What to do in Lisbon – Scaling new heights

A round up of a few of my favourite sites in Lisbon which will enable you to take in some great views of the city

Lisbon, just like Rome, is known as the city of seven hills. For this reason, it would probably be a good idea to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the prospect of travelling through Lisbon’s hilly terrain. Difficulty faced when walking through Lisbon will be further exacerbated by the texture of the pavements; these appear to be made of varnished tiles which make them incredibly slippery. One advantage of travelling to such a hilly city, however, is that you are guaranteed to find some great viewing points. Here are some of the best attractions in Lisbon which will no doubt give you some great views and Instagram shots of the city #doitforthegram

Jéronimos Monastery (Mosterio dos Jéronimos)

My top tip for anyone wishing to visit Jéronimos Monastery is to skip the ridiculously long queue for buying tickets outside of the monastery by buying these at the archaeology museum (Museu Nacional de Arqueologia), which is adjacent to the main entrance of the monastery. You can also buy tickets for Bélem Tower here. Once you have your tickets you can zoom straight to the entrance for both sites and save yourself waiting for an hour or more to get in.

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Jéronimos Monastery is a visually stunning building. As you walk past it as well as through it you can’t help but be taken aback by the sheer beauty of both the interior and exterior. I had no prior knowledge of the monastery before my visit but thankfully there was an abundance of information dotted around the monastery which detailed its history. There is one room in particular which juxtaposes timelines of the monastery’s c.500 year history and the history of the world over the same 500 year period.

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Torre de Bélem (Bélem Tower)

Although I managed to bypass the initial queue at the entrance of Bélem Tower I was confronted with lots of smaller queues as I tried to make my way up the narrow stairs within the building to the various levels of this stunning Unesco World Hertiage site. Once I managed to get up these stairs, however, I was met with stunning views of the river Tagus and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument.

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N.B. Almost all the main historical sites and attractions are closed in Lisbon on a Monday. I learnt that the hard way when I turned up to Bélem Tower on my first full day but at least this meant that I managed to get a photo of the exterior without a long line of tourists obstructing my view.

Castelo de São Jorge (St George’s Castle)

This site is located near Alfama so if you are planning a trip to this part of Lisbon you should most definitely add Castelo de São Jorge to your list. Some information about the history of the site itself is located in a modern building near the castle but if you are solely on the hunt for some great views of Lisbon you can wander around the viewing point, or Mirodouro, which is outside of the actual building or simply walk around the castle and climb the steep stairs which are located all over the castle.

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Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift/Elevator)

My top tip for going here is to arrive early in the morning to avoid the queues that develop later in the day. I arrived just after 9am and was part of the second group to ascend to the top. N.B. You can use your Lisbon Viva Viagem card to access the lift providing you have enough credit on your card. A ticket will cost around 4 euros.

This is another great site in Lisbon that will provide you with some fantastic views of the city. Once you arrive at the top you will be able to see Carmo Convent, which is nearby, as well as Rossio Square (Praça de Dom Pedro IV).

Explore Lisbon by tram or on foot

It’s a safe bet that every travel guide and blog about Lisbon will tell you to take the historic tram 28. Whilst some may argue that no trip to Lisbon is complete without doing this at least once I wasn’t overly impressed with what I saw whilst I was on the tram. I even took it twice at around 8am just to make sure that I was able to fully appreciate the experience. As most of the streets in Lisbon are incredibly narrow I mainly just witnessed the tram coming dangerously close to crashing through a few coffee shops. Sometimes I felt that it was more interesting to see the trams travelling through the narrow streets than it was to be on the tram, especially as the tram mainly seemed to travel past shops and restaurants.

I managed to see much more of Lisbon when I was walking through the city. As well as allowing you travel at a slower pace, travelling on foot will provide you with a great opportunity to have a look at Lisbon’s famous azulejos (tiles) which adorn many homes and other buildings all over the city. Just take care when climbing steep (and very slippery) streets!

Have you travelled to Lisbon? If so, let me know what other interesting sites in Lisbon are worth visiting!

