After a short time in Porto, we were off further south to the bigger, busier and sunnier city of Lisbon. It’s no secret that I fell in love with Lisbon on my first visit to Portugal, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the iconic tiles, the beautiful terraces and even the leg-killing hills. Even better – I was planning to see a lot more of the city than I’d had time to last time, and as we approached the city on the train, through the gorgeous Portuguese countryside, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
I was only slightly worried that I’d spent five years hyping up Lisbon to Ash as my favourite European city, having visited it in winter, and it crossed my mind that the summer months might be a whole different ball game with the heat and crowds, and he might even hate it. (I also have a habit of over-hyping things a lot – bands, TV shows…)
We spent the first almost 24 hours practically re-creating my first trip to Lisbon, which is always a risk, because what if it’s not as good as last time? But it made the most sense to me, so we did it, and quite honestly, we did it better.
Day 1 – Alfama
We actually arrived in the afternoon (like my first trip), and after dropping our bags off at our hostel, I insisted that we should climb a hill.
We headed straight to Alfama, my favourite area of Lisbon which was only re-affirmed on this trip.
Although Lisbon’s city centre is much larger than Porto’s, it’s still very walkable, and I firmly believe that despite the neighbourhood being entirely on a hill, walking is the best way to experience Alfama rather than whizzing about on a packed tram.
After all, I loved getting photos OF the trams. And my favourite place to photograph the trams? By Lisbon Cathedral, at the start of Alfama.
We climbed on up past the cathedral, taking in the exquisite views at Santa Luzia.
We’d been in Lisbon for maybe an hour, and it was confirmed: it’s still one of my favourite cities in Europe.
A happy face in a happy place!
We even found some buskers up on the terrace, exactly where I’d found some buskers the last time I was here. They were good, though not as mesmerising as the ones I saw before. I am yet to find a bad busker in Lisbon!
From there, we climbed further, aiming for the Miradouro da Graca. This is the best viewpoint in Lisbon, and we got there around an hour before sunset. And so we grabbed a drink to ensure a spot on the terrace, because half of the viewpoint had been shut off for construction work (it looks like they’re building a funicular, meaning in the future it will probably attract even more people) so it was bound to get very busy.
No matter – shortly after we arrived, they closed off our part of the terrace to anyone not already up there, because the rest was turning into a festival for the evening! So the small crowd gathered with drinks were the only people who would be here for sunset. It was lucky we got there when we did. It couldn’t have been more perfect, really (if you take away the crane).
If you’re so inclined, there’s a similar viewpoint up at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte which looks just as good – possibly even more sweeping views of the city. It’s another ten minute walk and there will be even more of a climb to get there.
Instead, after sunset we headed straight down the hill in front of us, after checking out some of the festival, as we’d decided instead of finding a traditional Portuguese restaurant, we fancied something quick and simple, and a place called Café Belga had caught our eye. A Belgian place with great reviews, we assumed it would be a quick dinner of late-night Belgian fries.
A quick dinner of fries it was not – we’d happened upon a gem! The owner was very friendly, recommending various beers we’d never even seen before, and while almost everyone in the restaurant was ordering huge portions of mussels, I opted for the “carbonnade flamande” – a Flemish stew that ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Man, the sauce was soooo good!
We also befriended the cutest, tiniest dog in the world! And the bathrooms are, erm, interesting to say the least. (Especially if you like boobs, that’s all I’ll say.)
Despite not choosing somewhere Portuguese, this ended up being one of our best choices!
Can’t get enough of Portugal? Check out my post on the perfect day in Porto!
Day 2 – Bairro Alto to Belem
In the morning, we continued to follow my itinerary from the first time around, walking up Rua Augusta to Dom Pedro IV plaza, before heading up the hill to the Carmo Convent church, which I’d visited on a walking tour.
Carmo Convent was largely destroyed in the devastating 1755 earthquake, and has been left in ruin. It’s still beautiful and towering, and a landmark of the city.
We also headed over to the terrace that leads onto Santa Justa elevator – while you can pay for, I guess, the experience of going up the lift, you can also get the view for free by going in from the back!
We took in the views of the city, before overhearing someone next to me, believe it or not, talking on the phone about how they were still testing positive for Covid so they weren’t sure what to do about their flight home! In a busy, public place! I hate people.
Needless to say, I gave him a very wide berth and we continued into Bairro Alto where we wandered aimlessly, stumbling across every pretty building we could find.
It was somewhere around here that I’d had to cut my walking tour short, before the crescendo of another fabulous viewpoint. The guide had told me how to find the viewpoint quickly before I had to head off, but naturally I hadn’t managed to find it, and instead made a beeline for the famous Bica funicular.
