Lisbon is really freakin’ awesome.
(P.S. I never thought I’d be starting a post with that, um, incredibly eloquent sentence, but writing for my day job leaves me with frighteningly little creativity to impart on this blog.)
ANYWAYS, back to Lisbon…
I arrived in this city with some massively sky-high expectations (seriously, every person I’ve spoken to seems to rave about it), but Lisbon managed to exceed – or rather, obliterate – every single one of those expectations.
I mean, not only is this city stunning (like make-you-want-to-say-holy-shit-out-loud-every-few-seconds stunning), it’s also brimming with culturally and historically significant sites, outstanding restaurants, incredible wine, an overwhelming amount of jaw-dropping viewpoints, AND it’s ridiculously affordable to boot.
When a glass of wine costs €2 at a restaurant, you have to constantly remind yourself you’re still in Western Europe. And then order four more glasses.
So basically, this is yet another post reiterating what seems to be a well-established sentiment within the travel blogging community: Lisbon is a fantastic destination and you should get there ASAP.
If you think you can stomach one more person gushing about Portugal’s capital, here are seven reasons why I love Lisbon.
1. It’s ridiculously beautiful
If Lisbon were a person, it’d be Rihanna at the 2013 Grammys. (Remember that red dress? You know what I’m talking about – girl made me question my sexual orientation for a hot minute, too.)
What I’m trying to say with that completely unnecessary Rihanna reference (#girlcrush) is that Lisbon is one of those cities that just exudes beauty from every nook and cranny, from its intricately-tiled facades to its sprawling marble-lined plazas and its terracotta rooftops.
2. Superb food & wine
Lisbon is renowned for its burgeoning food and restaurant scene, and it definitely delivers on this front.
Essentially everything I ate was phenomenal, but a few standout dishes include grilled octopus doused in garlic and olive oil, a slice of crusty bread topped with sardine fillets and tangy tomato purée, and unbelievably fresh cheese from the Azores. All accompanied by delightfully effervescent vinho verde (green wine), of course.
One of the country’s favourite ingredients, bacalhau (salted cod), is incredibly delicious, whether it’s mixed with mashed potatoes and deep fried or smothered in cream sauce.
Also, can we talk about the tinned fish for a second? I don’t know what type of sorcery goes into these tins, but the canned fished in Portugal is to die for. It took a lot of self-restraint not to buy an extra suitcase and fill it with canned fish.
Oh, and since eating out is actually affordable, you don’t have worry about maxing out your credit card if you happen to go out for dinner in a semi-drunken state and order seven dishes with wine. Ahem.
3. Pastéis de nata
Anyone who’s tasted these bite-sized tarts of custardy perfection will agree they deserve their own spot on this list.
To be honest, I was a bit worried they wouldn’t live up to the hype, but they are GLORIOUS. The custard is creamy and gooey and caramelized, wrapped in the most perfectly crisp, flaky pastry you’ll ever eat.
Pastéis de Belém (home of the original Portuguese egg tart) is often touted as the best pastry in the city, but my favourite tart was from Manteigaria. They have a location in the city centre along with a stall at Time Out Market, so you’re never too far from these magnificent little pastries.
For me, Mouraria painted the most authentic picture of Lisbon – and it’s easily one of my favourite spots in the city.
One of Lisbon’s oldest and most culturally diverse neighbourhoods, it’s the type of place where neighbours greet each other by name; where portraits of local elderly residents adorn the walls of centuries-old buildings, and where independent art galleries coexist with family-run taverns and traditional fado houses.
I think it’s safe to say Mouraria is one of Lisbon’s best-kept secrets, a vibrant enclave that’s managed to largely resist the relentless wave of gentrification sweeping through the heart of the city.
And I can’t mention Mouraria without mentioning the food. Thanks to its historic ties to Goa and Mozambique, you can find authentic Goan and Mozambican cuisine throughout Lisbon – and Mouraria is home to a few of the city’s best Asian and African-style restaurants. I still dream about the samosa from Cantinho do Aziz.
(FYI: I discovered this neighbourhood on a food tour with Taste of Lisboa, a company I would highly, highly recommend.)
