Note: This post is a travelogue of our time in Lisbon. Go to this link for a quick reference guide to all the important tips and prominent places.
Lisbon was the start of our long Europe+Morocco holiday in Nov/Dec 2017. Technically, Athens was the first destination but we barely spent a day there so it doesn’t really count.
We arrived in Lisbon around 11 am after a short (4h 15min) flight from Athens. It seemed short because we had done a 12h flight from Singapore to Athens just the previous day. Lisbon Airport definitely did not help create the right first impression. We had to wait more than 45 minutes for our bags and then another half an hour for the taxi. Thankfully, it’s a short drive to the city (15-20 mins) so we were at our apartment in the central area of Alfama quite soon. The apartment was on the top floor with a small open terrace and oodles of sunlight streaming through. It was quite literally a ‘warm welcome’. It was a bit of a workout too as I had to carry two 25 kg suitcases up five floors.
We took a couple of hours settling in, exploring the apartment, enjoying a cup of tea on the terrace and taking a lot of pictures of the beautifully streaming sunlight. It was past 2 pm so we decided to walk to a café called A Brasileira (map), one of the oldest and most famous cafés in the old quarter of Lisbon, selling Brazilian coffee since 1905. The café has a nice old world charm to it and is very popular with locals. There are some that spend a long time sipping coffee and eating Pastéis de Nata (egg tart), and many that eat it standing at the counter. They have an excellent variety of snacks, sandwiches, and wines too. It was a good first meal in Lisbon.
It was almost 4 pm by the time we were done so we decided to walk to Castelo de Sao Jorge (map), an 11th-century Moorish castle where some of the fortifications date back to 2 BC. The walk through the winding cobble-stoned streets was just perfect after the meal. Castelo de Sao Jorge is one of many Miradouros (viewpoints) that provide beautiful views of the seven hills of Lisbon, especially during sunset. There was a long queue for the tickets but a very kind elderly gentleman pointed us towards the priority queue for families that saved us a long wait. The castle was the perfect oasis of calm after the hustle and bustle of Lisbon’s streets, and the golden sunlight just before sunset made it especially magical, aided further by a glass of wine from the ‘Wine By The View’ cart.
We spent a good two hours at the Castelo de Sao Jorge, enjoying the sun setting over Lisbon, feeling nice and relaxed at the end of a long day, but the beginning of a long holiday.
After we had our fill of the sunset, we started walking back towards our apartment. On the way, we passed a cute shop called Lisbon Duck Store (map) that had a variety of cute rubber ducks. Both the kids bought one each and my son ended up losing his within the next hour. He dozed off in his stroller and it fell off somewhere. And they cost €15 each!
On the way to our apartment, we stopped at a restaurant called Solar Dos Bicos (map) for dinner. Yummy salted
sardines, another delicious dish whose name I can’t remember and some Portuguese red wine to wash it all down. It had been a long day. We had woken up in Athens at 3 am (Lisbon time) for our flight and it was almost 9 pm by the time we were back at our apartment for the night. A satisfying end to a busy but relaxing day.
The next morning, we caught up on our sleep and didn’t get up until almost 9 am. Our Airbnb hostess had stocked us up with bread, butter, cheese and ham so we had a filling breakfast before setting out around 11 am for another day of Lisbon exploration.
We left our apartment around 11 am and decided to walk towards Miradouro de Santa Luzia (map), a central square with a lot of life around it and another great place to get a beautiful view of Lisbon. It is quite central and on the way to many other sights so we ended up passing by here a few times over the next couple of days. It’s a great place for people watching, taking pictures, watching the trams go by, enjoying a coffee/wine/beer in the sun, or some shopping.
While walking through one of the streets, we saw a couple of people walking by near us, stopping at doorways, turning back and walking in a different direction and in general (and in retrospect) looking all suspicious. I had walked a few steps ahead of my wife who was taking photographs when I suddenly heard her speaking to one of them, snatching his jacket which was draped over his arm, and asking him what he was doing. I turned around and came back, while the man she had accosted acted as if he couldn’t understand us and walked away with his friends. My wife’s backpack had been opened (while it was still on her back) and the man had tried to steal stuff from it. Luckily, the backpack didn’t have anything valuable in the pocket he had opened so no harm was done and it made us extra cautious the rest of our time in Lisbon.
That same evening, while walking near Comércio Square, another tourist saw us walking with kids and warned us to stay away from two people dressed like Mickey and Minnie. Apparently, they attract the kids, get everyone to pose together for a picture/group hug and, in that hustle, pick pockets and bags. While there doesn’t seem to be much threat of a violent crime, be very careful of your belongings.
Afer spending some time ambling around Miradouro de Santa Luzia, we walked towards Palacio Belmonte (map), a 15th century palace with bright red doors on our way to Conserveira de Lisboa (map / website). Conserveira de Lisboa is a family business dating its roots back to 1930 canning and selling locally sourced fish. The store maintains its original feel from 1930 and is very popular with locals and tourists. The colourful cans of tuna, sardines, etc. look very attractive and the fish, in many different sauces, is yummy. We bought a few to eat for breakfast and a few more to bring back with us to Singapore.
