…..At some point or another, we are all bitten by the travel bug. For me, it was summer 2017, and I was dead set on going to Lisbon. I read a few articles about the historic city on Thrillist, called up my two girlfriends and we booked our flights for Thanksgiving break. This was the first time I was ever tasked with making a guide because my parents wouldn’t there to answer my question of “what are we going to do today?” The trip was amazing, partially due to thorough planning, but mostly because of the magic that lies within Lisbon and the surrounding towns of Sintra, Cascais and Belem. Whether it was the architecture, the colorful tile lining buildings, the historic monuments, or breathtaking coastline, I was in awe of everything this capital city had to offer.
…..When thinking of a European destination, Lisbon may not be the first place that comes to mind, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be. Flights from Boston and New York can be as affordable as $400-500 round trip if you plan right and depending on your budget, staying in a hostel can be a great way to make friends and have a comfy bed at night for not much money.
Where to Stay
Hostels: If you don’t mind sharing a room or generally being around people you don’t know, this is the budget-friendly option for you!
- Home Lisbon Hostel ($): This is where my two friends and I stayed (Liv, unfortunately, couldn’t make the trip) and it was outstanding. This hostel was about as luxury as hostels get with free wifi, breakfast and towels. Mama’s dinner was a delicious three-course meal offered every night for only 10 euros. Every day there were walking tours offered and day trips to various surrounding towns. Everyone working there was so nice and helpful. They really made it feel like home.
- We love F****** Tourists ($)
- Yes! Lisbon Hostel ($)
- Lisbon Poets Hostel ($)
- Verride Palácio de Santa Catarina ($$$$)
- Hotel do Chiado ($$$)
- Valverde Hotel ($$$)
- Residential Florescente ($$)
- Hotel Gat Rosio ($$)
- Hotel da Baixa ($$)
What to Do
There is an endless list of things to do in the Lisbon area, these activities should last you a week…
Sights to see:
- Arco da Rua Augusta: If you’ve seen pictures of Lisbon, you have probably seen the famous arch situated on the Praça do Comércio. It was built after the devastating earthquake in 1755 to mark the city’s reconstruction. Walking through the arch, you will find yourself in a bustling square filled with restaurants and vendors all centered around the statue of King José I. The square sits on the Tagus River and the Cais das Colunas are right on the edge of this historic spot. Many celebrities used to arrive in Lisbon through these columns including Queen Elizabeth II
- São Roque Church: This church completed in 1619 looks very unassuming from the outside, but when you enter you will see the Baroque style popular during the Catholic Reformation. The Church is lavishly decorated with gold accents in an attempt to capture the attention of the Portuguese and have them become members of the church.
- Santa Justa Lift: Lisbon is known for its hills. When you come here you will be amazed by how many of the streets are actually stairs. This lift in the middle of town brings you from the streets of Baixa up to Carmo Square. In the early 1900s, this lift was used as a means to get from one place to another. Now more of a tourist attraction, the lift will still take you where you need to go, it just may be a crowded ride. There is also a top observation deck on the lift where you can see sweeping views of the city.
- Rossio Square: On your way to the metro station, you will stumble upon this beautifully tiled square. There is a fountain and tall monument that make this spot hard to miss. Often times vendors are set up here selling fresh sausages, sangria, olives and jewelry. Talk with them and you may end up getting a few free samples!
- Carmo Convent: If you take the Santa Justa Lift or stumble upon the upper level of it, you will be standing right next to this historic landmark. Open in 1423, this convent was all but destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. What’s left are the ruins and, inside, an archaeological museum. It’s worth at least stopping to take a look around the outside since it is one of the only landmarks not rebuilt after the earthquake.
- LX Factory: A unique, hipster spot featuring artsy stores and trendy restaurants. There are art installations and wall murals to look at that will keep you busy for hours.
Places to explore:
A day in the Hills of Alfama-
- São Jorge Castle: This historic Moorish castle sits on the top of Lisbon’s hills and is a good stop on the way to or back from the Feira da Ladra. The castle can be seen at night lit up from almost any point in the city. Once inside, you will be able to climb different parts of the castle walls, see sweeping views of the city, explore the artifact museum and even have a snack or a drink or two at the restaurant.
- Feira da Ladra: The famous market of thieves! This sprawling flea market takes place right behind the National Pantheon and Church of São Vicente de Fora every Tuesday and Saturday. Beginning in 1272, people have been finding treasures here for centuries. When I went, I was amazed by the eclectic mix of goods. There was homemade pottery, jewelry, records, clothing, old trinkets, furniture and food. Everything you can imagine is probably being sold here, and if you’re traveling with a friend who loves to barter like I was, they may be able to get you your finds for cheap!
