I thought I better get this Lisbon travel guide written sooner rather than later since I know some of you are planning a visit. Yippee! I planned to take loads of really nice photos while we were there to illustrate this post, but it seems I was having too much fun and I've completely failed to do so in some places so forgive me for the lack of pretty photos! You'll have to visit to experience some of these places for yourself.
I first went to Lisbon in 2015 for my friend's birthday and totally fell in love with the city. For some reason it was never really somewhere I'd thought about visiting, but we found cheap flights and a great little affordable apartment. After 3 nights of sangria soaked evenings and sunny explorations I was besotted and knew I needed to go back to wander those colourful streets again. I was overwhelmed by how vibrant the city was and found it so inspiring. I remember saying to my friends that I thought my instagram would never look as beautiful as it did in Lisbon, so when I got home I decided to try and continue to make my feed as colourful as my new favourite city, and well... here we are! I'm so pleased I visited when I did - I was in need of a big dose of inspiration and was in the early stages of feeling like I really fit in somewhere in the world of creatives and designers both on and offline - Lisbon helped me see the brighter side of life, and I knew I needed to focus on that in my work and in my insta feed too! Here's what my feed looked the first time round...
So this September Kurtis and I hopped on a plane for a rainbow hunting adventure. After visiting Madeira last year I knew he'd be keen to go back to Portugal and last time I visited Lisbon I was desperate to bring him back because I knew he'd love it too. We stayed three nights in Lisbon and then hopped on the train to Porto for 3 more nights - I'll cover Porto in a seperate post. I was sent so many recommendations, so I thought I'd share some of the things we did and also some of the things we missed, with some top tips sprinkled along the way.
• STAY / TRAVEL •
We stayed in an Airbnb in the borders of the Sao Bento area, which we found to be great - we could walk to most of the places we wanted to really easily and it was quieter than Bairro Alto which is really bustling every night. We got an Uber from the airport which was really easy and our driver was really friendly despite the fact he neither of us could say much more than hello and thank you in each other's languages. As soon as we got in the car we were handed water and sweets and it cost just under €14 for a journey of roughly 30 mins. If you want to do the same then just walk round to departures before ordering your car and it'll be easier for your driver to find you. I know that Uber's a huge corporation that's had terrible press, but to be completely honest I just find it so useful when I'm on holiday. Last time we arrived at Lisbon airport I remember the faff of getting in a cab and having to ask the driver to turn the meter on, I just get really nervous with cabs in other countries so this seemed like an easier way of making sure everything was legit. Saying that though, we got lots of local cabs last time we were in Lisbon which were all really affordable and other than the airport we didn't have any problems.
Since exploring the streets is my favourite thing to do on holiday we walked to most places and got cabs when we were travelling further afield or were too tired to continue.There are loads of trams and buses in the city, a train line that runs along the coast and a four line metro too so there are lots of options for transport!
• EAT OUT •
If there's somewhere you really want to eat in Lisbon then book it or go in earlier on in the day/evening and put your name down for later. Even mid-week restaurants get very busy, particularly around Barrio Alto and lots of people eat super late too! It really is a city that never sleeps, and if you're staying centrally then you should also expect some noise outside your apartment/hotel during the night. Most restaurants are open until at least 12 and bars are open much later. Normally when we go on holiday we eat in our apartment at least one night to save money but in Lisbon we totally abandoned this because we were so excited to eat ALL THE FOOD. Here are a few of the places we went...
This was suggested to us by a few friends and it happened to be right near where we were staying too. I could have happily eaten here every day - there was so much to choose from and I wish I could have tried more! This is a big indoor market space that was taken over by Time Out in 2014 and now houses over 50 restaurants and shops as well as a cookery school and a live music space in the centre. Many of the traders here have their own bricks and mortar shops in Lisbon and so this is a good place to sample some of the city's delights all in one place. There are big communal tables to eat at and a couple of bars. This reminded me a lot of Hala Koszyki in Warsaw and I imagine if we hadn't been so knackered we could have happily got very drunk here and spent all of our money trying food from as many restaurants as we could! This feels like somewhere you could go to make new friends if you were a solo traveller! We had an incredible steak from Café de São Bento which felt like a real indulgence, especially since we've been eating veggie/pescatarian at home. We mostly ate lots of seafood while we were away but I didn't want to limit myself here - eating out is always one of my fave parts of holidays and I love to try all the local delicacies!
