One thing almost everyone knows ( and likes to make fun of me for) is that I love planning. Like I am a bona fide obsessive planner. One of my personal favourite things to plan is trips. Near or far, long or short ,I absolutely love travelling to and exploring new places and a big part of the enjoyment for me is derived in the planning process.
Back in first year I went on a spontaneous trip to Lisbon with two friends. Despite the spontaneity I obviously made the time to plan a little itinerary and the trip turned out amazing! I would seriously recommend Lisbon to anyone. It is an especially great “starter” European city as it is a) cheaper than most b) less crowded and a little more laid back but c) still has the gorgeous architecture, culture and food that you find in the “greats” like Paris or London.
Where to stay
The hostel was a little bare bones in terms of decor but it had everything we needed and at a great price. All the rooms have lockers for extra security. For a three person private room is was 13CAD a night per person in the shoulder season (April). Which is crazy. And it was clean, safe, had wifi, free breakfast and a great location (right beside a metro stop) so what more could you ask for??
What to do and See
How I usually organize my itineraries is I start by writing list of everything I want to do in the city and then start dividing it up by neighbourhood- that way you don’t spend excess time wandering around from sight to sight only to return to the same area tomorrow. So here are some of favourites things to do in Lisbon, organized by region!
Baixo is really the centre of Lisbon along the waterfront and where a lot of the main sights are.
I would recommend starting here to get acquainted with the city. We started up at the Miradouro do Parque-Eduardo which is a beautiful beautiful at the top of park ( see photo above!) just off the Marques de Pombal metro. From here you get great views of the whole city.
Then I would recommend making your way down towards Chiado/Baxio along the tree and restaurant lined avenue. You will hit Rossio Square, City Hall, the Elevator of Santa Justa ( a beautiful iron elevator than connects you to Carmo Square).
Continue on to the Praca do Comercio to the waterfront. From here you can walk along the water up towards cais do sodre and take in views to the Cristo Rei.
If you have energy on your way we stopped by the Museum of Design, which was very interesting.
To get back to your hostel either hop on a metro stop which are plentiful around here are try to get lost in some beautiful side streets.
Alfama is probably the “must see” neighbourhood for all of Lisbon. If you for some reason only have a day in this beautiful city go here. Aflama is the old city, and consists of lots of very narrow windy roads and quite a large hill. I would recommend taking the tram up to the top. You can pick up the Tram 28 across the city- take to the Castelo de Sao Jorge a big castle at the top of the hill. The castle is well-maintained, has nice gardens and you can climb up most towers and around the walls to get amazing views of the city.
From here wander through the streets- there is a lot of great pottery stores in this area that are artisan and not the bulk made touristy stuff you will find in the main squares. Try to stay on track enough that on your walk down you can pass the Portas Do Sol and then the Lisbon Cathedral.
For Alfama I would 100% recommend coming to one of the bars for live Faldo music. The singers are beyond impressive and the experience is truly Lisbon. Word of warning: bars tend to be crowded and full of smoke so if you are claustrophobic like me try to get there earlier in the night and then leave before the air gets unbearable.
(Sorry for the gloomy photo- it rained the day we went to Alfama but as you can see, even in the rain the view from the Castle is stunning!)
Bairro Alto and Chiado
First of all, the best part of Bairro Alto in my opinion is the nightlife! As someone who does not like going to clubs even in the slightest, the laid back, but super fun late night vibe at Bairro Alto was very much my scene. The streets of this neighbourhood are lined with bars and restaurants and around midnight people spill out into the streets walking around, laughing, drinking. There are little holes in the wall where you are get beer in a plastic cup for an Euro(!). Plus this is a great environment to meet locals and other travellers as people tend to be very friendly!
During the day come to Bairro Alto and see the Church of Sao Roque- a church with beautiful and containing one of the world’s most expensive chapels ( lots of gold!).
You can also grab food for a picnic and head to Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara just up the street which has beautiful views of Lisbon.
Chiado is more the shopping district and is a great way to spend an afternoon popping in and out of stores. There are especially a lot of cute bookstores in this area with beautiful old books.
You can stop and admire the beauty of Lisbon buildings in the Praca Luis de Camoes.
My absolute favourite restaurant we went to the entire trip was in Bairro Alto. If you are in Lisbon you 100% need to go to Stasha. Sasha is a small, elegant, family-run restaurant in Bairro Alto that serves amazing Mediterranean /Portuguese inspired cuisine. The food it top quality and also quite affordable ( as long as you avoid all the non-free starters but more on that later).
The next two neighbourhoods are not quite in Lisbon but are just very short train rides away and very much worth a visit.
On Sunday before 2pm the Belem Tower and Monastery ( see above) are free! Both are absolute must sees to me. Both showcase Portugal’s history and are stunning examples of old architecture.
Another one of the most quintessential Portuguese experiences is a Pateis de Nata, a small custardy pastry! Many argue the best comes from the Pateis de Belem so be sure to stop here and get one. (Just beware of lines as this bakery can get very busy.)
Cascais is about a 40 minute train ride away to one of the cutes beach town I have ever been to. Transportation is Lisbon is very cheap, I believe this ride is only about 3 Euros for one way. Once here you can relax on the beach, walk through the cute restaurants and stores and enjoy a small vacation from your vacation.
Make sure to follow the road up to Booca de Inferno, a set of seriously impressive cliffs that overlook the Ocean. Because you are so far along the coast it really feels like you are at the end of the world.
Things to Note
Beware pickpockets…- it was never a problem for us but I know a lot of people warned us about them especially at places such as the busy squares and the tram.
…And non-complementary starters. A lot of restaurants will bring out bread or a platter of meat and cheese at your meal. This is not free. It is fine if you want it, you will just have to pay for it. If you don’t want it just politely say no thanks and you won’t be charged.
Bring lots of water!! Restaurants don’t serve tap water and the water charges add up so make sure to grab a bottle before you head out for the day! I am sure you could probably ask explicitly for tap water- however this seemed a pretty uncommon request in our travels so we just brought water bottles with us wherever we went!
Nightlife starts way later in Europe than it does in North America, going out to a bar at 11pm was considered extremely early. So if you are interested in seeing Bairro Alto in full swing I would recommend having a nap after your day of sight seeing, going for a late, leisurely dinner at Stasha and then heading out to a bar to start your night.