5. The views are incredible
I’m a sucker for a good viewpoint, and Lisbon has so many to choose from. I was actually a bit overwhelmed when I typed miradouro into Google Maps because so many options popped up.
Like I said before, the views are swoon-worthy from just about everywhere in Lisbon, but my favourite viewpoints are Miradouro das Portas do Sol in Alfama and Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte in Graça.
I’d also read that Miradouro de Santa Catarina is a great spot to head at sunset, but sadly, it seemed to be closed off when I visited.
6. LX Factory
LX Factory is one of the coolest – and most hipstery – settings in Lisbon.
This formerly abandoned industrial site has been revitalized and transformed into a trendy hub of vintage shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries, and start-up spaces.
I spent a few hours here admiring the street art, people watching from painfully hip cafes, and marveling at Ler Devagar, a beautiful multistoried bookstore housed in a former printing press (which you’ve probably seen all over Instagram).
7. The Tagus riverfront
I love how everyone seems to gather along the banks of the Tagus River at dusk. It’s a magical spot: open-air bars and cafes spill out onto the water’s edge, set against an expanse of blue and cotton candy skies.
Walking along the waterfront at sunset, watching the sky streak pink and violet, made me fall in love with this city even more. The thought I could definitely live here popped into my mind whenever I wandered down to this area.
Lisbon travel tips & essential info
Alright, now that I’ve officially professed my love for Lisbon, here are my top tips for any first-time visitors:
1. Egg tarts: Eat ALL the egg tarts at Manteigaria (they have a location in Baixa-Chiado and a stall at Time Out Market).
2. Where to eat: Sol e Pesca is a lovely spot for seafood and an unassuming gem on the otherwise touristy Pink Street (it’s also a great place to stock up on tinned fish).
Time Out Market and Campo de Ourique Market are two fantastic food markets with tons of options for traditional and contemporary Portuguese cuisine.
3. Getting around: The city is easily walkable, albeit very hilly and steep. You can access the metro, trams, and buses with a pay as you go Viva Viagem card. Taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off tourists, so opt for Uber instead (which is insanely cheap in Lisbon, by the way).
4. Viewpoints: There are incredible viewpoints all over the city; keep an eye out for signs that say miradouro, or type “miradouro” into Google Maps to see what’s nearby. A few of my favourites are Miradouro das Portas do Sol and Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte.
5. Notable neighbourhoods: If you want to stay in the heart of the city, look for accommodations in Rossio or Baixa, two of the most centrally located districts. Barrio Alto is known for its nightlife, and Alfama is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
6. Get off the beaten path: Wander around the labyrinthine streets of Mouraria to experience one of Lisbon’s most historic, authentic, and culturally-rich areas (without hordes of tourists).
7. Worthwhile tours: I got the lowdown on Lisbon’s history on a free walking tour and learned about the city’s culture and cuisine on a food tour with Taste of Lisboa.
8. Consider skipping Tram 28: I decided not to take a ride on the iconic Tram 28 for several reasons: a) the queues are fairly ridiculous; b) it always seems to be packed with people and it’s apparently rife with pickpockets; c) first a foremost, it’s a means of public transportation that many locals rely on – not a tourist attraction.
9. Don’t miss: LX Factory, an industrial area full of trendy shops, restaurants, and bars. Check out Rio Maravilha for gorgeous rooftop views overlooking the 25th of April Bridge, Landeau for a slice of their famous chocolate cake, and Ler Devagar bookstore.
10. Day trips: Lisbon is only 30 minutes from the ever-popular and ethereal village of Sintra, which is definitely worth a visit if you have time. Getting there is quick and easy: trains depart from Rossio station and cost roughly €5 roundtrip. Once you arrive in Sintra, you’ll have to hop on the tourist bus to get around, or arrange your own transport.
We Hate Tourism Tours is an awesome company that I’d recommend if you’d prefer an arranged tour, but just as a heads-up, their Sintra tour doesn’t include Pena Palace or Quinta da Regaleira.
Also located roughly 30 minutes from Lisbon, Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point of mainland Europe) is an absolutely stunning spot to stop if you’re in the area.