This September we took a trip to Lisbon, Portugal. It was my first time visiting this interesting little city, and there is a lot to do see and do here.
As usual I always try to avoid what TripAdvisor recommends, and discover places either through my own research online, through social media and of course word-of-mouth (both from past visitors and locals).
This is my advice on what to see, eat, drink and do (and not do!) whilst visiting this colorful place:
- First off, visiting in September was clutch. European summers can be manic in all major cities, but Lisbon was a lot more chilled at this time of the year. My brother has visited the city numerous times in the height of summer and told me that by comparison this was much more manageable.
- At our time of booking flights TAP Air was the cheapest round-trip option, with direct flights from Miami to Lisbon. For various reasons we flew American Airlines which connected through Philadelphia and was a miserable old plane…avoid at all costs if possible.
- For our first two nights we stayed in Bairro Alto which is the central district of the city of Lisbon. It is also a fun area with many bars and restaurants. The closer you can stay to this area the better for just about everything.
- One of our two favorite restaurants we ate at on this holiday is called ‘Oficina do Duque’. It is located at Calçada do Duque 43, and can be seen on Instagram at @oficinadoduque. The staff here were extremely helpful, and the service was far better than in most places in Lisbon (service at restaurants in the city I did not find fantastic by any means). The restaurant is located on the cutest little cobblestone street in Bairro Alto neighborhood, is open from 12:00 – 23:00 (it doesn’t close in the middle of the day like a lot of places do) and serves absolutely excellent food for very reasonable prices. I ate the Codfish, Sprouts and Corn Bread dish for €12 which was delicious.
- Be sure to try the traditional liqueur of Portugal called Ginja. It is made by infusing Ginja berries (sour cherries) in alcohol and adding sugar. It is served in a shot form, usually with a small piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup. If you like dessert wines, or port, you will love this drink.
- If you’re a photography enthusiast like me, be prepared to take 10,000 photos of beautiful doors and walls of buildings covered in colorful tiles. Also, be sure to warn your travel buddies as you’ll be stopping every two seconds to take photos (sorry to my family for that).
- Walking the city is a great way to get see it but it is a city very much built on hills. Wear the appropriate shoes! Something I didn’t know before going was how slippery some of the cobblestones can be, so be sure that you have shoes with some grip or are at least cautious. The lighter white cobblestones are the very smooth and slippery ones!
- Just down the street from Oficina do Duque is the cutest little square with an 18th-century fountain called ‘Chafariz do Carmo’. The square is surrounded by historic buildings (including the Carmo Archaeological Museum) and jacaranda trees – my favorite trees which bloom bright purple around May in Europe. If you sit at one of the little courtyard cafés you can order local cheeses, sausages, olives and wines and listen to the live bands that play. Just stop and enjoy where you are!
- The side street (Tv. Dom Pedro de Menezes) alongside the Carmo Archaeological Museum leads to a hidden local hot spot called Topo Chiado. There are many rooftop bars in Lisbon, but this one is a ‘place to be seen’ and a local favorite with spectacular views of the Santa Justa Lift and the Castelo de Sao Jorge. They have great cocktails here, and the backdrop is the enormous old museum you are now in front of. Definitely worth visiting, especially at night. Another cool rooftop bar we visited is called ‘Park’ because it is at the top of a parking lot – this one had amazing views of the city including the bridge.
- The Santa Justa Lift is one of the major attractions in Lisbon for tourists. We didn’t go up the lift on this trip, but if you take it from the same level (above) as Topo bar you cut the line that is down on the street level and won’t have to wait nearly as long. It was designed by a man named Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard who people will tell you also worked on the Eiffel Tower, however that is a rumor and there are no proven records of that – he was however a student of Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer who did design the Eiffel Tower.
- Castelo de Sao Jorge is the main castle inside the city of Lisbon. It sits over to the east side and has spectacular views. Even if you aren’t that into reading the entire history about the castle, it is a great place to take a tuk-tuk ride (haggle those guys to get the price down) up to and see the sights.
- The neighborhood of Alfama in Lisbon was by far the most visually captivating for me. After touring the Castelo de Sao Jorge, we meandered down the mountain into the Alfama neighborhood. It is full of life and color, with a plethora of restaurants and bars to visit – just walk this part, it is too gorgeous to miss.
- One of the days we took a very (very) long walk all the way from Rossio Square, up the entire Avenida da Liberdade (which is a big road with some high-end shopping and hotels), to Edward VII Park. The walk was not too hot due to the pretty, big trees shading the street and was well worth the hike. We went all the way to the Bandeira de Portugal at the top which is a historical landmark and allows to look back down over this entire park and towards the city.
- Of course, what goes up must come back down, and I am happy to say on the way down was a very cool rooftop bar that I wanted to check out called Sky Bar which is at the Tivoli Hotel on Avenida da Liberdade. They had a DJ playing and make some awesome cocktails. Again, the view is really pretty, and we were parched by this point, so needless to say we stayed for a few.
