A couple of weekends ago, one of my oldest friends, Miss T, and I finally ticked off Lisbon from our hit list. We had very high expectations of the city and luckily the Portuguese capital far exceeded them. I absolutely loved every second of our stay there and thought that the city made a perfect weekend away given its ease of access (just a short direct flight from Heathrow), plethora of excellent restaurants and swathes of culture. We stayed at the LX hotel in the Bairro Alto district, which I would happily stay at again. It was chic, had attentive service and its location was walking distance to 99% of the places Miss T and I wanted to go to. Below I've listed some of my must dos for the city, but really you could just sit at coffee shop all day and watch the world go by in this buzzy capital.
Free Walking Tour. I loved a free walking tour that I went on that went from Rossio square. This small company run about three a day to different locations and areas. You’ll see them on the square as they wear yellow tshirts and hold yellow umbrellas. They leave at about 11am in the morning and though free, the guide does love getting a tip at the end. Miss T and I joined the Mouraria area tour which ambles around what is widely considered the oldest part of the city. It was fascinating and beautiful. The district is full of narrow lanes and tiny alleys all adorned with antique Portuguese tiles and modern street art. The guide gave us both historical facts, local city tips and gossipy titbits that made the tour informative and fun.
Alfama. This area of Lisbon is fab just to get lost in as it is full of quirky little restaurants and shops in its winding streets. The castle is here which affords spectacular views of the city but in itself is lovely to walk around with its pretty grounds. Entrance is around 8euros which also takes in a museum. I had lunch in two places in this area. One was called Petisquerira Conqvistador really near the castle. I had one of, if not THE, best steak sandwich of my life there! I also enjoyed a lunch at, Medrosa d’Alfama which looks like nothing from outside but does yummy salads, sandwiches and cheese&meat boards. One of my top tips for this area though is to go for a drink at Memmo Alfama which is a hotel in one of the back streets. They have an amazing rooftop bar with a red swimming pool with the most amazing view of the old town of Lisbon.
Breakfast. Food in Lisbon is such a gastronomic feast that you have to make use of every meal time. For breakfast, one of the nicest places my friend and I went to was a cute bakery called Tartine in the Chiado region. It had the most delicious bread, and served wonderful scrambled eggs and was a lot cheaper (and better) than our hotel breakfast. Opposite this eatery is also the notable Kaffeehaus, but any bakery that you walk by with fresh croissants in the window along with the traditional Pasteis will mean that you eat well - all washed down by delicious Portugeuse coffee which is an institution in itself.
Mercado da Ribeira Velha. The Time Out market in the Bairro Alto area is my idea of heaven. Its a market place that allows customers to try loads of different foods from a wide selection of the best restaurants in Lisbon in this one warehouse. It's another great way to up your gastronomic intake in very informal settings. I ate my body weight the night I went and it was unfortunately so close to our hotel that I didn’t get to walk it off! It was totally worth it and no visit to Lisbon would be complete without even a lunch time visit here.
Petiscaria Ideal. Whilst the Timeout Market could have kept me entertained for days on end if my stomach allowed, my best meal was easily at the cute little restaurant Petiscaria Ideal. It’s like a Portuguese tapas restaurant. The service was wonderful and I loved the décor! It was very good value, very garlicky and had a great atmosphere. It’s on a road with loads of other fab restaurants (like most of Lisbon) if you can't get a table, but if you definitely want to go here I would book (again like most of Lisbon!).
Rooftop Bars. The hilly nature of Lisbon and its collection of tall buildings mean that there are no shortage of bars with views. However, along with the aforementioned Memmo Alfama, I loved the bar atop Hotel Bairro Alto. This is a five star hotel that has a fabulous roof terrace with a view of the river (though there is a crane in the middle of the vista at the moment), and it gets the sun until it goes down. It is perfect for a sundowner, though it may be a good idea to try to book even for this as Miss T and I only managed to get a seat after much persuasion - though we did go at sunset which is an obvious premium. We didn’t eat here but the food looked fab.
Outside Lisbon. Sintra is a town about a forty minute train ride away from Lisbon. The train costs next to nothing. Whilst it was not my favourite activity that Miss T and I partook in whilst we were in Portugal, it was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city. Sintra is quite a spread out town, with its main draw being lots of wacky castles and stately homes, but the tourist buses are very busy which can be quite stressful. My friend and I got a couple of taxis around the place, particularly to and from a place called Pena Castle - which has to be seen to be believed.
Belem. This is a suburb on the outside of Lisbon which is home to a fab art gallery, a picture perfect tower/rampart, an awe inspiring monastery, but most importantly the famous Pasteis de Belem café where you can eat custard tarts until you are blue in the face. A top tip here is to ignore the long queue outside if you visit the café – and just walk inside to sit down at the tables. The queue is for take away and inside is just a regular eatery with table service. (Ironically it is quicker simply to eat in then stand in the take out queue)
Top Tips For Any Visit To Lisbon
Uber. Uber is SUPER cheap in Lisbon. Our most expensive trip was from the airport and cost 13euros.
Citymapper app. They have a Lisbon option and I always find it a very easy app to use even with the winding streets of the Portuguese capital.
Refined carbs. The Portuguese serve everything with bread which is fabulous and as Lisbon is a walking city, it is quite guilt free too!
Coffee. As previously mentioned, coffee is a bit of an insitution in Lisbon. Ordering here is very different to any Costa. I realised about two days in that they don’t really have lattes! This link should help and is very much worth having a read as the coffee is delicious!
Green Wine – This always sounds really weird to me, but it doesn't detract from the sheer fact that it is very drinkable and very moreish. Even Miss T who isn’t much of a drinker drank a lot over the five days we were there!
Finally – just walk, get lost in the winding streets and fall in love with the faded charm of the place.