The home of the pastéis de nata – need I say anymore?
If you haven’t got Lisbon on your ‘to visit’ list then I’m telling you that that needs to change. What. A. Place. Mark and I had actually visited before three years ago for a music festival, so although we seen some of the sights and sounds of the city, we hadn’t done the full tour but it had been on our list ever since. Quite a few of our pals cite it as their favourite European city break and after our three day whirlwind trip, I can confirm that it’s pretty close to the top of the charts for us too. Ridiculously good food, a fair climate, chatty locals, oodles to see and do and more pretty cobbled streets than you can shake a stick at, it’s lush. My advice would be to visit in shoulder/out of season. It’s hilly as hell; I think I would have melted had I visited in the height of summer and it’s a busy spot. Take advantage of a slightly less dense crowd and the ability to walk up a set of stairs without needing a shower, by stopping by in the cooler months. Here’s what I’d suggest for your agenda…
How To Get Around
Getting there is real easy. Flights are frequent from most airports across the U.K and the flight time from London Gatwick was just under two hours. Positively dreamy for an antsy flyer like myself (find tips to help you be more of a cool cucumber on your next trip in the air here). My biggest tip as always with the airport is that if you drove yourself there, to splash on parking as close to the terminal as possible. For Gatwick it ends up being about £10 more and it means you can practically jump from the terminal into your car and be on your way home without having to wait for yet another transfer when you return. You can thank me later.
We opted for an Uber as our transfer at the other end, but download CityMapper for public transport options. With hindsight we should have picked a traditional taxi – there was a huge line of them outside – as the area that we were staying in was a largely pedestrianised zone and only cars that had resident passes could get past the barrier which the blue and turquoise taxis can do. We got a Lisbon taxi back to the airport (kindly booked by our airbnb host) and it cost us just under €20. Once you’ve dropped off your bags the best way to get around is by foot. It’s such a great way to see the city and a lot of places that we wanted to visit were within 20 minutes by foot. For longer trips (and times when the hilly terrain got a bit too much) the buses were great and cost €2 per journey; they are air-conditioned and mean that you can squeeze even more sight-seeing into your day.
In terms of where to stay, we found Airbnb* to offer the best value for money and in locations right in the centre of town. We stayed in this apartment and it was glorious. Absolutely massive, great location, nice and cool, ridiculously chic and comfortable and so, so quiet (despite the fact that there was a music-loving hostel just up the road). We would 100% stay there again.
Where To Eat
The food, THE FOOD! Where to start? I love asking for your recommendations before we head to a city and you guys gave them by the bucketload for Lisbon. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say that there were thousands. The interesting thing though was that they were all different. Usually when I ask there are 20 or so places that are recommended by most, but not here – oh no – the pool to pick from is massive. My takeaway piece of advice would be to just head anywhere we you see a lot of people eating and if they look happy, then sit yourself yourself down. Bonus points if it’s full of locals. When we visited all those years ago we found a restaurant that was basically a family’s front room. The husband did all the front of house service, the wife cooked and we had some of the best tuna steaks I’ve ever eaten in my life (I’ve raked Google maps trying to find it, but unfortunately to no avail). Off the beaten track, or on the beaten track, you ca’t go wrong.
The one exception to this rule though is breakfast. Hello, Kristof and Dear Breakfast were both close to our Airbnb and the morning that we stopped off at the latter was a bit of a fail. The food was fine, but we waited 45 minutes for some eggs and it just got our day off to a slow-start. Next time we’d just stop of at a local supermarket or bakery when we arrived and stock up with some pastries, fruit, juice and coffee so we could grab and go straight from our apartment to start our adventures.
If it’s more of a lunchtime light bite that you fancy then you must fill up with pastéis de nata; a custard filled flakey pastry that’s just absolute heaven. You can pick these up at bakeries all across the city, but the fight for the top spot falls between Pastésis de Belém (which requires a short 20 minute bus out of the main city centre for), or Manteigaria which has locations all across town. The latter also has a stall at the Time Out Food Market which was a brilliant place to come for lunch. Prepare yourself for the fact that it’s extremely busy (Mark and I visited on a Tuesday lunchtime and it was bustling to say the least), but it’s a great place to sample local delicacies under one roof. The cod cakes are well worth a try too and are washed down beautifully by a large glass of white. Lush.
