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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A day trip to Sintra

A summary of my trip to Sintra, including my long walk to Peña Palace

When I started doing research for my trip to Lisbon I, like many other intrepid travellers, was taken aback by the stunning beauty of Sintra; a town that is advertised as a must-see day trip for anyone planning a trip to Lisbon. Sintra is only 30km from Lisbon and is easily accessible by train from the capital. There is a regular service from the Rossio-Lisbon train station which will get you there in approximately 45 minutes. N.B. you can use a Viva Viagem travelcard, which is the public transport travelcard that is used throughout Lisbon, to pay for your journey to Sintra.

After arriving in town I made my way through the streets of Sintra and stopped to buy a snack at a pastry shop called Piriquita. I found out about this place from the Lisbon episode of “Somebody Feed Phil” and was immediately infatuated with the pastries which were featured in the show. I had heard a lot of good things about the travesseiros; these are soft, doughy “pillow” pastries which are filled with an almond paste. Once I purchased my pastry I then set off in pursuit of Peña Palace.

There are a few parks, palaces and places of interest in the Sintra area, however, the most famous place in Sintra by far is Peña Palace. Its beautiful, bright and multi-coloured façade is captivating and immediately makes you think that you are walking through a Disney film.

Unfortunately, one thing I didn’t research before leaving for Lisbon, or even just before I went to Sintra, was how to get to Peña Palace from Sintra station. This proved to be a very costly mistake, which I soon realised when the 50-minute walking route that Google Maps suggested I should take turned into a 1 hr 40-minute uphill slog into the high heavens. What made matters worse was that because I was walking along the side of a road for most of the journey I had to walk to the top of Peña Palace whilst watching countless tuk-tuks and coaches full of excited tourists make their way to the top of Peña Palace much quicker than I could ever hope to get there on foot.

Once I finally made it to the top I was so happy that I sat down for a good 15 minutes just to take in my accomplishment. I also ate my travesserio which was much needed after my long walk to the summit of Peña Palace #startedfromthebottomnowimhere

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Once I got to the entrance I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of Peña Palace; it was even more beautiful in person than it was in all the pictures I had seen and the videos I had watched. I took my time whilst walking around the exterior of the palace to ensure that I gave the entire building a good look.

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One thing that I would say, however, is that the interior of the palace was comparatively underwhelming. After queuing up to enter I joined an extremely slow-moving procession of people through several dark and dreary rooms before entering a few slightly more ornate and bejewelled spaces. The exterior of the palace was definitely the highlight of my trip here.

After I looked through the gift shop I left the palace grounds and then proceeded to ask an attendant what bus I could take to get to Sintra train station. She advised me to take the 434 which I did without question. The bus journey only cost me 3.90 euros and took approximately 15 minutes to get to the station which I was incredibly pleased about. We live and learn.

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Where to eat in Lisbon

Your guide for finding some of the best food that Lisbon has to offer

For the past few years Lisbon has been garnering a reputation as one of the best foodie capitals in Europe, and indeed the world. As a lover of food this is what initially made me interested in travelling to Lisbon. After watching several travel shows and reading numerous blogs about Lisbon I decided to try a few of my favourite recommendations during my stay.

Breakfast/Brunch

I love going out for breakfast/brunch but I didn’t find many standout places to have my first meal of the day in Lisbon. I think the breakfast revolution may not have hit Lisbon as hard as it hit London a few years ago but there’s nothing wrong with that. Lisbon is a city which focuses on delicious lunches and dinners so most days I had fruit and yoghurt from the local supermarket for breakfast. I did, however, have a few breakfast experiences which are worth noting if you are travelling to Lisbon.

Frutaria

This cute little café has very friendly staff, a menu filled with some healthy yet hearty breakfast items and is very close to Rossio Square. You can dine on acai bowls or avocado toast with eggs but my favourite dish here was the B.A.R.T (bacon, avocado, rocket and tomato) sandwich. It was made from fresh, soft, slightly toasted bread with thick slices of bacon, tomato and avocado and a liberal dollop of lime mayonnaise. All the ingredients worked extremely well together. It was so good that I got it on my way to the airport when I was travelling back to London so that I could eat it whilst I was waiting for my flight to depart. Their smoothies and juices are also incredibly fresh and flavourful and come in cute Mason jars.

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Heim Café

This brunch spot is in the Santos neighbourhood of Lisbon which seemed very sleepy and peaceful as I was walking through it to get to Heim Café. Heim Café serves a lot of dishes which you would expect to find at a brunch spot and the food was relatively affordable. I was able to get a smorgasbord of food (all the food pictured below) for around 13 euros which was really great value. I did eat this by myself as I was travelling solo but this breakfast could and probably should be shared between two people.

