Lisbon was an unexpected and beautiful surprise. It felt like summer in October, but it was the architecture, the friendliness of the people and the culture that really made Lisbon a special place.
Lisbon is a city built on hills, very steep ones too. We got a swift introduction the steep hills of Lisbon as soon as we arrived. Upon exiting the subway we realized that to get to our hostel we had to walk up hill – there was no none-hill option. The shorter route was also the steepest and so our introduction to Lisbon’s hilly terrain was swift and true.
We stayed at the B.A. Hostel, right in the middle of Bairro Alto. It was a lovely hostel, the staff was friendly and helpful. The hostel is small and seems to attract families, older adults rather than British weekend partiers. We arrived quite early in Lisbon and had to wait to check-in to our room, so we walked down to see Praça do Comércio.
Day 1: Bairro Alto
The advantage of arriving in Lisbon early is that you quickly discover the city is a job for walkers. You can wander from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, stumbling upon the key sights without meaning to. On that first day we saw almost all of the things we had thought about seeing in the Bairro Alto > Baxia > Ave Ribeira Das Naus triangle.
Av. Ribeira das Naus
Praça do Comércio
Baixa is slightly more bougie than Bairro, with more restaurants and chops. It is home to the famed oldest bookstore in the world, Bertrand, as well as the Elevador de Santa Justa.
For Europe, Lisbon is quite affordable and by staying at a hostel we were able to splurge on the dining, which proved to be the right choice, as the food in Lisbon was outstanding. On our first day we went to Castro Restaurante, which we found it by wandering around Barrio Alto’s streets in search of a typical Lisbon outdoor side-walk restaurant. We were early for dinner as many restaurants had not yet opened, but got lucky. Castro Restaurante was our second best meal in Lisbon.
Lisbon At Night
Lisbon’s nigh life is lively, with something for everyone – relaxing night patios, tiny hidden bars and parties in the street.
Day Two: Alfama
Lisbon impressed on the first day. The weather was amazing, the architecture was stunning and turning a corner was like starting a new adventure. Well rested on our second day we headed to the Castelo de S. Jorge.
Baixa to Alfama
To get to the Castelo we walked through Baixa and Alfama, taking our time to explore the small streets along the way. We had a general idea of where we needed to go but no map. We knew it was on top of the hill and even if we didn’t take the straight route to get there, we took a fun one.
Castelo de S. Jorge
The climb up through Baixa and Alfama rewarded us with the spectacular views of Lisbon from the Castelo de S. Jorge. We explored all of the castle grounds and took in every available view. We had another perfect day for it with clear blue skies serving as the perfect backdrop.
Alfama to Praça do Comércio
We had a snack at the Castelo so there was no urgency to find a place to eat dinner. Instead we walked back down to see the Catedral and then to catch the sunset at the Praça do Comércio.
Best Meal in Lisbon: Lisboa Cheia de Graça
Lisboa Cheia de Graça is located in Bairro Alto. We saw it on our first day but the place was still closed so we returned on our second day. Through stubbornness and luck we found the restaurant and we never regretted. I had the simple sounding Cod in Garlic in Olive Oil with potatoes and salad dish, which packed such a flavour that I can’t even describe. It was THE best meal we had in Lisbon
Day 3: Belem
On our last full day we headed to Belem. It was my least favourite day in Lisbon because after two days of constant up hill walking, I woke up with calves that were as hard as stone. So it may be that my memories of Belem are coloured by the physical pain I was in and the fact that I just wanted to lie down.
We had breakfast at A Padain Portuguesa, a cafe that everyone raved about, it was okay. Yes the place had a huge selection of food, but the breakfast was not as fresh and cheap as the one we found at the Pastelaria Brasil round the corner from our hostel. So while everyone may tell you to go there know it is basically a Starbucks and there may be better options along the way.
The town of Belem felt quite small after Lisbon. The main reason to go to Belem is to see the Tower of Belem, the Age of Discovery Monument and to eat a Portuguese egg tart at Pastéis de Belém. We did all three and yes the egg tart was outstanding.
The Age of Discovery Monument
Impressively large, located in a harbour where it is hot and there is nowhere to sit in the shade.
My last meal in Lisbon was the least memorable. I didn’t bother to remember the name of the place or the dish I had. It was underwhelming after the previous two meals, but we did enjoy our last late-night patio in Bairro Alto.
Day 4: Goodbye Lisbon
We said goodbye to Lisbon by having breakfast at our favourite cafe and enjoyed the views of the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara for the last time. We were driving south to the Algarve where we were going to spend 3 days exploring the beaches.