This time last year, I’d never even been to Portugal but since I’ve enjoyed two visits to very different parts and fallen in love.
I went on a press trip to The Algarve last year and when it came time to book a holiday this year, a friend recommended Lisbon.
When it comes to holidays, I’m pretty easy to please but I do like a new destination every time.
What’s great about Lisbon:
In terms of value for money, Lisbon is extremely good compared to Dublin/Ireland in general.
We weren’t on a tight budget but the majority of our meals plus drinks came in at under €35.
Public transport is excellent, it only costs €1.50 for a journey on the Metro, regardless if you’re going 10 stops or only 1. They also have the famous trams and modern trams and buses.
We bought reloadable Viva Viagem travel cards which we could also use on the tram and the overground train to Sintra. They are just 50 cent.
Be careful if you’re topping up the travel card as I accidentally deactivated mine by removing it from the machine too soon and had to buy another.
DINING OUT AND LOCAL DELICACIES
Our lunch in Brick Cafe just around from our Airbnb in Intendente came in at €17 for two large dishes, a coffee, and a juice.
Even the most expensive meal we had at the beautiful Pharmacia Restaurant in Lisbon’s Apothecary Museum, overlooking the ocean, only came in at about €65 for two meals and drinks.
The quirky restaurant lets you choose a “prescription” cocktail, including a ‘Placebo’ non-alcoholic one.
However, the service was not as good as some of the cheaper restaurants, i.e. they forgot to bring us water and an ashtray.
It was hotter than normal for September so it was nice to be able to sit outdoors at Pharmacia and also in Alfama where I sampled the tasty bacalhau (codfish) dish for the first time.
Not only was the food affordable, but it was also delicious. Seafood is abundant in Lisbon, whether you want to try octopus, squid or sardines.
Strolling around the cobbled streets of Alfama, we saw some older ladies selling shots of ginjinha liqueur in a chocolate shot glass. Of course, we had to try it and afterward, I tried the ginjinha with tonic, equally delicious.
My tastebuds were also tickled by the sweet tawny port wine, served over ice. I barely touched a gin and tonic because of all the delicious local drinks.
Taqueria Patron in Bairro Alto is a great Mexican spot, we ate here twice.
The nachos and tacos were delicious and we even got a free shot the second time!
One dish I was dying to try was the feijoada, a black bean and pork stew which my Brazilian friends introduced to me to many years ago in the Epicurean Foodhall (RIP).
We found a lovely Brazilian restaurant called Terras Gerais Bistro where we tucked into feijoada served with collard greens and orange slices with a brigadeiro (traditional Brazilian sweet) for dessert.
My boyfriend had never had feijoada before and was so impressed, he recreated it at home.
The restaurant owner was lovely and very welcoming and it felt like dining in someone’s home.
Another lovely place we enjoyed a drink was the Memmo Alfama hotel where we could sit out on the balcony overlooking the sea.
My other favourite bar was the quirky Pavailhao Chines, which felt more like a museum as it was full of war memorabilia, antiques and collector’s items.
We initially thought it was closed because the door was locked but you just have to ring the bell to be admitted.
Luckily, another couple arrived and rang the bell just as we were about to leave.
THINGS TO DO
The 33C heat was a major deterrent to sight-seeing but we did venture out in the mornings and late afternoons.
Among the highlights for us were the Jardim Botanico, the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the Feira da Ladra flea market and a day trip to Sintra.
The Jardim Botanico proved to be the perfect place to escape the heat, with the giant trees blocking out the sun.
We also enjoyed numerous drinks in Cais do Sodre and strolling around the Praca do Comercio.
On Sunday, we took a train to Sintra but almost missed it after a misunderstanding with the travel card and then by me leaving my bank card in the machine!
The train fare was about €5 and it was just 40 minutes outside of Lisbon.
There’s lots to see in Sintra and we chose the Quinta da Regaleira and the Palacio Nacional.
I had been thinking about visiting Sintra ever since I read about it on fellow blogger Shona’s site.
Our Lonely Planet guidebook wrongly informed us that entry to the Palacio Nacional was free on Sundays – turns out that’s just for Sintra residents!
It was €10 each to enter the Palacio Nacional. It’s an incredible building with a blend of architectural styles.
Like much of Portugal, Sintra was once ruled by the Moors but later it fell to King Alfonso Henriques.
Sintra is surrounded by hills and woods, with palaces and grand buildings around every corner.
The fairytale settings bring hordes of tourists so be prepared for the crowds, both attractions were quite busy.
We had to queue for a short time to get into the Quinta da Regaleira.
The Quinta da Regaleira was full of amazing twists and turns, winding stone staircases up to turrets and towers and tunnels behind waterfalls.
It consists of a chapel, palace and gardens and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was captivated by the imposing-looking Castelo dos Mouros but it looked like it would be an arduous climb!
Food-wise, Sintra was not as good or as cheap as Lisbon but we fuelled up with coffee and a toasted sandwich.
There are lots of little gift shops where you can buy quirky items like a fish-shaped oven glove but I went for postcards and fridge magnets as usual!
Much of the architecture of the Quinta da Regaleira is said to feature secret religious symbols and references.
We also visited the Castelo Sao Jorge and the famous Feira da Ladra flea market.
At the castle, we learned the story of the legendary knight Martim Moniz who threw himself through the castle doors to stop the Moors from closing it, dying in the process.
We had seen depictions of this at the Martim Moniz metro stop but couldn’t figure out what it was about till then!
Next stop was the market but we didn’t stay long as it was BOILING hot by late afternoon.
Check out the beautiful skirt I bought for €15 (I probably could’ve haggled better!) here.
Feira da Ladra means ‘Market of the female thieves’ but thankfully we didn’t get robbed!
There was a lot of junk at the market but there were also some really cool antiques and if you were willing to hunt for them, some good bargains.
I also saw some old Tintin comics and cool maps.
The market is on every Saturday and it’s best to go early in the day.
Towards the end of our holiday, we visited the famous Se Cathedral which was truly beautiful and afterward we had a drink in Portas do Sol.
And I found the most delicious fresh pasteis de nata in a tiny backstreet kitchen while walking from the Portas do Sol down to the seafront.
The only major downside to Lisbon is its extremely steep hills, they are tough to navigate in the heat and not for travellers with mobility issues.
However, the trams are handy and you can use the same travelcard for the metro.
There are also elevators in some buildings that will take you up to the top of steep streets, very convenient!
Parts of Cais do Sodre are a little seedy and people approached us trying to sell us coke and weed (possibly just bay leaves) but at no time did I ever feel in danger.
Lisbon is also a lot cleaner than Dublin (they wash the main streets every night), there seemed to be a lot less homeless people (that’s not to say they don’t exist but there definitely seemed to be fewer) and public transport is much better.
English is widely spoken but if you have a few words of Portuguese, try and use them!
I feel there’s still so much of the city we haven’t seen and I hope to be back one day.
We flew to Lisbon with TAP Air, the national airline and it was a great experience. Bags and a small meal and drink are included in the fare, there’s more legroom than on Ryanair and we didn’t have anyone sitting beside us on either leg of the journey.
Our return flights for two were €354 (we got a €20 discount for registering online).
Hope you all enjoyed this post and if you’ve any thoughts, leave me a comment below by clicking the grey speech bubble on the bottom right.