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Lunch/Dinner

I came to Lisbon believing that food was going to be very cheap. Based on my experience I would say that breakfast and fast food (i.e. burgers and hot dogs) are cheap but authentic Portuguese food, especially seafood, will resemble the sort of prices you see in London. Once again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but just something to bear in mind when saving up for your trip.

Cervejaria Ramiro

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This restaurant is just a stone’s throw from A Vida Portuguesa and is probably one of the most famous Portuguese restaurants in Lisbon. Most of the Lisbon travel shows which I watched mentioned this very popular seafood place, and with good reason. This place serves an assortment of fresh and delicious seafood such as lobster, prawns, crab, sea urchins etc. It really is a seafood lover’s paradise – the walls are decorated with murals of seafood and the restaurant is adorned with tanks containing live lobsters and crabs. As this place is extremely popular make sure you dine early. There was plenty of space when I arrived at 12.30pm for lunch and it might also be easier to find a table if you go for an early dinner (from 5-6pm). Remember to bring your wallet as well as whilst the seafood is delicious it isn’t cheap.

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They brought this plate of hot buttered toast to my table after I ordered, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Giant tiger prawns – these were fresh, sweet and utterly delicious. I don’t think I had ever had prawns this tasty before coming to Ramiro.

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I ordered a prego roll to finish off my meal as is customary at Ramiro. This is essentially a steak sandwich – the juicy beef was topped with sautéed garlic and served between two soft slices of bread. They also bring you some mustard to eat with it and although I do like mustard I personally thought the roll tasted even better without it. In total I paid 24 euros (this included a bottle of water and a tip as my server was particularly helpful and attentive). It was totally worth it as the food was faultless.

Taberna da Rua das Flores

This restaurant in the Chiado district serves some interesting and flavourful dishes in an intimate and somewhat rustic setting. It gets busy at dinner time so try going for an early dinner or a late lunch to beat the queues. N.B. They don’t have a paper menu for food; all the food items which are available are read to you by a waiter from a blackboard and the menu changes regularly.

I had a veal dish with charred pineapple, black beans, some greens and a sort of grainy crumble on the side. Bar the strange crumble the dish was delectable; I would say that this was my second favourite meal in Lisbon after my feast at Ramiro.

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Bistrô Gato Pardo

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This restaurant was in the Graça/São Vicente neighbourhood of Lisbon. It was quaint, unassuming and small, however, it served some delicious food which was much needed after I spend an entire day walking around the Calouste Gulbenkian museum. I ordered a simple dish of mashed potatoes with lamb but there were other more adventurous items on the menu to choose from.

Pastéis de nata

Pastéis de Bélem

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If you tell anyone who has been to Lisbon that you are planning on visiting there is a good chance that they will tell you to try something called Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) at a place called Pastéis de Bélem. Whilst this is the birthplace of these delicious treats, it is by no means the best placed to get them in Lisbon in my opinion. I found the custard too eggy and stiff and the pastry a little burnt for my liking.

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Opinion on which place serves the best Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon is very divided. A lot of people who have informed me that their preferred tart option is Pastéis de Belem like the custard in them as it isn’t as sweet as the custard used at my preferred custard tart vendor, which I have highlighted below.

Manteigaria

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My preferred place to get these delectable treats was Manteigaria. They have a stall in Time Out Market as well as a standalone store in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood of Lisbon. These tarts had an incredibly smooth and silky custard, just the right level of sweetness and a perfectly buttery and flaky pastry base. The other thing about these tarts which gave them an edge over Pastéis de Bélem was that they were 1 euro each as compared with Pastéis de Bélem’s 2 euro charge for each of their tarts. These tarts were so moreish that I ate three in one sitting and seriously contemplated buying even more on that same day to have after my dinner. Just writing about them now is making me crave them.

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Some people will advise you to cover the custard tarts with cinnamon and icing sugar, but I preferred them without these extra ingredients. The tarts are tasty enough on their own.

Gelato

Santini

My favourite place in Lisbon for gelato was Santini. This is another enterprise which has a stall in Time Out Market as well as other standalone stores. You’ll find a Santini store in the Chiado neighbourhood as well as in Bélem close to the Jéronimos Monastery. I’ve been eating sorbet more and more these days as my body does not handle dairy like it used to and so when I went to Lisbon I only ate sorbet. Santini had the most amazing passion fruit and strawberry sorbet but they also had a wide range of other delicious dairy gelato flavours as well.

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Nannarella

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Another gelateria which I tried whilst in Lisbon was Nannarella. I ventured here as it was recommended by Phil Rosenthal in the Lisbon episode of his Netflix travel series “Somebody Feed Phil”. They had a nice selection of dairy gelato but I tried their mango, raspberry and lemon sorbet flavours. The lemon flavour was delicious but unfortunately, I was disappointed by the mango sorbet. It had a somewhat stringy and grainy texture which was off-putting. Also, I thought that the raspberry flavour was OK but nothing to write home about.

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That’s my round up of my favourite places to eat in Lisbon, let me know what your Lisbon food recommendations are!