This was a suggestion from Kurtis' friend Seb which we only got on the day. We turned up at around 8pm I think after going to a bar and it was super busy so we put our name down and they asked us to come back and check in 45 minutes if ther wasa table free. We went for a little exploration in the meantime and came back to find a rather large queue still. We decided to wait it out (we knew Seb could be trusted in his recommendation) and drooled at all the food that went past us while we got in people's way in the doorway. I'm so glad we hung on because the food was excellent! We sampled lots of tapas dishes - I really loved the Alfacinha lettuce wraps with crispy cod - super fresh and tasty and the croquettes were gorgeous too. Seb recommended we have the "exploding olives" which Kurtis was very enthusiastic about - I was impressed and intrigued by them but also slightly freaked out! If you go and you like olives definitely order them and tell me what you think. To be honest the service could have been better, but the food and wine was so tasty that we forgot all about our wait by the end of it and I'm sure during quieter times you'd have no problems at all! The decor was really lovely too - we sat near the front (in the taberna) but there's a patio area and a huge bright restaurant with a conservatory at the back as well where you can watch chefs at work. If you're seated at the front of the restaurant definitely go for a sneaky wander around - it's really pretty!
Santini is a Portuguese institution - a proper ice cream parlour adorned in red and white stripes. We went after dinner one day because of course it's open until midnight! There's a small branch inside the Time Out Market and a few others dotted around the city (and in Porto!), but the most central branch is at Rua do Carmo. I highly recommend the passion fruit sorbet! My pal Harri who has visited Lisbon many times also recommended Nannarella for ice cream which I will have to try next time.
Honourable mentions, top tips and the ones we missed:
I'd heard that Lisbon wasn't the most veggie friendly place but we found quite a few veggie friendly options and we found a cafe near our apartment for our first lunch with a lovely outside courtyard called Cafe Agua no Bico - it was vegan and paleo friendly and as far as I could tell everything you order comes with the most gargantuan salad I've ever seen with both fruit and vegetables. I honestly think we could have taken a tupperware and lived off the salad for the rest of the day quite happily... but that wouldn't be very classy would it?
Don't be afraid of snack bars and places that look more like greasy spoon cafes than restaurants and don't be put off by queues either! Sometimes if you're a couple or single traveller you'll get seated really quickly despite the queue, or you can eat at the bar which adds to the experience in my opinion! One of my favourite dishes I had in Lisbon was garlic prawns at Casa da India - it looked like a pretty traditional Portuguese cafe/restaurant with strip lighting and basic decor but there was a queue outside every night so we knew it had to be good!
Lots of restaurants will give you olives and bread or a few small snacks before your meal and as far as I can tell in most places you get charged for these whether you eat them or not. Also - don't be fooled by "chips" on a menu - they're very likely to be ready salted crisps! Even if you're ordering something you think MUST come with actual chips unless it says fries it's probably crisps. The first time I went to Lisbon we ordered tuna steaks in a fancy seafood restaurant only to be very disappointed to find they were served with crisps. Why anyone would want crisps with tuna steak is beyond me, but the Portuguese seem to love salted crisps!!
Seb also recommended Cervejaria Ramiro which is a seafood restaurant and apparently Rick Stein's favourite so you KNOW it's going to be good but we didn't make it there this time. Weep.
My friend Paul tells me that when he visited Lisbon recently he ate at Taberna Sal Grosso and it was one of the best meals of his life (he literally ordered everything on the menu!). We couldn't get a reservation unfortunately, but it comes highly recommended! Next time.
• COCKTAILS AND COFFEE •
We spent way more money on this trip than I did last time I visited Lisbon and I think that's down to our indulgent cocktail drinking! There were just too many good bars to visit... Cocktails where we went were mostly between €5 and €7 euros but some more elaborate ones were pricier. The first time round we just drank Sangria which was a much cheaper way of drinking, and Portuguese wine in most restaurants was really fairly priced! Beers were really cheap in most places too.
