I’ll be the first to admit that Lisbon wasn’t high on my list of places to visit in Europe. I’d been to Lagos, Portugal a few years ago when living in Spain and loved it, but didn’t feel a need to return with so many other countries on my wish list. Fortunately, some good friends proposed Lisbon and I’m not one to turn down a travel opportunity.
Lisbon is well worth a visit, and I could have stayed much longer than a weekend.
Portugal’s capital city has a lot going for it. Combine sunshine, a vast history, welcoming people, cheap prices, mouthwatering pastries, satisfying coffee (not always the case in Europe), and a plentiful selection of restaurants and UNESCO World Heritage sites, and you’ve described my kind of town.
Here’s how we spent our 3 day weekend in lovely Lisbon…
Day 1: Wandering the Town
We arrived and headed straight for lunch at Praça do Comércio, a city square opening up to the Tagus River.
The real highlight of the afternoon was our visit to the Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George’s Castle), an
11th century Moorish fortress turned royal palace turned military stronghold turned tourist attraction.
We wandered around the old walls and towers of the castle and took in the colorful views of Lisbon and the river beyond.
Dinner and drinks in the Bairro Alto neighborhood was a great way to finish our first day of wandering.
Day 2: Sintra
Sintra is a fairy tale medieval village full of castles, palaces, beautiful scenery, and tiny winding streets set against a backdrop of hills and forests. The UNESCO World Heritage Center is 45 minutes by train from Lisbon’s central train station and well worth the trek.
Our first stop in Sintra was Quinta da Regaleira, the summer residence of a wealthy family decorated by some of Lisbon’s best artists. We wandered through waterfalls, turrets, caves, and even ascended a subterranean tower from 27 meters below ground. Calling it a magical experience is an understatement.
Our next stop was the Moorish Castle. Despite the strong winds whipping around us as we walked the narrow walls, I felt confident the castle was sturdy since it had been standing since the 10th century. History, man.
Spotted from the Moorish Castle: Palácio da Pena. This colorful palace is said to be the greatest example of romantic architecture from the 19th century. I love the bright colors against the green landscape.
We returned to Lisbon and ate the best meal of our trip at Cantinho do Avillez before collapsing in our hotel beds like kids after a day at Disneyland.
Day 3: Belem
I first heard of Belem from friends who raved about the Pasteis de Belem, a custard filled tart. Helloooo sugar high!
Of course there’s more to Belem than its delectable desserts. We also made time for the Tower of Belem, a 16th century fortress.
Stuffed with custard tarts and caffeinated with our last shots of Portuguese coffee we glumly made our way towards the airport to return to London. Lisbon left us wanting more. More sunshine, more seafood, more relaxation, more affordable prices, I could go on and on. If you haven’t been, add it to your travel list right meow.
The Dish on Dining:
Lisbon has an endless supply of restaurants. These were some we tested and loved during our stay.
- Cantinho do Avillez was our favorite. The chef Jose Avillez also owns Belcanto in Lisbon with 2 Michelin stars if you want to splurge.
- Stanislav Avenida for Russian food. Ironic cuisine for a Portuguese themed trip, but you won’t regret it.
- Mercado da Ribeira for lunch options galore (pictured above).
- Populi for seafood near Praça do Comércio.
- 5 Oceanos was recommended to us for seafood although we didn’t have time to try it.
- More recommendations courtesy of The Guardian.
Know Before You Go:
- Although Lisbon is easily walkable, an all day transportation pass is €6 from any metro station and works on trams, buses, metro, and the funicular. Tram #28 is a good loop of the city, tram #15 gets you to Belem.
- Depending on your itinerary you may benefit from the Lisboa card.
- A cab from the airport will cost ~€35 to the city center. The metro is also an easy option from the airport to station Rossio in the center of town for a smooth €4 (or use the all day transport pass or Lisboa card if you’ve already purchased one).
- To arrive in Belem take tram #15 from Praça Figueira or Praça do Comércio (approx. 30 minutes).
- Pastéis de Belém, home of the famous dessert is open every day of the year, so no excuses for missing this.
- We stayed here and were happy with the staff and location.