I’m afraid I have to admit to you guys that I’ve started this post off with a lie: I didn’t spend 24 hours in Lisbon. I barely spent 22. This is a shame though, because the rest of the title is not a lie; I really did fall in love with Portugal’s capital, and have been yearning to return to the cobblestone streets and colourful tiles ever since.
Just a couple of days after returning from Venice with Mum, I was jetting off again to Portugal, to spend three weeks volunteering at a hostel on the Algarve. This was to be my sunny “holiday”, but I’d heard so much about Lisbon that I couldn’t leave it out of the trip.
And now I can see why – from the moment I landed and managed to get 4G on the underground, to turning endless corners to yet another incredible busker, to exploring the shiny cobblestone streets and finding ornate tiled buildings, to stumbling across the best sunset spot in the city right at sunset, and of course to stopping outside every single bakery to drool over absolutely everything, Lisbon completely captivated me.
I started off by checking into my hostel, which by the way, is one of the best hostels I’ve EVER stayed in (and I’ve stayed in well over 50 so that’s not a short statement). It became quickly apparent when I was searching for hostels that it’s pretty hard to go wrong in Lisbon. In fact, I found an entire article dedicated to awesome hostels in Lisbon, which did not help me to narrow it down because it actually ADDED some to my shortlist (i.e. not very short list seeing as it was already most of the first page of Hostelworld results).
Anyway, eventually I settled on Home Lisbon Hostel, and I had no doubts that it was going to be a stellar choice. Oh boy, it was. Everything you might have read about it is true.
The beds are amazing. The rooms are great. The bathrooms are well laid out and clean. The living room is UNREAL. Unreal, you guys!
The bar is awesome and welcoming. And Mamma’s dinner? TOTALLY worth the 10 euros – you get three courses, plus beers, a shot and a whole bunch of new friends! Mamma is a total sweetheart and chatted to everyone. Even the location is one of the best in the city – just a couple of minutes walk from Rua Augusta.
But let’s not linger at the hostel for too long – because it’s nearing 4pm and I have a train to catch at 2pm tomorrow. I need to get out and explore the city.
I head out towards Alfama, start climbing the rapidly inclining streets, and barely pay attention to my map. I’m drawn in by the tuk tuks (TUK TUKS?!) which took (ha, tuk!) me by surprise so much that I remembered when they used to run in Brighton. It was always on my list to ride in one, back in 2006 when I first visited Brighton, and then within a year the company was closed down and I was devastated; little did I know that a few years later, I’d be riding in plenty in South East Asia, a region that at that time had barely made a blip on my radar.
I didn’t take a tuk tuk in Lisbon, but I did enjoy seeing them almost as much as I enjoyed seeing the trams.
Alfama was my favourite area in Lisbon (uh, so far). I loved its narrow streets and steps leading to an unknown destination, and the views over the city on all sides as you move higher and higher.
(admittedly it’s probably best to do this earlier in the day as the lighting was shocking for photos)
I loved the churches.
I loved the chilled out buskers who all had equal strains of talent that made me stop and listen to every single one. (turns out I only took videos, not photos)
I loved finding buildings like these.
And finally, I stumbled across this view, and stayed there for a while. For, uh, no reason.
Once the sun had set and a chill began to cover the city, I headed down the unknown alleyways, jumping into a nondescript bakery for some snacks and more importantly water, because I am terrible at drinking water and I’m pretty sure I was about to die. (Not that I’m dramatic or anything, but I was literally going to pass out if I didn’t drink something soon, that’s how bad I let it get. Ash will be reading this completely unsurprised.)
I was on my way to book my ticket to Faro the next day, and it’s lucky that I did. “The train doesn’t go from this station, you need to go to Oriente,” the man behind the counter informed me. All the information I had read online about taking the train from Santa Apolonia flashed before my eyes, but I shook it off and thanked him and bought my ticket. He was right, of course. The train didn’t stop at Santa Apolonia at all, although annoyingly it did stop at Restauradores, which was within walking distance of my hostel. So why does everything on Google tell you otherwise?!
With another hour or so until I needed to be at the hostel for dinner, I wasn’t really sure what to do now that the darkness had really set in. I thought about calling Ash, but just as I took my phone out of my bag on Rua Augusta, the main street in Lisbon, I heard some music.
If I thought the buskers earlier had been awesome – TAKE A LOOK at these guys!
They’re a brass band playing contemporary songs (think Ray Charles and Daft Punk, so quite the mix!), and they were FANTASTIC! They turned the place into a street party and I ended up sticking around for their whole show. They had us crouched on the floor, jumping up, doing conga lines… it was the most fun I’ve ever had from a busking show!
