Craving a city break with the beach still in sight, my friends and I decided to escape to Lisbon for a few days of sunshine. In search of culture, urban adventure and fantastic food, this unique capital city did not disappoint. Here’s how we spent 5 days in Lisbon…
Day 1 – First round of exploring
After a hearty brunch in the bustling Baixa district, we were ready to start exploring the city. Luckily, there is lots to see and snap around the historic and commercial centre such as the Rua Augusta Arch, the Santa Justa Lift and the mosaic Rossio Square.
Many steps and photographs later, we ended up by the riverfront in Alfama. Being Lisbon’s oldest district, the rustic buildings made for beautiful sightseeing of the more traditional side of the city. We finished the day by catching one of Lisbon’s iconic trams to the LX Factory arts centre, where we enjoyed some lighthearted browsing and delicious food.
Day 2 – Castelo de São Jorge
To get a feel for the heritage of the city, we paid a visit to São Jorge Castle perched on a hilltop overlooking the city and Tagus River. Although the Moorish castle dates back to the middle ages, its ruins are largely owed to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Its history and panoramic views make it a must see when in Lisbon.
After a seafood lunch in a restaurant tucked away on a cobbled side street, we sampled a few delectable Pastel de nata egg tarts in the famous Manteigaria pastry shop and strolled along Lisbon’s “pink street” – the former red light district. The day’s final lookout point was at the highest viewing platform in the city, known as Our Lady of the Hill. Positioned on the hillside, we admired the 360 views as the sun began to set, perfectly rounding off the day.
Day 3 – Belem & the beach
Up bright and early, we headed to Belem just outside of the city to soak up some culture. The sights to see here are Belem tower and Jeronimos Monastery. The buildings’ Manueline architecture and nautical influence made for fantastic storytelling of Portugal’s past. To top it off, more egg tarts from Pasteis de Belém bakery didn’t go amiss. Definitely worth it despite the long queue!
With an informative start to the day, the afternoon was spent relaxing at Carcavelos beach. Offering sand, sea and surfing, the beach is a popular spot with both locals and tourists alike. After some sunbathing and not-so-elegant attempts at surfing, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at Lisbon’s Time Out market and a night of venturing out to the lively bars of Bairro Alto district.
Day 4 – Sintra
The fourth day was spent revelling in the charms of the grand town of Sintra. We caught the train west and hopped in a tuk tuk straight up to Pena Palace. This 19th century castle was like none we’d seen before. From the Disney-esque arches to colourfully tiled and quirky turrets, it has to be seen to be believed. The much more traditional looking Castle of the Moors made for a lovely if slightly windy walk, with medieval ruins and hilltop views spanning the forests and rooftops of Sintra.
The final stop was the stunning Quinta da Regaleira. Although slightly out of the way, this is not to be missed when in Sintra. Honestly, you will feel like you are in Pan’s Labyrinth when you reach its Well of Initiation. Built as an opulent playground for a wealthy businessman, there are plenty of nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered within these gothic grounds. Dinner was spent back in the city, accompanied with some of Portugal’s unique and delicious Vinho Verde (yes, that’s green wine).
Day 5 – Final wanders
Our fifth and final day was dedicated to ticking remaining points off the bucket list and souvenir shopping. Simply getting lost in Lisbon’s back streets gave us a true picture of the city, from its Moorish tiled walls to its abundant graffiti and street art. Also, you can’t leave Lisbon without trying the local cherry Ginjinha liqueur, which we sipped out of chocolate cups. These cups are traditionally eaten whole, so when in Lisbon…
Making the most of our last Lisbon night, we treated ourselves to some mouthwatering tapas. We also made sure to check out a performance of traditional Fado music in one of Bairro Alto’s hidden gem bars. These expressive songs gave us a personal touch to the Portuguese culture – a great memory to end on. So with our bellies full and our spirits high, my friends and I boarded our plane back to the UK reminiscing about egg tarts, yellow trams and castle views.
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