Lisbon, Portugal’s hilly coastal capital city, reminds me of Barcelona with its colourful streets and diverse vibe. However, it has a raw energy that Barcelona has lost in recent years since becoming Europe’s go-to city-beach destination. Lisbon is filled with buzzy restaurants, beach-front trendy bars, beautiful architecture, traditional trams and patterned tiles. It is also still a relatively cheap city-break and perfect for a long weekend away.
Pete and I explored the city over three balmy nights in July. Here’s what we got up to…
During the summer months Lisbon is a sun-drenched maze of cobbled streets oozing tradition and character. The first thing we decided to do was hop on the number 28 tram, passing through many of Lisbon’s districts including Baixa, Graça, Alfama and Estrella. As we wound down hills and hurtled around corners we got our bearings and caught a glimpse of local life.
We then took to foot and explored along the coastline before meandering our way back to the Alfama District. One of the highlights of our afternoon explorations was a visit to the Moorish castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), which costs 8.50 Euros per adult. The castle’s shady gardens offer respite from the hot sun and command incredible views across the city.
Our first day passed by in a dreamy haze of pottering around the old city, soaking up the atmosphere and tasting some great food washed down with local wine (you can read more about our restaurant recommendations here).
In my eyes a trip to Lisbon would not be complete without a visit to nearby Sintra; 40 minutes out of town by train. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was historically the summer retreat for Portuguese nobility and is home to glittering palaces surrounded by the cooling hills of the Serra de Sintra and shrouded in misty forests.
Although I half expected to be picked up from the train station in a jewel-studded golden chariot drawn by unicorns, in keeping with the fairy-tale setting, the 434 bus would have to do. It is convenient, cheap, and saves a long trek up the hill.
Sintra’s historic town-centre, the National Palace, the Moors Castle and the jewel in the crown; the Pena Palace are all worth a visit.
Reminiscent of a Disney Princess Castle, the Romanticist Pena Palace was built in 1854 by Fernando II and reflects his flamboyant personality with its golden domes and yellow and pink turrets and arches.
Lord Byron visited in 1809 and declared that ‘Sintra was a glorious Eden’ containing ‘beauties of every description’ and it’s not hard to see why the gardens were such an inspiration to him. With the soothing sounds of the streams running through the valley and the patter of the rain as it falls on to the leaves, there is an enchanted air in the hushed forest. As we wandered down wooded paths we were greeted with grottoes, mythical statues and black swans gliding gracefully across the water-lily covered lakes.
*Top Tip* However hot it is in Lisbon always go prepared with some warm clothes and a rain coat. We left sizzling Lisbon and were greeted with a foggy and chilly Sintra, I was very thankful for my pashmina. Others weren’t so lucky!
On our final day, we hopped on a tram (15E) to head to Lisbon’s Belem district; located on the northern banks of the River Tagus. We spent an enjoyable few hours walking along the seafront, visiting the emblematic Belem Tower, lounging in the botanical gardens, and tasting some of Lisbon’s renowned custard tarts.
Once I had lifted my gaze away from the streets lined with exquisite tiles of all patterns and colours, I was struck by the beauty of the Monastery of Jerónimos. Over 500 years old, this religious UNESCO-listed building is one of the grandest and largest in the city and is well worth exploring.
*Top Tip* Don’t be put off if there are large queues outside the monastery. A lot of people are waiting to go into the exhibitions and museum, rather than the monastery itself. We walked right up and straight inside to have a look around.
A trip to Belem would not be complete without tasting one of the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem’s legendary custard tarts. You can read a little bit more about them in our foodie hot spots post, where we also recommend a stroll around the beautiful Botanical Gardens, located just round the corner.
Although we loved seeing the grand palaces, towers and monasteries…it really is the little doorways like this that make Lisbon so special…
Like the sound of Lisbon? Well, we’ve teamed up with the guys over at Casey Travel, so that you can have as much fun as we did there. All you have to do is click the button below!