Our second time in Lisbon and this time we did it properly…
So we’d been to Lisbon before, back in 2007 when we stayed in Estoril (home of James Bond’s Casino Royale) and took the train into the city and further up the line to Cascais. We’d had a great time but I felt like we hadn’t really seen the city, apart from the rather dull bits included on a council-run hop on hop off us (“here’s the council offices… here’s the prison… here’s the water purification plant”). This time we had a week in between our flight in from Liverpool to Lisbon and out from Porto. In the end our itinerary for a week in Portugal broke down like this:
Day 1: Fly to Lisbon, arriving late
Days 2-4: Lisbon
Day 5: Train from Lisbon to Porto
Days 6 and 7: Porto
Day 8: Fly home
On day 1 we arrived in Lisbon late in the evening. Getting from the airport to the city centre is pretty easy, and within an hour or so of landing we were at our hotel, the Hotel Gat Rossio just off Rossio Square in the heart of Lisbon.
The next day we woke up starving so were really grateful for the included breakfast which was simple but delicious. I fell hard for their suggested Portuguese breakfast – bread spread with chopped tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and a little salt – delicious. There were also gorgeous custard tarts available every morning – perhaps not the healthiest start to the day but my will power is never at its best first thing.
After breakfast we set out to hit all the sights we inexplicably hadn’t seen first time around. We headed up Chiado’s elegant shopping street Rua do Carmo, took a left then another left uphill and arrived at the Carmo Convent. Ruined in the 1755 earthquake, its roofless nave was popular with Romantic-era poets and so never repaired. The best views of it are from the walkway of the Santa Justa Lift from where you can also get great views of the city.
By the way – there were big, slow queues to actually go up in the lift the whole time we were there, so to see the top of the elevator we took the path alongside the convent and up the stairs which look like they only go to a restaurant/bar – you’ll come out on the walkway.
During our three days in Lisbon we spent a lot of time getting great views – it’s a very hilly city, and there’s a viewpoint or two on most of them. One of my favourites was the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara which has an awesome view across the whole city, including the castle, the cathedral and the river. The day we were there a little market was taking place and there were lots of tempting things to eat and drink as you took in the views.
We walked back down the hill through the Bairro Alto. During the day this neighbourhood is sleepy and we passed lots of half-closed restaurants and bars – apparently the whole place comes alive at night but I enjoyed having its beautiful tiled buildings to ourselves.
At the bottom of the hill, next to the river is magnificent, huge Praça do Comércio. This is the place where visiting ships used to dock and it must have been an impressive site. Google Maps shows the waterfront as undergoing work but it’s all finished now and it’s a lovely place to hang out with an ice cream from one of the street vendors. If you sit on the steps leading to the river you can see Lisbon’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Christ the King statue on the other side which bears a very close resemblance to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. As a working river there’s lots of interesting boat traffic, from huge tankers and cruise ships to small ferries and sailing ships.
Facing inland from the river you can’t help but be impressed by the square. I can’t think of one anywhere I’ve visited that’s bigger. Around each of the three inland sides are lovely colonnaded walkways with (rather expensive!) bars and restaurants and what claims to be the sexiest toilet on earth…
Suddenly the usual city-noise of the square was interrupted with shouting and a group of 30 or so young people in matching t-shirts came through the arch shouting army-like chants, along with a handful of slightly older ones dressed in Hogwarts-esque black robes. Walking up the Rua Augusta we saw another group, then another then another two having a shout-off. All very confusing until one of the Hogwarts people told us that this was part of the Praxe, a ritual to welcome new students to the university.
The next day we took a modern tram a few miles out of the city to the suburb of Belém, a must for any trip to Lisbon. We got off the tram in front of the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery and enjoyed the atmosphere with a fresh minty lemonade in the park opposite.
If you walk a little further along the main street you’ll find a massive modern building which is a little out of place among the UNESCO heritage sites. This is the Cultural Centre of Belém, built for Portugal’s European Presidency in the early 90s. We wanted to visit to see the Berardo Museum, a free art museum boasting works by Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and others.
Further along the river bank is the iconic Belém Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site with great significance for Lisbon and the Portuguese and the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery. We were both a bit tired and hungry so we had a quick and delicious snack at the cafe next door before having a look at the tower.
We took a (very) packed tram back into town and got off at the Praça do Comércio. On the corner of the square we noticed a stand selling ginjinha and stopped for a taste. Ginjinha is a syrupy liqueur, made by infusing ginja berries (a bit like cherries) in alcohol and is either served in little shot glasses or in mini dark chocolate cups. When you love cherries and chocolate as much as I do this is a winning combination! For a more authentic experience you could visit the tiny A Ginjinha bar on Largo De São Domingos near Rossio metro.
Revived by the ginjinha we set off in the early evening sun to explore the Alfama neighbourhood, hoping to see the old, narrow streets of this area during golden hour. The beautiful golden light hitting the cathedral was well worth the climb up from the river bank.
We returned to Alfama and the Castle area the next day, beating the steep climb by taking the city’s newest (and free) elevator, the Elevador do Castelo from Rua dos Fanqueiros. We’d noticed a lot more tourists in the city this time round compared to our visit in 2007 but the Castle area really highlighted just how much more popular Lisbon has become as a city destination. When we were last here there’d been hardly anyone around and the whole place was a slightly disorganised health and safety nightmare – sheer drops from the unfenced castle battlements, that kind of thing. Great fun. This time there was a massive queue to get in, tour groups everywhere and selfie-stick sellers. Having seen it before we didn’t bother with the queue but carried on towards Portas do Sol.
If you want to see historic trams in Lisbon, Portas do Sol is the place to come – the tourist-friendly route 28 passes through here and there’s a tram every couple of minutes. There’s also a magnificent view over the river.
We carried on up another steep hill to the Graça convent and viewpoint then went back down the hill to do our #EUtour duties – a flag-waving selfie in Praça do Comércio.
It was our last day in Lisbon before leaving for Porto so we headed back to the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa to watch the sun set over the city – the perfect way to say goodbye to the city and to end our 3 days in Lisbon.
We stayed at: Hotel Gat Rossio, which was perfect for our needs – a very centrally located, stylish 3 star hotel with free wifi and breakfast included.
We saw: City views, UNESCO world heritage sights, modern art, shouty students, trams
We ate: bread with tomato and olive oil, custard tarts
We drank: ginjinha from edible chocolate cups
Have you been to Lisbon?