So, after an amazing holiday in Lisbon I am back to the daily grind dreaming of my next trip…want to know more about my little mini break? Grab grab a brew, get comfy and read on…
As the national capital of Portugal and the westernmost city in continental Europe, Lisbon is easily one of the most visually striking and unique cities that I have visited. With a hefty permanent population of over five hundred thousand and drawing in almost seven million tourists a year it is bustling and vibrant and has worked it’s way into the hearts of many, and I can see why.
The wife and I impulsively booked a five day break earlier on this year – we had originally planned to jet to Rome, however with a pretty tight budget we didn’t think we’d be able to make it so looked at cheaper alternatives and stumbled across Lisbon. I’m not sure if it is because we flew on a Sunday or because we chose Ryanair but a late flight and a mild delay meant that we didn’t arrive until close to 1am. Thankfully, we pre-booked a private transfer from the airport to the apartment which was an absolute lifesaver at such an early hour.
We used a fantastic company called Sun Transfers, booking the day before we were due to arrive. We were given a very decent price of twenty euros, which included a meet and greet at arrivals by a driver in a very smart suit who had waited despite the delay. On the way, he gave us some great advice on where to go and what to do – more on that later! If you’re travelling to any major city and need transport to or from the airport I would definitely recommend using this company.
The apartment was roughly twenty minutes by car from the city centre with another ten added on for public transport. Aside from the taxi from the airport we relied on public transport – I have so much praise for their metro system! Very similar to Berlin, each station was easily accessible and had boards displaying the times of the next metro down to the second. We used them every day and experienced no delays at all.
The metro, bus and tram systems work on a reusable card valid for a year from the date of purchase which is very similar to an Oyster card. Every station has barriers to get in and out, and you use the card to enter and exit as necessary. One journey costs 1.40 euros, with a 24 hour ticket for 6 euros available – this also includes travel on the bus and tram and is well worth the money if you plan to do a lot of travelling within a set period of time.
Trust me when I say that there is just way too much ground to cover in one post, so I’m going to focus on the places that really made our time out there fantastic!
Food: A Cultura Do Hamburguer
A Cultura Do Hamburguer can be found in Barrio Alto. It is tucked away behind lots of other restaurants up a very hilly road and we had to rely on citymapper to get us there, but it was totally worth it. It’s very close to the Baixo-Chiado metro station and after reading some fantastic TripAdvisor reviews we decided we absolutely must go and I am so glad we did.
Both food and drinks were amazing – the burgers were simple but super tasty and I can honestly say that I ate the best burger that I have ever had here. On our first night here we had a main meal each and two drinks and it came to under twenty euros. When we re-visited, we were a little bit more daring and had quite a bit to drink along with our food, but the bill for two mains, a pint, a cocktail, water, coffee and a jug of sangria was just under fifty euros – almost as much as a visit to Hard Rock the previous day but it felt like we got so much more for our money.
I had a bacon and caramlised onion cheeseburger and Alexa ordered a crab meat burger with a parmesan crisp in a squid ink bun. Both came with fries and some amazing homemade garlic mayo and they were fantastic. I usually ask for burgers and steaks to be medium depending on the place, but didn’t specify here and they didn’t ask. When the burger came it was medium-rare leaning more towards the rare side and is the pinkest I’ve had meat but it was melt in the mouth and so delicious.
It is a very small restaurant and fills up very fast after 7pm but if you’re into burger joints then this place is definitely for you.
Now, I can’t write about food without including the holy grail of portuguese delicacies…the pasteis de nata. I’d read online during my extensive holiday research that the one place to go for these is Pastéis de Belém however the que when we passed was huge and neither of us felt like standing in the red hot sun at midday, even if it was for a supposed life changing pasty.
We ended up visiting two different pastry shops – Pastelaria Versailles and Manteigaria – and sampled the natas from each and they were super yummy. Crispy on the outside and filled with a velvety spiced egg custard mix they became a total staple in my holiday diet.
Manteigaria was just around the corner from the great hamburger place we visited and we were greatly surprised to learn that it stayed open until midnight, and opened at 6am! It is a very small, cramped little cafe but if you are able to grab a chair you can watch the natas being made along an open production line with is very mesmerising.
If you are in Lisbon you must take the time to visit (top tip do not be fooled into thinking that Lidl make ones that are this good because they are ridiculously low quality in comparison) – you will not regret it.
