Lisbon wasn’t originally on my list of cities to visit during my time in Europe, but my coworker wanted to go for the beautiful weather. The best part about Lisbon for me was the food – the fresh fish and the delicious pastries! I also appreciated Lisbon’s unique charm as I walked around the city. The tourist spots might be cheap to visit, but the lines were long and operations inefficient (one of my biggest pet peeves). It wasn’t one of my favorite European cities but I would still go back for the food alone.
Praia de Carcavelos
My coworker has been dreaming about Lisbon beaches since we bought our plane tickets, so naturally that was our first stop. Lisbon wasn’t as hot as we expected it to be. The day was a bit windy and cloudy… but somehow I still left the beach with a sunburnt back. Listen to your parents kids, always wear sunscreen.
Funny story: There was a group of girls there just posing on the beach for pictures (maybe they’re instafamous?). Anyways, we felt inspired and did our own mediocre photoshoot on the beach. It was hilarious and what fun people watching!
Time Out Market
We stumbled upon this place on our way back to our Airbnb. How this popular spot didn’t make it onto my original itinerary is beyond me. This was my favorite spot in Lisbon! It’s a big hall that brings together some of the city’s best food shops and restaurants. There are so many delicious options that it’s a bit overwhelming, but you honestly can’t go wrong with any of the options. I also loved the signs next to each shop that told me more about the chef or the restaurant.
Here are the dishes I tried and loved:
Henrique sa Pessoa – I ordered the Salmon Tataki with Glass Noodles. This is the reason why I would go back to Lisbon. The fish was so fresh! My love for salmon tataki began on this trip and I haven’t tasted anything like this since.
Marlene Vieira – I ordered the Fried Duck Turnovers. The presentation was unique and the turnovers had warm, creamy duck within. It was good but not my favorite from the market.
Confraria – I ordered the Salmon Tataki and Spicy Tuna Roll. I always crave sushi and this place didn’t disappoint!
Spa at SANA Malhoa Hotel
After a rough week at work, my coworker found a spa where we could relax. For just 10 Euros, we were able to use the hotel’s hot tub, sauna, and steam room. At first, I was against the idea because when I travel, I like to only explore things unique to the city. But it was very relaxing and for the low price, it’s not a bad idea to swing by after a day of exploring.
After wandering quite a bit around the city, we stumbled upon this restaurant in Bairro Alto. With a friend’s recommendation, I tried the Bacalhau à Brás. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t have me begging for seconds.
Pastéis de Belém
This is the most famous place to get your pastel de nata fix in Portugal. Pastel de nata is an egg tart pastry similar to the Chinese egg tarts I grew up with, except these have a thinner crust and it’s creamier. You must sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top for the full experience! It was absolutely delicious!
Don’t be intimidated by the long lines forming outside – they move pretty quickly. There are two lines that you can choose from to get these pastries to go. There’s also seating inside if you’d like to enjoy it away from the sun. (I might’ve accidentally stolen a table instead of getting in line for one… try not to make the same mistake.)
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
At first, I thought it was just a monument, but like most tourist spots, it’s more interactive. You can go to the top of the monument and get a gorgeous view of the Tagus River and the Ponte 25 de Abril (a bridge that looks just like the Golden Gate!). If you have your student card, it’s only 2 Euros to head up and the line isn’t too bad. Out of the few tourist spots I went to, this was my favorite!
If you value your time, do not go inside the Belem Tower. The tower is beautiful from the outside, but the inside is mediocre. The views from the top of the tower are poor and not worth the 2 hours it’ll take to get there. You can see similar views from Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
With that said, if you still have a strong desire to go inside, learn from my mistakes.
- Buy a ticket in advance. You can go straight to the front of the line to enter the tower. This way you don’t have to line up in the sun for an hour. Don’t get too excited, this is just to enter the tower, not the main event.
- Once you’re inside, there’s another line to get to the top of the tower. There’s no short cut for this. They only allow 150 people in at a time and due to poor operations and management, you have to wait for the cycle of all 150 people to exit before the next wave can go up. The wait for this is about an hour.
