I like traveling. But I hate research. The only thing I find out about a place before getting there is, how to get in and out of there. Lisbon was no different. I knew I had limited time and money. I googled the cheapest air ticket out of Paris (next blog post on how and why Paris happened) and to my surprise Lisbon came up. There couldn’t be a more perfect destination for me because my friend Aditya lives there. So now that I had my travel and stay sorted out, there wasn’t much left for me to do.
He kept telling me to look things up and I kept saying I would but I’m glad I didn’t. The one thing I did research is hikes. For those who know me know that it’s the one thing I don’t want to miss anywhere I go. I found Lousã . It looked beautiful and I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t make it there but to be fair the weather wasn’t really on my side. It had just stopped snowing in most of Europe only for the weather gods to throw another tantrum in the form of rain. Plus when I asked my friend about it, he calmly explained to me that Lousa is a 2 hour train ride away from Lisbon. For anyone coming from India that’s negligible travel time but for Portugal standards its more than half their country! He couldn’t understand why I want to go half way across their country to hike.
Point being it rained the whole time I was there, on all 4 days and we patiently waited with one eye out the window for the rain to stop and each time it did we jumped out. While outside it would invariably rain again and we made pit-stops at cafes, sometimes for coffees, sometimes for wine, sometimes for tarts and all the other Lisbon food that was divine!
I am going to quickly go over what was awesome and what was not in the next part of this post.
Things you should do
- Walk Walking is the best way to explore a city is truest in the case of Lisbon. And even though it has fantastic transport systems that include buses, trams, trains, tuk-tuks, bikes and cabs I’d say walking is the most effective way to get around and of course it costs nothing! Lisbon is hilly and full of streets sloping up and down and hence it is only natural that it has a viewpoint in every corner. If you don’t walk you’ll never find those beautiful lanes and views tucked away, waiting to be seen.
- Visit Belem Every guide, blog or article you read about Lisbon will tell you to visit this neighborhood. Why? Because it has all the important historical monuments, beautiful museums, fascinating buildings and some very well maintained parks. Don’t miss the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, 5€ entry fee), the Belem Cultural center which has free entry to Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Belem Tower (I didn’t go inside) and Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
- Try Pasteis de Nata but… not from Belem. Pasteis de Nata are traditional Portuguese custard tarts that taste best with sprinkled cinnamon on top. The outside is a flakey and soft pastry that’s filled with delicious custard that to my surprise isn’t overtly sweet. The reason they are world famous from that one particular shop in Belem is because it is believed that shop created the first recipe. As of today it is a crowded cafe with way too many tourists and the dullest service. I never sat inside as there was no place. I would recommend another shop called Manteigaria which was amazing. I even bought a box of 6 pasteis to bring back home but ate them all at the airport because my flight had a 14 hour delay!
- Go to LX factory What used to be an industrial complex of a factory is now converted to a cool/ hipster area with very unique restaurants and artsy retailers. I had dinner at a burger place where I tried the most amazing barbecued sausage.
- Feira da Ladra If you need to take back a collectible from Lisbon, chances are you’ll find it here. It translates to “Thieves Market” and is the equivalent of ” Chor Bazar” in Mumbai. From a rare antique to a new outfit and everything in between- it had everything. I never knew Cork can be used for other things besides sealing wine bottles. I saw earrings, bags, diaries and so much made of Cork.
Discovery: Most cork forests are in Portugal & Spain!
Another reason I recommend going here is because you can walk through Alfama which is basically just beautiful. Ideally you could get lost in the intricate details of the cobble stoned alleys, which would include laundry left to dry in balconies of people’s houses, stumble upon quaint cafes with musicians or find a secret view point on the next turn you take! Speaking of musicians I had no idea Fado music originated here. You’ll pass by Se (The Lisbon Cathedral) and eventually this walk would end at Sao Jorge Castle, but I didn’t go to that point and ended up at another viewpoint slightly lower.
World’s best Chocolate cake OR O Melhor Bolo De Chocolate Do Mundo It is a chocolate cake shop started by a man named Carlos Braz Lopes. You have to try their cake because it is quite simply the best. It has no flour, instead is layers of fresh crunchy biscuit/meringue topped with this french chocolate (Valrhona) ganache. There is really no chewing needed because every bite literally melts in your mouth.
- Cabo Da Roca It’s where “the land ends and the sea begins”. This quote is engraved on the side of a monument by a Portuguese poet. It’s a fitting description as this is the western most point of continental Europe. Crazy winds blow round the year up here and the raging Atlantic ocean waves pound the bottom of these massive cliffs’ edges. It’s also lined by challenging hiking trails all the way to the bottom. Most guides will recommend a day trip to Sintra for the beautiful fairy-tale like palaces some of which I admit are pretty cool.
But I think you definitely need to go to Sintra to check these cliffs of Cabo Da Roca out. This was my most favorite place on the trip!
- Music So Fado music may have originated here and I am told its beautiful and core to Portuguese culture but Lisbon has a lot going on with regard to art, music and theatre. I went to a Cuban music concert at Fabrica Braco De Prata, which is a cultural center type of place with a bar near a dockyard. It’s a very upcoming and modern area and it was cool to see the different events and concerts they have.
3 things you could avoid
- Santa Justa Lift or as I call it the ugly elevator. This was meant to be some sort of proof of advancement in the industrial era but has become a rather strange tourist attraction today. It’s a 30 second ride in a lift that takes you to the top from where you get panoramic views of Lisbon. But these views I think are everywhere. Didn’t quite understand the point of this and didn’t feel like experiencing it either.2. Tram 28 I think the popularity of this route lies in the fact that it crosses the entire city almost. I took this tram but it was way too crowded and I had to stand throughout which was not a problem at all except that it meant I didn’t see a single thing outside. I’m sure if you walk this route you’ll get the same views and a better experience.
3. Pastéis de Belém are definitely over hyped. Try Manteigaria instead.
Tips & things to remember
Zapping card It’s the easiest way to get around and works on trains, trams and buses. Easily available from the airport. However I made the mistake of getting a one time card. Be sure to get the one which can be recharged instead of a day pass. That way you can use it for more than 24 hours and is less expensive.
Have smaller meals so that you can try everything because Lisbon offers a lot! Big lunches and dinners would mean you have no space to try anything in between. Don’t do that as you’ll miss out on the mouth watering bakes, fancy rum houses, Ginginha bars, yummy ice creams and other desserts which I never ended up trying because I was always too full!
Lastly, a big thank you to my friend Adee who made this trip such a blast for me!