belem has a lot to offer as far as sights go. You need to set a full day aside to explore the area properly. It’s a pretty easy tram ride from Praça do Comércio & once there you can easily explore by foot. Two definite musts: The Jerónimos Monastery (totally worth paying to see the inside) & then sampling the Pastei de nata (a Portuguese egg tart pastry for those who haven’t yet had one) at Pasteis de Belem – located about 200m away from the monastery. Pasteis de Belem gets crazy busy & getting a seat inside will be tricky, so just opt for a take-away and go and enjoy it in the nearby park. Other sights worth walking past: MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) – such an interesting looking building & therefore a great photo opportunity, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument which overlooks the Tagus river, and finally the Belem Tower, which you can also visit inside, but is also just really cool to see from the outside.
- Experience an authentic Fado performance in the Alfama district
As mentioned above, I stayed in the Alfama district. Fado music (which originated in Lisbon) is big in Alfama with lots of restaurants & bars offering live Fado experiences. I found the most authentic experience at a tiny little spot called Tasca do Jaime D’Alfama. There are different fado singers each night, but the real charm is that the owner (who happens to be a great fado singer himself) also gets up and sings. Book a table if you can as they do get very busy, order some food and enjoy the various performances. The nice thing is that they don’t charge you anything extra for the fado. The only rule? No talking while the musicians are performing.
- Check out the views from Castelo de S. Jorge
The Castelo de S. Jorge is a Moorish castle located on a hilltop overlooking the historic centre of Lisbon. It’s location ensures for great views over the city & is mainly the reason why it’s made it into my top 10. There’s not a hell of a lot of other exciting things to see, but inside the castle walls you will find a “Wine with a view” stand where you can buy some bubbly or wine (by the glass or per bottle) and then find a nice spot to sip & relax.
- Ride a tram
Pretty much every single website & blog post you’ll find online will tell you that you have to catch Tram 28 as this is the oldest, prettiest & most famous one. But, with all that popularity you also get massive crowds, long queues & a pickpocketer’s dream. The truth is, there are a couple of these beautiful old trams passing through the city & catching a ride of any one of these is a cool experience. As soon as I spotted one, I made a run for it & jumped on. You can pay on the tram, no advance ticket needed.
- Sampling delicious treats at Mercado da Baixa
This tented market on Praça da Figueira has all kinds of gourmet goodies you can sample. I really enjoyed strolling through the various stalls and trying a variety of things. As it’s mainly a farmers style market you’ll find things like chorizo, meat, cheese, olives, honey & jam options, but there are also a couple of stalls selling things like jewelry, crafts & souvenirs. On the drinks side you can choose between some fruity sangria, ice cold beers or even a glass of wine. Seating is limited, but the charm is in sharing a table and chatting to locals & fellow tourists alike.
- Roam around the Feira da Ladra flea market
Feira da Ladra is open every Tuesday & Saturday and offers an interesting mix of homeware, clothing, antiques, souvenirs and everything in between. Even if you’re not a serious shopper, it’s just cool to see all the vintage finds and locally made items.
- Enjoy a freebie & see the beautiful Sé Cathedral
If cathedrals are your vibe, Sé Cathedral is definitely one to check out. It’s free entry, which trust me is something you’ll appreciate, especially when travelling on the Rand. It’s also seen as Lisbon’s most important and iconic religious building, so that’s another reason to check it out. The cathedral dates all the way back to the 12th century and features really beautiful gothic arches inside.
- Day trip to Sintra
Love castles? Then you’re going to love Sintra. It’s a pretty easy day trip to do on your own (i.e. without having to join a tour group) because it’s only a 40min train ride from Lisbon & then a quick connection onto a local tourist bus which will take you past all of the castles. For all the details on how to get there, how much you’ll pay, etc – click over here. You won’t be able to see all of the castles in just one day, so you’ll need to pick the top 3 you most want to see. My biggest tip would be to not pay the extra fee to see the inside of Pena palace (the brightly-coloured Disney looking one). It’s not worth the queues and takes way too long. You can see all the prettiness by just roaming the open areas & by taking a stroll through its beautiful gardens. I really loved the Gothicness of Quinta da Regaleira and was really irritated that I had wasted so much time at Pena. It meant I had to do a rush tour of Quinta da Regaleira and an even more rushed tour at Palácio de Monserrate.
OK, then just one more unofficial/official thing to do: Buy something made of cork
Cork products are super popular in Portugal, especially Lisbon. They make almost anything you can think of out of this surprisingly strong material. You’ll find lots of bags, etc at market stalls across the city, but I found that they weren’t great quality. I would recommend that you rather purchase your cork item from a proper store, like House of Cork or Cork & Co. You’ll find branches all over the city. I bought a really cute handbag for 39 euros which I ended up using on my trip & I’m happy to report that it’s still going strong.
To see more photos & videos of Lisbon, check out my Instagram account – ctmylove. I created story highlights for each city that I visited during my trip last year which you’ll find on my profile. Scroll through these and select the one called “Lisbon”.
My next post will cover Portugal’s southern Algarve region… so stay tuned. 🙂