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What to do in Istanbul

My top picks for what to do and see on a short trip to Istanbul.

Besides looking for beautiful street art, there is so much to do and see in Istanbul. If you love culture there are a myriad of museums to visit and if you like site-seeing you can take a trip to a few of the historic monuments or mosques in the city or you could wander through the city’s beautiful streets and countless markets. Whilst researching for my trip I knew that there were a lot of things that I wanted to do but as I only has two full days to spend in the city, I had to think strategically about what I could do and see within such a limited amount of time. Here are my recommendations.

Have a Hamam (Turkish bath)

I was determined to spend some time relaxing during my short city break and what better way to do this in Turkey than to enjoy a traditional hamam. I went to Kilic Ali Paşa Hamam which was very conveniently only a short walk from my Airbnb. It’s not the cheapest hamam that you will find in the city (it’s about £40 for the hamam treatment on its own which isn’t bad, but if you are on a tighter budget you can find other hamam treatments for the equivalent of about £10), however, the stunning interiors and excellent service make this well worth the extra money. This hamam establishment is only open to women in the mornings but men can receive treatments later in the day.

Upon walking into the spa I was presented with a delicious quince sherbet drink before I was taken to the changing room to get ready for my treatment. The treatment itself was unlike anything I had ever experienced at a spa. Wearing nothing but bikini bottoms and a towel you are led into a small room by a woman who will be providing your hamam treatment. Your towel is then removed, after which point you are doused with warm water and then made to sit on a hot hexagonal marble stone to dry off before the hamam treatment properly begins.

The treatment itself involves a full body exfoliation with a mitt before your entire body (if you wish you can have your hair washed as well) is lathered with soap and massaged by your therapist. The therapists use a large muslin cloth which is periodically dunked into soapy water to create a balloon shape from which they squeeze out mountains of foam which are used to gently cleanse your skin. As I sat in a corner enveloped by mounds of bubbles, I felt completely calm and relaxed but also somewhat curious about how the rest of the treatment was going to go. All in all it was a lovely, albeit slightly unusual, experience to have someone else give you what is essentially a luxurious body wash. After the treatment was done, I was rinsed from head to toe and led into a low-lit room for a deep tissue massage which I had also booked for myself.

Visit the Hagia Sophia

I had been wanting to visit the Hagia Sophia for some time before my trip to Istanbul and so this was always going to be at the top of my site-seeing list. This site was first built as a church and was subsequently turned into mosque before finally being turned into a museum. It’s possible to see both Arabic calligraphy as well as murals of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (which was presumably covered up rather than destroyed when the site was turned into a mosque) throughout the interior of the building. What I love most about this museum is that it provides a visual account of how Istanbul has changed over the last 1500 or so years and besides this it is just absolutely stunning to behold. No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit here.

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Wander around Topkapi Palace

I must admit that I hadn’t done any research on Topkapi Palace before travelling to Istanbul. I wasn’t really planning on visiting, however, when I mentioned that I was travelling to Istanbul a few of my friends informed me that it was well worth a visit.

Once I arrived at the palace, I was surprised at how immense it was. As you make your way around the palace grounds you get a good overview of how the palace was used by the Ottoman Sultans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most fascinating part of the palace for me were the kitchens. The palace has an array of different kitchens – one kitchen was used solely for making confectionery. I thought that this revealed a lot about the lavish lives that these rulers lived. Another thing I loved about the palace was the tiles which adorned the buildings as they reminded me of the azulejos that I saw in Lisbon.

Stop and stare at the Blue Mosque

Whilst the Blue Mosque is stunning from the outside it is still very much a working mosque and therefore its interior had a very similar look and feel to other working mosques that I had seen before. For this reason, it wasn’t one of the most interesting sites that I managed to visit but I’d still recommend having a look at the exterior whilst you are strolling through the Sultanahmet district.

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Sadly I didn’t get around to visiting the Grand Bazaar or the Asian side of Istanbul during this trip but that’s just another reason for me to come back to this amazing city.

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