Last time I went to Lisbon we went to the same tapas restaurant near our apartment on several occassions and got chatting to the waiters. On our last day one of them recommended this bar to us and we were gutted to have found out about it so late. Park is located on top of a car park and you'd really have no idea it was there from street level unless you looked up and wondered what all the trees were doing up there! The entrance is on the junction of Calcade do Combro and Travessa Andre Valente - just go up in the lift or walk up the stairs until you reach the top, it's not sign posted.
The drinks are delicious, the music is good (though their soundsystem could be better) and the views are spectacular! Last time we visited during the day and it was fairly quiet, but this time we went at sunset and it was packed. We still managed to find a spot to admire the view and somewhere to sit and enjoy our cocktails once the sun went down though.
Another hidden bar with outstanding views recommended by my pal Deryn. Walk through the restaurant to the terrace and you're met with not only a stunning view of Lisbon rooftops, but colourful seats and umbrellas that could trick you into thinking you were in India rather than Portugal. We had caipirinhas here before dinner and some snacks to stop our rumbling tums. The restaurant looked nice too and has huge windows so you can enjoy the view from inside if you visit in a cooler month.
We didn't make it here this time which is a shame since I know Kurtis would have liked it! It's a bit further out than these other suggestions, but still within walking distance from the centre (it was super close to where I stayed the first time round). This place has the feel of a speak-easy about it, it's hidden away and as far as I can remember you have to ring a doorbell to get in. It's a great place to go for pre or post dinner cocktails, listen to some jazz and feel like you've been transported back in time.
This was another great recommendation from Harri! We went here for breakfast one day - boiled eggs with rye bread soldiers - but the most important reason to visit was for the great coffee of course! It's on the same road as Nannarella if you want to combine your coffee trip with an ice cream trip.... deconstructed affogato anyone?!
We stumbled across this place one day - there's a cute little shop downstairs where I bought some cards and washi tape - and noticed they had a coffee shop upstairs. They offered lots of different types of coffee like drip coffee and aeropress - we went for iced coffees since Lisbon was in the middle of a heatwave when we visited! We also had some mini pasteis de nata because they're irresistable and everything was delivered to our table on the dreamiest of HAY trays. We visited the branch on Largo do Trindade (near Bairro do Avillez) which doesn't seem to be on their website, but there's also a branch in LX Factory which I'll go into more detail about below...
Honourable mentions, top tips and the ones we missed:
Order caipirinhas! They're usually the cheapest and I love 'em. There was a cocktail called something like Park Sunset I had at Park which was tasty too!
There are loads of hidden rooftop bars in Lisbon and they're most spectacular at sunset but also at their busiest, so if you want a quieter drink then go earlier and pop to one of the cities many miradouros (viewpoints) to watch the sun go down.
Look out for Kiosks - in many squares and parks around the city. Here you can stop for a quick snack, drink or even a cheap cocktail! Apparently the kiosk at Praça Luís de Camões is amongst the nicest, and I have to admit despite the fact we walked past it every day we didn't stop there once, doh!
On our first night we went to Chapitô à Mesa on our way back down from exploring the streets around Castelo de São Jorge - this was another recommendation and our experience here was pretty odd to be honest. It was too early for dinner and since we were nearby we thought we'd stop in for a drink. We were told we couldn't sit in the restaurant or the terrace, but there were two small tables hidden away that we were allowed to sit in, away from the beautiful view. We snuck back over to the viewpoint and had a look upstairs - I'd recommend booking the restaurant up the spiral staircase if you do go - the food and the view up there looked great. Chapito is a circus training school that opened in the early 80s and I think is now a social project with strong links to the circus and the entertainment industry - there are lots of circus references in the decor and a lovely little shop at the front too.
There are LOADS of bars around the Time Out Market and Cais do Sodré, many are on Pink Street which was the former red light district of sorts. We stumbled across this after dinner the market and had a drink outside Menina e Moça (Girl and Girl) which is a book shop in the day and a bar at night. Book shop bars seem to be a big thing in Portugal that I think we should embrace more in London! Other bars around this area that were recommended to me in this area but we didn't make it to this time were The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Pensão Amor which I think was right next to Girl and Girl and looks completely mad - it's a former brothel! I definitely do not recommend walking along pink street the morning after the night before - I wanted to go and take a photo before we left for our train (the pavement is actually painted pink!) but the streets were littered with rubbish and the clean up had commenced. As tourists we were not very popular - the people cleaning the streets did not look particularly happy and I don't blame them!
