Before we start, I feel I should acknowledge the current situation the world finds itself in; clearly, not very many people are going to be doing any travelling anytime soon, and this not intended as a suggestion that anyone does. Instead, it’s an account of my own trip there at the end of last year, a chance for me to remember and document. If it’s somewhere that you’d also like to go, I hope that when all of this is done you get that chance ♥
Oh to be back in picture-perfect and utterly enchanting Lisbon; one of those places that it felt like everyone had been to (and loved) except for me, and one of those places I felt quite sure I would like before setting foot in it.
Spoiler alert: I thought it was great. An abundance of views, charming cobblestone streets, and *really* good food. There’s enough to do to keep you entertained for weeks, but it would be easy enough to do not much at all and just soak the place in too. We spent four of our seven nights in Portugal in the capital city, but could easily have spent longer. Here’s how we spent our time there.
Where we stayed
The research we did into which area to stay in was limited, and with just a couple of weeks until our flights when we booked accommodation, the choice of Airbnbs was too, but I couldn’t have been happier with the area we ended up in; beautiful Alfama, a charming maze of narrow streets and pretty corners. The walk from the train station felt long when we arrived to pouring rain after hours of travelling, but in reality wasn’t all that far, and in terms of the city as a whole the location was perfect for the type of things that were important to us; proximity to local (vegan-friendly) restaurants, visually appealing surroundings, and seemingly built with aimless wandering in mind.
There are so many amazing Airbnbs in Lisbon with gorgeous balconies, cool décor and amazing views; we didn’t book very far in advance so the one we ended up in probably wouldn’t have been our top choice. A little hot (probably wouldn’t be a problem in winter) and very small, but very sweet and brilliantly designed to make the best use of the space. Thankfully, the rain cleared after that first afternoon, so we didn’t spend long enough periods of time in there for the accommodation to matter too much.
What we did
Usually one to approach any city break in a very forceful and urgent manner, I surprised myself by sleeping in on our first morning – and we continued the first day at a fairly relaxed pace. Perhaps when there’s so much to do somewhere that you’ll never fit it all in anyway, the pressure is off on my fear of not squeezing *the best* out of it.
People watched in Praca do Comercio | After a coffee and a pastry to start day one, we wandered down to Praca do Comercio, a sprawling and distinctive square that bustles (on a normal day – I imagine very much not at the moment!) with both tourists and locals. This makes it a great spot for people watching, which when accompanied by sangria, sunshine and waterfront views felt like a very appropriate introduction to the city.
Went seeking viewpoints | One thing Lisbon is absolutely not short of is impressive views, and whenever you see the word ‘Miradouro’ on a map, you can be sure there’s an appealing vista there. We liked Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, Miradouro da Graca, and Miradouro de Santa Luzia (the one with all the terracotta rooftops that you’ll definitely recognise) – worth the often steep climbs and hundreds of steps!
Hired bikes | This is one of my favourite memories from the trip; cycling along the Tajus, taking in the sights, allowing my hair to become a knotted mess, and even working up a bit of sweat in the sunshine. There are a few different bike/scooter sharing systems in Lisbon – we used Jump, which was super easy. We spent a good chunk of the day on this, passing the landmark 25 de Abril bridge and finishing in Belem – before coming all the way back again. Would definitely recommend!
Visited Belem | The end point of our cycle was Belem – home to the Tower and Jeronimos Monastery, which is a really magnificent building with beautifully intricate details. We didn’t go into either of them (it was a Monday and they were both closed), but I’m not sure if I would have done so anyway this time, as the weather was really lovely and we were happy to just see the outside. A few pastries and a little wander later, we hopped on our bikes again.
Went back in time at Castelo de S.Jorge | Visiting this historic castle was sort of an accident in that we just seemed to end up there, but it was actually very lovely. We arrived quite late in the day so the queue for tickets (€8) wasn’t too long, and had a mooch around the fortress and peaceful gardens. There are heaps of great panoramic views from different areas of the castle, as well as plenty of peacocks.
Cheated the system at Elevador de Santa Justa | Do not stand in line and buy tickets for this, appealing as it looks in the morning when the light is hitting it just right. You can actually get to the top of the elevator without setting foot in the queue that grows beneath it – we just walked up the strairs behind it, turned left and then right into a little square, then down an alleyway to the side of a ruined covent there. Up some steps from here is a covered walkway that takes you to the same spiral staircase to the top that the lift does. It’s worth going for the novelty and the views, just don’t spend hours waiting when you don’t have to wait at all.
Got drenched in Sintra | I was SO looking forward to our day in Sintra, but unfortunately it was an absolute washout; it rained solidly and was so misty you could barely see a metre in front of you. Getting there was easy – we just took the train – and there are shuttle buses that ferry crowds of tourists between landmarks in the area. Just like all of the other visitors, we were keen to get to Pena Palace (the big, colourful, magical looking one), then stood in a queue for a couple of hours getting steadily more sodden, waiting for our turn to buy tickets. I wouldn’t recommend getting the ‘Park and Palace’ ticket, which allows you into the palace itself; we shuffled around in single file peering through plastic screens into rooms and it was really quite dull. The ‘Park only’ ticket, which is cheaper and has a way shorter queue, will let you onto the battlements and terraces, which is really where the best bits of this particular attraction can be found.
If you are interested in the staterooms, the interior is much quieter and more interesting in Sintra National Palace, which we visited just before giving up and heading back to Lisbon. It’s right in the centre of Sintra itself, cheaper to enter than Pena Palace, and also provided some respite from the crowds – the town was teeming with people, and while I’m sure it’s charming in its own way, a thousand wet rucksacks jostling for position in neverending rain didn’t make for a pleasant experience.
Got lost on foot | Though a large city, it would be a shame to only take public transport in Lisbon – it really is the perfect wandering destination. Each district has its own little personality and you really get a feel for these when you’re properly in them. Some of my favourite were Alfama (conveniently just outside our door), Bairro Alto, and Graca – all full of camera fodder and utterly lovely.
Lisbon – it was (nearly entirely) a pleasure. I’ll be back.