Lisbon city guide
Last February my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Lisbon for valentine's day.
To be perfectly honest I didn't really have an idea of what Lisbon was going to be like. But I was blown away by the beautiful architecture, warm people, rich culture and the great food. It was a total surprise, and is now one of my favourite places to visit in Europe.
Lisbon ticks all my city break boxes - it’s the perfect size to explore in a long weekend, very walkable, affordable and with loads to see and do. Although now becoming more popular, I still think Lisbon is a real hidden gem.
So here is my short and sweet guide to Portugal’s capital city. Read on for where to eat, sleep and explore. I can't wait to go back!
At Dona Saudade – a great little place just around the corner from our Airbnb. The food was so good we ended up coming back a second time. It’s a quirky little restaurant serving delicious local fare – we ate pork in mustard sauce, tasty fried potatoes and fresh green salad, all washed down with red wine. It’s really affordable and serves authentic portuguese dishes - perfect for filling up after a day of exploring Lisbon. If tourist restaurants make you stop and run in the opposite direction, then this is the place for you.
Pastéis de Nata – Lisbon is famous for its custard tarts. Beautiful flaky pastry is filled with an egg custard, topped with icing sugar and sprinkling of cinnamon – be warned they are extremely addictive! Eat them at their birthplace Pastéis de Belém (see my guide to Belém below!). Or if you’re in the city try them at Manteigaria - we ended up munching a couple of these for a very "balanced” breakfast before embarking on our walking tour.
Drink Ginjinha - another local delicacy enjoyed by the locals and tourists alike. It’s a liquer made from sour cherries, fortified wine and sugar and it’s served the A Ginjinha bar in the centre of town, just a stone's throw from the train station. We love to try local specialities, and a shot of this stuff definitely set us up for our walk up to the castle!
At home - the local produce in Lisbon is very cheap and great quality, so it’s easy to cook something delicious at home. We found a sweet little supermarket near our Airbnb with the most amazing fresh food but there a lots dotted around the city. Get a bottle of wine, some olives, cheese, ham and make a little smorgasbord of local delicacies.
We stayed in a cute Airbnb which was recommended to us and it did not disappoint! The Chiado Loft is a beautifully decorated top floor apartment - it has stunning floor to ceiling windows, an open plan living area and a winding metal staircase up to the mezzanine area which serves as a bedroom. It’s also in a perfect location - only a short walk to the city centre and the main sites. Or if Airbnbs aren't your thing try Mi Casa en Lisboa, a stylish boutique B&B with amazing reviews. I’ll be checking this place out next time!
Lisbon really is a city with so much character – think pastel coloured houses, picturesque squares and terracotta rooftops all set against the deep blue of the Portuguese sky and the sparkling Atlantic ocean. So the first thing I’d do is take a stroll around the beautiful streets. Then hit up the main historical landmarks and cultural sites. You could fill a whole week exploring but we only had a few days– so here is what we squeezed in!
Take a walking tour - We joined a Sandemans tour, which starts at the Largo de Camões. To truly appreciate the culture and heritage of any city I definitely recommend taking a walking tour. It’s also the quickest way to get your bearings in a place. Our guide, a local Lisboan, told us the history of the city, took us to the best viewpoints and on a tour of the Baixa - one of the oldest parts of the city where you can explore the windy alleyways whilst peeking into local's kitchen, the smell of their cooking wafting through open windows. A must-do!
Explore Belém – Belém is a delightful district to the west of central Lisbon with tons of historical sites, and is easily accessible by bus. Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a grand monastery dating back to the 15th century and a classified UNESCO world heritage site. Even from the outside it is really impressive but you can also explore the inside for a modest sum (or pop into the church for free!). Then walk alongside the river down to the Belém Tower. It’s architecturally beautiful and you can walk up to the top to see a lovely view of the river. Belém is also the birthplace of the Pastéis de Nata. Sit down after an afternoon of sightseeing at the famous Pastéis de Belém and enjoy a custard tart and a cup of hot coffee.
Shop at A Vida Portuguesa - a beautifully curated collection of Portuguese products, homewear, stationary and gifts. They sell local products in vintage packaging which make gorgeous gifts - it was hard to walk away without buying half the shop!
Go to Sintra - a fairy land in the mountains! You can’t go to Lisbon and not visit the beautiful town of Sintra. It’s only a 30 minute train ride away from the city but you feel like you are in another world. The lush green hills are dotted with grand houses, waterfalls and exquisite palaces, all with breathtaking views. We visited the Quinta da Regaleira, a decorative stately home with elaborate grounds. You can visit the house but the real highlight are the decorative gardens filled with secret tunnels, grottos, waterfalls and Gothic towers. They are so fun to get lost in and guaranteed to bring out your inner child. Afterwards head up the mountain to the Castelo dos Mouros (The Moors Castle). It’s a ruined fortress with panoramic views over the of the surrounding countryside and the ocean in the distance.
That's all we could fit into our long weekend, but there is tons more to explore! If you have any other Lisbon tips please leave them in the comments, I always love to hear recommendations from other travellers!
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