On Wednesday evening, Tiffany and I arrived in Lisbon just in time to catch a gorgeous, vibrant sunset. Not a bad start to the trip, huh?
By the time we got a cab to our cute Airbnb in Alfama, it was well past dinnertime. We wandered through the neighborhood, passing tons Fado bars and restaurants. I later found out that Fado is traditional Portuguese music, and is most common in the Alfama neighborhood. We eventually settled on dinner at a small restaurant down the road.
Upon arrival, we ordered a variety of tapas: squid, padrón peppers, patatas bravas, an omelet, and lemonades. And I took zero photos. Womp. We were impressed by how delicious and inexpensive the food was – even compared to Spain, which I found to be quite budget-friendly. Definitely a refreshing change to Amsterdam!
After dinner, we headed back to our apartment so we could get an early start the next day.
Well, I wouldn’t really say that we got an early start on any of our days. But, I have gotten to the point in my travels where I’d rather see “less” and enjoy the city, rather than rush and cram everything into one day. Tiffany wasn’t feeling too well, so we decided that we would separate after breakfast. After trekking up a few hills in the neighborhood, we stumbled upon As Marias Com Chocolate, a café specializing in chocolates, fudge, and more. For those of you with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend the fudge (all kinds), and I’ve been told the hot chocolate is spectacular as well.
After a quick pit stop at both the pharmacy and the phone shop, Tiffany and I parted ways. I headed off to explore Castelo de São Jorge, passing gorgeous Alfama rooftops and stunning views of the water along the way.
The Castle is located on a high hill, as it was used a fortress to protect Lisbon back in the day. This is a prime location, since you can see spectacular views of the entire city. Check out the photos below!
I spent a few hours exploring the castle and getting a serious tan before my hunger got the better of me. Luckily, as soon as I exited the castle I found Cafe Nata, a popular chain café known for their egg tarts. I was starving at this point, so I had a delicious bacalao (cod) sandwich and a pastel de nata (egg tart). Although the best ones can actually be found in Belém, this pastel was pretty good too.
I made quick work of my lunch, then headed over to Martim Moniz station to catch Tram 28 through the city. Tram 28 is a bit of a tourist “secret”: for 6 euros per round trip, it takes you through most of the popular tourist areas of the city. A ton of tourists seemed to know this, though, so the trick is to get on at Martim Moniz and elbow your way to a seat – otherwise you’re in for an hour-long journey standing up, packed like a sardine. Best believe I got a seat both ways! Either way, it’s probably one of the cheapest “tours” you’ll take in a city, and you’re awarded with 1) riding a historical tram, and 2) seeing a ton of diverse areas of Lisbon. And if you’re lucky like me, you’ll make friends with another (American) solo travel who speaks Portuguese and knows a ton of facts about Lisbon. Score!
As I was approaching Martim Moniz, I got some messages from Tiffany. She was had just arrived at a very crowded hospital next to the metro stop, as she was worried that she had an infection. Uh oh. Here are a couple of things I learned: 1) Urgent care is an American thing. 2) Long waits at emergency rooms are a global thing 3) Hospitals and I don’t jive very well. I waited for a couple of hours with Tiff until she was told she had a few more hours to go until she would be able to see a doctor. My exhaustion and hunger got the better of me, so I took the apartment key and headed home, grabbing a shawarma on the way. Poor Tiffany didn’t get home until 2 am! The only bright side was that she left armed with proper medication. Being sick abroad is not fun.
After the unpleasant hospital adventure the night before, Tiffany woke up just long enough to let me know that she needed some rest. I decided to head off on my own for Belém, well-known for its monastery, tower, and mouth-watering pastries. Naturally, as soon as I arrived in Belém, I headed straight to Pasteis de Belém, conveniently located a stone’s throw from the bus stop. I was surprised to find the line was almost non-existent (it was 10 am, but tourists are generally an eager bunch), and five minutes later I was eating the best egg pastry of my life.
My next stop was a 2-minute walk away: the famous Mosteiro Dos Jeronimos, a UNESCO heritage site known for its Gothic architecture and long and complicated history. Initially, I walked into the (free) church, where I caught a portion of a military procession. Super cool! I quickly realized that there’s actually a separate entrance for the monastery itself. I was really lucky that the line was short when I got there, because by the time I left it was at least a 30-minute wait to get inside! Either way, I’d say it’s totally worth it – inside it was spectacularly gorgeous.
