After hearing so many great things about Portugal, I had to go and I did not regret it. Well, the only I thing I regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend in this beautiful country and explore more, especially the south. We will definitely plan a surfing trip to the Algarve some time soon.
Last September, when Harrison was still in the US, my friend and I spontaneously decided to run the Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon and enjoy a few days in Lisbon and Porto. We saw quite a lot within the 5 days – 1 day in Porto, 3 days in Lisbon including the half marathon, and a day trip to Sintra and 1 day Duoro Valley (see separate posts).
- The downtown area suffered from a strong earthquake in 1755 where about 60,000 people died. The districts of Alfama and Mouraria were less affected by the quake and but the downtown area had to be completely rebuilt.
- The Portuguese use a lot of tiles on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary houses, but also of restaurants, bars, and even subway stations. Azulejo is a form of Spanish and Portuguese painted tin-glazed ceramic tile work. The tiles are not only used for decorations but much more to control the temperatures of the buildings.
- Portugal is synonymous with port wine. There is white and red Port with average alcohol levels of 20%. Port is best enjoyed with some nice cheese and crackers and can find a great port for as little as 5 Euros per bottle.
- Lisbon is also called the city of the seven hills! I would compare it with San Francisco in the US and Valpariso in Chile. Not only because of the hills but also the the colorful streets, cable cars/funiculars, and the vibe.
- Portugal is a great country to visit year-round with its mild winters and warm summers and well known for its many surf beaches and surf camps.
- Funiculars (Cable Cars): These are sometimes hidden and you need to take a few back alleys to find them. Gloria funicular is one of the most visited and considered a National Monument. Lavra Funicular is only a few streets further and the oldest in the city.
- Elevator: Elevador de Santa Justa: Connects downtown with Trinidade and is the only street lift in Lisbon for public service. If you don’t want to wait in line nor pay the 5-Euro fee, just walk around the block and take the street leading up to the Carma Convent. You can discover the ruins around the convent and enjoy the great view of the Chiado district.
- Squares: Lisbon features some really nice squares and the Praca Rossio, Praca da Figueria, and Praca dos Restauradores shouldn’t be skipped. It’s impossible to miss the Arco Triunfal and Praca do Comércio. If you like you can even get to the top of the arch (3 Euros) and enjoy the bird’s view of Lisbon’s magnificent main square and the pedestrian area at Rua Augusta. The square faces the river and is also called ‘Terreiro do Paco’ meaning ‘Grounds of the Palace’.
- Viewpoints: It’s not really hard to find amazing viewpoints in Lisbon since there are literally everywhere.
- Miradouro de Santa Catarina is one of my favorites. You can sit in the grass, at the cafe, or on the stairs and listen to some music. A lot of students come here to enjoy drinks during the sunset.
- Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara was just around the corner of our hostel and is a great spot to watch the sunset. There are also a few stalls that sell food and drinks and you can head to Bairro Alto for more drinks in one of the many bars in the hilly alleyways.
- Armazens do Chiado department stores which offers a nice view from the top floor.
- Castelo de Sao Jorge: Enjoy the nice view of downtown or even visit the castle. Due to our limited time and the crowds at the ticket office we decided not to.
- Park Bar: This was a hidden secret but it seemed quite known among tourists now already. You need to find your way in the parking lot and once you reached the roof top you will be greeted by a breathtaking view. However, the bar was super crowed when we got there and we chose to have our Sangria elsewhere.
- Ponte 25 de Abril: This sister bridge of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge was designed by the same architect in 1966. You will see it from downtown Lisbon, from Belem or just take a bike and see it up close.
- The labyrinth of Alfama is known for the small alleys and irregular streets. A perfect area to just wander around and breathe in Lisbon’s past. When in Alfama, also check out the Cathedral Sé Patriarcal (free public access), and the church Sao Vicente de Fora. Further you will also see the Patheon Santa Engrácia which was under construction when we were there.
