and our top picks of things to do!
Before I talk about Lisbon, let me tell you a little story....
We now go overseas every other new year. This is because we alternate where we spend Christmas, either Leeds or Cornwall, but the real reason is because Joel is a party pooper. Our first New Year’s Eve we spent together he was in bed before Big Ben chimed at midnight. This is because he is boring, isn't really into New Year’s Eve and is boring (I meant to put that twice, it's not a mistake, ha!). He said the only way to keep him up past midnight was to do something interesting, so that's what we have done ever since - travel to a city to see the new year in and so far, we've done Prague, Krakow and Lisbon.
Two out of three of these new year breaks have involved drama at the airport. Krakow was the absolute worst, with drama on both the departure and arrival flights but I'll tell you about that some other time. This time around it turned out there was industrial action at Lisbon airport for our departure flight which meant a diversion to Faro airport, south Portugal, followed by a three-hour coach trip. It also turned out that EasyJet were the only airline who wouldn't pay for the agency staff brought in because of the industrial action. So thanks for the detour, EasyJet, you tight gits. It wasn't a total pain though because we got to see some of the beautiful countryside that Portugal has to offer, including the intriguing cork trees and we got to Lisbon about four hours later than originally planned.
The first thing you will notice about Lisbon are the hills. Hills, everywhere! We live in Plymouth, England, and it's a fairly hilly place by British standards but it's nothing compared to Lisbon. In fact, Lisbon is formed of seven hills, although you might be fooled to think it's formed of about a thousand! Be prepared to walk up and down them. Lisbon’s history dates back thousands of years. It ranks as one of the world's longest founded cities where it emerged as a nation state in the early 12th century and today it's best known for its colonialist history, architecture and Fado music.
Eat Pastéis de Nata
Lisbon was another one of our favourite city breaks. Apparently, every city break is one of our favourites! Not only was it a welcome bit of sunshine and warmth in the middle of a horrible wet winter at home but it's full of history, colour, beauty...and all the Pastéis de Nata you could wish for! If you don't know what that is, go to your nearest Lidl bakery and have a look. They are a bit like a custard tart and totally delicious. They are sold all over the city but there are one or two spots you might want to visit to get your hands on one. The first is the Pastéis de Belém which started baking the “Pastéis de Belém” back in 1837. Take a look at the picture below and you'll see the queue. If you are willing to queue, do it, if not head to the Cantinho da Sé in Alfama, right next to Lisbon Cathedral, and while you're there try the macaroons - you won't regret it!
If you make the journey to Pastéis de Belém, make sure to explore the rest of Belém. It's got some highlights of Lisbon in a small radius including Belém Tower, Jerónimos Monastery and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. We caught the train from Cais do Sodré to Alges and walked back (because we missed the stop!) to Belém Tower. The tower dates back to the 16th century and was built to commemorate expedition of Vasco da Gama and also served as fortification to defend the port of Lisbon. It was closed during our visit, as was a lot of things, because it was the holiday period, but that didn't stop us visiting to admire the building itself. From the tower, head along the river until you reach the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument and marvel at the stonework before heading inland towards Jerónimos Monastery. Both the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once you're done here you can head to Pastéis de Belém, get yourself a nice tart and then jump on the tram or bus right back to the centre. Lisbon has a very good and easy to navigate public transport system although the ticket machines are in short supply!
The bell tower Jerónimos Monastery
A rather impressive door of Jerónimos Monastery
Walk Tram 28's Route
No doubt you will want to catch a tram along the famous route, but we would also suggest walking it. Tram 28 is the one you're looking for. We stayed at the top of the hill in Graça but if you're at the bottom you can always catch the tram up to this stop and walk back down. We jumped on the tram one night and it was jam packed. It has very much become a tourist attraction now instead of a form of public transport for the locals. But once you have that out of your system, take a walk along the same route back to the centre. You will see all the amazing spots the route has to offer in the Alfama district like the cathedral (where you can stop and scoff your face with a Pastéis de Nata from Cantinho da Sé). If you do make it to Graça, take a stroll to Miradouro da Graça (west of the square) and enjoy the view. We'd also suggest getting lost while you're on this route, too. Take a random turn and head down some stairs and see where you end up. The beauty of the Alfama district are all the tiny little streets where only feet can go. On New Year’s Eve we got lost down the backstreets but came across a lady selling chocolate cups filled with cherry liquor from her living room. You will come across loads of cool little restaurants that play music in the evenings. This music is called Fado and whatever you do, don't do what Joel did and talk while they are playing. Keep your gob shut and remain in absolute silence! You will get some evil glares from the locals if you don't...
