You guys, I took the most spontaneous trip of my life. I bought a last-minute flight after work on a Friday and hopped on an 8pm red eye to Portugal. I arrived at 8am in Lisbon and had all day Saturday and Sunday, before flying back on Monday of a holiday weekend. WHAT? And it was probably one of the best weekends of my life.
Lisbon is called the City of Light, as it has 220 days of sunlight. I quietly saw why it was called that literally, but figuratively, Lisbon allowed me to escape NYC winter for a moment and just breathe. My sister said when I posted a photo that I looked like I was “so refreshed.” I was! I felt lighter and I will always thank Lisbon for that.
I was so moved by the hand of God on this trip and how well it worked out, and really moved by the beauty of Lisbon and how much I was able to do! Since I feel like three days would have been better than just two, I will definitely be back to this vibrant and friendly country, but until next time: here’s a guide for you!
Please note, our local accommodation host, Miguel, went ABOVE and beyond to give us recommendations, so a lot of these, especially the restaurants at the end of the article, are from him.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Health & Travel
For COVID regulations, we only had to fill out a digital health form and have proof of vaccination. To get back into the United States, we needed a negative COVID test to return.
While a European country that primarily speaks Portuguese, almost every single person we encountered spoke beautiful English, so you won’t have a hard time communicating if you come from the United States. Here are some common phrases you might use:
- Oi/Olá- Hi or Hello
- Obrigada/o- Thank you
- Bom Dia- Good Morning
- Boa Tarde- Good Afternoon
- Boa Noite- Good Night
- Prazer- Nice to meet you
- Por favor- Please
- Com licença- Excuse me
Lisbon is an extremely walkable city, and I would suggest packing your comfiest shoes and making this your primary means of transportation while in town. I walked over 13 miles in just two days time.
However, we did use a car service at night. Although the town did feel very safe, we were only two women traveling together in a foreign country. Ubers were very inexpensive, averaging around €3-5 for a 10 minute drive around town. Some of the streets were “locals only” and Ubers could not get through after a certain time, but only taxi drivers could, so keep that in mind. When that happened, the staff was so quick to help us out and call a taxi for us.
You can get around by metro train and by the iconic trams. By metro, you can buy a ticket at each station or buy an all-day ticket. The tram tickets can be purchased at the stations, or you can pay cash at the stop, similar to what you would see on a US public bus.
What to Pack
Like I said, make sure to bring comfy shoes! We visited in February so the weather was on the chilly side, but as you can see from my photos, only one jacket was necessary. According to online, the “best” time of the year to visit Portugal is Spring from March to May. I totally believe it because the sun is SO bright that I’m thinking Summer probably gets pretty hot.
Because it is so walkable, if I could go back, I would’ve brought maybe a small backpack with water and snacks so I didn’t really have to stop and waste time anytime I was a little hungry.
Finally, you will need a European power converter for any of your US electronics/chargers/hair tools.
WHERE TO STAY
Lisbon has many different microneighborhood options, all with their own benefit. On a map, they look a lot more spread out, but you’ll find they are not as distant as they appear. Because of this, in my opinion, you can’t go “wrong” with a choice, but I do have an opinion of top three:
This is where we stayed. I was told by locals Baixa was the “tourist area,” but it is in the downtown of the city and as centrally located as you can get. It was an extremely convenient area with plenty of restaurants, grocery stores, and a perfect starting point for your walks. Chiado is more “artsy” as I was explained, with better restaurants. It is really only about a five-minute walk between the two.
Another reason I liked it, is that you would have to pass through it to get to different parts of town, so you were able to stop by your hotel, refresh for a few minutes, and go back out. Both days we were in Lisbon, we stopped by the hotel around 3 or 4pm to change for dinner and charge our phones so I highly recommend this area for that aspect alone.
