Smile, you're in Lisbon!
Lisbon first came on my radar when I got home from the grocery store on a Friday evening at 7pm and received a call from crew scheduling telling me that's where they were sending me that night as International Purser (read: first class boss babe) for the flight. I freaked out. I looked at the flight loads, saw there were open seats, called my mom, had her drive to the airport RIGHT THEN and meet me on the plane because -WE WERE GOING TO PORTUGAL!
I went back in April (when it was still chilly there!) for a week with my bff Amanda because I just can't get enough of this place. So, from my mere three visits, here's a mini travel guide to my favorite destination- Lisbon, Portugal.
Amanda and I flew, of course! Flying to Europe from Washington, DC is so easy because it's literally just a skip across the pond. ;) Lisbon's Cabo da Roca is actually the western-most point in Europe! (It's gorgeous and worth the incredibly bumpy and winding drive up to see it.)
Uber is really easy and really affordable! We were super bougie and traveled exclusively by Uber and the rest by foot, avoiding public transportation altogether.
Unlike other places in Europe, Uber is comparable to what you would pay in the States, if not cheaper! Prices ranged from 4 to 10 Euro per trip getting around the city. Also, the longest time we ever had to wait for our ride was a whopping 8 minutes- and that was really late at night. Uber game strong. Most drivers spoke English too, and they were all so friendly! Each one was so excited to have visitors in town and we had no problem asking for food recommendations or cool sites to visit from them as well.
Lisbon is known for its iconic colorful cable cars, especially Tram 28, but we just admired them from afar this trip. If you do take public transportation, the app Rome to Rio is a lifesaver! I use it all over the world to help me navigate.
When to go:
Amanda and I went in April, when the temperature was in the mid 60s during the day! We were comfortable in jeans, a long-sleeved top or light sweater, and an outer layer. I wore my quilted jacket all week with a sweater, and even added a scarf at night when it was colder, around high 50s. It would be warm in the sun and some days were closer to 70F, but it was overall a cooler trip. It was windy and reminded me a lot of San Francisco. Lisbon is very hilly and has lots of winding cobblestone streets, so be sure to take comfortable walking shoes and a light jacket if you go in the spring.
When I went back in the summer on a layover, it was a hot 90 during the day, but cooled nicely to the mid 70s in the evening. The sun is strong and hot, so if you're there during the summer months, bring good sunglasses too. Lisbon is a very fashionable city, so sundresses are the perfect attire to keep cool and be stylish in too! I will say that it was definitely more crowded everywhere in the summer, as more people were in town visiting the beaches and attractions, so go in the spring before the craziness begins!
Where to stay:
We stayed at the BEST little apartment I found on AirBnB. It was located in Belém, a district of Lisbon, full of historical attractions. Belém is pronounced like "buh-lame." Belém is a quieter and safer area outside of the city center (though we never felt unsafe!) and best of all, is home to Pastéis de Belém- the bakery famous for its custard tarts, pasteles de nata. Our apartment was right across the street.
Our AirBnB cost $56/night and was just perfect. We had a kitchen and a living room with a couch and a table- perfect for journaling at night after a full day of exploring. There were a few restaurants right below that we would eat at, and one day we went to the grocery store and had an indoor picnic lunch at our place. I love AirBnBs for travel as opposed to hotels for longer stays. The extra space is so important and really just makes the whole trip more of an experience! This apartment even had blue tile walls!We stayed here for five days.
In true standby fashion, I wasn't able to get on my hoped-for flight back, so I had an extra day to myself. I found this awesome place on Expedia for $68 a night, and it turned out to be a PALACE. Seriously. Palácio das Especiarias was a *family home* for the past few hundred years and has only recently been converted into a hotel. It's located right downtown by Largo de Chiado, just up the street from my favorite church. I paid $68 for my room that night and had the dungeon basement room (lol) but there were few guests there so I went exploring and it was just the craziest hotel experience. Fresh breakfast was included and now I want to go back and stay in the Royal Suite on my next visit because, hello, PALACE in LISBON.
Now, get out and explore! These are just a few places to see and things to do in this favorite city of mine!
Ponte 25 de Abril and Lisbon's Cristo Rei Statue
The Ponte 25 de Abril looks exactly like San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge, except (from what the locals told me), there are a few key differences. This bridge is taller than but shorter in length than the Golden Gate, and apparently you're not allowed to walk on it, so there are less suicides off of it...fun fact. Both bridges are from the same designer and are the same color as well!
You know Rio's famous Cristo Rey statue in Brazil? Well, Lisbon has its own mini version, inspired by the original! You can see this Cristo Rei to the side of the Ponte 25 Abril.
Convento do Carmo
In 1755, a catastrophic earthquake (immediately followed by fire and a tsunami, no big deal...) destroyed nearly all of the city of Lisbon, including most of this medieval monastery by Rossio square. The Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is now an archeological museum with the haunting shell of the 1423 AD monastery still standing. The courtyard outside of the convent has a few outdoor cafes and a nice seating area, often accompanied by live music at night. It's a nice place to sit and relax.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo
Portugal is famous for its gorgeous blue and white tile. All. Tile. Everything. I love it. You'll see it everywhere- from large-scale sides of buildings and churches, to small details like the numbers on people's houses. There's a really neat museum called Museu Nacional do Azulejo where you can learn all about this beautiful artwork. My favorites were the classic religious art- in tile form. Included in the 5 Euro admission price is entrance to the gorgeous St. Anthony chapel, which is gilded and oh, so old and beautiful. Bring headphones so you can take yourself on the self-paced tour! (We were dumb and didn't have any...gotta go back!)
