My only experience of Portugal prior to my recent Lisbon visit was a week-long family holiday in Albufeira, which wasn’t exactly packed to the rafters with culture. In fact, I don’t think I strayed more than 100 yards from my sun lounger the whole holiday.
With my only knowledge of Lisbon gleaned from combing through travel blogs and guides, I still had very high hopes for our visit. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I was blown away by the beautiful architecture, amazing food and laid-back vibe of the nation’s capital. Here’s how we spent an action-packed 48 hours in beautiful Lisboa.
We travelled on a Tuesday evening from London City airport. Despite a hot and crowded journey on the DLR from Moorgate, the airport experience was a breeze with minimal waiting time. We flew with TAP airlines which was one of the cheaper options, but it was a really enjoyable flight – we were even given a sandwich and gummy bears as a snack at no extra cost.
Where we stayed
We called ahead to our hotel, the beautiful boutique Monte Belvedere by Shiadu in the Santa Catarina neighbourhood, to see if they could arrange a taxi for us. Just a short while after we landed, we were picked up and dropped off at what we thought was our hotel. However, upon entering the lobby, and not recognising it from the pictures, we were told that we weren’t on the check-in list for the day.
After a bit of confusion, some frantic googling and a little help from our taxi driver who hadn’t yet driven off, we realised we had been dropped at the wrong place. We eventually found our hotel down the street and it was thankfully the perfect home-away-from-home for our short stay. Sides aching from our hotel hi-jinx, we hit the hay ready for our first day of exploration.
After a great night’s sleep, we were up bright and early for a simple breakfast at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant Madame Petisca before meandering towards the central Camões Monument. We took the opportunity to take some photos before stopping for an espresso at Café A Brasileira in the trendy Chiado neighbourhood.
Fully caffeinated, we went in search of adventure, and ended up joining a free 3 hour walking tour run by Lisbon locals. It was a fantastic way to get to grips with our surroundings while enjoying a taste of the city’s history – with everything from earthquakes to uprisings covered by our knowledgeable (and very enthusiastic) guide Pedro. The tour took us to the sweet little old town of Alfarma which was a little off-the-beaten track, but so worth it as it felt like we were getting a glimpse into the real Lisbon and its inhabitants. Trust me, it’s well worth a visit.
Feeling hot and hungry after our whistle stop walking tour, we headed towards the Time Out food market, via Plaza Commercial. Our visit coincided with the World Cup and it just so happened that Portugal were playing Morocco that day. There was a huge screen set up in the Plaza with crowds of people cheering on Ronaldo and co.
Time Out market was no less atmospheric, with yet more screens set up showing the big match. This modern market is more like a bustling indoor food hall, bursting at the seams with culinary delights. We joined the crowds of people enjoying lunch from one of the numerous food counters with all types of food on offer – from authentic Portuguese fare to Italian delicacies. We settled on a steak sandwich and croquettes, washed down with a cold glass of wine – just what we needed after a morning of walking. Bellies full, we finished our lunch off with a famous Pastel de nata (when in Lisbon)! Creamy, custardy and delicious – it did not disappoint!
The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling the pretty cobbled streets, popping into souvenir shops along the way, including the famous, and very instagrammable, Conserveira de Lisboa, with its pretty tins of souvenirs and handmade soaps lined up at the counter – I could have bought one of everything!
After slowly making our way back to the hotel to freshen up, we headed for a drink at the cool and quirky Pharmacy Museum. Located in a stunning old building with a large outdoor seating area, this museum also boasts a popular restaurant and bar area.
We sat in the sun to enjoy a couple of pre-dinner drinks – a vino verde (green wine – who knew?!) for me and a port tonic for my husband, in the gorgeous setting overlooking the Tagus river.
Feeling refreshed and a little tipsy, we wandered to the central district of Barrio Alto with the intention of eating at Fernandinhos, an authentic Portuguese restaurant recommended by our guide earlier in the day. However, they were full so we settled on the next-door restaurant, Duque Lisboa. We were a little put off by the slightly quirky décor but we needn’t have been apprehensive, as the food was delicious. We chowed down on ceviche, mini burgers, more croquettes and octopus, polishing it off with a traditional almond cake.
On our second morning, we woke to the sound of rain but we refused to let it dampen our spirits, so we donned our waterproofs and headed towards downtown for our bike tour, stopping off to enjoy another delicious pastry for breakfast en route.
We had already booked our 3 hour city bike tour with Lisbon Bike Tours and after meeting up with our guides at Edward VII Park and getting to grips with our steeds, we set off on our tour through downtown Lisbon to Belem. Our guides were great fun and took us to some of the neighbourhoods we hadn’t visited on our walking tour the day before, talking us through yet more of the city’s history. We even had the chance to stop off and sample some of the city’s famous cherry liquor – Ginjinha, and sampled another pastel de nata.
The journey took us through downtown Lisbon and out by the riverfront to Belem, with only a small amount of time spent on the road – perfect for a nervous cyclist like me! By the time, we reached the river, the sun was shining and we had a blast whizzing along the cycle paths with the wind in our hair.
We waved goodbye to our guides and stopped off for a traditional Portuguese lunch of fish and potatoes at one of the little cafes lining the riverfront. Craving a little something sweet, we hailed an uber to LX Factory, a hip complex of trendy shops, bars and restaurants. The whole area had such a cool vibe and reminded me a little of Venice Beach in California. I had read about a coffee shop there called Landeau which served the world’s best chocolate cake and, as a girl with a massive sweet tooth, I had to give it a try. It was, what I can only describe as heavenly. Sticky, sweet, gooey, melt-in-your mouth, rich, unadulterated indulgence. It truly was the stuff of a chocoholic’s dreams!
Our taxi driver had earlier recommended a hidden rooftop bar called Park, located on top of a multi-storey car park in Barrio Alto, so we set out to find it for a quick tipple before dinner. We soon stumbled upon it, and we are so glad we did. Word had obviously got out about this hidden gem, as it was packed with both locals and tourists. It was easy to see how it was so popular, as it had a great atmosphere and an amazing view of the city.
A Portuguese friend had also given us a recommendation for dinner at Tasca Do Chico, a Fado restaurant (a melancholic style of music that originated in Lisbon in the 1820’s) situated in the busy Barrio Alto. It was such a unique experience and we loved every minute of it! We ate tapas, drank sangria and swapped stories with the American couple we were sharing our table with. Every 30 minutes so, the lights would be dimmed, the doors would be locked and various Fado musicians would take to the floor to play their instruments and sing to the crowds. What an evening!
Lisbon is truly a magical place brimming with culture, history and hidden treasures, and I can’t wait to go back!