Arguably the most stunning and iconic neighborhood in all of Lisbon. It is a dream come true of an area. I will note, you have to walk through pedestrian only areas, which at night are not well lit. If I was traveling alone, I wouldn’t recommend a woman to stay in this area by herself, and we did witness see police activity and crime control at night time. Another consideration is that some of the accomidations are on hills, so rolling a larger suitcase would be much less than ideal. This area would be great for those traveling in a group, or a couple, who care about charm.
This neighborhood was filled with so many great restaurants and had so much charm as well! I had read online that this was the “party” area and that it was very rowdy, so to avoid it if you’d like a good night’s sleep. I think this opinion may be pre-pandemic because we spent time in this area at night and although there was some nightlife, it wasn’t as “rowdy” as I had read. This would be the perfect area for a group of friends abroad or a Bachelor/Bachelorette party.
Two other neighbor options could be Rossio or Belem. A lot of sites I visited where near the Rossio area so you will have food options and a decent way around. Belem is very far from the city center, but I read that prices were much more affordable. What you save in accommodation price, you would make up for in car fare into the city or time spent on the train though, since it is about 20 minutes out.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at “Unique Design Apartments” in the Baixo area on Rua de Augusta, right by the Arco da Rua Augusta between the Praca do Comercio and Rossio Square. I could not provide more praise for this accommodation, not only for the location, but for so many reasons.
Although I booked through Booking.com, it was an apartment instead of a hotel, so it felt much more like an AirBnb personalized experience. I think it was the most accommodating experience I have EVER had. I want to take this moment to applaud some of the Portuguese people I met. The staff at restaurants, the drivers, random people we talked to… everyone we encountered was so friendly, helpful, and wonderful.
Miguel, our apartment host, allowed us to check in MUCH earlier than listed, which was crucial to our day. He was so helpful and came to meet us to explain check in procedure and give us recommendations. He even helped us arrange someone to administer COVID tests to us the next evening, and took us to the airport on the morning of our flight. Miguel, if you’re reading this: THANK YOU!
The apartment itself had a kitchen, a bed, a sofa bed and a spacious bathroom. The best part about this apartment though: the patios!! It was a quick holiday dream balcony, and although there was construction and scaffolding blocking the full view, it was a balcony of my dreams. When we came back both days around 3, we basked in the sun with the complimentary coffee of the apartment LIVING my best life.
Okay, so now let’s finally get into what we did over the weekend:
Upon arrival around 8:30am, we took our time, The airport was peaceful and we got through passport control very quickly. This is when I messaged our host to see if we could check in early, or drop off our bags. He told us we could check in at 11:30, which made us SO happy! After refreshing in the bathroom after our long flight, we took a taxi into town, which was 11 Euro. Our lovely driver was our first clue that the Portuguese people were pleasant beyond belief.
We first stopped at a café to grab some coffee, breakfast, and start planning our weekend. We really had done almost no research prior to flying and had recommendations from others and Pinterest. After that, we were able to walk to our apartment to check in!
After Miguel gave us the run down and some suggestions, we decided to literally hit the ground running and walk around the area of the hotel seeing sights from a list, and then grab lunch.
Here’s where we hit:
- Rua square
- Rossi square
- Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantra
- Calcada da Gloria
- Rua Garrett and Rua Carmo (*must do)
- Ruins of the Carmo Monastery
- Rua Nova do Carvalho
- Pink street
- Cais do Sodre-Mercado de Ribeiera/ Time Out Market
- There’s a Time Out Market in Brooklyn, and I’ve also been to the one in Chicago, so I guess I was a little hesitant at first, but this one is in a historical building and is a great way to try some Portuguese dishes if you only have a little bit of time.
- Santa Justa Elevator-we didn’t actually go up here because it costs money too & there’s always a line. You can get the same views of the city nearby, but if you really want to go up it, go before 9am
Some other suggestions I got along this route were Mercado de Campo de Ourinque and Acenscor de bico. We took our time walking around these streets and then came back to the apartment to change before dinner.
