A First Timer’s Guide to Exploring Lisbon

Travel Guide / Sunday, October 8th, 2017

I’ll be honest; I knew I was going to fall for Lisbon long before our trip. I was completely won over by the promise of azulejo, vintage-looking trams, and rooftop bars at every turn. We arrived on a Thursday to brilliant sunshine, hopped in a cab to our Bairro Alto apartment, and were treated to the most incredible views as the car climbed las colinas.

Now, we weren’t entirely lucky with the weather. While our arrival day was hot, the three days that followed were warm yet cloudy (and, sometimes, rainy!), which kind of dampened any beach day plans. But, it would take a lot more than drizzle to ruin a trip to such an incredible city, which leads me to this very special post: the first ever Beauty and a Suitcase travel guide!


A word of warning: if you’re planning a trip to Lisbon for a Bank Holiday weekend (or, perhaps, any weekend…), book the very second you see a hotel you really like. Rooms get snapped up pretty quickly. I tend to over-think accommodation before I take the plunge, so I lost out on a number of places before I found our apartment.

In the end, we stayed at Five Stars Apartments Combro 77, which – as I said earlier – is in the Bairro Alto/Chaido area. For us, it was perfect. We like to be able to walk most places when we go away, and this spot was just the right distance from the Tagus River, Cais do Sodré train station (with direct routes to Cascais) and the centre of the city. We didn’t get on the metro once.


You know what? Weeks ahead of our trip, Jamie and I planned exactly where we wanted to eat, and we didn’t end up visiting a single one of those restaurants. At a guess, I’d say Lisbon has more eating and drinking spots per square mile than any other place I’ve visited, and often, the best meals in this city are those found in the most unassuming eateries.

Pit stop at #Santini. 🍫 for me, 🍓 for him 🍧

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So, explore. Aim to have a later dinner – as this is when the city really comes to life – and look for a seat outside so you can take in the buzzy atmosphere. Stop at holes in the wall that sell tiny shots of Ginjinha (a famed cherry liqueur), enjoy afternoon ice cream at Santini, and head to local cafés to gorge on all the pastel de nata you please. You can’t really go wrong.


Though we never really set aside time to shop, we did find a few treasure troves while exploring the city. Number one was Adornar Ideias, near the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Jamie and I have made it tradition to buy a Christmas decoration on each of our travels, but we never really thought we’d succeed in Lisbon – let alone on the last weekend of May. And, yet, we struck gold in amongst a sea of souvenir azulejo, when we found a red ceramic Christmas tree with ‘Lisboa’ printed on the front.

Another must-see is A Vida Portuguesa; a department store stocked with traditional Portuguese products, from decorative sardine tins to Claus Porto soaps, candles and colognes. In Chiado, check out Paris em Lisboa, which sells the most beautiful embroidered bedding, towels and monogrammed pyjamas. You’ll find some truly unique keepsakes.


Everywhere, really. In the city itself, we explored all of the typically tourist-y haunts: Belem Tower; Rua Augusta Arch, Park Bar, Castelo de Sao Jorge. We stumbled across the latter during a Friday evening stroll, and it quickly became my favourite place in Lisbon. I highly recommend it for unrivalled views and good Instagram game.

The sunset views from #castelodesaojorge are second to none 💙🌅

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Then there were the day trips…


In spite of the cooler-than-expected weather, we headed to the little beach town of Cascais. This ended up being one of Jamie’s favourite trips of the entire holiday. While the most accessible stretch of sand may seem like its largest draw, it was the cobbled streets and quaint souvenir shops that left a lasting impression for us. While there’s no single, must-see landmark you have to visit while you’re there, the laid-back vibe is more than enough incentive for us to go again.


If I could change one thing about our trip, I’d have booked to spend a couple of days in Sintra. One day of exploring this, frankly, breathtaking town is not enough. Still, we made the most of the time we had by catching an early train from Rossio station, which took around 40 minutes, followed by a five minute walk into the scenic centre.

First stop was Quinta da Regaleira, a magical villa with fairytale gardens, which saw us crawl through underground walkways and discover hidden grottos. This is where time becomes an issue; while we could have spent hours exploring, time was ticking by quickly and we still had to climb further up Sintra’s hills to see Pena Palace.

We walked back down into the town to get the local bus up to Pena Palace, and it looked beautiful… I think. I guess. It was hard to tell through all the rain. I’ve never seen a downpour like the one that hit us as soon as we arrived at the palace, and the mist that hung over the tall trees and gardens below was very JurassicPark-when-it-rains-and-you-can’t-see-a-thing-that’s-happening. Yeah, that.

I didn’t exactly get the colourful shots of the palace I was hoping for, but here are some misty pictures that give you an idea of what we were dealing with…

As for Castelo dos Mouros, at the very top of Sintra’s hills, we never made it up there in time. I guess we’ll just have to go back…

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