- Once you’re at the top of the tower, you will realize that your views are partially blocked. You can’t even take a picture with the bridge, because the design of the tower blocks it.
I did not enjoy my visit and felt like I wasted 3 hours of my life here (2+ in line and less than 1 enjoying it). Parts of the tower were interesting but overall, it was very overrated. I would recommend seeing the tower from the outside and skipping the inside – use that time to enjoy the rest of Lisbon instead.
The monastery is beautiful. It caught my eye while I was on the train and it was even more impressive in person. I swung by in the morning and the line was quite long. When I came back around 4pm, there was a much shorter line for tickets. However, I was so over queues at that point (thanks to the tower) that I opted for the free church instead. It wasn’t the most impressive church I’ve been to in Europe, but it was still nice to briefly walk around.
Praca do Comercio
It wasn’t until I got to the square that I understood why this was rated the #12 spot in Lisbon on Tripadvisor. It’s a huge open area with beautiful views. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the Rua Augusta Arch! It is a gateway to a popular shopping area.
This icecream shop is supposed to have the best gelato in Lisbon. I was overwhelmed by all the flavor options. The server recommended the fruit flavors, so I went with raspberry and passion fruit. I liked it but I’ve had better gelato. I think it was because I chose the wrong flavors for my taste buds.
This is another square downtown, but it’s much smaller than Praca do Comercio. The ground was actually the coolest part but no need to go out of your way to visit this spot.
Taking the Tram
Trams are a must do in Lisbon! However, it’s nothing compared to cable cars in San Francisco. We took a tram up a hill to our next spot. We waited about 15 minutes before the tram started moving. The tram made loud screeching sounds all the way up the hill and it was over in less than 5 minutes. Next time I’ll take a tram with a longer route to fully enjoy the experience.
Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara
What an incredible view of Lisbon! Lisbon from above is absolutely beautiful. The houses looked like legos to me… but in the best way possible!
After going to more popular restaurants and being hit with a 2-3 hour long wait, we made our way to Carmo, a recommendation given by a hostess at another restaurant. We waited about 20 minutes before getting a spot inside. The restaurant is quite cozy and would make for a great date spot with the dim lights and dressed-up servers. We ordered the tuna steak and monkfish rice. Both dishes were incredible! I definitely left stuffed.
After working during the day, we headed to a popular Lisbon spot (4.9 stars on Google) for dinner. This place is famous for their ceviche. After a 20 minute wait, we were seated at the bar with a view of the chefs. I’m personally not a fan of ceviche so I ordered the octopus. My friend ordered the ceviche and said it’s the best he’s ever had! The portions are definitely a bit small but the food itself was delicious.
Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata
Even though we were stuffed, we had to get more pastries! This was actually the second time we went to this particular bakery. Their specialty is the famous pastel de nata. I personally like this place more than Pastéis de Belém and there’s no long line. I would definitely recommend it!
Sunset over 25 de Abril Bridge
To end our Lisbon experience, we sat at the end of a deserted pier and watched the sun set over the 25 de Abril Bridge. The view was blocked by ships… but still a very relaxing sight.
Top Tourist Spots: Time Out Market and Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara
Must Eat Snack: Pastel de Natas
What to Skip: Belém Tower
The Other Necessities
We stayed at this Airbnb. The location was great and Susana’s place was beautiful. However, we had some trouble getting the keys to the apartment when we arrived. Also, on the first day, the bathroom light didn’t work and it’s a windowless bathroom. It wasn’t fixed so we showered by a dim lamp light (it was still pretty dark in there). The room lights were also dim – my iPhone provided more light! It may be a nice place but I probably won’t stay here again.
Upon arriving at Lisbon, we ran into problems with purchasing train tickets. We stood in line for about 20 minutes at the ticket machines just to learn that we had to go to the ticket office because we didn’t have a rechargeable ticket already. The wait for trains can be up to 20 minutes, which is longer than most popular cities.
For all other forms of transportation, you can get a 24-hour ticket which is definitely the cheap way to go. However, we ended up walking to and from most places because it was the most convenient option.