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Free art in Lisbon: Street art in Graça, Alcantara and São Bento

One of the things which struck me when I first arrived in Lisbon was how much street art the city had. Most of the street art can be found on the side of buildings and you don’t have to walk far to find colourful, thought-provoking and sometimes funny murals. Whilst walking back to my Airbnb from a Pingo Dolce supermarket in the Graça neighbourhood of Lisbon I came across some amazing pieces of street art and so I hastily took my camera out to capture them.

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One area in Lisbon where you can see a lot of street art is the LX Factory in the Alcantara district of the city. There are plenty of shops to stroll into and restaurants to while away time in, but I loved just having a wonder and looking at the different murals on display in the area.

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Like many other European cities, Lisbon has a thriving street art scene. You’ll often find street art whilst you make your way around the city to take in the sites or grab a bite to eat, just make sure you stop and take a good look at your surroundings once in a while otherwise you may miss it!

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A snap of a mural I saw when walking to Café de São Bento from the Jardim de São Bento which I managed to take before my battery died.

Have you been to Lisbon? Let me know where your favourite areas for looking at street art in Lisbon are!

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Shopping in Lisbon: A Vida Portuguesa

A spacious and aesthetically pleasing store in Lisbon where you can find gifts aplenty

I try not to go shopping when I’m on holiday. I despise clothes shopping when I’m abroad as the very thought of trying on clothes after a day spent walking (and sweating) around a hot city makes me shudder in horror. I also generally try to avoid buying other things like souvenirs because I am often flying short-haul to a European city and have stuffed my carry-on suitcase with so many clothes that I struggle to close it even when I am about to leave my house to go to the airport. I think this habit can be explained by my hypochondriac tendencies and perpetual need to have spare clothes just in case I get a stain on a piece of clothing, sweat profusely during the day and therefore need another outfit later in the day, or in case, through some unknown and unforeseen event, I tear a hole in a pair of jeans. I am a hypochondriac indeed.

There are, however, a few exceptions to my “no shopping rule whilst abroad” rule. If there is something I want to buy for myself abroad because it is cheaper or unavailable in the UK I will make a conscious effort to create space in my luggage for it. Additionally, I will consider shopping abroad when I want to buy a birthday or special occasion present for someone that’s a little more unique than what I might typically find in London. When I was in Lisbon I thought about how my niece’s third birthday was coming up, which in turn made me conjure up memories of a shop which I had seen in a YouTube video about Lisbon and which looked like the perfect place to find gifts. The shop in question is called A Vida Portuguesa.

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A Vida Portuguesa has a few locations in Lisbon. The original store in the Chiado neighbourhood is probably the most famous branch, however, the newer and much larger location on Largo do Intendente Pina Manique, which was conveniently only a six-minute walk from my Airbnb, has a much bigger selection of products and is even more aesthetically pleasing than the original (both inside and outside the store).

A Vida Portuguesa means “A Portuguese Life” and as the name might suggest the shop contains an array of items, both essential and extravagant, which one would find in a home. The shop is stocked with an array of toiletries, homeware, food, books, toys and quite possibly anything else that your heart desires. Shelves were stacked high with delicious smelling soaps, handcream and bodycream, tables were adorned with cutlery and crockery and larders were lined with olive oil, sardines, biscuits and the seemingly ubiquitous Portuguese cherry liquor Ginja.

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What makes this shop even more amazing is that its products are made in Portugal and many of the products available for purchase are still manufactured by family run businesses. The shop itself is stunning and almost looks like a villa which one might find in the Douro valley. Most of the shelves and tables were made of what I can only assume was fine Portuguese wood which had been varnished to perfection.

Another thing that I loved about this shop was that it was really quiet. This branch is in the Mouraria district of Lisbon which isn’t particularly touristy. With the exception of about seven people who wandered in and out of the store during my visit I had the entire place to myself. I loved being able to freely take as many photos as I wanted and take my time looking for gifts.

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Azulejos (tiles), ubiquitous in Portugal

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Clothes on the upper level on the shop

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A bit of old Hollywood glam in Lisbon

The products aren’t cheap, but neither are they extortionately expensive. I was eyeing up a few 50g soap bars but at eight euros each they were a little too rich for my blood. However, had I set more money aside for shopping for this trip I would have definitely purchased some for myself. Also, given that they are made in Portugal and not made en masse in a factory somewhere in the Far East I think the prices can be justified.

In the end I left the store longing for the verbena, tuberose and wild moss soaps which I thought smelled amazing but content with the biscuits I had bought for my work colleagues and the mini tambourine which I had purchased for my niece (I also bought her a dress from a market in London when I returned from my holiday in Lisbon; the dress had also been made by an independent retailer #supportSMEs).

If you are looking for well-made, authentic and typically Portuguese gifts or souvenirs then this is the place to get them from.

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