I know in my last post I said that Vienna was my favourite city in Europe. Forget what I said. Lisbon is the one. I can see this blog is going to be long – askies in advance. I WILL HAVE to come back to this country, God-willing. Lisbon is to Europe what Durban is to South Africa weather-wise; bliss. So much to do, so little time. My initial plan was to spend two days in Lisbon and two days in Porto, but I ended up spending all that time in Lisbon because like I said – just too much to do. From singing Fado to eating the world’s famous Pastéis de Nata under warm skies, it is no wonder Portugal is becoming Europe’s most loved tourist destination (my love index). The city is full of stairs and very STEEP. You exercise whether you like it or not.
I absolutely loved it here. The only downside to this city was the crowds. YO! It is super packed with tourists. Throngs of people. An assemblage of human persons. Having come in winter, I cannot imagine Lisbon in the summer. The queues to ALL touristic sites were super long as you will witness in the pictures. So much so that I gave up on some of the tours because I was wasting a lot of time standing on queues. It was just too much. Strangely enough, I enjoyed the walking tour. This is such a great way of getting to know the city on foot. The walking tours are usually free (like the Lisbon one) and can take anything from one to three hours. If you enjoy the tour, you then tip the tour guide at the end – no obligation. 25th country ✅, 170 to go.
Forget the monuments, today food gets the first mention. So those who know me well know that sugar is the devil I fight with more than any other. Since going Keto though, this has been under control, but for purposes of enjoying my time in Portugal, I indulged guilt-free. There are a number of foods you HAVE to HAVE when in Portugal including (1) Sardines because Portugal is the home of sardines, (2) Bacalhau, (3) Caldo Verde, (4) Bifana, (5) Cozido a Portuguesa, and of course (6) Pastéis de Nata – my kinda indulgence. Sorry no pics for all of them. If you never know what to eat, head over to Time Out food market. Also, sadly, since I had travelled with a backpack only, I was unable to buy olive oil in bulk. *sigh* The joys of travelling with hand luggage only.
The Praça do Comércio
This is THE iconic Portugal landmark. Like if you come to Lisbon and not come here, you have not been to Portugal ok? OK. You will also find the tourist information office here and buy tickets for various tours. I bought the Lisbon card here which gave me access to certain touristic sites and public transport. This is a very important and iconic square in the city of Lisbon.
You will find the Cristo Rei (Christ the King) in Almada, across the River Tagus from Lisbon city centre. This is the doppelganger to the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue in Rio, Brazil. The best way to get to the Criso Rei is to catch a 15-minute ferry (€1.25) from Cais do Sodré Terminal and upon arrival in Almada (Cacilhas), catch the Route 101 bus (€1.25 single) which drops you off at the gate of the monument. You could also walk the 2.8km distance from Cacilhas Station, take in the cute town and maybe have some local food. Getting onto the grounds of the monument is free and even from there, you will see the city from an amazing vantage pointe. Going up to the top of the building (base of statue) costs €5 and the 360-degree views of the city, the 25 de Abril suspension bridge, Almada and beyond are really incredible.
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I took a day trip to Sintra and there enjoyed walking up and down the small town and had a lovely lunch. You can view a number of attractions here; Pena Palace, Palace Quinta de Regaleira, Palácio Nacional de Sintra, and Castle of the Moors. The train ride from Rossio Station in Lisbon is about 50-minutes (€4.50 return) and from Sintra station, get onto a local hop-on/hop-off tour bus (€6 return) which takes you up to the various attraction sites and back to Sintra Station. DO NOT attempt to walk this 5.5km unless you are fit and have a lot of time. The roads are windy and STEEP with no guardrails. Oh and Fog for days.
The cost of touring the palace was €11.00 and the weather was really crap. The fog was heavy and by the time I left Pena (2.5 hours later), it was still quite thick. The queue into the palace was long but went by reasonable quick. After entering the gates, you can opt to pay €1 for a lift that will drop you off at the entrance of the palace, or hike the 10 – 15 minutes very steep grounds. The lift is often stuck in traffic within the Park anyway that it might just be best to exercise and walk up. The Palace is also surrounded by about 200 hectares of gardens (Pena Park) with quiet walkways and streams to keep you lost for hours.
Quinta de Regaleira
By the time I arrived here I was tired, so I gave the tour a miss.
Castle of the Moors
Pics of Sintra town
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I took a 30-minute trip to the Belém district where you can see a number of sites; Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower, The Monument to the Discoveries, AND Pastéis de Belém (home of the famous Pastéis de Nata). You can also take the very touristy and famous E15 Tram which is often cramped and has a bad wrap for pickpocketing. I took the normal public bus.