It’s a good thing I did, because this time around the funicular wasn’t running. And we managed to find what was presumably the viewpoint they’d ended the walking tour on.
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara is undoubtedly one of the best views in the city, from the other side to where we’d been the night before.
We also stumbled across another funicular just next to the gardens at the viewpoint, so I did get a couple of Lisbon funicular photos, just not quite as “scenic” as the ones from my last trip.
We made our way down, down, down through Bairro Alto, though being a nightlife hub there wasn’t a huge amount going on during the day. It was still pretty, and the narrow streets were interesting to walk through.
There’s an interesting mix in Bairro Alto of beautifully curated tiled buildings, and streets that felt a bit rougher around the edges.
A stop in Praça Luís de Camões allowed us to sit down and take everything in around us, including some picturesque opportunities with the trams trundling past the square.
And then it was the final descent down to one of the most popular food places in the city: the Time Out Market.
Naturally, I found another pretty place to photograph before heading in to the market though – the sickeningly Instagrammable pink street.
It IS pretty though. Please forgive me!
Time Out Market
It’s hard to choose where to eat at the Time Out Market, as it is truly a hive for so many types of food. There’s seafood abound, which doesn’t tend to be my sort of thing, but even a stall dedicated to hot dogs looked delectable.
After a wander around the entire place, I headed to one of the first places that had caught my eye – the Croqueteria. It’s exactly what it sounds like – loads of different types of croquettes! I struggled to choose, so I scoffed five.
We were lucky to find somewhere to sit, and ended up having to do a couple of rounds before spotting a couple of people leaving. It’s all communal tables and bars stretching half the hall, and we ended up chatting to a British couple and guarded their seats while they grabbed food and smoothies.
This is a must-do in Lisbon, and I’m really glad we managed to come here for lunch. I’d maybe recommend aiming for either side of lunchtime though, otherwise you might be hard-pressed to find somewhere to actually eat your food.
Time Out Market is right opposite Cais do Sodre train station, which was perfect for our plans for the rest of the day.
Are you hankering for some beach time? The Algarve has you covered – here are my top beaches in the south of Portugal!
Except we crossed over to the train station, and immediately joined a massive queue for the ticket machines. It turned out, as we eventually got closer about half an hour later (!!!), that several of them weren’t working properly, or some were only accepting cash and declining cards. Unfortunately, there was also a massive group of girls on their way to the beach, who spent around twenty minutes between them taking up all of the machines. That’s not an exaggeration.
Then we got to the front of the queue, Ash worked out one of the machines, and within a minute or so, we had our tickets. I have NO IDEA what on earth that group of girls was doing.
In the meantime, we had missed three trains to Belem, and I was wishing we’d just got the tram.
Anyway, we FINALLY got to Belem.
I think, in all honesty, I would recommend getting the tram, and get off either around the Jeronimo’s Monastery, or a little further along at Largo da Princesa for the closest stop to the Belem Tower. That said, our tram back into the city centre was also a nightmare (more on that soon!!).
We alighted the train and realised that we were miles from the Belém Tower – and it was hot. Thankfully not as hot as it was the week before, nor as hot as it would be during the upcoming heatwave, but hot enough that we could have done without walking for over a mile.
Still, it was a pleasant walk along the water, with a stop at the impressive Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, or Monument of Discovery, about half way. Half way, I thought in despair when I realised how far we still had to go.
Finally, we made it to the gardens next to the tower, where another festival seemed to be going on. We enjoyed the shade for a while, and rehydrated ourselves before checking out the tower itself.
Despite its prominence and fortification, the tower was actually built more ceremoniously than for conflicts – it was used for Portuguese explorers to leave from, and as a gateway to Lisbon. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by the tower.
In contrast, I’d had no expectations of the Jeronimos Monastery, and as soon as it came into view I was blown away by it.
We almost considered going in, but it was so impressive from the outside that I was happy snapping photos of the ornate exterior before heading on to more pressing matters.
You see, Belem is very, very famous for their iconic Portuguese custard tarts – to the point that they are not called pasteis de nata here; they are called pasteis de Belem.
I was bracing myself for the queue at the most famous pastel joint (simply Pasteis de Belem) as I’d heard stories of hour-long queues and I’d already decided that I’d be joining it no matter what, but in fact we found a very efficient operation. There were two queues – one for sitting in, and one for takeaway. I didn’t feel any need to sit in, so I was happy to pop in and take away a couple.
I was in and out within five minutes. It was a well-oiled machine with years of experience dealing with the crowds.
Verdict? VERY nice, although my first one was almost runny. Still delicious though!
We took them over to the park opposite… where yet ANOTHER festival was going on! I never found out anything about all these festivals, or whether they were related. This one seemed like a folk festival, and had traditional dancing which was great to watch for a while with my pastel de Belem.