Drink: Pensao Amor
On the way to the apartment on our first night, our driver told us where to find ‘pink street’ – a very literal pink street in thecentre of Lisbon that plays host to many bars and restaurants and seemed to be the hub of nightlife in the city.
He told us the tale of a bar called Pensao Amor situated in the former red light district, with a history of being a brothel that attracted docking sailors and other shady characters many years ago. This was the first and only bar that we visited and it was incredibly quirky and whimsical which is what drew us to go back on more than one occasion!
The walls are jam packed full of pictures and art and the chairs on the bottom floor are all vintage lounge chairs and marble topped tables which give it a very retro feel.
They do have five floors but we didn’t move out of a cosy little corner on the bottom floor as we were very comfortable and quite tipsy. The drinks menu is huge with so many cocktails to choose from. There are two different prices on the menu which is confusing, but we found out that after 11pm you pay a ‘night price’ which is anything between 1 and 3 euros extra on top of the ‘day price’ of the cocktail.
Both times we visited it was very quiet – the bars don’t come alive until after midnight and even though we stayed until around 9pm there were only a few others there aside from us which I find very strange. If you like cocktails and unique bars then make sure you nip in here for a cocktail or three.
Places to go: Oceanarium
We did intend to go to as many different places as we could, but it was so hot that we barely moved from the sightseeing bus. After compiling a list of the kinds of things we wanted to do and eventually crossing them all off we decided to go to the Oceanarium.
The tickets were a little on the steep side at 17 euros per adult, but you do receive a discount if you book online beforehand. Top tip if you do visit – instead of queuing at the ticket office and paying the full price use the e-ticket machines outside of the entrance. If you do, you pay the discount price and you get to skip the queue in which is always a bonus.
The shell of the building surrounds a giant aquarium, holding five million litres of seawater and so many species of sea life that we eventually lost count. Each section of the building is split into four marine habitats with the main aquarium in the middle as you are walking around, so there are lots of opportunities to plop down on a bench and watch the stingrays and sharks swimming past. The highlight for us was the Sea Otters – two adorable otters that spent the entire time we were watching rolling around and cleaning themselves!
As I mentioned earlier it is quite pricey but at no point did we feel rushed to get around so you can really make a day of it and just enjoy your visit. Absolutely a must for sea life lovers.
Placces to go: Estrela Basilica
Another place we made the effort to visit was the Estrela Basilica. We’d passed it a few times on the sightseeing bus, so decided to hop off and have a nosey. Built by the order of Queen Maria I of Portugal, it was the first church in the world dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It is in the style of baroque and made of lots of marble and is stunning. We did intend to visit the dome, however at the time we visited a service was in place so we were unable to take many pictures or go anywhere but in the front hallway.
To console ourselves we stopped for cocktails at one of many street cocktail carts – this paticular one was called ‘Mexe’ and the drinks were so refreshing and very strong which was exactly what we needed to pep us up for the rest of the afternoon.
Sightseeing: Yellow Bus
No matter where we go we always try and book some sort of sightseeing tour as it gives us a great chance to get a feel for the city whilst learning all about it’s history and seeing some of the top sights. Usually, we go for the City Sightseeing tour but after reading quite bad reviews for the branch in Lisbon we booked with the Yellow Bus instead.
An all in one ticket cost around 30 euros each, which included three bus tours, two tram tours and a boat tour. Unfortunately one of the tram routes had been called off, but we were able to enjoy all of the other routes and had so much fun, especially on the boat tour.
Each route lasted around two hours and included a commentary relative to the route that you could listen to through the provided headphones. These are informative and after packing most of the tours into one day we felt like we’d had a great history lesson about the city of Lisbon itself. I do think that the tour wasn’t as interesting as the ones we had been on in Athens and Berlin, but it was a fantastic way to see the city nonetheless and we really, really enjoyed it. A few of the most memorable sights include the Jeronimos Monastery, the Monumento Combatentes and the Torre de Belem.
When we weren’t in the Oceanarium or traipsing around the streets complaining about the heat we spent our days relaxing, drinking iced tea and Super Bock and eating fro-yo and it was this that totally made the holiday great for me. Usually, we pack so much into the very few days that we have, so it was nice to take a step back and have a few relaxing days where we could just enjoy being with each other and really appreciate the mini break.
Overall, if you have been bitten by the travel bug and want somewhere that has a lively nightlife where you can party until the sun comes up or spend a few days soaking up the culture then Lisbon is for you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post – if you’ve been then drop me a comment letting me know what you loved about Lisbon and if you’ve not then give me some new ideas for our next big adventure!