Coincidentally, Tiffany called me to meet up just as I finished at the monastery. We decided to meet at the nearby Torre de Belem. Since it’s similar in architectural style to the monastery but with a much longer line, we instead opted to walk along the Tagus river. I told Tiffany she couldn’t leave without an egg tart, so we stopped at Pasteis de Belém for lunch. (Insider’s tip: tables are up for grabs inside, so just hover near people who are finishing up. A ton of tourists were waiting to be seated by the host in one section, and the line there was long.)
After lunch, Tiffany and I split up once again and I took a bus over to the commercial square (Praça do Comércio) for some leisurely strolling. The plaza itself was breathtaking. Huge in size and set along the river with plenty of restaurants, ice cream shops, and people, it was truly a wonder in and of itself. I sat and people-watched for a good amount of time before making my way down the main commercial road. I mostly window-shopped, but couldn’t resist buying myself a gorgeous plaid scarf, along with a coat that only cost 5 euros. Yes, 5 euros. I was beyond stoked. And I rewarded myself with a waffle and some cookie butter ice cream. It was clearly a sweet tooth kind of day.
I took the long way home through Alfama, walking through the narrow, winding cobblestone streets and watching Fado bars set up for the night. Tiffany and I had plans to meet her friends for dinner and Fado in Bairro Alto that evening, so after I dropped off my bags we took a cab to Mascote da Atalaia. The bar was small and cozy and we had the table right in front of the stage. Lucky us! I liked that the music was broken up into several performances throughout the night and rather than one continuous show. That way, the people dining could enjoy the delicious food! I may or may not have had just eaten spiced potatoes and fresh cheese for dinner. No regrets.
Fado itself is very mournful and emotional, with a hint of nostalgia. We accidentally ended up staying for four hours, so we were definitely ready for some happier music by the end of the night.
By the time we left the bar it was midnight, and Bairro Alto was alive and kicking. Although Tiffany and I were tired, we had plans to meet our friend Vicky at Park Bar. Vicky had studied in Lisbon for a semester, and was in town meeting with her friends from study abroad. It was quite a coincidence that we were all there at the same time! Park turned out to be a really cool bar. Located on a the rooftop of a parking lot, it had a great vibe and an even greater view of the city. The DJ played top 40 hits from the 90s and 00’s, which made for a fun night of singing and dancing. Needless to say, we didn’t get to bed until 3 am.
Clearly waking up early the next morning was not in the cards, despite the fact that we planned to go on a day trip to Sintra. We ended up missing breakfast entirely and walked over to explore the Santa Clara flea market instead. The market is more or less a swap meet, and is actually known as the Thieves market – apparently gypsies used to sell stolen goods here when it first started! Now, everything is perfectly legal and you can find a huge collection of random items – I picked up a pair of sunglasses and Tiffany ended up with a couple of vintage records.
By the time we were done shopping we were starving, so we opted to eat at the nearby Mercado de Santa Clara for some delicious homemade Portuguese food. My plate was heaped with food – I had fish, salad, and veggies. Delish!
After finishing lunch, we decided that it was finally time to head to Sintra. We quickly dropped off our things at the apartment, then walked over to the train station to catch the train. The whole journey took a little over an hour. For some reason I’ve always enjoyed train journeys. I always get a deep appreciation of being truly present – doing nothing but watching the neighborhoods and people pass by.
By the time we arrived in Sintra it was late afternoon, and, much to our surprise, windy and a bit chilly. Since we were short on time, we decided to visit Palacio de la Pena – a multicolored castle sitting in the middle of a large national park. Since the palace is located on a steep hill, we took a tuk-tuk up – quite a roller coaster of a ride! Tiffany accidentally lost the driver’s brochure on the way up from all the wind and sudden turns, but we loved it!
You could actually spend an entire day on the palace’s grounds. The park surrounding the palace is spectacularly large, but, unfortunately, the cold got the better of us. We did enjoy a leisurely snack at the palace restaurant before exploring the somewhat small interior, though. We also took a ton of good pictures – including this one with my hair and dress flying everywhere. I wasn’t kidding about that wind!