For sunset, we went to Park Bar, which was a bar on top of a parking garage. It was a funny vibe with great, young energy. We didn’t even buy anything and left after sunrise. So, you may think the top of the bar was the best view, but truly the edge right as you reached the last staircase was my favorite view and where these photos were taken as we were on our way out.
To buy some time to figure out where to eat dinner, we next headed to Lumi which is the rooftop above The Luminares Hotel in Barrio Alto. It was pretty cold, but we still sat outside to share a hummus plate and the staff brought us blankets. There we found a restaurant with availability based on our recommendations and headed to the Alfama neighborhood to Boi Cheval.
Dinner at Boi Cheval
At Boi Cheval, we were met with a small space of less than ten tables, being run by a staff of only three, including those in the kitchen! The menu was written on the wall and all the dishes were unique. Everything we ate was delicious, but my friend doesn’t eat meat, and I hardly do either. Although the mackerel was super delicious, I think this spot would’ve been better suited for carnivores.
Catch a Fado Show
After dinner, we went to catch some Fado music. Fado is a music genre dating back to the 1820s in Portugal. Taken from a quick google search, it is “music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor.” It is extremely moving and emotional expression that makes you feel even when you don’t understand the language. We went to Clubes da Fado, which has four singers: two male and two female with performances from 9pm to 2am. We were able to make reservations online and just had dessert and coffee there. I didn’t take any pictures of the performers, just videos so check my Lisbon highlight on Instagram for those!
Another Fado recommendation I received was Tasca Do Chico, which has more of a younger and immature performers. After the show, we grabbed a taxi and headed back home for another packed day.
We had debated so many different plans/routes for this day and I will explain what we did and what I may have done differently in the future.
Head to Sintra and Pena Palace
We started the day deciding to go to Sintra, which is a city to the west of Lisbon. We took an uber to Sintra station for about 25 Euro, but you can take the train directly there. The only reason we splurged was due to time, but if I had more I would have taken public transportation, as it was very convenient.
Once at the station, look for the 432 bus, where you can take pay 3euro and take it to the National Park to get off at Pena Palace. The ride was about 15-20 minutes by bus. I think you may be able to take an Uber straight up there, but I read to definitely not try to walk, since its completely uphill and would take you over an hour to get there. Tip for Sintra: definitely go early! We were there by 10am and the lines were already very long. I think this bus beings running at 9:30am on the weekends.
Tickets for entry can be bought via kiosk, and then off you go. I would allow at least 30-40 minutes to experience the outside portions alone, and then there’s also indoor exhibits. The views were incredible, and one of my first regrets was not having the time to enjoy more of the parts features such as the Moors Castle or Quinta de Regaleria.
Cabo de Roca
After Sintra, we ordered an Uber from the palace straight to Cabo de Roca, which is the most Western part of Europe. This is definitely an experience that makes you feel small and is cool if you have the time. We live in New York City so for us, I think it was special that we look across this huge Atlantic ocean and we live across it. I wouldn’t say it’s a “must do” on your trip, especially if you’re limited on time. But, if you have at least three days, I’d add it to your Lisbon trip.
Next, we headed back towards Lisbon to Belem. I had big plans for Belem such as Jeronimos Monastery, the Belem Tower, and the nearby Jardin Botanico de Ajuda, but the area is much larger than I really anticipated and I needed more time. By this time we were starving so we ate at the first spot we found, which I’m assuming was touristy, but I did get to try their version of an Portuguese dish: Camarão (prawn) à Bras.
There was one absolute MUST do and that is to get the Pasteis de Natas from Pasteis de Belem. They have them all over the city, but I promise these are worth the 20 minute trek from the city center.
We would have had more time to explore Belem, but we really prioritized a little rest before going back out. I for one, am so glad we did! We basked in the sunshine of our patio for a good 40 minutes or so and it was just one of those core moments of gratitude.
After that, we headed out to Alfama because my friend wanted to get a few more photos. This area really can be explored by foot for hours, so do not skip it and make sure to give it the proper love it deserves.