Tram 28 with the Church of São Vicente of Fora behind
Miradouro da Graça
Visit the National Sanctuary of Christ the King
This thing is massive. You won't believe how big until you get right up to it and it's hard to describe how big it is but it's 110 metres tall, if that's any use to you and it's built entirely out of concrete. Inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro, it was built in 1959 to express thanks for the Portuguese being spared the effects of the Second World War. It's not only an impressive structure - the views are too with spectacular views across the city and the 25 de Abril bridge.
To get there, we'd recommend taking the ferry and bus. Head to Cais do Sodré Ferry Terminal and look for the ferry to Cacilhas. Once you're across, head into the bus station and look for bus number 101. It will take you right to the monument which cost €6.00 to go up to the viewing platform.
Ponte 25 de Abril
We love a good European beer and Portugal's Super Bock is no exception. Refreshing in the afternoon sun! Although when you drink these beers in the UK, they never quite taste the same as when you're overseas, do they? We travelled with another couple, which is quite unusual for us but it was nice to experience Lisbon with other people. It's quite refreshing to travel with others who are quite happy to crack on with their own plans. We tend to spend a lot of time on foot whereas our travel partners liked the bus tours to soak up the audible history and the best bit of this - they got to brief us up over tapas and happy hour at the end of the day!
Like most cities, Lisbon is full of the usual tourist things to do but the outdoors is where Lisbon really sets itself apart with its tiled buildings, ornate architecture and colour. There are loads of things to do and these are just a few of our recommendations to enable you to get around the city and see the highlights. Checkout the itinerary and map below for other places we visited. In addition to the tiled buildings and amazing architecture is the artwork around the city. When you get lost in Alfama, you might just come across some of the wonderful works of art like the stuff below. We ended up using a couple of these as landmarks to help find our way around the maze of streets.
Before we sign off, here is one last tip - avoid the Yellow Boat Tour. Take the ferry to Cacilhas instead, you pretty much see the same things! Lisbon doesn't have the prettiest of rivers and what you can see from land is better than what you will see on the boat.
If you've made it all the way to the end, thank you - the effort has paid off for us! This writing lark takes a surprisingly large amount of effort so please leave us a comment below and let us know your favourite part of the post.
A rare picture of Joel - he's usually behind the camera!
National Sanctuary of Christ the King
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Pastéis de Belém
Time Out Market Lisbon - for the foodies
Praça do Comércio - for an afternoon beer in the sun
Elevador da Bica
Santa Justa Lift
The Pink Street
Cantinho da Sé - for tarts and macaroons!
Miradouro Santa Luzia
Miradouro da Graça - for the view
Castelo de S. Jorge
Bistrô Gato pardo
History of Lisbon Mural by Nuno Saraiva
Our Star Ratings
Accommodation - ★★★☆☆ - basic, cheap and clean but at the top of a hill!
Travel times - ★★★★☆ - excluding the delay, early flight, but good departure airport and flight time
Food - ★★★★☆ - very similar prices to the UK and has loads of local delicious treats
How expensive - ★★★☆☆ - comparable to UK prices but not insane for a capital city
Things to do - ★★★★★ - loads to do, you won't be short of things to do
Local beer - ★★★★★ - try the Superbock!
Overall experience - ★★★★★ - we loved it and totally recommend it, despite being more expensive than some places - the city makes up for it!