One day during Spring my friends and I lay on my bed and discussed our summer holiday 2015; Where did we want to go? Where could we find the perfect combination of sun, rest, beach, city, going out, good food, reasonable prices, authentic culture and an energetic, fun atmosphere? Eventually, after checking out Google Maps, browsing the internet a bit and scrolling through Pinterest boards and pins - my all-time favorite inspiration source - we selected Lisbon as our destination and booked our flights the same night. Four months later, a young lady in Lisbon told us that the tourist sector has been booming like crazy these past two years, and that we chose the right moment to visit before the city becomes overhyped and too focussed on tourists. I am so glad we did, and we didn't regret our decision for one minute! Therefore, I wanted to share a small recap of our time in Lisbon (including tips and photos) with you to share my enthusiasm! I hope you enjoy it and if you experience any hesitance about buying a plane ticket, spare yourself the doubt, and just go for it!
My number 1 advise at all times when it comes to finding a place to stay (I think you bloggers have figured it out by now, but for those of you who haven't); rent an AirBNB apartment/house! I have used this website multiple times, for destinations all around Europe, and my enthusiasm grows and grows with each trip I make. I am sure you have already heard all about the AirBNB concept, but I just want to underline that it is such a budget-proof and fun way to discover a city and the neighborhood which you are located in. This summer I realized that AirBNB rentals are not only a reflection of the owner's personality, but a reflection of a certain way of living. In Lisbon we stayed in a bright coloured apartment from around the early 20th century with old wooden doors en floors - you instantly feel like one of the locals, in contrast to hotels which can tend to feel quite bland and unpersonal. Plus: you can cook your own meals, which saves money!
TO EAT AND DRINK
Do a wine tasting with yummy tapas (cheeses, hams, olives and so on) in your own apartment (or hotel bedroom); even the wines sold in supermarkets are all so delicious and cost about 2 or 3 euro's each.
Lisbon, and Portugal in general, are well known for their delicious pastries. You find pasteleria's on every corner of the street and most of the time the air is filled with a mouth-watering sweetness. The most famous goodie is called Pasteis de Belem, which is an extremely creamy egg tart pastry. Stories are told that only three bakeries know the original recipe; which ingredients are used and in what quantities are still mysteries unsolved. My friends and I ate way too much of these, but oh well, what else is a holiday for?
my new (vintage) leather backpack, bought in a vintage store in Paris | palm trees in Belem | ice cream love
The finest gelateria in Portugal is Santini; this old family-owned establishment from 1949 has several locations in Lisbon and surrounding towns such as Cascais. Try one of the more unusual flavors like cinnamon! Just look out for a red-white striped logo :)
Drink lots and lots of sangria! I am not a fan of alcohol at all; I love an occasional wine at dinner, but all my friends know that beer and cocktails are not really my thing. However, sangria I actually like! We discovered the most amazing place to drink sangria by coincidence: PARK Bar (Calcada do Combro 58, district Bairro Alto). It was located a one-minute walk from our AirBNB rental, on the roof of a parking-lot. Yes, you read it correctly, a freakin' parking-lot. Once you're on the roof (take the elevator to the fifth floor, then take the stairs up one more floor until you reach floor 6), you find yourself in a whole other setting with lots of green vegetation, cool sitting area's and one hell of a view. Price for 2 liters of sangria: 9,50 euros.
Bring some proper footwear; Lisbon is built on steep hills and after one day of walking you can definitely feel your leg and butt muscles, which is actually a great work-out! So believe me, you won't regret bringing your trainers besides all the other fancy heels you were planning on cramming in your suitcase.
A follow up on the previous tip: walk, walk, walk! The steep hills can be quite a challenge and perhaps seem uninviting, but Lisbon is definitely a city to do by foot! The districts Alfama, Graca and Bairro Alto are quite compact, so all easy to discover in one day. You come across amazing views, there are cute cafes to take a break in almost every street, and there is always something or someone catching your eye of attention; beautifully decorated tiles, an old gentleman checking out the street from his window, carved wooden coloured doors, attractive young men in suits, need I say more?
just arrived at the AirBNB apartment, all sweaty and tired | view from our apartment | Cascais bay
I definitely recommend catching the train to Sintra and/or Belem for the day. Sintra is a beautiful town classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a number of palaces built and used as summer getaways by the former wealth of the 19th century. There are several bus lines which do certain tours around Sintra, but why not go on a little hike? It is quite a climb, but worth it when you reach the top. Our favorites in Sintra were Regaleria Palace (4 euro's entrance fee); the building itself isn't the most impressive of all the palaces in Sintra, but the garden is like a fairytale come true. Furthermore, on your way up to the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) you pass the guard's house, which is a peaceful place to rest including reasonably priced drinks. As for Belem; nowadays, it is considered part of Lisbon and easiest to reach by train (2nd stop on the way to Cascais). It used to be a fishing village, which functioned as a port where, around 1500, many ships took off to explore the world. Belem has lots to offer, such as monumental buildings and art museums. We visited the Botanical Gardens to eat our lunch and you mustn't forget to pay a visit to the bakery Antigua Confeitaria de Belem (R. Belem 84-92) which sells the best Pasteis de Belem in the world. Don't worry about the massive line; the service is really quick, so you're waiting time is limited!
We participated in a pub crawl - basically hopping from bar to bar with a group of young (and often drunk) people - one night which was epic. The Portugese certainly know how to go out! Clubbing starts really late, around 02.00, so check opening hours if you want to go somewhere specific and try not to fall asleep (I failed miserably once). Club Lux is the most famous (or should I say notorious), but my friends and I thought it was overrated. Moreover, you barely have a chance at getting in as a foreigner. I recommend stopping by other clubs like Urban Beach. Make sure you bring your ID card, dress up nice, flutter your eyelashes at the bodyguards and you will be fine ;).
walking the streets of Lisbon | Alfama | on the train to Sintra
If the weather's nice, it might be an idea to catch the train to Cascais for a beach day! A return ticket costs about 5 euro's. This town is a great contrast to busy and energetic Lisbon, without becoming dull and boring. We spent five days in Lisbon and then relaxed for three days in Cascais, just to really take a rest and enjoy the sun. Even though Cascais has been a hotspot for tourists for decades, it hasn't lost its authenticity and genuine Portugese atmosphere which was a relief. While we were there, we went out for dinner every night, since prices were very reasonable (15 euro's for an evening meal, wine and other drinks included, and sometimes even dessert!), and it was our chance to enjoy the local food. We ate vongole, clams, shrimps, calamares, squid, salmon, and so on! All delicious and fresh, yum!
As I mentioned earlier on, Lisbon has suddenly been overflowing with tourists these past couple of years, which means prices are going up. However, for the time being, food and other products are still relatively cheap, especially compared to Dutch prices. If you are a jewelry fan like me, Lisbon is the perfect place to go on a silver and/or gold hunt. If you search carefully, you can find small antique and jewelry stores scattered around the centre of Lisbon. My favorite is located on the southwest corner of Rossio Square. Be aware of opening hours, most shops close between 13.00 and 16.00.