We’ve been off on our European adventures once more, this time to Lisbon! If you’re looking for a city that combines the hilly terrain and rattling vintage tram cars of San Francisco, and old world charm of Venice, with a dash of stunning modern architecture thrown into the mix then Lisbon is definitely the destination for you.
With only a few days to enjoy this beautiful city, we’ve split our guide into three sections to help capture our favourite aspects of the Portuguese capital.
Think of Lisbon, and no doubt you think almost immediately of Portuguese tarts, better know in these parts as pastéis de nata. Naturally we ate as many of these as possible over the 3 days we were there (they make a great addition to a breakfast buffet), including at the supposed birthplace of the tart; the rather aptly named Pastéis de Belém, which is tucked away in the Belém district of the city (see, told you it was apt). They’ve been making pastéis de nata here since 1837, and they certainly have a reputation for being the best in town. If you’re prepared to wait a few minutes then you’ll be rewarded with a warm pastel de nata straight from the oven, with a sachet or two of cinnamon and sugar to sweeten the deal. Easily the best version of these we tasted on our travels.
If you thought the food in Lisbon started and ended with the humble tart, you’d be wrong. While out and about we stumbled across some great places to eat and drink; places like The Decadente. With a great atmosphere, friendly staff, and the best tuna steaks we’ve had in ages, this place definitely makes the cut as one of our favourite eats of the trip (if not this year… bold praise, we know). We washed down our tuna steaks with a couple of Old Fashioned’s in the bar afterwards; not too shabby really.
One of the more famous food destinations we explored while we were there was Time Out Mercado da Ribeira. This place has a little bit of everything good about the Lisbon food scene, literally. The vendors here have been hand selected by Time Out as the best that Lisbon has to offer and it certainly makes for some tough choices!
For those with a sweet tooth, Gelados Santini was a cool and quirky ice cream place we found just past the Elevador de Santa Justa (also available in the Time Out Market). With an amazing array of flavour combinations to choose from this was a real haven for the budding ice cream connoisseur.. or if you just fancy a really good ice cream.
Not only is there plenty in the way of food to keep you busy (we’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg here), but Lisbon is a great city to indulge in a few glasses of good wine at a decent price, something which definitely helps to score a few extra brownie points from us.
As much as we like to think of ourselves by now as seasoned travellers looking for something a little different, we still like to hit a few of the more well-trodden tourist destinations when we visit a new city, and Lisbon was no exception. As with the majority of our trips we started off by exploring the city on foot, always the best way to get familiar with new surroundings. Lisbon is one of those cities where, for photographers like us, a new scene presents itself on nearly every corner. As with our time in Venice, we spent a fair bit of time enjoying the old fashioned, crumbling facades of many of the buildings across the city, as well as the intricate tile patterns which feature throughout.
Among the real highlights of our trip was a visit to Castelo de São Jorge, which sits in the heart of the city and offers amazing views out across it in every direction. Walking the walls put us in mind of our time in Dubrovnik, although the time it took us to get around was significantly shorter (that’s one long wall you have, Dubrovnik).
A short walk away from the castle is the main stop for Tram 28, the famous route which runs (mainly) tourists through the winding streets of Lisbon on the original 1930s tram cars. The queue for this is really something by mid-morning, so make sure you get there early if you want to check this out (or do as some locals did and hitch a ride off the back… on second thoughts, don’t do this, it looked pretty scary). The tram takes you straight through the Baixa, Graça, Alfama and Estrela districts and is a great way to see a bit more of the city if you’re pushed for time. We got off at the Jardim da Estrela and had a wander around the beautiful gardens there.
On the outer edges of the city, heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge look-alike Ponte 25 de Abril, you’ll find LX Factory, a random collection of shops and cafes with all kinds of weird and wonderful things inside. We spent a good few hours wandering around here and found some great little shops which sold pretty much anything you could think of (and plenty you couldn’t). Well worth a visit if you have the time.
Our last destination of the trip before heading back to the airport was one which wasn’t really on our radar, but was one which nicely filled that awkward bit of time before an evening flight home. Pavilhão do Conhecimento is a science museum, aimed mainly at children by the looks of things, but a real fun way to spend a couple of hours. The highlight being riding a bicycle backwards across a wire 10 feet in the air (no, really).
While all of the architecture in Lisbon was pretty stunning, we felt it necessary to dedicate this last section to the beautiful modern architecture we came across on the outer edges of the city. Modern architecture isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of Lisbon (or at least it wasn’t for us), but it’s easy to find all over the city if you know where to look.
Parque das Nações, to the north of the main part of the city is well worth a visit. Redeveloped for the 1998 World Expo, the area features some stunning architecture, including the local station, Oriente, which is more like an airport than a stop on a metro line. Just around the corner from the metro station is the Pavilhão de Portugal, easily one of the most simple yet elegant buildings in the city.
Across town, we stumbled across the awesomely-named Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (no, we’re not really sure what they do either). This beautifully abstract building is a short walk up from the Torre de Belém and a complete goldmine for geeky photographers like us; we could easily have spent an hour or two here but given we were a little pushed for time we settled for a few quick snapshots instead.
So there we have it! Hopefully this guide has given you a little taster of the variety that Lisbon has to offer; it’s by no means a comprehensive list of everything to see and do, but for a few days away it should give you enough to start planning your trip! 🙂
Patches & Flash x