I am constantly struck by how many beautiful places there are in the world and Lisbon is definitely one of those places! I unexpectedly fell head over heels for Lisboa and really can’t wait to go back. The majority of my time in Portugal’s capital city was spent at a conference at the university, although luckily for us that also included two events in the gorgeous city hall (Câmara Municipal). To make the most of my time there, I added two days to my trip — one at the beginning and one at the end — so I could at least get a little taste of what Lisbon has to offer.
It’s so easy to just wander through the city, getting lost and enjoying the views. In fact, that would be my first recommendation if you’ve got some time on your hands. The streets, the buildings, the hills, the panoramas — it is all incredibly breathtaking and lends itself exceptionally well to wandering. My favorite thing to do was admire the beautiful tiles (azulejo) typical of Portuguese architecture — so just like I did for Malta, I’ll dedicate a separate post completely to Lisbon’s buildings.
But first let me share some of the other highlights from my two free days in Lisbon…
Maybe it’s because I grew up near the Puget Sound, but the waterfront of any city seems to be the first place I am drawn towards. Lisbon’s offers a fantastic view of the Ponte 25 de Abril — a bridge which draws many comparisons to the Golden Gate Bridge — and the Cristo Rei across the water — a statue inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. I especially liked the stretch between the Terreiro do Paço and Cais do Sodré subway stations, with plenty of little food and drink stands along the way to enjoy the sun and cool breezes.
Belém is a waterfront suburb steeped in a rich maritime history, located about a 20-minute tram ride away from central Lisbon. You can take #15 tram there from Cais do Sodré, but give yourself plenty of time. When I traveled there on a Tuesday afternoon, the trams were jam packed with tourists and only ran very irregularly. Belém is so popular because it houses some of Lisbon’s main attractions, like the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Torre de Belém — not to mention the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, which purportedly sells the best pastel de nata (a traditional custard cream tart) in the whole city.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, make sure to either show up early or bring your patience with you because the line can wind down the block! I almost gave up any hope of trying their famous pastel de nata, but luckily I saw some colleagues closer to the front of the line and cut in with them. Totally worth it! The tarts are small enough to devour in about two big bites and you can sprinkle some powdered sugar or cinnamon on them too.
After devouring the pastel de nata, I was joined my colleagues on a spontaneous drive out to Portugal’s beaches along the Cascais coast. Being able to splash around in the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the warm weather with soft sand between my toes was a most pleasant surprise for me that afternoon, and I would highly recommend taking a side trip out of the city if the weather is nice! Although it’s quicker to travel by car, Cascais is also accessible by train from Lisbon’s city center.
Castelo de São Jorge
The Castelo de São Jorge is one of Lisbon’s main tourist attractions and rightly so, offering some of the best views of the city and the waterfront below. Originally a Moorish castle, and it was eventually turned into a castle for the Portuguese kings in the 14th century, and has also been used subsequently as a prison and army barracks. These days it’s quite a lovely place to spend a couple of hours enjoying the panoramas and climbing along the ramparts. I visited in the late evening as the sun was going down and was treated to a lovely golden light pouring over the city. Another plus: there are peacocks wandering the grounds and they’re quite fun to watch!
Mercado de Ribeira
For my last day in Lisbon I had booked an 11K run with Lisbon City Runners, but decided to cancel after coming down with a cold on the last couple days of the conference. Seriously disappointing! Instead I mustered up my energy and followed a tip on Instagram from Jess on Thames and made my way to the Mercado de Ribeira on the waterfront. One half market selling fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and flowers, and one half trendy eatery, it’s a fantastic place to grab a bite to eat. The eatery half brings together an impressive assortment of foods from some of Lisbon’s top chefs and restaurants under one roof — a foodie’s dream come true! I ate some delicious pad thai while scouring my travel guide and planning my afternoon’s activities.
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
After lunch I wandered uphill through the narrow streets and stairways of the Bairro Alto and eventually found myself in the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a lovely park with views out across the city and the Castelo on the hillside across the way. I spent my last free moments in Lisbon relaxing here with a lemonade in hand.
So that’s what I managed during my two free days in Lisbon, including one day with a little less energy than normal thanks to my stupid cold. Plus lots of wandering and photographing through the Bairro Alto, Alfama, and Baixa districts, of course. Another post featuring the city’s gorgeous architecture is coming up soon!
P.S. There are plenty more photos in my Flickr album!
Have you traveled through Portugal? What are your top tips? Have you tried pastel de nata?