Lisbon has been on my travel list for awhile, and I finally made the trip with a friend 2 weeks ago. It was an enjoyable and easy going city, with lots of areas to explore and quick day trips to outer areas.
I flew TAP Portugal, which was a 7 hour direct flight from JFK. I would definitely fly this airline again as I didn’t see many other direct options from NYC, and the price was pretty good for a Europe direct flight (about $900 USD booked 5 months in advance).
Based on travel books and tips from other bloggers, Lisbon is a city that can be seen in 2 days, but to make sure things weren’t rushed I stayed for 5 with the plan to do: 3 in Lisbon, 1 in a beach town (Cascais) and another in more rustic Sintra.
Lisbon City Recap
Fresh off of a red eye, I went straight to the hotel to drop off bags, and then to a walking tour to get acclimated with the city. I stayed at Hotel Santa Justa which I absolutely recommend as it was centrally located and in easy walking distance to all sights and train stations.
The first thing that I learned, was that flat comfy shoes are essential in Lisbon. The streets have lovely tiling that add to the charm of the city, but there are many hills, and the tiles make it very easy to slip. TIP 1: Bring sneakers, and save your fun, fancy heels for another trip. The free walking tour that I went on with Sandeman was actually quite informative and it was nice to hear about the history of Lisbon – the various rulers, colonial influences and the major earthquake that rocked the city forever. The views from the Santa Justa Elevator were just what I expected and I loved it.
Now a lot of people rave about the food in Lisbon, and unfortunately I didn’t have the same sentiments. I am a major foodie, but all of the food seemed pretty basic. Fish and potatoes with a side salad were options nearly everywhere, but I missed seasoning and sauces – and some sort of staple taste that I would associate with the culture. However, I did find 1 place which was a unique and fun experience, Cervejaria Ramiro. Definitely for seafood lovers only, as it’s basically the only option on the menu, this restaurant had fresh fish cooked on premise which was absolute perfection. TIP 2: Lot’s of restaurants open at 7:00pm for dinner as the Portuguese generally eat later. I got to the restaurant at 6:15pm and had to wait 45min until opening. Check opening times before heading out for din!
The next day I explored the Alfama area, which is the older part of the city with a few noteworthy sights. There were some pretty cool artsy areas that I stumbled across. Lisbon isn’t as much about major monuments, but more about exploring the neighborhoods and having an authentic experience – at least in my opinion. Some books said to skip Castelo Sao Jorge, but I recommend going for the views and grounds. The actual castle leaves little to be desired. Here are some of my favorite pics from my day in the Alfama area:
Beyond exploring the neighborhoods by foot, it’s also great to see them from above. TIP 3: Make sure to check out a rooftop bar! I read about a few rooftop bars before visiting Lisbon, but ended up spontaneously trying 2 different ones. Both were awesome and had great views of the city. I didn’t catch the name of the first one, but the bar pictured is Sky Bar. This was one of the more expensive places I went to, but the overall vibe was nice and upscale which worked for me!
After a few days of city exploring, it was time to hit the beach.
TIP #4: It is very easy to get to Cascais by train. It’s a $2.15 euro ride each way and the train station was a 15 min walk from Hotel Santa Justa. BUT be warned – buying a ticket during peak season/time can be a lengthy process. Luckily trains run frequently, but we missed our planned one and ended up getting on a train an hour after we intended (missing 3). That being said, the beach was an awesome experience. Cascais was a super cute town, and the beach was less than 5 minutes from the train station. The train took 40 minutes (once we finally got on it), so the trip is perfectly doable for a day.
How cute is the town and beach? So cute that EVERYONE wanted to be there. Which leads me to TIP #5: Get to the beach early if you want rental chairs and umbrellas. I went to 6 different beach stands and all were sold out. Of course I got there later than planned due to the train ticket issue, but the overall lesson here is to do the beach day early. I passed time by sipping sangria at beachfront bars and and eventually beach chairs/umbrellas opened up. Since the sun sets late, there was plenty of time to enjoy the day!
Sintra is a must-see place according to any travel guide. It’s a resort town in the mountains, and was another quick and cheap train ride from central Lisbon. This train ride was far less chaotic, but that might be because I left at 8am.
So here’s the deal in Sintra. You get off the train and catch the 434 bus which circles to the main sights – a group of castles, museums and park area. It’s nearly impossible to walk up the mountain to a key attraction Pena Palace, so the bus makes sense and is just $5 euro to hop on/off. Sintra was picturesque and felt like a fairytale, but it also felt like a tourist trap. The bus quickly got full and at each stop, herds of people got off for the attraction. Everything was $10 – $20 euro for admission. The one must-see is the Castle of the Moors. It’s essentially a long castle like path, but it had my favorite views. I definitely recommend visiting Sintra because it was gorgeous, but honestly it wasn’t the best experience.
I didn’t make it to Belem which is the home of Lisbon’s infamous egg tart, but I found pretty good ones at a corner bakery, Confeitaria Nacional.
And that pretty much sums up the highlights!
So why did I love Lisbon oh so much? It’s a place that has the spirit and relaxing nature of a smaller town – yet the diversity in food, people and art of a city. A perfect mix of both. Everything was super cheap! It was common to see wine for $3 euro and food was priced well too. The city sits on the water, which is always nice and all of the people were friendly. I loved the unique touches, like the frequent ginjinha stands that sell the well known cherry liquor out of chocolate cups on the streets. This is a major TIP #6: Try the ginjinha – it is a nice treat!
Definitely a very memorable place that I will visit again in the future.