Lisbon was somewhere that I’d been wanting to visit for quite a while. It seemed like every time I went on Instagram I was confronted with more and more pictures of terracotta-tiled roofs, stunning pastel-coloured buildings and those world famous yellow trams.
This, plus the fact that everyone I spoke to couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it is, made it quickly jump to the top of my list.
Luckily, I wasn’t in quite as much of a rush as I was for my 36 hours in Berlin. This time my trip was over 5 days, which meant I got to do my fair share of exploring. There’s still a huge amount I didn’t get to see, but that just gives me a good excuse to go back.
Anyway, if you’re planning a trip to the Portuguese capital, keep reading for some top tips to make sure it’s a trip to remember.
1) Take comfy shoes
Let’s get this out of the way nice and early, Lisbon is hilly. And I’m not talking about nice, gentle inclines – these are some serious hills. It’s one of a number of cities around the world that’s built on 7 hills (bonus points if you can name any others in the comments), meaning it’s pretty hard to avoid some steep climbs on your travels.
So, don’t forget to take some comfy shoes, as you’ll be doing lots of walking up and down hills around the city – whether you’re exploring Castillo San Jorge and Alfama’s winding streets, or partying the night away in Bairro Alto.
A little tip though – if you’re going from Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown district, to Bairro Alto and don’t fancy trekking up the hills, you can take a shortcut through Baixa-Chiado metro station. Once you’re inside, you can take the escalator up to the opposite entrance, saving yourself some time and effort! You’re welcome.
2) Beat the queues at Elevador de Santa Justa by going to the supermarket
The Elevador de Santa Justa is a stunning piece of neo-gothic architecture, offering up panoramic views of the Lisbon skyline. However, you have to pay to ride it, and queue before that. While the tickets aren’t expensive – around €5 – if you’re feeling thrifty, here’s a good alternative.
Head to the Pingo Doce supermarket in Alfama, but instead of going in, walk past the front entrance to the battered old door at the back. Through here is a lift up to a café and bar, which is surrounded by its own terrace. When we went up it was practically empty, giving us incredible, unobstructed views of the city.
You can also easily walk up to Castillo San Jorge from here, avoiding more hills and steps. Well, some. There’s always another hill to climb!
3) Try the Vinho Verde
While you’re at Pingo Doce – or any other shop for that matter – pick up a couple of bottles of Vinho Verde. Translating as ‘green wine’, Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine that I was slightly disappointed to discover wasn’t actually green. What it is, however, is delicious!
It can be red, white or rosé, but if you’re only going to try one, I’d recommend the white. And at only a couple of Euros per bottle, it’d be rude not to!
4) Cycle out to Belém
Belém is a beautiful little district, a few miles west of central Lisbon. As well as being a gorgeous place, it’s also home to a number of Lisbon’s most famous attractions, like the Belém Tower, Monument to the Discoveries, National Palace of Ajuda and Cultural Centre of Belém. It’s also home to Antiga Confeitaria – a bakery where they’ve been making Lisbon’s famous Pastéis de Nata (egg tart pastries) since 1837, churning out around 15,000 every day!
While you can travel out to Belém by bus, we opted to cycle there. Hiring bikes only cost us €8 for 24 hours, and the route from Baixa to Belém is made for cycling. Taking you right down the Tagus River, to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, the cool breeze and fantastic views make this a great way to travel.
5) Don’t worry about finding the perfect bar every night
Normally, when I’m preparing for a trip, one thing I do is to research the nightlife. This usually comes from a mixture of blog posts and articles online, along with recommendations from friends. I want to make sure that when it comes to choosing somewhere to spend my evenings, I’m making the right choice.
In Lisbon, it felt like your choice of bar wasn’t as important. We spent most of our nights in Bairro Alto, which is packed full of bars and pubs. The laws in Portugal seem much more relaxed when it comes to drinking in the street – the roads themselves end up being far busier than the actual venues. So, rather than spending our evenings in a bar, we’d just go in wherever was least busy, buy a drink and re-join the party outside.
6) That being said, go to PARK
I know I just made a whole point about not worrying about which bars to go to – and that’s still true – but if you’re going to visit one specific bar, go to PARK. I know, I know, but trust me, this place is good.
Built on the top of a multi-story carpark, PARK feels like a real hidden gem. It’s not really signposted – at least not that we could see – instead just sitting unassuming on the side of the road in Bairro Alto. Walk through the ground floor, take the grubby looking lift up as high as you can go, then walk up the ramp and you’ll come face to face with one of the coolest rooftop bars around.
With cracking views of the Lisbon skyline, well-priced drinks and a DJ playing everything from old school hip-hop and RnB, to jazz, funk and soul, this is somewhere you’ll have no trouble spending hours in.
7) Take a day trip to Sintra
If you’ve got the time, try to take a day trip out to Sintra. Our hostel organised a minibus to take us out there, which took about half an hour, but you can get there on public transport in under an hour – and it’s well worth the trip.
Sintra itself is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with plenty to see and do. We spent some time sampling local Portuguese meats, cheeses and port wine (of course), before heading up to Quinta da Regaleira – a huge estate just out of the center. Once you’ve bought a ticket, you’re free to wander around and explore the grounds, which includes a palace and chapel, as well as loads of towers, lakes, grottoes, wells and all sorts of other things.
On our way back from Sintra, we stopped off at Cabo da Roca, which is the most westerly point in continental Europe, and offers up some breathtaking views. Then from there it’s pretty much a straight drive along the coast back to Lisbon, going through the equally impressive town of Cascais on the way.
8) Eat at Time Out Market
Finally, food – what kind of guy would I be if I didn’t offer up at least one recommendation of where to eat on your travels?
Based on the local knowledge and expertise of independent reviewers, critics and Time Out journalists, Time Out Market opened in 2014 as a place to showcase the best food Lisbon has to offer. With 24 restaurants, 8 bars and a whole host of shops and stalls, this place has something for everyone! I went for some bitoque while I was there, which is a thin Portuguese steak, served with potato crisps (or sometimes chips) and topped with a fried egg – the perfect hangover cure!
So there you have it, my top tips for a trip to Lisbon! Let me know in the comments if you’ve got any of your own tips, or if there’s anywhere you’d recommend for my next trip away. I’ve got some annual leave that needs using up and am always open to suggestions!