Happy New Year! 2017 did not start off in the best of ways after I fell sick on Boxing Day and spent the last few weeks recovering. Last week I flew to India for a holiday with my husband and to visit my parents in law and I am currently writing this post from their home in Mumbai (you can follow along on my India trip on Instagram). Today though I am writing about a different trip I took at the end of last year to Lisbon. Here are my highlights of a long weekend of eating and sightseeing in the Portuguese capital.
I travelled to Lisbon from London Heathrow with TAP Portugal the flag carrier airline of Portugal which offers direct flights from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester up to 9 times a day.
We landed at Lisbon airport late in the evening around 22:00, but we still easily caught a public bus to our hotel. Even though taxi fares are relatively cheap in Lisbon, it’s always worth saving some money when possible. The bus ticket cost a few euros and in just 20-25′ we were at our hotel, PortoBay Marquês. Lisbon airport and the city centre are also well connected by metro line.
PortoBay Marquês is a modern 4* hotel located right around the corner from Marquês de Pombal square and metro station, just a few steps away from Avenida da Liberdade. Lisbon city centre and main attractions are around 20 minutes’ away by walk.
This trip was my second time in Lisbon after a first visit back in the summer of 2005. I found the city changed. The run-down but lively city I remember from 10 years ago is now a modern city full of tourist attractions and luxury hotels, although some neighbourhoods still retain a more authentic feel.
Even though I was in Lisbon at the end of the high season (mid-October), the city was full of tourists, with hour-long queues to take the famous Tram 28 or the Santa Justa cast-iron elevator.
Since it was the first time in Lisbon for my husband, we tried to cover all the main sights, including a visit to Belem for the famous pastel de nata and a traditional fado music show. We also ventured a bit further out of the city to visit the Azulejos Museum and the LX Factory. And of course we searched for the best food and coffee in town. We joined a food tour and ate in a few different restaurants: I recommend Cantinho de Avillez and Bistro 100 Maneiras.
These are my Lisbon highlights:
No first-time visitor to Lisbon can miss tasting the traditional pasteis de nata. The custard cream tarts were originally invented in 1837 by a bakery in Belém following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. They are still making the tarts everyday following this highly regarded recipe (it’s said only a handful of people know it) and today they are known as Pastéis de Belém. A trip to this famous bakery is worth your while, not just for the amazing pastries but also for the decor and ambience of the cafe.
However my personal favourite pasteis de nata are the ones from Manteigaria on Rua do Loreto in Barrio Alto. It’s a tiny and narrow pastry shop, but it offers the opportunity to see the tarts being made. There are no long queues like at Belem, the tarts only cost 1€ and are served warm from there oven. Delicious!
A highlight of any visit to Lisbon is a ride on the number 28 tram, which performs the longest route in Lisbon: a loop in the east of Baixa, Graça and Alfama before heading west to Estrela and Campo de Ourique. Only the classic Remodelado trams, which were originally commissioned in the 1930s, are able navigate the steep inclines or sharp twists of the tracks.
You can buy a single ticket on board for €2.85 or a day ticket for €6 (which is also valid on bus and metro). It’s the most enjoyable and authentic way to see Lisbon.
We attempted taking the tram from the first stop in Praça do Martim Moniz around midday, but we gave up after seeing the long queue. We went back the next day on a Sunday morning around 8:30am. Then we easily got on the first tram without having to queue; we even got a window seat!
Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon: a maze of narrow streets which rise up the hill from from the Tejo estuary to the castle. Take the tram 28 to Miradouro das Portas do Sol where you will get a fantastic view of Alfa’s rooftops.
Then walk to some of Lisbon’s most historically important buildings including the Se Cathedral, Lisbon Castle, National Pantheon and Saint Anthony’s Church.
Even though today Alfama has become a trendy and fashionable destination, full of tourists and Airbnb’s, the neighbourhood still retains its ancient charm.
If you want to watch a fado show, the traditional Portuguese live music, reserve a table at A Baiuca, a tiny family run restaurant in the heart of Alfama.
One of my highlights of Lisbon was the walking food tour organised by a local company called Lisbon Food Tour. It was a fantastic way to discover Lisbon’s and Portugal’s best food and drinks. I especially loved our walk through Mouraria, one of the few neighborhoods that were not destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. As beautiful as nearby Alfama but less touristy, Mouraria still retains an authentic atmosphere.
The warehouse of “Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense” in Alcântara used to be one of the most important manufacturing complex in Lisbon’s history. In 2008 it was re-opened as a creative district for the arts and design, known as LX Factory. The space is occupied by startups, galleries, design shops and restaurants. It is a really cool and large space, where visitors can easily spend half a day or a fun night out.
As always on my trips, I looked for the best speciality coffee shops. In Lisbon I found Fabrica Coffee Roasters, which offers its home-roasted coffee as espresso an filter, a good menu of brunch dishes and has two outlets in Baixa and Barrio Alto.
My favourite coffee shop in Lisbon was the Copenhagen Coffee Lab owned by Danish people, as you can easily guess. It wasn’t just the coffee which I loved there, but also the cinnamon buns and muesli pot we had for breakfast, and the relaxed and friendly vibe of the cafe.
I found out about Landeau on the Stay.com app (one of my favourite travel apps), where it is recommended for serving the best chocolate in town. I am not one to miss an opportunity to eat chocolate cake and this one is absolutely amazing. Two layers of soft sponge cake and chocolate mousse topped with a thin layer of dark chocolate dusted with cocoa powder.
The original Landeau cafe is at the LX Factory while the second shop is in Barrio Alto. Either way you way no excuse not to taste this cake.
Well, I saved my favourite spot of Lisbon as the last: the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. The miradouros are the highest point of each peak in Lisbon, the City of 7 hills. Each viewpoint offers different aspects of the city views, with clear sightings of popular landmarks and the sea of rooftops. Santa Catarina is my favourite panoramic viewpoint in Lisbon.
The terrace faces the Tagus River (rio Tejo), the ‘25 de Abril’ bridge (which resembles the Golden Gate in San Francisco) and the surrounding neighborhood of Madrwagoa. There is a little kiosk serving hot and cold drinks and amazing tostas, Portuguese ham & cheese toasted sandwiches.
I made a short video of my trip to Lisbon, featuring some of the most fun parts of my visit, a lot of rides on the Tram 28 and the view from Santa Catarina and other viewpoints. I hope you will enjoy it!
TAP Portugal flies direct from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon up to 10 times daily, prices start at £41 one way including all taxes and surcharges.
For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary a/r flight ticket from TAP Portugal and one night accommodation at PortoBay Marques. I paid for everything else features on this post. All opinions are my own.