Portugal was not a country that was always on the forefront of my mind. Sure, I’d seen pretty pictures, but it hadn’t been a country I’d prioritized. That being said, the month leading up to my trip to Lisbon, I thought I would burst from excitement. Cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, the city had captured my heart before even arriving. Now after a perfect two and a half days in Lisbon, I can say it is one of my absolute favorite places in the world.
We arrived in the Lisbon airport around midday. At the airport, we picked up Lisbon’s metro card which covers transportation on the metro, buses, and cable cars, which is an amazing deal! We hopped on the metro and rode about thirty minutes into downtown Lisbon. As soon as we stepped off the metro, I was immediately captivated by the character of Lisbon. The ancient architecture, the cable cars covered in street art, the cobblestone roads, it was one of the most “European” cities I’d ever seen.
Fun fact about the Lisbon cable cars: they don’t allow luggage. Our hostel was located in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, which luckily for us sat at the top of one of the steepest hills I’ve ever encountered. Never do I ever want to haul twenty pound luggage up a mini mountain ever again. If traveling through Lisbon with heavy luggage, I’d recommend some Cross Fit training first.
After dropping our stuff off at the Independente Hostel, we headed to lunch at A Cevicheria. This restaurant is known for its eye-catching octopus statue, as well as its octopus and other seafood dishes. I decided to give the octopus and codfish dish a try and was very intrigued by the unique flavors! A known dish in the city, it felt like a perfect “Welcome to Lisbon” lunch.
The rest of our afternoon was spent exploring the neighborhood of Barrio Alto. Lisbon is super walkable and each neighborhood has its own unique character to it. Barrio Alto almost reminded me of Charleston with its colorful buildings all lined up next to each other like Rainbow Row. While we were visiting, Festas de Lisboa was in full swing as Lisbon honored their patron saint, Santo Antonio. Throughout several districts, the streets are lined with streamers and garlands while nightly food and music stands fill the roads. Every day in June is full of celebration and it is a great time to visit!
Our evening wrapped up by exploring the Chiado and Baixa neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were much busier and had streets filled with restaurants, coffee shops, and lots of tourists and locals. We stopped for coffee at Fabrica Coffee Roasters, a Lisbon celebrity. These guys have been on my radar for over a year, and let me just say their coffee did not disappoint (I may have snagged a bag of beans to bring back to the US).
For dinner we had a reservation at Des Norte. The staff were phenomenal and never let our wine glasses get low and checked on us constantly. Make sure you have a reservation, but definitely worth the stop!
On our second day in Portugal, we decided to day trip it out to Sintra! Several bloggers I follow on Instagram had talked about the beauty of the heart of Sintra and the many palaces that surrounded the city. Sintra is a popular destination so you can head to the nearest train station and use the same metro card to ride (again, great deal). It’s a good forty minute ride to Sintra so bring some headphones to keep you occupied. Once you arrive at the Sintra train station, it’s all about the buses. Different routes will get you to different palaces. Since we knew we’d want to visit several, we did the all inclusive bus ticket for about fifteen euros, then we were off to the Pena Palace! This palace is known for its bright primary colors and is very popular among tourists. Even though we got there by nine in the morning, the line to get in was already pretty long. Definitely do not wait till the afternoon to get to this one.
To decrease your wait time, I’d recommend buying tickets online ahead of time, which are between twenty to thirty euros. Once through the gate, it’s about a fifteen minute walk to get up to the palace. The downside of going in the morning is that the building starts off surrounded in fog and it is pretty chilly at the top of the mountain. We started by touring the inside of the palace and luckily by the time we came out the fog had mostly cleared and it had warmed up a good bit! Just take your time and enjoy the sights (and if you can, follow behind a tour group so you can get the scoop on the royal family that lived there).
After several hours of exploration, we headed down to Sintra’s city center to grab lunch and explore. The city of Sintra has tons of character and is a great place to sit and dwell for awhile. With plenty of coffee shops and lunch places, it is a perfect place to stop in between palace visits.
Our next palace stop was the Monserrate palace and all I can say is wow. This one comes with a very twisty and windy bus ride up a mountain, but well worth the slight fear of falling off the hill. Monserrate had me wondering if I’d transported to India with its intricate details and warm coloring. Monserrate is much less crowded than Pena and gives you the opportunity to get some pictures that aren’t filled with other tourists. If you only have time for one palace, I’d go with this one!
After our palace adventures, we headed back to the train station to grab a train back to Lisbon. They leave roughly every forty-five minutes so if you miss one you won’t have to wait long for the next one.
Once we arrived back in Lisbon, we took some time to rest before our dinner at the restaurant atop the Independente Hostel. The quirky atmosphere makes for a great drinking environment with Portuguese and French inspired meals to keep you full. The restaurant is open to all visitors even if you aren’t staying at the hostel (but you do get a discount if you are a guest).
Our last day in Lisbon was all about exploring the Alfama and Portas de Sol areas. Both of these areas are quite Insta worthy and like everything is Lisbon definitely walkable.
Alfama is known for its tiled buildings and intricate detail and it definitely did not disappoint. I felt like everywhere we looked in Alfama there was something to take a picture of. This neighborhood is a bit bigger than the ones we explored previously so when planning I would allow a couple hours for this one. There are tons of walking tours always going through this area (including food and wine tours) that you can check out on TripAdvisor as well.
One of my favorite areas that we visited was the area of Portas de Sol. This area sits right next to the water and looks like someone combined the look of Rome and Charleston. We grabbed lunch here at the Portas de Sol Restaurant and the view was one I never wanted to leave.
We finished out our Lisbon trip by having dinner at the famous Time Out Market on our last evening. While this market offers a ton of dinning options, it can be a bit overwhelming and gets super crowded so if you decide to stop by prepare to wait for awhile. We stopped by a booth that had a Portuguese steak special going on and it was crazy delicious! There are also tons of dessert booths so if you’re a fellow sweet tooth you will be well cared for.
Lisbon is a city filled with character, color, and breathtaking sights. It is crazy to me now to think that this place was not always on my radar. Leaving Lisbon has left me inspired to visit even more of Portugal and I hope to be back someday soon. If Lisbon isn’t on your list, add it now!
General Lisbon Tips:
1) Try all the seafood.
2) Visit the authentic coffee shops! A lot of Lisbon’s coffee is made right in the city!
3) Get the metro card at the airport or train station to save on transportation costs.
4) There are tons of ceramic shops around the city where they decorate hand painted tiles like the ones found on the buildings. These make great souvenirs as it captures the heart of the architecture and also helps support local artists.