After walking around the little town, we decided that we would rather have dinner in Lisbon than taking a train late at night. It ended up taking us a little longer than anticipated since our delayed train caused us to just miss our connecting train. Luckily we were only frantically running around the city for about ten minutes or so before we found a cab that took us home.
After changing into warmer clothes, we headed out for a late dinner at Mercado da Ribeira, a large food hall with stands by some famous Portuguese chefs. Much to my delight, food halls are becoming hugely popular globally. Although they’re often slightly overpriced, the food is usually good quality and you can find a multitude of regional specialties in one place. Sounds good to me! My steak sandwich with homemade chips was delish!
The next day was our last day in Lisbon, so Tiff and I headed back for bed.
Thankfully, our Airbnb host told us we could check out whenever we wanted the next day. My flight to London wasn’t until 10 am the next morning, but Tiffany’s flight was later that afternoon. After packing all our stuff, we headed over to Praça de Comercio, since Tiffany had missed it. We window-shopped for a while (this time Tiffany bought a few things!) before cabbing to LX Factory to meet Vicky and her friends for brunch. Located a bit outside of the main hub, LX Factory is a collection of small cafes, bookshops, vendors, and more. It’s almost a little village of the arts, which I loved. Tiffany and I both ordered the brunch, which ended up being huge (look at my plate!). By the time we met up with Vicky and her friends and finished eating, we only had about ten minutes to explore before Tiffany had to head back to catch a cab to the airport. Sad times. Although I didn’t get to see much, I loved what I managed to see of the area, and definitely recommend it to visitors.
At the apartment, Tiffany and I said our goodbyes and parted ways. I had booked a guest house that was a bit closer to the airport and made it there just as it started raining. Luckily I had my H&M umbrella handy! By the time I got situated and decided where to spend the rest of the afternoon, it had stopped raining. I took the metro to Parque das Nações, the “new city”, where the world expo was once held. This is clearly a business area of the city as it was somewhat deserted when I visited, but I spent a good few hours walking along the river anyway.
Since I had an early flight to London the next morning, I decided to go back to my guest house at around sunset, grabbing a mouth-watering döner kebab to go on my way. I love that you can always rely on döner as a good backup food option basically all over Europe. After confirming all of my paperwork for the next day, I said boa noite to Lisbon and headed to bed.
TLDR: a short summary of what I did and where I ate in Lisbon for those too lazy to read the whole post
Where I went:
- Castelo de São Jorge: a Moorish castle that once served as a fortress in Lisbon
- Tram 28: Buy a 24-hour pass and start at Martim Moniz station – it goes through all the cool areas of the city
- Belém: Visit the famous Mosteiro Dos Jeronimos, a UNESCO heritage site known for its Gothic architecture and take a walk along the river
- Praça do Comércio: large and beautiful square located on the water. Walk down the main road for shopping and restaurants
- Santa Clara flea market: a large and busy swap meet with an eclectic collection of items. Check which days of the week it’s open
- Sintra: take a day trip to Sintra, a beautiful and history city an hour away from Lisbon. Visit the wacky-colored Palacio de la Pena, and spend hours walking through the corresponding castle grounds
- LX Factory: renovated factory grounds home to local shops and cafes
- Parque das Nações: the new city / business area. Home to a large mall, as well as the Lisbon aquarium.
What I ate:
- Breakfast and fudge in Alfama at As Marias Com Chocolate
- A cod (bacalao) sandwich at Nata
- Egg tart pastries (pasteis de Belem) at Pasteis de Belém
- Fresh cheese and potatoes at Mascote da Atalaia. Make a reservation at this small bar in Bairro Alto for a night of food, drinks and Fado music
- Go to Park Bar for a chill rooftop bar vibe. You can lounge on the chairs or dance the night away to 90’s/00’s music
- Homemade Portuguese food at Mercado de Santa Clara
- Steak sandwich and chips at Mercado da Ribeira, a giant food hall with tons of options
- Brunch at LX Factory
Where I stayed:
- At this Airbnb in Alfama. Sign up for Airbnb and get a $20 credit here.
- Gallis Guest House in Lisbon. Located one block from a metro stop, and rooms are spacious. Caveat: bathrooms are shared.