We tried to be strategic and walked back to the tram stop before the monastery, as the two closest stops were absolutely packed with people and we’d likely be waiting forever. We hopped straight on a tram, but the girls in front of us got the last seats.
And so it was that we were packed like absolute sardines into this very hot, very sweaty tram. Masks were still mandatory on public transport, which was both good and bad – and I’m not convinced they would have made a blind bit of difference with this many people squashed into each other. I was practically kissing everyone around me no matter what way I turned my head. I don’t know if the sweat I could taste was my own or one of the five people pressed directly into me. It was suffocating.
Not only that, but the tram kept stopping for ages, for no reason! Instead of taking around twenty minutes to get back, it took well over half an hour. I never wanted to experience a crowded place ever again.
So, train or tram? God bloody knows. Choose wisely.
I suspect we just timed it badly, as a lot of people out in Belem for the day would have just been leaving the monastery and heading back into the city.
I will say though, that it was the only time we really felt the effects of too many crowds the whole time we were there. The rest of the time was nowhere near as unbearable as I thought it might be.
We headed straight back to our hostel for a shower and a lie down to recover.
(I also popped out for a cup of tea at Paul on Rua Augusta – look what was served! Scottish tea from Brodies!)
Alfama – food and fado
In the evening, we moseyed back over to Alfama – I fancied finding a place that we could experience some fado along with some good food.
Fado is a traditional Portuguese music style – it’s melancholic and sung in bars. Alfama is a popular place to experience it.
It turned out to be really hard to find a balance between somewhere being good, and being reasonably priced. After looking up a few places online and finding that they were mega-bucks, I decided we should wander and look up reviews of anywhere we fancied as we passed.
This was actually a good way to do it – we almost went into one place that looked great, but decided against it as the reviews were horrific with lots of warnings about scams from the singers and being charged for things you didn’t order. However, anywhere that did have good reviews was packed, and anywhere with space was expensive. Again, finding that balance between making sure everything’s booked in advance and being able to do things on a whim was turning out to be harder than expected, given the volume of places in Alfama.
We’d passed a couple of places the night before, on our way back from the Belgian restaurant, that had looked really good – but could we find them again? Alfama is a total maze. I loved it, but it’s not easy to find the same place twice!
Eventually, we settled for Alfama Grill, which had very average reviews. I didn’t find it as bad as some of the reviews suggest, and the decor was nice, but if you’re looking for a great fado experience and fantastic food, this won’t be it.
That said, it was a fado experience, which is what we’d aimed to see. There were two singers and they were both great. After the first singer, a huge group tour arrived, which to me can either be good or bad – it seemed like a good, local company who would surely want to give their guests a good experience? On the other hand, it’s a quick buck. So the jury’s out on that one.
Charming alleyways, music and food? You might be interested in this post on Seville!
I had a big mixed seafood dish with lots of varieties of seafood that I hadn’t tried before – I’m not really into seafood, so I’d never tried mussels, and there were a few other things that were new to me. It all tasted fine, but did I get lucky or is that because I don’t know any better?
The first singer asked for a tip, which we’d read to expect, so we handed over a few euros, but I got worried when the second singer started after the group arrived, because then he too went around selling CDs and taking tips – however I noticed the first singer pointing out who had already given money, and he didn’t ask us again. When the lady sang again, it was the same. The other place we’d passed, I’d read that you end up giving them money all night!
We also double checked our bill when it arrived, and it was a simple bill and we were only charged for what we’d had. It had been a slow service and it took a while to pay, but we hadn’t really minded.
Either way, I’m glad we did it as it’s a unique Lisbon experience.
I also really enjoyed our wander around Alfama – once again, there was a big festival feel, and it was packed with people singing and enjoying drinks, smoke wafting through the crowds from the food stalls to create a fusion of smells, music blasting on every corner.
It was a sensory overload, and I think Ash found it a bit overwhelming, but I loved it!
Day 3 – Sintra
We’d managed to see a lot of Lisbon already, so it was time to get out of the city to one of the most popular day trip destinations: Sintra.
It was only while I was researching Sintra that I realised just how much more there is than Pena Palace. Google Sintra, and 90% of the photos will be of the palace.
We decided to play it by ear as we didn’t know what to expect in terms of getting around and how long we’d want in each place. One thing I did know: we wanted to get there early.
Even as we got to Rossio for the 8.41am train (after grabbing some croissants from Paul along with another Brodies tea), it was busy. By the time we got to Sintra before 9.30am, the queue for the buses up to the palace was already fairly lengthy, and getting longer by the second. It’s also worth noting that you can no longer get a cheap day ticket for the Sintra bus loop – as of this year, you have to buy a day ticket that encompasses Cascais, Lisbon’s popular beach resort, for 11.50€.