- I have this weird thing where I really enjoy taking public transportation. Not buses but trains. It’s probably because I lived in England and would take overland trains and the London Underground so often, and here in the States we don’t really do that so much as a way of life. The Metro in Lisbon is really cool, goes super deep down underground and is extremely affordable. It wasn’t too hot, wasn’t too crowded and was easy to understand. Buy a ticket when you arrive and hold on to it as you just keep topping it up with more credits every time. If you are travelling a fair distance and don’t feel like walking it’s a great option. Ubers are cheap in Lisbon too, but of course multiple €7 cars add up far quicker than €1.50 metro trips.
- Time Out Market is a big food hall visited by tourists and locals alike. They have numerous food options here and it is a cool place to check out for a lunchtime visit. I’m a sucker for a good Regina pizza (ham & mushroom) which hardly ever exists in America, and the Zero Zero Pizza guys made a phenomenal one here – drooling at the thought of it right now. Wash it down with a local Sagres or Super Bock beer (for the win).
- Not exactly a traditional Portuguese thing to eat (but to be honest I didn’t find the food in Lisbon to be fantastic at all) the Japanese/Asian Fusion restaurant called Yakuza First Floor will not disappoint. Located in a neighborhood called ‘Rato’ on Rua da Escola Politécnica 231, you will need to make a reservation to eat at this delicious restaurant run by chef Olivier Costa. When you walk up the stairs to the front entrance knock on the door to your left so that they can let you in. It is not a cheap dinner, but if you are a sushi lover you will adore this place and the food. We sat in the garden under the fairy lights which was adorable. If it is chilly you can request a blanket. In September the nights got quite fresh (for me) with the lows ranging in the 60’s – not warm for a girl living in Miami! The chef also has a few other restaurants in the city which the hostess was very kind to tell us about. Check out the cool glass cabinet in the entrance upstairs that holds celebrities own individual, customized chopsticks for them to use when visiting the restaurant.
- LX Factory is located right by the base of the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge (the bridge that looks like the Golden Date bridge, linking Lisbon and Almada). This historical complex houses an array of arty retailers and unique restaurants and is definitely worth checking out.
- The highlight of our trip was visiting the incredibly beautiful mountain town of Sintra. Located about a 35-minute drive (without traffic) outside of Lisbon (to the northwest) this area is home to many old palaces and castles. A day trip here was not enough for me, and if I ever come back to Lisbon I would opt to stay a night or two in Sintra itself. The town was just too beautiful and in one day we only managed two palaces. Albeit they were absolutely exquisite. We visited the old ruins of Quinta da Regaleira and then the very popular (and magnificent) Palace of Pena. Give yourself a lot of time for these places, especially Pena Palace. The interior of the palace takes time to walk through and is worth doing completely. There are also lush, beautiful gardens to walk through all around the palace grounds which we did afterwards. It is cooler up in this mountain region, so make sure to bring a light sweater for in the wind of the shade.
- Jerónimos Monastery is located over to the west of Lisbon (past the bridge) in an area called Belé The structure is breath-taking and well worth a visit if you can make it. Initiated in 1495, this remarkable building took until 1601 to be completed, and when you see the stonework you will understand why. Right next door is the original home of the Pasteis de Belém. The bakery here started making these delicious little pastries (like custard tarts and very popular in Lisbon) in 1837. It is said that the monastery would use egg whites to starch their clothes and give the bakery the yolks to use in their pasteis – one yolk per pasteis. The recipe is said to be ‘secret’ and has remained unchanged to the present day. Don’t let the line outside turn you away, it moves quickly. Grab a box of 6 of these little treats and take them across the street to the park to enjoy under the trees. They will give you powdered sugar and cinnamon to put on top, and it pairs very well with a strong coffee.
- Of all the seafood we ordered and hoped would be delicious, of which most of it was not, we did visit an incredibly busy spot named ‘Ramiro’ on Avenida Almirante Reis. If you are craving fresh, simple shellfish, this is the place to try. Be warned, there will be a line out the door, it will be packed, they will hustle you in, and hustle you out. It is loud, the service is not fabulous although the staff are kind, but it is a local favorite and was recommended to us by many. Their king prawns in the butter and garlic were decent, and definitely the best we’d tried in Lisbon. Interestingly they are flown in fresh from Mozambique.
- For the late-night party people looking for some solid house music! Try Europa Club (small venue) on Pink Street. It goes late night and has some solid DJ’s. Pink Street is a little manic and crazy with drunken people everywhere, but if you’re looking for a party spot, this is it. Apparently, the big club called LUX (further down, not on Pink Street) is a happening spot too, although we didn’t make it there this time.
If you are traveling to Lisbon in the future I hope you found this article helpful! You can follow my travels and recommendations on Instagram @postcardsfromemma
I love hearing from you, so please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions, and if you visit any of these places please tag me and let me know! Happy travels – Obrigado!