There are a few Miradouros in this area, which are basically “lookouts” or viewpoints through out the city. Some here are Miradouro Sophia de , Miradouro Santa Luzia, Miradouro Portas do Sol. The Castilo de São Jorge is also nearby these.
Ride the Tram
Once we were done with that, we caught the Tram 28E from Rua Escolas Gerais to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, which was the BEST sunset spot!
This felt like a must do, in my opinion. My recommendation is to get there very early or if you’re resourceful like me: climb a tree. Although crowded, it was still so enjoyable and there was someone playing live music and drink kiosks with coffee, beer, or limeade. We stay for about 30-45 minutes just soaking in the scene.
After that, you guessed it: we went back to the hotel again. It was just really that convenient! Plus Miguel had arranged for us to have someone come to the apartment to administer COVID tests so that we could go back to the United States in the morning. We stayed for an hour or so to charge our phones back up to go back out for our last evening. The restaurant we wanted to try doesn’t take reservations so we were okay with a later dinner around 9pm.
Dinner at A Cevicheria
We ate at A Cevicheria by Chef Kiko, which I highly recommend! Although ceviche is Peruvian, this spot finds a way to make them unique, drawing from influences of classic Portuguese dishes. The atmosphere was so cool, the staff was phenomenal and the food was great. I recommend their “classic” Pisco sour cocktails, the Tuna tacos, and any of the ceviche, but we went with the Portuguese Ceviche.
We wanted to find one more spot before we left, so my friend let us to a speakeasy looking spot called Toca Da Raposa. This place was a HIT with us. I don’t really drink anymore, but they had an arrange of cocktails that change every three to four months.
Not only was this place just really cozy and enjoyable, but the bartenders (Tiago & Pedro) were so charming, handsome, and friendly…which doesn’t hurt! We chatted with Tiago until closing, when we made our way back to the apartment one last time, blushing at the memory of the charming Portuguese men, but also beaming with happiness at the beauty packed weekend we just experienced.
WHERE TO EAT
Obviously, I wrote about my recommendations, but I received so many others from Miguel, our accommodation host. He gave me some great explanation to each spot he listed, but I will just list them in this article.
My rule of thumb when traveling: if you’re researching and reading different articles, but see the same recommendation twice, you have to go. Thems the rules.
Skim this list and cross reference with other articles to find the one mentioned twice! I do recommend making reservations, as it was difficult to find availability on the weekend, even if just for two. You can use the Zomato app or Zomato.com in order to read reviews, addresses, etc!
- Nicolau Lisboa
- Dear Breakfast
- Fabrico Lisboa
- Solar dos Presuntos
- Sacramento do Chiado
- Sea me
- Bistro 11Maneiras
- Noobai Café (great views!)
- Cervejaria Ramiro
- A Cevicheria (obviously we liked it)
- Taberna Moderna
- Sala de Corte
- Ze da Mourania or Taberna Ze dos Cornos (budget friendly)
- Clube Ferroviario
- Silk Club
- Seen Rooftop Bar
- Red Frog Bar (we got this recommendation so many times!!)
- And obviously, you know my opinion about Toca Da Raposa…
You guys, I loved the little tiny bit I saw of Portugal. I fell in love with the city’s design, the people, the sunshine, all of it. There’s still so much more I wanted to do that couldn’t even make the list (museums and more historical elements!) , so I think three days would’ve been perfect. I used this blog article to plan a lot of my trip, so please use this for a reference if you’re staying longer than 2 days, which I recommend.
Portugal, I will be back.
And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take this moment of gratitude and prayer. I wouldn’t have been able to take this weekend of light, peace, and inspiration had I not been lead to it by my friend Eleni at church. We met ONCE before taking this trip.
God has his hands on the details of my life and I totally owe this entire trip to him. Message me if you ever have questions about Christianity or faith, because I’d love to talk about that. 🙂
I love you all and thanks so much for reading!!
Cheers and thanks for reading!!
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