- National Pantheon: A whole day of your time in Lisbon could and should be dedicated to stops at São Jorge Castle, Feira da Ladra and the National Pantheon. This is a full day of activities and more hills then you’ll probably ever walk in one day, but it is worth it. Inside the Pantheon, you will be able to see memorials to many prominent Portuguese figures such as kings, poets and explorers. Climb the stairs to the top, and you will once again be met with panoramic 365-degree views of the city.
A Day in Sintra-
…..When I told a teacher I would be going to Lisbon, he said if I only did one day trip it needed to be Sintra. This UNESCO world heritage site is nothing short of magical and breathtaking. I have never seen a place so beautiful and diverse in my life. The lush landscapes and mountain views are unbeatable. With five parks spread out over the old town, it is pretty much impossible to hit them all one day without feeling rushed. My friends and I choose to visit Pena Palace, the Moors Castle and Quinta da Regaleira (we did not visit Monserratte Palace or the Palace of Sintra). This decision was made with the guidance of the wonderful staff at Home Lisbon Hostel, and they did not steer us in the wrong direction.
…..If you’re staying in Lisbon, you will need to go to the Rossio metro station and take the train into Sintra. It is a convenient, 40 minute ride. The earlier you get to Sintra the better because this place fills up no matter what day it is. You can buy your tickets to the parks in advance or from the ticket window in the Sintra train station, but the line can be long and slow. We started our day at the Moors Castle, from there walked to Pena Palace, ate lunch and finished our day at Quinta. If you are adventurous and have a lot of time, there are many different hiking trails you can take to the top of the mountain where the Palace and the Castle are, but it will take you a while. Most people take the bus from the train station that will bring you up and down the mountain for about seven euros. The whole time you will probably be wondering if you’re going to fall off the side of the narrow and steep roads, but you will make it up safely, I promise. The first stop on the bus is at the Moors Castle, and this is where we got off to begin the day.
Moors Castle: This castle was constructed between the 8th and 9th centuries by Moors to protect and defend themselves from invasions, especially during the Reconquista. The castle is mostly in ruins now, but you can climb up the towers and walk the walls to imagine what it would have been like to live so high up in the hills as a defense. There is a church on the grounds used as a small artifact museum with different relics from the time period. The views from the castle alone are a reason to visit, but the history of it will surely blow you away.
Pena Palace: Less than a mile walk up the mountain you will find this colorful palace completed in 1854. There is a stark difference between the romantic style and architecture of Pena and the stone ruins of the Moors castle, which makes you think even more about the history of both locations and timeline between when both were constructed. The palace is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. The vibrant colors of yellow and red and blueish-purple tiles that line part of the castle will make you feel like you’re in an adult version of Disney World. Inside, you can get an idea of how the Portuguese royal family lived with lavish furniture, art and decorations. If you thought the view from the Moors castle was jaw dropping, you won’t believe the view from Pena.
…..At this point in the day, you’ll be tired from exploring both castles making it the perfect time for lunch. Take the bus back down the mountain and stop in at any of the cute cafes for a sandwich and maybe a glass of wine. Grab a gelato after and take a quick walk over to Quinta da Regaleira a private estate with a castle, church and gardens filled with hidden gems you could explore for hours.
Quinta da Regaleira: It seemed like every place we visited in Sintra got better as the day went on and Quinta was a fantastic place to finish. I was the most excited going into this trip to visit these grounds because I had seen so many pictures online of the gardens, initiation well, fountains and still water stepping stones. It looked like a set out of a fairytale. Constructed between 1898 and 1912 and created by theatre designer Luigi Manini, the gardens that sprawl over 10 acres are extraordinary and unlike anything you have ever seen. Before going in, you should try to look up a few sights you really want to see because just finding them could take an hour, but on your way you will discover so many other hidden gems you may not even have known were there.
A Day in Cascais- This beach town lined with boutiques and restaurants about a 30-minute train ride from the Cais do Sodré station in Lisbon is a luxurious and tropical escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. When you get off the train, grab a free bike from one of the three places they are offered and head 10 km northwest to Praia do Guincho, a large beach with great views and killer waves. On your way back from the beach, stop at Boca do Inferno to see the ocean whipping through a huge cavernous rock formation. When you get back to the center of town, stop at Galeria House of Wonders for a late lunch. You will enter into the bottom floor and be greeted by a host who will give you two options for lunch. They will both be fresh, homemade, vegetarian and delicious (I am still dreaming about my lunch that day). You then move to the second floor where you can grab a fresh juice or beer, and finally you will head up to the rooftop deck where they will bring you your meal. After lunch, peruse the many shops, check out the artists selling their work on the streets, grab some gelato from the famous Santini’s then head back to Lisbon for some much-needed rest.