- Belem is a picturesque district to the west of Lisbon. Since 1837, the bakery Pastéis de Belem makes these delicious deserts from an ancient recipe from the Jerónimos monestary. You should definitely get your helping of Pastéis de Nata here even though the line is always looooong. Take them to the riverside and watch the boats going by with the bridge 25 de Abril in the background. Also check out the Torre de Belem, the monument of the discoveries, and the Jéronimos monastery.
Do you have more time to explore?
- LX Factory (on the way from downtown Lisbon to Belem) is a small hipster and art quarter. On Sundays you will find a cute bio market and people sit and eat outside around the old factory buildings and mingle while enjoying the (street) art, fashion and more. Very relaxed atmosphere and a great spot off-the-beaten path!
- Have dinner or just a drink at the Santo Amaro Docks underneath the 25 de Abril bridge.
- Vasco da Gama Bridge: It is the longest bridge in Europe (including its viaducts), and 9th longest in the world with a total length of 17.2km. We started our half marathon on the bridge and ended at Parque das Nações.
- Parque das Nações is the former area of the Expo 1998 and looks pretty futuristic (there is also a huge mall if you like to shop).
- Take the ferry to Cacilhas and visit the Christo Rei statue for a unique view of Lisbon.
- Aqueduto das Aguas Livres: Largest stone arch in the world (19km long and 65m tall). You will have a great view of Lisbon’s North.
- Party on Pink Street (Rua Nova do Carvalho)
- Shop at the fancy and trendy shops of Principe Real
- Run a (half) marathon 😉
Listen to some Fado, Lisbon’s traditional music genre, characterized by the slow and melancholic rhythm and recently added to the Unesco’s list of World’ s Intangible Heritage. Head to A Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto (Rua do Diário de Noticias, 39), which is a simple and small bar (Mo and Wed).
Looking for a souvenir? Canned food like sardines, tuna, and mackerels as well as mousse of codfish and stuffed squids are very typical and can be found at Conserveira de Lisboa (Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34). Just keep in mind to put them into your checked luggage since they won’t pass the security checks for hand luggage. I learned this the hard way unfortunately.
Where to Stay
We loved the Equity Point Lisboa Hostel which is located just north of the Bairro Alto district which hosts most of the bars and restaurants and is a very vibrant part of Lisbon. The Hostel owners were super nice and you can even rent bikes from the hostel and enjoy a complimentary breakfast in the inner courtyard or terrace.
What & Where to Eat & Drink
What about a bottle of Port, a selection of cheese and Pastéis de Nata? Anyone? I always prefer this with sunset watching over an over-priced tourist meal somewhere downtown. We enjoyed this kind of picnic at sunset from Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Couldn’t get any better than that.
We haven’t eaten here but if you are into ethnic food go to Martim Moniz which is full of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern restaurants. The Mouraria Shopping Center (Rua da Mouraria 1) is the place to buy any ingredients if you want to cook yourself in the hostel. Sushi-lovers may head to the all-you-can eat Sushi dinner at Japonês Dao (Rua da Palma 245) for 9,90 Euro (no guarantee!).
Also drink some Ginjinha, a typical Portuguese liquor made of a cherry-alike berry. One shot usually costs 1 Euro and you can order it with a cherry or a chocolate wafer too. The most popular bar to try it is A Ginjinha (at Rossio, Largo de São Domingos 8), but it’s also very popular in the café around Praça da Figueira.
Morangoska is another typical drink made of vodka and fresh strawberries.
How to Get There
There are many cheap flights to Lisbon, Porto or Faro (Algarve) from various cities in Europe. Just check out our list of budget airlines here.
I flew with Ryanair from Memmingen (outside of Munich) to Porto and then from Porto to Lisbon. The last leg was only 9,99€ each way! This is cheaper than the train, bus or renting a car. I just couldn’t resist 😉 I then took the same route back. From the airport you can easily get downtown with the Aerobus for less than 4 Euros.
How to Get Around
You can easily explore the center of Lisbon by foot. To see the Belem you could rent a bike (ask your hostel). The Metro is very easy to navigate. Sintra as well as the beaches in and around Cascais can be reached by the frequent trains.