I’m just going to reel off some places here, but like I said, this is just the tip of the iceberg. José Avillez owns a fair amount of restaurants in Lisbon; we visited the tasting menu-centric Mini Bar, but I think we would have preferred the more chilled vibes of Cantinho do Avillez which is just around the corner and focuses on Portuguese cuisine with a twist. Prado offers farm-to-table dining in the most Instagram-chic surroundings you’ve seen (the prawns here were unreal!). A Nossa Casa was pretty close to our digs and is known for traditional Portuguese small plates and A Cevicheria is a very popular ceviche restaurant (unfortunately they don’t do reservations and we waited two hours for a table here – get here early! – although the salmon and coconut plate was delicious and almost made it worth it). Boa Bao came highly recommended if you’re in the mood for some good Asian food and Cervejaria Ramiro is a very popular seafood spot if you don’t mind getting a ticket and waiting in line. For drinks post dinner, Lisbon’s speciality are rooftop bars which offer brilliant views across the city and the waterfront. Park Bar is the more central and busier one out of the two, whereas TOPO can be a little quieter, although it might take you a bit longer to travel to.
Where To Explore
A trip to Belém is a must. A short walk from the train station is a short walk from MAAT – the museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, which has a great view of the city from the roof, then round the corner is the Mosterio dos Jeronimos and the Torre de Belém. All could easily be taken in in just a couple of hours. The LX Factory is a good place to stop on the way back from Belém on your way back to the city centre and is a marketplace full of independent shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. We sat out in the sun drinking Tinto and eating monkey nuts and it was one of the highlights for me. There are so many museums to visit and although we only managed to get in one, I absolutely loved it. I had no idea what to expect, but it blew my mind – Museo Nacional do Azulejo, what a place.
A two and a half day trip Lisbon will keep you more than busy, but if your trip is a little longer then a short trip outside the city is an idea to look into. Although we didn’t do any day trips this time round, last time we came we did two and they were both brilliant. One day we caught the train to Cascais, a town just a 30 minute journey west of Lisbon along the coastline. A great place to spend the day if you fancy an afternoon on a sandy beach, eating snacks and reading a book. When we went there we all ended up asleep and my poor mate got so burnt that she couldn’t wear a bra for days. Trains leave every 15 minutes or so and BRING YOUR SUNCREAM. The other trip that I’m sure me and 1908 people will recommend to you is Sintra. At the foot of the Sintra mountains, the hilltop town is home to the 19th century Pena Palace which is absolutely stunning. It’s a 40 minute train journey from the centre of town and easily done in a day; visit the town, take the bus to the top of the hill to visit the Palace and eat as much ice cream as you can get your hands on.
I haven’t dwelled on shopping here as we didn’t have much time and felt that there were better uses of what little hours in Lisbon we had, although if we did have a bit longer I feel like I could have done some serious damage in A Vida Portuguesa which came very highly recommend.
A new category! I thought it might be helpful to share our exact itinerary, just so you can get an idea of how much it’s possible to fit in without completely running yourself into the ground. We had a great time and there’s not much I would change, apart from skipping the breakfast stops and just getting in some supermarket bits to keep you going, so you can just get started with your day. Pack your elasticated waistband and the comfiest shoes you own…
2PM – Arrive at airbnb, drop off bags.
4PM – Late lunch reservation at Prado.
Evening – Drinks at Park Bar (watch out as this place is closed on a Sunday!), and dinner at A Nossa Casa (we didn’t go here in the end as we weren’t hungry, but I wish we’d popped in for a little snack).
9AM – Breakfast at Dear Breakfast (as I mentioned, I’d skip this and just get some pastries, juice and fruit from the supermarket).
1PM – Short walk to Pastésis de Belem for a light midday bite.
2.30PM – Hop on the bus to LX Factory for nibbles, shopping and outside drinks, before heading back to refresh for dinner.
Evening – Dinner at A Cevicheria (get there around or just before 7pm to avoid too much of a wait – if you do have to wait then make sure you have a Pisco Sour in the queue).
10AM – Breakfast in the airbnb, before getting the bus to Museu Nacional do Azulejo.
Afternoon – Wander back to the airbnb, pack bags and head out earlier for dinner to grab a drink or two on the way.
7PM – Reservation at Mini Bar.