Visiting Lisbon has always been on my hit list of cities to see and after never quite finding the time to visit, the opportunity arose this month as my friends got married in Portugal, so the date to visit the city was set!
After spending three beautiful days of wedding celebrations in Campo Real an hour outside Lisbon it was time to head into the city.
We arrived on the Friday afternoon, it was late afternoon so we settled into our apartment for the weekend (with one of the best panoramic views out over the city btw!) in the historical and instantly recognisable Alfama district.
After settling in our first stop was the ice cream store and we hit upon the first one we saw. I tried a number ice creams over the weekend and they were all amazing so I don’t think you can go wrong – but this first one was especially good – Gelato Therapy 1100 332, Rua da Madalena 83.
Following this we walked down to Rossi square, which is buzzing with restaurants and bars and had a few late night drinks then retired home for the evening.
Saturday for me has always been about shopping, eating and relaxing so that is exactly what we did. The main shopping area is in Baixa which is the central valley area in Lisbon – translated it means flat area which is exactly what it is – a flat area between two hills either side.
There are 8 streets in a grid fashion in Baixa, the middle pedestrian ones are packed full of all the big brands. You can get lost in a world of shopping in these street so be prepared! When you have completed those shops head to the start of Barrio Alto where the ornate Baixi elevator is, this spot has more luxury shops and retailers.
We stopped for lunch in one of the restaurants in Baixi – however do yourself a favour and miss this tourist hotspot, food is mediocre and you can do much better. Head to Barrio Alto which is packed and I mean packed with restaurants and bars. Find one that the locals goto and stay away from anything remotely touristy.
After lunch we took a walk down to the main square at the port – Praça do Comércio. A fantastic people watching spot and with lovely views and up and down the sea.
Now Lisbon, well Portugal is famous for two things, one which is the drink port and you will find hundreds of shops selling it, we hit upon a really good one – Garrafeira Nacional, there are a number of them in the city.
The other thing the city is famous for is sardines, I must admit I didn’t know this before, but I learnt quickly – there are hundreds of shops selling beautifully wrapped and illustrated sardine tins – and with prices being between 1-3 euros it’s worth stocking up!
For dinner we had (well Chris my friend had) done our homework and read the Guardian best restaurants in Lisbon guide. One restaurant they recommended was the Decadente in Bairro Alto and it wasn’t a let down. I would highly advise booking a table if you have time. Great atmosphere, not offensively priced and delicious grub.
Sunday was our pilgrimage to Sintra and Pena Palace. When you look at the photos before you goto Sintra you will think; this place isn’t real it must be Disneyland. But it is real and it is a Unesco world heritage site, if you goto Lisbon and don’t visit here you have missed out!
The easiest way to get there is by train from Rossio station in Lisbon and get the Sintra line and stay on till the last stop.
Within Sintra at the top of the mountain is Pena Palace. To get to Pena Palace, don’t even think about walking – the palace which is painted red and yellow is perched on top of the highest hill above the town. Get one of the tour buses which will do a loop from Sintra up to Pena Palace and take you back down to the train station and costs 5 euros.
Give yourself a full day to see Sintra and Pena, the train takes 40 minutes to get there and the palace and garden (which are extensive) will take a few hours to walk about. Sintra also has many other historical buildings that you can factor into your day. Having now been there I would recommend that you try and enter Pena Palace either first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon, it is popular and you will need to queue during peak times.
When the rest of Lisbon was back to work, we were still on holiday! We started the day lazily so didn’t really get going till lunchtime by which point we made our way to another of the Guardian’s recommended eateries the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira in Cais do Sodre and it is totally worth a visit!
Relatively new in opening – May 2014, it is located in Lisbon’s biggest fresh food market. Managed by Time Out this 35 kiosk restaurant sells everything from seafood, to meats, fushion dishes and good old pizza. It’s a great atmosphere and with so much food to choose from there is literally something for everyone.
Now the market is super handy for visiting Belem (Jerónimos Monastery) as the train station and tram to Belem are across the road from the market. If you want to get there quickly I recommend taking the train – we took the train there and tram back and the tram does take a lot longer.
Belem is famous for a number of things, but most famous for Jerónimos Monastery and tarts (will come back to the tarts later on). Situated in the city of Belem, and 15 minutes walk from the train station, this Goliath of a religious building is anything but small. We didn’t have time to explore the whole of the monastery, but did pop into the cathedral which was impressive.
Now we are not a big religious group to be honest so actually the main reason we went to Belem was to get our paws on some tarts! Lisbon is famous for custard tarts and you can buy them in lots of cafes across the city, but the shop where they were first invented Pasteis de Belem is now a custard tart Mecca and well worth a visit. Queues are big – so as we were recommend and we recommended to you buy more than one tart each as you will definitely want seconds.
One final stop we made was to visit Padrao dos Descobrimentos which is just a five minute walk from the monastery. It was first built in 1940 for the Portuguese World Exhibition and reconstructed in 1960 using a more durable material.
Lisbon delivered and then some, a great place for a weekend break that I would give no hesitation recommending. The food is good, wine is in abundance and cheap, there is plenty to see and do and it’s a compact city so you can walk if you want or grab one of the many trams or metro service.