• SEE / DO •
I could do nothing but wander around in Lisbon looking at all the incredible handpainted azulejos (tiles) and colourful buildings and be content! There is so much street art around too, and I was pleased to find that my fave piece I spotted last time was still on Rua de Sao Bento - the typographic piece you can see in my old insta shots above and directly opposite there was an incredible piece by AkaCorleone and Hedof as well as a huge piece by André da Loba representing a "storm of emotions". Everywhere you turn you'll find something bright and colourful to make you smile.
Everyone told me that I needed to go to LX Factory and I can see why! I was sooooo sleepy when we visited and we decided to walk all the way there which took way longer than we expected but we spotted all sorts of colourful sights along the way, discovered some new viewpoints and stalked some dogs too.... so it was totally worth the trek. You could spend the whole day here quite happily - pick up a We Hate Tourism map from reception when you arrive (it's by the pedestrian entrance just off Rua Rodrigues de Faria), they're beautifully illustrated by Cristina Viana and include lots of tips for around Lisbon as well as in the factory complex.
Definitely check out Livraria Ler Devagar which is an impressive book shop and cafe. It's a former printing press I think and quite a spectacular space - it was named one of the 10 most beautiful bookshops in the world. Apparently there are often exhibitions and events here too.
We also visited the rooftop bar Rio Maravilha - sit on the terrace for a cocktail and visit the rooftop where you can get even better views of the Tagus river, the 25th April bridge and the Cristo Rei statue (and check out the multicoloured Leonel Moura statue that looks over to it). I'd say this is more of a place for drinks than food - we didn't order from the main menu (which I think is only available inside), but did fall fowl to the whole chips/crisps thing again, stupidly thinking that because they were €6 they MUST be real chips... nope. I did have a super tasty passion fruit cocktail here though.
Take some time to wander around the complex, browse the shops, look at the street art and visit the open studios on the 4th floor.
We hopped in an Uber from LX Factory to Belem as it was only 15 mins down the road in the car and we had to try the famous custard tarts from Pastéis de Belém, where they've been making this famous sweet treat since 1837. We enjoyed our pastries in the park opposite (where I saw a dog in a hat which was a definite hightlight) and decided to go up the Padrão dos Descobrimentos instead of Belém Tower for more views! Afterwards we popped to Museu Berardo where there's a great display of art grouped by movement including famouS pieces by Mondrian, Warhol, Míro, Riley and Mo(o)re! Apparently there's a quiet terrace with lovely views (Monday to Saturday) tucked away at the top of the building, but we were so zonked by this point we had to go back to the apartment for a power nap because we're cool like that. Entry to the museum is €5 and free all day on Saturdays.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go back to Lisbon was to visit The Pena Palace in Sintra which looks like it's straight out of a fairy tale. Pena Palace started life as a monastery in the 16th Century, but after an earthquake was abandoned and left in partial ruins. Several years later an Austrian Prince, Ferdinand came to Portugal to marry Maria II of Portugal and learnt much about Portugal's history and architecture, taking a particular interest in the arts. In 1838 he bought Pena Palace in an auction and set out to turn it into the most magical holiday home you could ever imagine, refurbishing the existing building and building a whole new wing, designed by a German architect Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege (what a name!) - it is truly a masterpiece. My history is terrible so I hope that's correct, but either way I definitely recommend a visit to this palace perched on top of a hill - it's worth the trip... Just make sure you follow the tips below.
You can get the train to Sintra from Rossio Station which takes about 40 minutes (I think you can get trains from some other less central stations too). I definitely recommend going early so you're there when it opens (at 10:30). We got the 9:41 train from Rossio on a Friday, which arrived at 10:21 in Sintra - a return ticket was about 5 euros and there are usually 3 or 4 services an hour. Outside the station there's a tourist bus (434) that takes you to all of the main sites in Sintra - it's €5.50 for a round trip, hop on, hop off. This is the kind of thing I'd normally avoid like the plague but it did seem like the easiest and most convenient option, even though by 10:30 the bus was already packed! There were a few people offering car journeys up for €5 too, but I'm not sure if that would be a good idea or not to be honest - I read some reviews on TripAdvisor of people who got Ubers up there too! As much as I'm a fan of walking on holiday I wouldn't want to walk up to the Palace - it would be a proper hike and I wanted to get to the top as close to opening time as possible.
