So, Lisbon is officially the city that I have been to the most aside from Funchal and is definitively my favourite capital to visit. Lisbon has been seeing a surge in visitor numbers over the past few years, averaging about 22% growth annually, the city of the seven hills has become an increasingly attractive option for Europe-bound travellers the world over and that is for a good reason. Its rich history, thriving nightlife, affordability and safety has been drawing visitors in in droves. The historical centre is stunning, and there is no question as to why it was rated as the 4th most beautiful city in the world by Condé Nast Traveller.
One thing that surprised me was the number of Australian tourists that were in the city, especially considering the amount of conversations I’ve had in Perth with people thinking Portugal is in South America (seriously?). I was not expecting to hear much of the Australian accent, but we seemed to be followed by it everywhere we went. From our first lunch at ‘Restaurante Bacalhau Com Todos’ where there was a table of young Aussies to ‘Palácio da Pena’ in Sintra, where another group of Australians photobombed my photos. Here’s to hoping that Australians will start to think of more than just Nando’s and Ronaldo when they hear of Portugal.
However, back to Lisbon! The historical centre is beautiful, if a little run down (I read somewhere that it is estimated about 20% of the buildings in Lisbon are in varying states of decay). The architecture of the city is young by European standards, the majority of Lisbon had to be rebuilt following an earthquake, tsunami and fire – all in the space of a few hours which destroyed the city in the 1750s. The famous poet and writer Fernando Pessoa mentioned in his book about his travels through Portugal that the light in Lisbon is unlike anywhere else in the world because of how the irregularly shaped floor tiles reflect the light onto the buildings, which were apparently designed to make use of all of the debris from the earthquake.
When visiting Lisbon there are a few things you absolutely must do.
1. Visit Sintra
Sintra is a region to the north-west of Lisbon, about 45 minutes away by train and is home to a massive array of Castles and Quintas (large estates/mansions), most of which are open to the public. The most famous is the Palácio da Pena, a massive multi-coloured castle located on the top of a hill, the best location to take photos of it is from “the high cross” which is about an 800m trek from the castle. The views are worth it, they’re incredible. Another great one is Quinta da Regaleira.
2. Go to Belém
Go to Fabrica de Pasteis de Belém
The home of the original pastel de nata (custard tart). This bakery pumps out an insane 30,000 of these tarts every day – from a closely guarded recipe that dates back from the 1800s when they were baked by monks in a monastery. Because so many are pumped out every day, you’re always going to be served hot ones. Which is when they’re at their best. Perfectly accompanied by a glass of Port wine, enjoy with a sprinkling of cinnamon and icing sugar or enjoy it all on its own. The crisp, flaky pastry crumbles as you bite into it and the perfectly sweet, warm custard fills our mouth. It’s a delight to eat and at just over €1 each, you can’t possibly stop at just one.
Torre de Belém
After enjoying your Pastéis de Belem, hop across the road and walk down to the Torre de Belém (Tower of Bethlehem), a beautiful specimen of Manueline architecture, jutting out into the Tejo river. It’ll set you back about €6 to get in and walk around.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Still in Belém, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a 2km walk down the road, it’s a beautiful monument to the discoveries that Portugal lead during the 15th century. You can pay to access the elevator to take you to the top, where there’s a beautiful view of the city and a perfect opportunity to get a few snaps of the 25 de Abril bridge (The San Francisco Bay Bridge look alike).
3. Castelo de São Jorge
Another amazing lookout, only at this one, you can also enjoy a glass of wine whilst looking out over the city. The castle was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and only rediscovered when the land was being prepared for a car park (or so I’ve been told).
3. Avenida da Liberdade
While not a particular location per se, Avenida da Liberdade is a beautiful tree lined street with two central piazzas running its length with typical Lisbon kiosks where you can lounge for a coffee and a pastry in the partial shade. My favourite store which I visit every time I am in Lisbon is Fly London, which, despite its name is a Portuguese shoe brand, they produce mens and womens shoes and is worth a lookin. But Avenida da Liberdade is filled to the brim with luxury boutiques, you’re bound to find something that’ll pique your interest.
4. The Number 28 Tram (Elétrico)
This is one that is in every guide book with a route that takes you through the historical areas of the city. It’s a classical tram that is right out of the 1930s – which is because the design is virtually unchanged due to its ability navigate Lisbon’s steep hills. However, if there is a queue for the tram at the starting stop, don’t wait, walk up to the next stop where you will get on right away (they always make sure there’s space on the tram for future stops). There are typical Lisbon kiosks dotted around this area with a great view over the city and river, they serve coffee and tea, pastries as well as alcoholic beverages. If there is a long queue though, don’t spend the time waiting – that was my mistake, the wait ended up being nearly 2 hours, way longer than I had expected. If you’re not so sure about following a tram line on foot, get an Uber there instead, it’ll set you back about €4 and give you your day back.
5. TimeOut Market in Mercado da Ribeira
Just across the road from the Cais do Sodré metro/train/ferry station, the TimeOut Market is a cornucopia of food delights, offering one of the best collections of food and drink in one place that Lisbon has to offer. Start your night here before moving into Bairro Alto.
6. Pink Street
In Bairro Alto (essentially Lisbon’s version of Northbridge for everyone in Perth), Pink Street is literally a pink street lined with nightclubs and bars. I sat in one place called Povo at 1:30 in the morning and had a pot of tea, so, you know, you can get whatever floats your boat.
If you’re after a guide for your time in Lisbon, Your Friend In Lisbon is a great option, you can book a tour here.
Also, before you leave Lisbon make sure you try the typical Lisbon way of preparing Bacalhau – Bacalhau à brás. It’s essentially scrambled eggs plus codfish plus chips. It’s amazing.
Até proxima – Until next time.