If we’d known that, we would have planned to spend some of the afternoon in Cascais and then get the train back to Lisbon from there, but we’d already decided we wouldn’t really have time for it and we hadn’t packed for the beach. Apparently it’s well worth a visit, though!
We also made a mistake when we arrived at Pena Palace – if you don’t buy your tickets online, there are two queues; one for buying tickets, and one for entry into the park. Guess which one we joined? I ended up having to hang back in the second one waiting for Ash to get the tickets.
And then we walked the ten minutes up to the palace itself, to find another, even bigger queue. Thankfully we checked, and one of us walked up past the queue to find it was for going inside the palace. We were only going up onto the terraces, so we got to skip the queue altogether!
Amazingly, it meant that despite the four huge queues we’d already encountered, we were among the first people there, and I actually got PHOTOS WITHOUT PEOPLE IN. Not many, mind, but I was amazed!
Very soon after, crowds and tours began arriving, and I was thankful to have got there early.
Pena Palace is absolutely stunning, and there is so much detail to take in. The views over the park are truly lovely, too.
From there, I wanted to do a walk to a viewpoint of the palace – Cruz Alta (High Cross). While you can SEE the palace, it’s not quite the viewpoint it once was, as some trees have grown in front of it, and you have to stand on the highest rock to see any of it.
Still, it was a nice walk through the woods, and I did get some nice photos.
We headed back down to catch the bus to Sintra village, where we’d grab some lunch and then find another palace I hadn’t even heard of until I’d started researching our trip.
As we waited for the bus, we met a couple of American girls we recognised from the earlier bus, and we cracked a few jokes during the hairy journey down the mountain. When we popped into a sandwich shop in Sintra, they unknowingly trailed in behind us. “We HAVE to stop bumping into each other like this,” I laughed, and we ended up chatting for ages while our orders were made.
We were doing virtually the same trip – we’d been in Porto on the same days, now we were in Lisbon, and we were doing all the same things at exactly the same time in Sintra! We grabbed our sandwiches and sat by the National Palace to plan our next moves.
I had to admit I’d underestimated Sintra’s old town, as it was so beautiful. We took a walk through some of the town on the way to Quinta da Regaleira.
I’d been umming and ahhing over whether this less-visited palace would be worth paying to see, but decided when in Rome (or Lisbon… or Sintra?) that we should do it, especially when I realised it was a short walk from the old town.
The most famous part of the grounds is a massive well, the “Initiation Well”, which you can walk down! It’s a really cool experience and makes for some great photos – plus you have to get back outside by walking through a massive cave tunnel system!
The house itself is really quirky and gothic, which I love. I won’t say I preferred it, but I think both Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are worth visiting for very different reasons. Plus while Pena Palace’s colourful terraces are astonishing, the gardens of Regaleira are equally fantastic.
I’m going to write a separate blog post about Sintra, mainly because I have so many photos from it that would be too much for this blog post!
In all honesty, we could have spent longer in Sintra too. There are a few hotels, and some great looking restaurants which almost enticed me to stay for the evening. I’m definitely glad we saw more than just Pena Palace, which a lot of people focus on.
We had one more evening in Lisbon though, which meant I wanted to find somewhere to eat fairly central, and we headed back into town for a final wander around the city centre – including into the above sardine shop!
Sardines are a Portuguese speciality, and the shops are wonderfully quirky (not quite enough for me to buy some, but still). You can even buy tins with your year of birth on (I assume these don’t indicate the age of the sardines?). Mine, 1989, tells me I share a birth year with Daniel Radcliffe and Gareth Bale.
I, er, wanted to find something a bit better to eat than sardines, though.
Enter: Taberna da Baixa. This was an excellent choice, with traditional Portuguese fare, and we finally had a shot of Ginja (Portuguese cherry liqueur) which I’d had before but Ash hadn’t, so it had to be done before we left. The service here was fantastic too, our server was really friendly and helpful.
It was a perfect end to our time in Portugal, once again gone too fast.
I’ll say it again – I absolutely adore Lisbon. It’s just so unbelievably beautiful and so completely distinguished. I love the slippery tiles, the hills that provide excellent viewpoints, the food, the alleyways, the tiled buildings, the historic trams. The fact it’s got palaces and beaches on its doorstep, and the weather is usually great. It’s got everything you could ever want from a city. Everything.
Portugal overall is firmly one of my favourite countries too, and one I think we’ll find ourselves in a few more times in the future.
Want to read some more Portugal content? I have a few posts here!
⭐ The Best Of One Day In Porto – Viewpoints, Bookshops & Port
⭐ Exploring the Best Beaches on the Algarve
⭐ Visiting The Algarve: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Faro