A Day in Belém-
…..No trip to Lisbon is complete without a trip to Belém probably because it is so close to the city and has so much to offer. Catch the 15E tram from Praça da Figueira and jump off right in front of the famous pastry store Pastéis de Belém. The tram tickets are cheap and the whole ride takes about ten minutes. It is a perfect trip for the last day of your vacation because you will be back in time to pack and go out for a nice final dinner. There are essentially four important places to check out while in town…
- Belém Tower: This tower right on the water dates back to 1519. It was used as a protection for anyone trying to invade the town on the Tagus River. Now you can explore the small beach it’s situated on and enter it for a few euros. It is also one of the seven wonders of Portugal and a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Jerónimos Monastery: Another UNESCO world heritage site, this monastery was created in 1495 and completed in 1601. The ornate decor on the outside will take your breath away. It is the burial site of famous explorer Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões. The history of this site is a reason to visit alone.
- Padrão dos Descobrimentos: This will probably be the newest monument you see during your time in Portugal. Constructed in the 1960s as a dedication to the famous discoveries of the country on the Tagus River, the enormous size of the stone carvings of explorers will stun you. Standing looking at this monument you will also be able to the see the famous 25 de Abril bridge that resembles the Golden Gate and Christ the King inspired by Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. It is a three in one deal!
- Pastéis de Belém: On your back to catch the tram get in line and grab one of Lisbon’s famous egg tarts or Pastéis de Nata. This is arguably the most famous place for these little guys and for good reason. The line moves fast and make sure you don’t get just one (I made that mistake). Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top and you’ll never be happier.
…..You only need to know two words when you want to go out at night, Bairro Alto. This bar district is lively every night, but especially on the weekends. People will be out celebrating the weekend on the street hopping from bar to bar. No matter where you end up on this street you’re sure to have a great time!
Where to Eat
- Nicolau Lisboa ($$): If you’re craving an American-style breakfast while in Lisbon, this is the place to go. They have eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, smoothies, tapioca style crepes and more. If you stay at Home Lisbon Hostel this cafe is right downstairs.
- O Trevo ($): This was by far my absolute favorite spot in the city. Made famous by Anthony Bourdain, this neighborhood bifana shop will have you coming back everyday for more. For two euros, you will have one of the most delicious sandwiches you’ve ever tasted. Make sure you put on the sweet mustard and hot sauce or your experience will not be as memorable as mine.
- Caso Sério ($$): Walking into this restaurant, you’ll look around to make sure you got the address right. It appears to be located in the basement of someone’s house and has that same cozy feeling. The sangria on tap is to die for, and they had one of the best charcuterie plates I tried while there. They also have a variety of different toasts, the best featuring rosemary, goat cheese and honey.
- Mesón Andaluz ($$$): A more upscale take on traditional tapas, make sure you dress a little nicer for your night at this Lisbon favorite. The pumpkin soup, patatas bravas, oxtail croquettes and famous french fry dish with truffle and egg will have you in a bliss-induced food coma. Make sure to save room for the port wine-infused sponge cake with port ice cream.
- La Vita é Bella ($$): This beachy Italian restaurant is good for a night when you think you should maybe be taking a break from cured meats. While nothing too original, the dishes are classic and delicious. You can also order the trendy pasta tossed around in a Parmesan cheese wheel dish with truffle if you’re feeling extravagant the night you go.
- Sandeman Chiado ($$): If you’re a charcuterie lover like my friend Kaitlyn and me, this is a great place to go for a nice evening of cheese, meat and sangria. The board could probably feed four people although we had no problem finishing it.
- Bairro do Avillez & Cantinho do Avillez ($$): Two of the most renowned restaurants in Lisbon by famous Portuguese Chef José Avillez. Bairro has restaurants within it with different options from each creating an exciting culinary experience. Cantinho is more of a traditional Portuguese restaurant with exciting entrees, steak sandwiches and a vegetarian section of the menu, you will not be disappointed.
- Sorbettino ($): Hands down this gelato and sorbet shop is one of the best in Lisbon (and maybe the world). Recently opened, it has not gotten much traction but that does not mean it does not deserve it. The sorbets may as well be gelato with the diversity of flavors (chocolate, pistachio, strawberry and more) and overall creaminess. There is no icy texture to the sorbet like you may be familiar with. The gelatos are just as noteworthy. With flavors such as hazelnut, caramel and vanilla you will be wondering why every gelato is not as rich and tasty as Sorbettino’s