This morning I arrived back in Dublin after spending the weekend in Lisbon and while the weather was lovely when we arrived, it didn’t make me feel much better about being home.
I’ve been to Lisbon twice in my life and both holidays were very different experiences. The first time I went, I went with my mam and her boyfriend. The entire time we spent there it lashed rain. From the moment we landed till the time we took off to go home. The second time round I went with my boyfriend and we had lovely weather from start to finish. Which did I enjoy more? I loved them both but the city is a lot better and easier to get around if it’s nice. However, you don’t need the weather to have a good time. But it helps.
I fell in love with Lisbon completely the second time round. The relaxed atmosphere and pretty architecture make the city so appealing. There’s nothing I loved more than wandering their narrow, and very hilly streets, stopping off in a random bar to have a fresh cocktail or Sangria.
I won’t pretend to be a travel expert. While I’ve traveled a bit for my age, there’s still a lot of the world that I’ve yet to explore. However, I do think that I have some pretty good insights into Lisbon that I can share.
From where we stayed, to where we ate , I picked up a few helpful tips from my time in the city.
Where we stayed:
One of the main reasons we chose to visit Lisbon was because of how reasonably priced everything is. We decided to try to visit on a budget- but we didn’t want a hostel. Instead of paying for a pricey hotel we got ourselves an Air b’n’b. Our apartment was so central. We were only a few minutes walk from all the hot spots in the Bairro Alto, and from the Rosso and Baixo-Chiado train stations. Any place we wanted to visit in the center of Lisbon was no more than a 20 minute walk from us, with most of what we wanted to see only ten minutes away.
We stayed in ‘Grandma’s Flat’ and it is exactly as it looks. A ground floor apartment that is both central and cheap. The host, Filipa, was lovely. She allowed us to check in and out at flexible times and was more than happy to help with any questions we had.
If I was going back I would stay in this apartment or one close by as it is so central, yet it was off the main streets and so we weren’t disturbed by the sound from the bars at night.
How long I stayed:
I stayed from a Thursday until a Monday, the 9th of March until the 13th. The weather this time of year was lovely. The previous year I had visited the end of February and had a completely different experience with the weather. The amount of time we spent was perfect, although you could easily spend a week in Lisbon. The city has a lot to offer, and if you’re someone who likes to see museums and monuments then you could do with more than 4 days. However, I like to take my time and enjoy a select few sites wherever I go, as well as experiencing life as a local by taking my time to enjoy a drink where the locals do, or a coffee in a cute local hot spot. For this reason, 4 to 5 days would do me fine.
Where I ate:
Being both vegetarian and allergic to nuts made it fairly difficult for me to find spots to eat. I’m not a fussy eater however, and so, with a little bit of research before heading out each night we were able to find a place to suit both of us. Among the best places we went were Simplesmente Pizza Bar, Tasca do Marinheiro, and also a tapas bar called 100 Montaditos. We didn’t eat traditional Portuguese food, we ate Italian, Indian and then tapas, as the Portuguese restaurants rarely had vegetarian options, and when they did, they regularly contained pesto which I can’t eat.
The pizza bar was reasonably priced, I payed €8.50 for a Margherita which was very big. The staff were friendly and the pizza itself was lovely. Their selection of pizzas was very varied, and they also did sweet pizzas. I didn’t get a chance to try one of their sweet pizzas but if I was going back I would definitely make sure to, as they look delicious.
The tapas bar was ridiculously well priced. After having a big lunch we decided to get tapas instead of a big dinner. I got a small portion of nachos and chips for €2 each, while you could get a selection of five small baguettes for around €4-€5. If you’re out with a group this is a really great place to try out. Our bill came to little or nothing and we felt nicely full.