Buy tickets online before you go - you can show them on your phone at the entrance on the day. We decided to get tickets to just the park which allows you to walk around the grounds of the amazing building and the surrounding gardens which cost €7.13, but you can also get a ticket that allows you to go inside the Palace for €13.30. If you do want to go inside the palace arrive at 10:30 or before and go straight inside when you arrive. By 11:30 there was a HUGE queue to go inside and I've heard it can get very cramped inside. Skip the €3 shuttle bus ticket they offer you when you're buying tickets online unless you have mobility issues - it just takes you up the slope from the entrance to the palace itself which is a short and pretty easy walk, if a little steep. There's a cafe with a terrace where you can look out over to the sea which looked like a nice place to sit and have a coffee.
After Pena Palace we walked down the hill to Castelo dos Mouros (The Castle of the Moors / Moorish Castle) which you can see from the terraces of Pena - it's a very ornate castle constructed during the 8th and 9th centuries. This is the kind of place my older brother would have gone mad over when we were younger - all of our holidays growing up involved a trip to a castle of some sort and most were ruins - this on the other hand is very much still a whole castle and spectacular! There are several other palaces, parks and chalets you can visit in Sintra too - The National Palace of Queluz looks like it's worth a visit for sure. From the Castle (or the Palace) you can hop back down on the 434 bus to the centre of Sintra using your existing bus ticket or there's a walking track down. We decided to visit Cascais in the afternoon so we skipped the walk (which I'm sure would have been a highlight!) and hopped back on the bus into town. We didn't explore Sintra town centre which is a shame, I hear it's very pretty and we were recommended a trip to Piriquita for Travesseiros (pillow pastries!) which looked great.
After two days of non stop holidaying we were exhausted (such lightweights!), so we decided a trip to the beach was exactly what we needed. We got another Uber which took about 20 minutes to get to the coastal town of Cascais (or at least it would have if we hadn't got stuck on a curb as soon as we set off which led to Kurtis, the driver and three others pushing it back on it's way...!). My lovely friend Jane from Tea & Crafting used to live in Cascais so I asked her for a beach recommendation and she really came through for us! There are lots of lovely sandy beaches along this strip of coast, but we settled in for a couple of hours in a little hidden cove at Praia da Rainha (near Hotel Albatroz) thanks to Jane's local knowledge. We literally got sand in our sandwiches and dipped in the sea which was FREEEEZING before jumping on the train back to Cais do Sodré. Jane also recommended a place for chicken and chips called Churrasqueira Somos Um Regalo but unfortunately it was closed during the time we were there - apparently they do amazing Piri Piri chicken and a wonderful fresh tomato salad.
On my last Lisbon trip we visited Carcavelos beach which was even closer to the centre of Lisbon and busier than our little cove at Cascais, but fun for an afternoon of soaking up some sun and watching surfers!
Honourable mentions, top tips and the ones we missed:
Make sure you check opening times - lots of shops close on Sundays (or other days during the week) or for a break during the day, and many restaurants close between lunch and dinner service too.
Explore on foot and make use of the many travessas and side streets to find hidden gems in the form of street art, galleries and cheaper places to eat and drink.
I love a flea market but unfortunately Lisbons's famous "Thieve's Market" Feira da Ladra is only open and Tuesdays and Saturdays and we weren't in the city!
Aaaaaand that's a wrap! Apologies for the longest blog post ever - I could have written about SO MUCH MORE but I think you'd all fall asleep and sometimes it's just fun to find things for yourself rather than have a fully planned out trip packed with recommendations. If you're looking for a good lightweight guidebook then check out the Herb Lester guides - they're beautfully designed and introduced me to lots of the places mentioned above and many other places I didn't manage to visit this time round. Hopefully some of that was useful if you're planning a visit to this rainbow city. If you have any questions then send me an email or DM me on instagram, I'm always happy to talk travel! Look out for my Porto guide coming soon.... For now here are some more photos from our trip to make you want to hop on a plane even more.
(I'll know if you got to the end of this mammoth post because you'll tell me about the dog in the hat!)