The queues here were looooong. With the Lisbon Card, I could skip the queue so that made buying the card worth it. This monastery’s first stones were laid around the year 1501 or 1502, founded by King D Manuel, and donated to the Jerónimos monks. Definitely one of Portugal’s masterpieces of architecture.
The Monument to the Discoveries
It’s a short walk underground from the Monastery to this monument along the Tagus. I did not pay to go up for views.
Another short walk from the Discoveries Monument is this 16th century Fort known as the Belém Tower. Now, this I actually wanted to view and had the ticket for since it is one of Portugal’s iconic sites, but I gave up because the queues were super long and going far too slowly.
Pastéis de Belém
The famous home of the Pastéis de Nata, Portugal’s favourite dessert. It tastes like a custard-y crusty deliciousness. I had one every single day because – YUM. Now that I have had the Pastéis de Nata from both Pastéis de Belém and Manteigaria (Time Out Food Market), I prefer the one from Manteigaria for texture, and the one from Pastéis de Belém for balance. Both are good, although I give more marks to Manteigaria’s one albeit a notch too sweet for my taste buds. Oh, another thing!
***PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT***
Listen, there are snaking queues to this Pastéis de Belém also known by me as a little piece of heaven. So if you do not want to wait on the queue which is actually for take-aways, get inside the bakery (no queue) and be seated at a table. The shop looks small from the outside but it is massive on the inside. You will be served a lot quicker at a table.
25 de Abril suspension bridge
Halfway to Belém from Lisbon, you can stop by this very historic 25th April bridge. This bridge is the only way to connect Lisbon and Almada apart from the ferry. It was part of the Lisbon Card inclusions and when I went, there were only two people so it is not a popular must-see activity although I enjoyed it. The tour into this site is almost like going into a bank’s vault. There are security guards and cameras all over. This HQ is in one of the bridge’s concrete blocks from where you can see the suspensions of the bridge to appreciate its engineering magnificence. The cool thing about this excursion is that a lift takes you up onto the actual bridge itself. Perhaps not for those with motion sickness or fear of heights.
Tourism Portugal’s messaging around this tiny pink street showed me how attitudes towards a not-so-positive thing can be influenced. Cais do Sodré has a historically bad reputation for being ghetto, edgy and rough so the branding message behind this little pink street, fully lined with cafes, bars, clubs and the Time Out Market just a block away has transformed the area positively. Let me put it this way, my accommodation (which I LOVED and highly recommend) was about 70m from this street BUT, if you had shown me this area beforehand, I would NOT have stayed here.
My flight out of Vienna was delayed so I landed at Lisbon Airport at midnight then took the metro. When I got out of the station in Cais do Sodré and walked the 300m distance to my accommodation, I was praying like you won’t believe. The streets were PACKED with people having what I can refer to as a STREET BASH. South Africans will know what I am talking about. Imagine walking in Hillbrow – Johannesburg, at night, alone, with a backpack (tourist dead give away), not speaking Portuguese and looking for your accommodation on streets full of young people smoking, partying, screaming, drinking and dancing. Walls painted with of graffiti etc… Let’s just say when I finally arrived in my room just before 2am, I decided that I would be checking out in the morning and finding a ‘safer’ place. When morning rolled on however, I opened the windows to a completely new environment. Needless to say, I never checked out.
Oh, I didn’t even tell you the story of how Pink Street came to be! ***sigh*** This blog is getting too long. Anyway, if you want to experience Lisbon’s nightlife, this is the place to be.
Santa Justa lift
If there ever was a tourist swindle, this is it. Not in a deceptive way, of course, but this lift is often advertised as the fastest way from Baixa to Bairro Alto and it is, or was in the past when Lisbon was still developing. It costs an excessive €5 to go up and down this iconic elevator, but if you buy a public transport pass, the ride up the lift is included if you are willing to wait on the long queues. Apart from admiring this engineering work and getting a ‘lift’ to Barro Alto, the purpose really is to appreciate views of the city which you can access by walking to Barro Alto where the views are FREE from the deck. If you want to go right on top of the lift to the viewing platform, from the deck (which is free) you can pay a measly €1. Free is you have the Lisbon card.
São Jorge Castle
I really wanted to get in here. You can see this castle on a hill from the photos I took on the Santa Justa lift platform. This Castle can be traced to the 1st century y’all. But the queue was hopeless and I had walked up from Cais do Sodré which is only 1.5km but quite steep. There are various trams and boda-bodas but these were always packed so I walked which felt more like a hike. I think you get it by now that Lisbon is NOT a flat city AT ALL.
Views from my accommodation
See why I was worried? Would you have stayed here just from the photos? I bet not. It turns out looks can be deceiving and that truly, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Random pics of the city
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All the above monuments have a rich history but this blog would be extra long, so that’s it for now. See why I said there was just too much to do? Portugal is one country I would LOVE to visit again and again.