Lastly, and probably my favourite, was Tasco do Marinheiro. This little Indian restaurant was a little bit off the beaten track, but it was lovely. We went here on a Sunday night, and when I walked in I felt like we’d made a mistake coming there. It was very quiet, with one or two men just siting over a drink watching a match that was being shown. However, I was happily mistaken. Its quietness had nothing to do with the service or food quality, as both were excellent. The menu had a large selection of curries, both meat and vegetarian ones, and all reasonably priced. Our waiter was very helpful and friendly, which is always a bonus. I chose the chickpea Chana Masala and it was gorgeous. I also got a very large glass of wine which only cost €1.20. It wasn’t obviously expensive wine but it tasted nice. I’d guess it was a mid market wine. The meal was so tasty, relaxed, and so cheap. My curry and rice along with my wine came to a total of only €6.65.
If I was to give any tips I’d say that it’s nice to stroll around and discover new places to eat. If like me you have certain dietary requirements however,it does help to do some research. We used Zomato to check cheap places with good ratings in our area and then we judged from there where to eat and if I were to go back again I’d do the same.
Where I explored:
On my first day I mainly just chilled, had a few drinks, and wandered around the streets. On the Friday however, I got up early and headed out to Belem where we visited the Belem Tower and went and got the famous custard tarts at Pasteis de Belem.
As a student the Belem Tower was only €3, and so it as well worth is. As an adult it’ll cost you €6, not a lot considering the the stunning views you get at the top. The little town of Belem is very quaint and nice to wander around and sit in for a drink or some lunch as well.
We also paid €2 to go up the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument which is higher than the Belem Tower, but doesn’t have the pretty watchtowers that you can see out that the Belem Tower does.
On Saturday we did our main trip, which was to Sintra. I’d never been to Sintra before and so I was happily surprised at how easy it was to get there. Taking the Sintra line from the Rosso train stations it only took us around 40 minutes to get there. We decided to just visit the Quinta da Regaleira which has amazing gardens that you can spend hours exploring. Which we did.
Due to my terrible camera I didn’t take many pictures, instead I got my boyfriend to forward me on his. But even the pictures don’t do this place justice.
We spent around 3 hours exploring the grounds of this beautiful 20th century residence. The gardens contained wells, grottos, waterfalls, and underground passageways. For only €6 for an adult ticket- this is a must. Guided tours cost €10, and while it’s always nice to have some background information, I really just enjoyed taking in the gardens at my own pace and exploring by ourselves.
One of my favourite features about the gardens was the The Initiation Well, a spiralling well which you could view from underground or above ground, with both views being equally stunning. The feature feels magical and has a very fairy tale feel to it.
Another stunning feature was the Waterfall Lake, with stepping stones and an underground passageway behind it, the Waterfall Lake is so romantic and magical.
The gardens were the main feature of the Quinta da Regaliera. While the house was stunning from the outside, the only floor open when we visited was the first floor due to work being done.
If you plan on visiting be warned, it’s very hilly, much like the rest of Lisbon I suppose. There is a lot of walking if you want to see everything but it’s well worth it. It’s such a romantic and relaxing place to visit. With so may watch towers to climb up in I felt like a princess- if even for just a short while.
In short, if you want stunning views, and magical scenery then Sintra, and specifically the Quinta da Regaleira is definitely worth the visit.
On Saturday night we had a late night out on the Bairro Alto. Each bar offers similar drink deals, and with bars being so small and close together, the entire street felt like one giant bar. Most people chilled outside with their drinks with no clear indication or barrier between the bars. The atmosphere is relaxed but lively, and the drinks are cheap. I wasn’t shivering as I stood outside in the street- a big difference to at home.
On our last day we chilled. We strolled around the town, got breakfast, sat down at the seafront and took in the views. We then strolled around the buzzing Time Out Market before stopping to see Rua Augusta Arch in the main square. We stopped for a drink before going home to freshen up and head out for our final meal.
There’s lots of pretty places to see in Lisbon, and fun things to do. If you want a city break with lots of monuments and museums you can have that, but I’d advise choosing the main places you want to see and making time for a stroll around the streets and stopping in random bars to grab a small beer or a cocktail. As after all, the Portuguese are very relaxed people and one way to get the most out of the city is to take a leaf out of their book, and sit back and watch the world go by in this beautiful city.
Some images via @Primable.