A couple of months ago, I found out that a mini-travel guide to Lisbon I’d put together for a friend was doing the rounds of our friends and friends of friends. According to the friend I’d written it for, “it’s like a proper travel guide”. Which got me thinking that, as I have a travel blog and my friends seem to find it useful, I should probably post it.
I’ll blog about my trip in more detail later this year, but for now here’s my mini-travel guide to Lisbon. I hope you find it useful, too – and if you have any other recommendations, please share them in the comments.
There’s not much to do in central Lisbon itself in terms of sightseeing, I just mooched around the different districts. But the castle on top of the hill, Castelo de São Jorge, is well worth a visit as it has amazing views over the city.
Belém is one of the suburbs and there’s loads to do. Just hop on the number 15 tram from Praca da Figueira (you pay on the tram) and it will take you there. There you’ll find the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery is quite cool to walk around, although the queues are long so it’s worth getting there early. There’s also an amazing palace up on the hill that no-one knows about, the Ajuda National Palace, that’s definitely worth seeing.
Belém is also home to the café that popularised the Portuguese custard tart and you have to visit it – the tarts are fantastic! The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém is just down the road from the monastery, so I popped in there for breakfast before starting my day.
Other sights include the Torre de Belém, a tower on the river, but to be honest it’s a 20-minute walk away and nothing special, so might be worth skipping. I also went to the electricity museum, which was weird, but cool – it’s housed in an old electricity sub-station and is one-half electricity museum, one-half art gallery.
I went to Cascais, a little fishing port outside Lisbon. It had a little beach and wasn’t really worth the trip, but on the way there loads of people were hopping off the train to go to the various beaches en route to Cascais. I got the train from Cais do Sodré station, so if you want the beach, I’d hop on the train and follow the locals.
My favourite place I visited. It’s a little town in the mountains just south of Lisbon (get the train from Rossio station). Quinta da Regaleira is a world heritage site in the mountains. It’s a bizarre folly/country house with extensive gardens where they’ve built towers, caves and lakes, and is great fun to explore.
The other thing to do is to follow the knights’ templar trail up the mountain to the castle and palace at the top (it looks horrendous from the bottom, but it’s not actually steep or tiring). You can get the bus to the top of the hill, but I don’t think it would be as much fun.
The Moors’ Castle was built on top of the hill by the Moors in the 10th century and is a series of castle ramparts that go all over the top of the mountain. It’s spectacular to walk around and the views from the top are incredible.
The Pena Palace, meanwhile, is a quirky, kitsch palace with an art deco exterior and extensive grounds. It’s kind of crazy and a complete contrast to the palace at Belém. There’s also a palace in the middle of Sintra, the National Palace, but it isn’t as interesting, so I’d leave it ’til last and do it if you have time.
Food and drink
The Bairro Alto is Lisbon’s food and drink district, and is teeming with restaurants and bars. I had the most amazing clams (a Lisbon speciality) at Petiscos No Bairro on the Rua da Atalaia. I also had a great meal at O Cantinho do Bem Estar, it’s really rustic, home cooked food. The portion sizes are enormous, it’s crazy cheap (I had a massive plate of food and half a jug of wine for 10 euros) and the people that run it are lovely.
Time Out runs a food market (above) at the market across the road from Cais do Sodré station. There are 30-odd stalls from top Lisbon restaurants, food shops and bars, and you take your pick from them and sit down at the tables in the middle of the market. It’s great and you can try loads of different stuff.
I didn’t get round to it when I was in Lisbon, but Tagide is supposed to be great for lunch. You can get a three course meal, plus wine and coffee for 12 euros or so, and all the food guides recommend it.
You should also make sure to try Ginginha, a Portuguese cherry brandy (sounds disgusting, but really nice!), and white port, it’s not as sweet as regular port and hard to come by outside Lisbon. Also, do you like cinnamon? A lot of the desserts have cinnamon in them, especially those that are branded ‘Portuguese’.