Of course, my camera decided that then was a good time to start dying, so I only caught snippets of their songs. This one’s from quite early on but you get the idea! (My later futile 3-second video attempts have a lot more dancing and singing along!)
The rest of the evening was spent, naturally, enjoying Mamma’s dinner at the hostel. I sat next to a Malaysian girl sitting alone, and we ended up with a totally multi-cultural table – we had one person from the USA, Canada, Chile, Germany, Finland, of course Malaysia and Scotland, and then an American guy had to ruin it by joining us when there was already an American there. No I’m kidding, he sat next to me and he was awesome.
The next day, after a wander around the city centre, I arranged to join the hostel on one of their walking tours. I don’t utilise walking tours enough, but with my limited time it made sense because they were taking us to Bairro Alto, the other main central district of Lisbon. Our guide, Pedro, was Portuguese and loved the city, so it was cool to see it from his perspective and hear his stories about the history and how it’s formed the people of Portugal.
We actually started off in the centre, in Praca d. Pedro IV and around Rossio, before heading up into Bairro Alto, and we learned that the Portuguese people generally hold resentment against Pedro IV for giving away one of their greatest assets: Brazil. I suspect the stories of him in Brazil would be much more highly regarded as he declared their independence and even helped them to fight Portugal.
Looking at a map, I couldn’t tell you exactly where we went in Bairro Alto, but we stopped by the Carmo Convent and learned about the earthquake of 1755 and just how much of Lisbon was destroyed (spoiler alert: a lot). Next to the church is a “back entrance” to the Elevador de Santa Justa, which offers views over the city. Most people go in the front entrance for a price, our guide says, but he doesn’t agree with that. So although we didn’t get to go right up to the top or front for the best views, we got a free view that’s not bad at all.
After some wandering up some cute streets that clearly come alive at night, we stop at Pedro’s recommended bakery to try a delicious pastel de nata, something I’ve already fallen in love with because it’s the quintessential Portuguese bakery item so of course I have. However, it’s here that I have to say goodbye, because I have to get back to the hostel to grab my stuff and catch a metro up to Oriente in time for my train. Pedro tells me there’s only one big stop left on the tour, and gives me directions to one of the best viewing points of Lisbon.
I don’t think I found it, but I found what I was really looking for: the Elevador da Bica. Trams are what Lisbon is famous for, but THIS is the tourist photo. I didn’t ride it because I wanted photos of it, not inside it, so I walked down the whole street snapping away.
Once I got to the bottom, I had to start saying goodbye to Lisbon. I walked until I got to the Arco da Rua Augusta, just to make sure I didn’t get lost in my last few minutes, and once I’d retrieved my bag, promptly got lost in my very last few minutes. God even knows how; it’s basically a straight walk from the hostel to the damn metro station, but I walked in a circle AROUND the station and eventually managed to walk inside it, very aware that I was now in a rush.
Then, after going the wrong way on the metro (I mean COME ON, Lisbon’s metro system is one of the easiest to navigate!), I also get lost at Oriente. My palms are sweating now; after giving myself loads of time, I now have five minutes to catch my train. And I can’t FIND a train. Like, I come out of the metro station following signs for the trains, and it leads me into a shopping centre with no more signs. Just as I was about to burst into tears, I run up an escalator and see platform signs and make a mad dash for my train.
The train ended up leaving 20 minutes late because it was waiting for another train to arrive from Porto, and after getting annoyed that I had panicked so much only for it to not even matter, I watched a crowd of equally panicked people running from one train to ours and was pretty thankful that Portugal runs a slightly more thoughtful rail system than our one.
So that was that – I was off to the south of Portugal to party on the Algarve for a couple of weeks. With winter firmly gripping its feet in the UK, I was excited to check out some beaches. But I was really sad to already be leaving Lisbon (and its delicious bakeries).
Let me tell you that 24 hours in Lisbon is not enough, let alone 22. I became a pro at being a fast traveller – when I owned a shop, I could barely take any time off so I had to make the most of a day or two here and there, and believe me I made the MOST. But Lisbon is different, because it’s a walking city. Sure, I could have taken the trams around the whole city before sunset, and gone to the monastery in the morning before my train, but I wouldn’t have got Lisbon from that. No, I think I did Lisbon right, which means I definitely need to come back.
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Disclaimer: the link to the hostel is an affiliate link. If you choose to book through it, I will earn a tiny commission at no cost to you, which will help with the running costs of the blog (and I will love you forever!). Opinions as always are my own.