After buying some canned fish, we had a coffee and some snacks at a café nearby and then walked to Martim Moniz to ride on the famous Tram 28 (info). Lisbon trams, especially the old ones that run in the narrow winding streets of central Lisbon are full of history and charm. The large modern trams can’t navigate these streets so the old quaint “Remodelado” trams run here. These old trams are core to Lisbon’s charm and you’ll find them on all kinds of tourist souvenirs. Read more about Lisbon’s trams here. Two important tips:
(1) the 24-hour ticket is much better value than the single ride tickets. €6.15 for a 24-hour ticket that includes the Elevador de Santa Justa, the Elevador da Glória and unlimited rides on trams, metro, buses etc against €2.90 for a single tram ride ticket. But it can only be bought at ticket machines in metro stations, and the machine gives limited change back (it’s either €10 or €20) so remember to carry smaller notes.
(2) beware of pickpockets. The tram gets really crowded so keep your backpack in front of you and take care of your wallet/phone etc.
The trams and the Miradouros were my favourite things about Lisbon.
We rode the tram all the way to its last stop – Campo de Ourique – passing by many of Lisbon’s prominent sights. There is a small children’s playground right where the tram stops so the kids had fun there. There is also a snack/drinks stall right next to it so we could also enjoy a coffee and a beer while keeping an eye on the kids. Win-win.
Once the kids were done, we walked a short distance and took a bus (~45 mins) to Belém Tower (map), a medieval fortified tower on a tiny river island that is another excellent place to enjoy the sunset. And guess what, the ‘Wine By The View’ cart is here as well.
Another long and fun day was winding down. It was time for dinner,and we decided to try out a place recommended by a colleague – O Solar dos Presuntos (map) so we took a bus back towards central Lisbon and got off at Praça Rossio and took a small detour to A Ginjinha (map). Ginja is a sweet cherry liqueur that originated in Lisbon, and the small A Ginjinha bar is the traditional home of the drink (source). It’s a small hole-in-the-wall near the Igreja de São Domingos and has a long line of customers snaking out the store in the evenings. Take a quick shot and carry on.
Another excellent meal to finish off another busy day, and then back to our apartment for a glass of wine while enjoying the cold evening on the terrace.
We set off relatively early today, around 9am, and stopped for some breakfast at a café nearby and some Pastel de Feijão at another one a little further down the road. Pastel de Feijão is a traditional red kidney bean cake that is soft inside and has a crusty wafery top. Goes very well with coffee.
After the pastels and coffee, it was flea market time. Feira de Ladra (map) is a large open air flea market that has an eclectic mix of antiques and handicrafts. It is a large and fascinating flea market selling antiques, collectibles, handmade leather wallets/belts/purses, handmade woollens/clothes, creative stuff made from old cycle tyres, LP records, toy cars, ceramic tiles with Lisbon motifs, bags/wallets/purses made from Cork etc. etc. etc. And there is live music right next to a café to make the place even more enjoyable. Rays of sunlight streaming through the leaves of the large trees and the backdrop of the Lisbon Cathedral gives a warm fuzzy feel to the flea market.
We browsed the flea market for over two hours while our 3-year-old took a relaxing nap (in his stroller) in the warm sun and our 9-year-old tried to figure out where she could use her ‘credit’.
We walked around the area, visiting the Lisbon Cathedral again and doing some more tram-spotting. We then came upon a restaurant called Augusto Lisboa (map). They had lunch combos of white wine with a cold platter so it was just perfect for a warm afternoon. After lunch we took a train to Mercado de Ribeira (map), an indoor market with food, drinks and crafts. I wouldn’t put it high on the list of To-Dos in Lisbon. Worth a visit if one is running out of things to do, which we were.
From Mercado de Ribeira, we ambled along to the pink street, whose claim to fame is that it is painted pink, then on to Jardim Dom Luis, an open park/square nearby where the kids had fun chasing pigeons. A short walk away was Ascensor da Bica (map), one of the iconic tram spots in Lisbon. It’s a funicular tram that connects Rua de S. Paulo on the lower level to Tv. do Cabral on the higher level. It’s a short (less than 5 mins) ride to the top but it’s a nice photo opportunity.
It was a couple of hours away from sunset, Lisbon’s most magical time, so we walked to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (map), another famous Miradouro. This one was a bit disappointing as there was some renovation going on and a protective fencing was blocking most of the view. We had planned to go to Sintra for a day trip the next day so this was going to be our last sunset in Lisbon and we wanted it to be special. So we quickly decided to go to our favourite sunset spot – Castelo de Sao Jorge. The uber took a while to arrive in the traffic but thankfully we made it to the Castelo with around half an hour to go before sunset. Just enough time to get the tickets, a glass of wine, and to make ourselves comfortable. And the sunset was magical once again.
After sunset, we walked back towards our apartment and stumbled on to a small, charming restaurant called Lisboa Tu E Eu (map). The owner is a very hospitable man and just a little forgetful. The food was probably the best we had had in Lisbon.
The Ascensor da Bica, then the sunset at Castelo de Sao Jorge and finally an excellent dinner. It was a great end to another busy day and to our time in Lisbon. We did a day trip to Sintra on Day 4, which will be a separate post.