A Weekend in Lisbon

I booked a trip to Lisbon early last year not knowing anyone who had been there but having heard good things about it being an up and coming place to visit, particularly amongst foodies. By the time my trip came around everyone I knew and their grandmother had been! Clearly it was the short haul city destination of 2018 and it’s easy to see why. Lisbon is a very vibrant, picturesque (instagrammable) city with quaint pretty architecture but a very cool and modern vibe as well as fantastic weather and a very up and coming food scene.

 

Brown Central Hotel

The first highlight of the trip had to be the hotel. I booked the Brown Central Hotel because I’m a bit of a design geek and I was won over by it’s mid-century men’s club come library style and cocktail bar straight out of The Great Gatsby. The room was small but so incredibly cleverly designed that it felt spacious, cosy and extremely comfortable. Plus bookshelves were filled with architecture, fashion and interior design books if that’s your thing (I love a good coffee table book so this was right up my street).

We were welcomed with a taste of the local drink ginjinha which is a liqueur made from sour cherries. This was a lovely touch and gave us our first opportunity to experience the delightful cocktail bar. Plush velvet seating, art deco interiors and waiters in waistcoats and long aprons gave the whole place a glamorous feel while being comfortable enough to lounge in after a long day’s sightseeing or for a quick aperitif before venturing out for dinner.

Breakfast was  impressive at this hotel, served buffet style in a French bistro style dining room there was anything you could possibly want for from pastries and bread to cereal and fruit to hot eggs, beans and meats and cheeses. Ideal for filling yourself up for a hard day’s touristing.

 

Praça do Comércio

On first getting settled into the hotel, we wandered out on our first evening to get a feel of the city and work out where everything was. Unknowingly our hotel was just off the Rua de Prata, a beautiful mosaic tiled street around which most of the city’s hubbub seems to be centred.

It was just a short walk down there to the Praça do Comércio, another picture postcard sight to see in Lisbon with it’s daffodil yellow buildings. There are a few restaurants and bars here, which are great for a quick drink and some tapas, but there’s also a fantastic view of the river. A great place to watch the world go by and with fantastic views of the iconic Ponte 25 de Abril, the large red suspension bridge connecting Lisbon with Almada that is so often compared with San Francisco’s Golden Gate.

 

Belém

Just a short 10 minute train journey from the centre of Lisbon is the province of Belém, home to one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks The Belém Tower. There are many bus tours that will take you here but I’d highly recommend the train as it’s cheap and, alongside the city’s metro system, so easy to navigate, especially since neither my sister nor I speak a word of Portuguese!

The tower is about a further ten minute stroll down the riverside from the train station but it’s a really lovely walk, especially if you’ve lucked out and picked a gloriously sunny day as we did. You’ll also get to see the Ponte 25 de Abril from the opposite side from the usual view from the city centre.

Another notable landmark along the way is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, an impressive statue dedicated to the historic explorers of Portugal, ‘A Monument to the Discoveries’. Statues of many historic figures are included in the design, the most prominent figure of which is Prince Henry the Explorer, the man credited with the rise of the early 15th century ‘Age of Discovery’. The tower itself is yet another important part of the area’s maritime history, built as part of the defence system and a ceremonial gateway to the city at the mouth of the Tagus River during the Age of Discovery. While you’re taking a stroll along the river front, it’s also worth taking a look at the impressive memorial outside of the Museum of Combat just next door.

This whole area is littered with art, design and maritime museums as well as the famous Jerónimos Monastery which are all worth a visit if this is your thing. I have reserved some of these for my list of things to go back for since the weather was so good on the day we wanted to spend as much time outdoors along the river front as possible.

The Time Out Market

As a dedicated foodie traveller, number one on my to-do list was Lisbon’s Time Out Market. Everyone who’d been to Lisbon before me told me I had to go here. My sister and I loved it so much we went back twice. The refurbished Mercado da Ribeira features dozens of restaurants, bars and shops offering everything including fresh seafood, Portuguese streetfood, gelato, pizza, sushi, craft beer, freshly squeezed juices to dishes from some of Portugal’s top chefs. There is nothing about this space that I didn’t love. There are also some great shops offering gifts from foodie souvenirs to design focused homewares.

On our first visit we tried Portuguese bacalhau, a salted cod dish from Henrique Sá Passoa alongside a melt in the mouth pork cheek dish served with mashed potatoes, both of which were divine. On our first visit we stuck to these two dishes and a couple of glasses of wine as it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the vast array of offerings. Although of course we didn’t leave before trying a Portuguese must-have, a pastel de nata. These tasty little custard tarts are synonymous with Portuguese patisserie and can be found all over the city but the market’s Manteigaria boast the best in town.

If you want to really get the most of your Time Out Market experience I’d highly recommend visiting just after the lunchtime rush and opting for a long lazy late lunch as peak time can be pretty hectic. We did this on our second visit and played a little game that I like to call ‘Food Market roulette’ until we were so full we could barely move. Food Market roulette basically involves setting up base camp (finding somewhere nice to sit) and then taking it in turns to go off and find a tasty treat to share. It’s a great way to get the most out of a foodie destination like this because you get to try lots of different things that you may not have necssarily chosen yourself and takes away the stress of too much choice when you know some of your food is going to be picked for you. It’s one of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon.

During this game we tried three different types of croquetas, including beef and pork, cod and chorizo and goats cheese with caramelised onion. I love a croqueta and could happily have polished off another plateful, but there were more things to try! A plate of garlic prawns, tuna tartare, passionfrit cheescake, a few glasses of wine and more pasteis de nata later and I was officially in love with this market.

 

Alfama

The historical Alfama district is where most of the picture postcard scenes of lisbon that you’ve seen are from. A hilly district to the East of the city, Alfama offers some inredible views and a totally different vibe to the more modern cosmopolitan feel of the centre. Where your comfortable walking shoes when you go for a wander around Alfama, there’ll be a bit of climbing and not all of the streets are accessible by taxi, tram or one of the city’s many tuk tuks.

At the top of the hill is perched the Castel de São Jorge. which is a great central point to aim for on your hike up as you can then amble your way back down through the maze of picture postcard streets adorned with colourful façades. There are lots of little shops to peruse, gelaterias and tapas bars to stop for a snack or two, but the main reason for coming up here is to see the views. There are lots of good vantage points dotted around Alfama for good photo opportunities but if it’s not too busy I’d highly recommend climbing up to the bell tower of the Church of the Castel de São Jorge. It’s quite small and they don’t let more than four people up at a time but the 360º views of the city are breathtaking.

We lost ourselves in the streets of Alfama for an afternoon but also managed to find our way back to this historic district for a meal in the evening. The place was buzzing and we accidentally stumbled upon a traditional music festival which filled the whole area with a lively and feel good buzz.

If you haven’t realised it yet, I absolutely fell in love with Lisbon, I’ve given you the highlights but I haven’t even touched on all of the things I loved or all of the places we visited. For such a historical and beautiful city there is such a cool modern bohemian vibe and is exactly my kind of place. I will definitely be returning to Lisbon, multiple times I’m sure. For now I’ve booked Porto in April as it’s been highly recommended but I’d love to go back to Lisbon this year as well. On the to-do list for 2019: learn Portuguese!

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