Time Out Market
Time Out Market features food vendors surrounding a large area of communal picnic-style seating! There is seafood, meats, dessert places, and ALL the wine. Another area of the market has shops with dry goods, flowers, and other non-food products for sale. Order a little something from the different restaurants, pick your seat, and eat up! Amanda and I picked grilled salmon with eggs over easy and a plate of garlic shrimp with wine, of course! This is actually where we met our new friend, Hannah, a college student studying abroad and traveling post-term. She sat next to us and we adopted her for that night and the next day! Would recommend.
Pasteles de Nata
EAT THE PASTELES DE NATA. These little egg custard desserts with light, flaky crusts are typical to Lisbon and are so flippin' delicious. Go to Pastéis de Belém for the OG tart. Pro tip: buy a six pack of these pastries, eat two, then save the remaining four for snacks or breakfast. ;) You'll see these all over the city, but trust me, these are the best.
Sailing and Cooking Class
I'm so used to bite-sized periods of time in places that I usually just hit up the most popular sites and don't do much deep exploring. Since we had a week, Amanda and I had the luxury of scheduling some planned activities. We booked these through the AirBnB app on AirBnB Experiences! It was absolutely the highlight of our trip! We took a sailing tour on the Tagus River that ended up just being us three girls and our skippers. Private yacht, say what? This cost us $21 each! Remember Hannah from Time Out Market? That's her!
We also booked a cooking class, because why not? This was another great find on AirBnB Experiences, and we got lucky a second time with it just being me, Amanda, and a young couple our age from New York! Our hosts José and João from the Compadre Cooking School were SO much fun! With their help, we prepared three Portuguese dishes and spent a solid 5 hours there, chatting and drinking wine even after the meals were cooked and the class was over. Again, we got extremely lucky with the class size being just four of us, but I would definitely do that again.
For a day trip:
A visit to Sintra is the perfect day trip if you're spending a while in Lisbon. Here you'll find the Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace), which looks almost unreal with its VIBRANT colors. Amanda and I took an all day tour (really- we met at around 7am and got home around 10!) with a company we found from AirBnB Experiences! Our guides took us on a Jeep tour of Sintra and allotted time to visit Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, another fantastic site.
Pena Palace was summer housing for Portuguese royals. From it, you can see the medieval Moorish Castelo de São Jorge (another cool daytime visit, especially if you're on a layover!)
Admission to Pena Palace is 14 Euro. Be prepared to easily spend all day here!It's also super Instagrammable.
Pena Palace is an extensive site to visit, and just for perspective, it took us about 30 minutes to walk down from atop the colorful castle, through the grounds, and all the way to the main entrance where our Jeep was waiting! We spent only a few hours here, but I would definitely budget a whole day or two just because there's so much to see. You can even just go and hang out in the shady garden grounds and relax.
Igreja do Loreto
Lisbon has hundreds of churches! 365, in fact- one for each day of the year! (*disclaimer: I can't remember if it is Lisbon proper that boasts 365 churches or Portugal that has that number, but that stat was thrown at us by multiple locals, so I'm going with Lisbon!)
If you're going to attend Mass, I found there to usually be a sheet of paper on a bulletin board outside the church with Mass times on it for reference. Many of Lisbon's churches are centuries old, and each one is different, so do stop in a few while you're there! My all-time favorite church in Lisbon is the Igreja do Loreto- the Church of Our Lady of Loreto. Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of aviation and flying, so she's extra special to me. Remember the great earthquake of 1755 that ravaged Lisbon? This church turned 500 years old in 2018, and withstood the devastating quake. But even if you don't care about any of that, just look at this beauty and see for yourself...
Go to a miradouro, a lookout point, or a rooftop bar at sunset to see that beautiful sky scene. This picture below is from Park Bar, which is a trendy rooftop bar located atop a parking structure near Time Out Market. You find by it entering a parking garage in the middle of a narrow, hilly street and taking a small, sketchy elevator to floor 5 and then walking up one more set of stairs up to the bar at the top!
Getting lost in Lisbon really just means you're going to find some good food and good views (and a lot of churches). On one of my layovers, I came across this restaurant around the area of the Convento do Carmo and had an amazing salmon and sweet potato and veggie dinner. With a view!
We also came across this miraduoro by the São Miguel church, near the Alfama district.
Alfama is Lisbon's oldest neighborhood, and the birthplace of Fado music. Fado is slow, melancholic music played with two guitars and a vocalist. Lots of restaurants will have live music at night, so as you make your way through the windy streets, pick a place, sit down, and enjoy! Alfama's streets are very narrow and winding, so it's easy to get lost, but very cool at the same time to wander about.
There is SO much to see in Lisbon. I didn't cover half of what we saw/did/ate! But if you've been on the fence about visiting Lisbon or haven't known what's out there, I hope this convinces you to GO! Let me know if you do, and enjoy!