Lisbon has long been on my list of countries to visit. I read about it a while ago, and all the top travel bloggers were saying the same things – Go before it becomes a tourist hot spot. Not one to miss out on an opportunity to visit a place before it’s popular, I quickly booked my flight. I aimed for September so the weather would still be nice, and there would definitely be less crowds.
When I flew into Lisbon, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had done my typical pre-travel planning. I Googled, I Pinterested, I stalked strangers on Instagram. But I still didn’t have a grasp on my trip. Hopefully, this guide will help any others who are feeling overwhelmed by all there is to do in Lisbon in a short amount of time!
I flew into Lisbon around 3:30pm (there are direct flights from Bordeaux, France) and grabbed an Uber. Who else loves when they discover a foreign city has Uber!? It feels strangely like home.
As we drove towards the city, I was taken aback by the art and buildings. At first, I thought the buildings were graffitied and look worn down, but as you continue into Lisbon, you begin to notice that it’s like that everywhere. There is a sneakily huge art scene here. And the buildings! I could go on and on, but it’s safe to say, I think every country can take a hint from Lisbon’s buildings. Most of them are covered in tiles, and each building is unique. From teal to pink to yellow, there’s nothing boring about this city’s structures.
I stayed at a cute Airbnb in the center of the nightlife area (a must in my opinion). [Tip: I would highly recommend staying in the Barrio Alto area. You’ll be close to everything!] It was the top floor but it was definitely worth it! I was able to see everything. During the day, I had views of the bridge and the river, as well as of locals hanging their laundry or having a drink on their balconies. At night, as the street turned more lively, I got to people watch as all ages meandered through the street, drinking, dancing and laughing. Sounds magical already, right? And it had only been a couple hours.
I got ready for the night and looked up best seafood restaurants in Lisbon and found what I was looking for (thanks Tripadvisor!). I headed out to Solar 31 da Calcada. When I got there, I asked for a table, but they said they were booked solid for the whole week. I guess that makes sense. I sighed and headed out the door. Before I could open the door, the chef had come out and asked me if I could wait 10 minutes. For the best seafood in the city? Of, course! What followed was honestly one of the best meals – in terms of entertainment and food – that I have experienced. The chef brought out oysters that went down easily. Different from the ones I had in Bordeaux and Dubrovnik, these were a little salty. Then for the main course, they brought out the literal fish for you to inspect before they cooked it. My friend had ordered the crab, and they brought it over to her. She shrieked so loud, and now I understand why people think Americans are a little too much 😉 After dinner, and a couple bottles of wine, we ordered dessert, which did not disappoint. I would highly recommend that you save room. From the friendly servers and chef to the amazing food, it is definitely a meal I won’t forget.
Next we headed to an Irish pub in the city. I always try to make a point to stop in every Irish pub in each city. It’s a weird habit, but I find there are always friendly people in these pubs and they help make a foreign city feel a little less daunting. But that’s just me! The pub in Lisbon was PACKED. People were in the streets drinking and crammed inside; so, we walked a little further down the street and went to British bar. Just as quaint and just as homey, it wound up being exactly what we were looking for. Everyone in Lisbon is so nice, and we made friends right away. They said that we had to go see some Fado (a type of music originated in Portugal).
We were taken to a local spot for great Fado – A Tasca do Chico, which was back on our Airbnb’s street. It was dark inside the small room and everyone was entranced as a woman belted out a song. Of course, we didn’t understand the words but it was beautiful none the less. I swear I saw some people crying! Once she finished, everyone filed out of the bar and into the streets to hop to another bar. Which is what we did…until 4am. If you are looking for a town with great night life, Lisbon should be high on the list. We certainly weren’t the only ones left till the wee hours of the morning. There are even some bars down by the river that close at 6am and you can watch the sunrise. That was a little ambitious for us since we had a busy day planned.
I’m not sure how but we were up at 8am to begin our day. After a quick shower and some Motrin, we grabbed an Uber and headed to Belem to try the traditional Pastéis de Belém. It was a good thing we got there early because a line formed soon after. The custard pastries were what we needed. I recommend sprinkling them with lots and lots of powdered sugar! From there we headed towards the Jerónimos Monastery and strolled around the surrounding gardens. It was warm outside so we headed towards the river, grabbed a drink (hair of the dog right!?) and watched boats go by. From this area, you have great views of the Belem Tower, the 25 de Abril Bridge (which was built and designed by the people who did the Golden Gate Bridge), and the Christ the King statue. It felt like we were in Rio, San Francisco and Lisbon all at the same time.
Around noon, we headed back to Lisbon to find a tuk tuk tour. The city of Lisbon is huge; there are so many different areas, all with their own distinct personalities! And it’s full of hills (San Francisco is its sister city for more reasons than just the bridge!), and I think it would be near impossible to see all in one day. Thank goodness for the tuk tuks! It may be touristy, but in my opinion, it’s the only way to see it all. You can book in advance, or you can flag down a driver, which is what we chose to do. Our guide drove us everywhere (we used 4Lisbon tours – you can’t miss their cars!), stopping at different churches and different neighborhoods and told us the history of everything. It lasted two hours and was the perfect way to relax from the night before while still soaking up all the culture and history that Lisbon has to offer.
I would love to say that after our tour, we made our way to check out Time Out Lisbon’s food court or that we went to one of the many Miradouros to sip on wine and watch the sunset. However, we made our way back to our Airbnb for a much-needed siesta. That night, we grabbed some sushi and went back to our apartment to pack. In the morning, we snagged an Uber and made our way to the airport.
It was a successful trip, but there is definitely so much to see in Lisbon and in Portugal. If you have the chance to go, I would jump on it! Other bloggers are right – this won’t be a hidden gem for long.