The first thing that struck me as I descended over Lisbon was its vibrancy.
Despite arriving towards the end of the winter season the sun was shining and danced off the terracotta roofs beneath us. After living in Europe and visiting many of her glorious cities I have become accustomed to always knowing what to expect but Lisbon for me has always been an enigma… and this excited me greatly. For me this mystery stems from Portugal’s rich history and pivotal location between Europe and Africa producing a culture and a capital city that simply cannot be categorised as easily as its continental counterparts.
Lisbon is incredibly easy to navigate and completely accessible by foot. City buses, trams and trains are regular and inexpensive but in my opinion only necessary when travelling to and from the airport. Lisbon is best appreciated by walking her cobbled streets, though be sure to wear appropriate footwear to tackle the many hills and stairs particularly if you are planning to ascend Castelo de São Jorge. Exploring a new city can be overwhelming, particularly when the city is as interesting as Lisbon. Therefore, if you are determined to walk but not sure where to start, several walking tours operate in English and are conducted throughout the city daily.
If coming from the airport the most effective way to reach the centre of town would be via the metro. Comprised of only four coloured lines (red, green, blue and yellow), commuters from all over the world will find this form of public transport stress free and comprehendible. The metro station is situated in the heart of Terminal 1 where passengers will board the aforementioned red line designed to travel across the length of the city. However, with the metro operating between the hours of 6.30am -1.00am travellers with early morning flights will need to consider alternative arrangements and for those who are still in the research phase of their Lisbon expedition keep these hours of operation in mind when booking flights.
A quick look at the hostels available in Lisbon you will notice the high level of quality across the board and with many boasting seaside views and superb ratings your greatest difficulty will be settling on a choice. In search of something cosy yet elegant, central yet calming we elected to stay at PH in Chiado located in the Praça de Camões which felt more like a hotel then a hostel. With a private room in a building four centuries old combined with a balcony overlooking the beach in the distance I was contemplating never leaving Lisbon. Quick tip, if Lisbon is your first hostel experience the bar will undoubtedly be set high and you need to accept that the overall quality of hostels found throughout the rest of Europe are incomparable.
If you’re on the hunt for a special gift for the book lovers in your life you cannot leave Lisbon without picking up a little memento from the world’s oldest bookshop, Bertrand. Established in 1732, the books which adorn Bertrand’s worn shelves are predominantly in Portuguese but towards the middle of the store you will find small items like bookmarks, photographic books, notepads and pens which are light enough to carry whilst globetrotting and practical enough to be used consistently by the recipient.
For metro commuters, you will want to keep in mind that the trains are made up of 3-4 carriages so despite the platforms being long you will want to stand somewhere in the middle otherwise you will find yourself running to board. Yup learnt that one the hard way… let’s just say that sprint is not fun when carrying luggage. In terms of personal safety, though I personally found Lisbon to be very harmless and welcoming it is not free from crime and like most European cities you will have to be aware of pickpockets operating both in large crowds and on public transport. As the metro is quite packed one can easily lose their focus especially as you try and navigate your way through a new city and understand a new transportation system- this will make you a target so be vigilant with your belongings.
Now what is a trip to Portugal without indulging in Portuguese tarts… a lot of Portuguese tarts. I sampled quite a few from different cafes and bakeries during my stay and though some might argue that some places are better than others in my humble opinion they were all equally creamy and delicious. Your Portuguese tart experience is more about where you decide to indulge rather than what you are indulging. One of my happiest travel memories was climbing Castelo de São Jorge with my Portuguese tarts from Pastelaria Versailles in hand and indulging in their goodness whilst overlooking Lisbon. So if the weather is favourable why not indulge all your senses by eating your treats outside whilst basking in that Mediterranean climate?
For more sweet treats (relax you’re on holidays) make sure you sample dare I say the best gelato I have ever tasted from Gelati Davvero. I am literally sitting here salivating reminiscing over my own Gelati Davvero experience and craving their cheesecake flavour. In addition to their huge array of flavours available from traditional lemon to exotic wasabi, what I adore most about this place is the wide demographic they cater for as Gelati Davvero create options for vegans and those following a gluten free diet… which is very difficult to find when you’re passionate about gelato. Better still, their scoops are generous!!!
So far we have our snacks/desserts covered but now we need to focus on solid meals. Just as Lisbon is defined in culinary terms by Portuguese tarts it is further defined by the abundance of seafood ready to savour. For travellers wanting to sample Portuguese cuisine on a budget the best place to eat is Sol e Pesca and unless you despise seafood you will not be disappointed. The setting doesn’t look much from the outside but as they say never judge a book by its cover. Though I dined at many incredible places during my visit Sol e Pesca was by far my favourite due to the quality on offer and the diversity of their menu.
A lovely place to grab a lunch where you’re looking to truly relax over great food, a bottle of wine whilst surrounded by local music would be La Petite Café. For those visiting Castelo de São Jorge this little joint is a lovely place to recuperate after hours spent exploring and won’t require too more trekking on your part. For those electing to sit outdoors be careful with your belongings as we were advised by the manager to move our bags back from the fencing. Onto a more positive note, the staff of Le Petite Cafe are hospitable and clearly proud of their establishment’s ambience and quality produce. The meal sizes are quite generous, so is excellent value for money… just avoid filling up on Portuguese tarts beforehand. Easier said than done right? Lastly, if you’re in Lisbon on a culinary adventure book a table at Belcanto and be prepared for a truly dramatic and entertaining culinary experience.
Lisbon is a relatively small city that is well connected. Three days is just enough to see the main attractions and sample Portuguese life. However, don’t leave this city without visiting the following:
*Torre de Belam
*Castelo de São Jorge
*Igreja do Carmo
*Praca do Comercio (Terreiro do Paco)
Portugal, in particular Lisbon, still remains an enigma to me, I just cannot put my finger on how to define it because it is a place that moves to its own beat. This mystery is what initially lured me in and now that I have had a taste this mystery has deepened and left me wanting more.
Portugal I will be back.