2018 went by so fast that I wasn't ready to start 2019 just yet...Mid-January felt like the perfect moment for a little escapade in Lisbon to get the new year started on the right foot. It was also a nice change from the grey and cold Belgian weather.
Lisbon is a city that I visited a few years ago and wanted to explore some more, especially the Alfama neighborhood and Sintra, which is located 30 min away from the capital. It's a city that really appealed to me for several reasons: the weather, the history (explorers and discoveries), the architecture but also the sweets and the pace of life. Even in January, Lisbon has the lot to offer and was the perfect destination to kick-start the year!
It all started on the website of Ryanair when I looked for dates and prices. This company isn't my favorite but I have to admit it is hard to find better prices! A round trip in January, departing from Brussels, cost 37,5€. Not bad right? It almost seemed like a sign telling me to fly away ^^
The next step was to find a hotel and for this I visited Booking and discovered an address called My Story Tejo Hotel which was reviewed 9,1/10 and cost 182€ for 3 nights/4 days. This hotel is located next to Plaça da Figueira and Rossio which means it is close to transports and a bunch of attractions! It is the perfect HQ for a city trip if you are looking for a central location and comfort! I particularly like the design of the room and the kindness of the staff (as well as the pastel de nata I received on day 1!).
Finally it was time to plan a bit and enjoy :) On Monday morning I took the bus to the airport and hopped on my plane. It took 2h30 to arrive at Lisbon Airport and only a few minutes to get out and find the Aerobus, the easiest way to reach the city center in 20 minutes tops. A round trip costs 6€/person if you buy it in front of the airport but you can also purchase it online. The bus operates 2 lines (1 short and 1 longer) and stopped 150m away from my hotel at Plaça da Figueira. Isn't it perfect?
Around 2:30pm I was out and about, ready to explore and to enjoy my time in the city. It felt like yesterday when I last strolled the streets of Lisbon and I remembered fairly accurately my way around this Portuguese city. I first started at Praça da Figueira before heading to the Elevador Santa Junta and the surrounding commercial streets. The Carmo Covent is actually located nearby and that's where I made a stop, it only costs 4€ to enter and admire the ruins of this stunning building as well as to visit the permanent exposition. It is absolutely worth it and you shouldn't miss it!
I then decided to head down to Praça do Comercio to have a drink at a terrace and enjoy the last rays of sun for the day. On my way I bought some Portuguese sweets from Alcôa which is one of my favorite pastelaria! It's been around for 57 years and they offer a wide range a tasty sweets including the well-known Pastal de Nata but also other egg-based products: Cornucópias, Castanhas de Ovos, Manjar do Deuses, Torresmo do Céu, and more! What's more, this pastelaria has won several prizes for its doces :) I advise to make a stop at Alcôa and to indulge yourself, that's the best way to discover what makes the Portuguese food special!
➤ Pastelaria Alcôa: R. Garrett 37, 1200-309 Lisboa, Portugal
I spent a long hour bathed in the sun with a coffee, my sweets from Alcôa and the feeling that every day should look like this: stress-free and enjoyable. From where I sat I could see the 25th April Bridge and the Cristo Rei statue and honestly I didn't feel like leaving but it was almost time for dinner and I needed a good address!
I checked Google Map and reviews on restaurants located near my hotel and I found a few. I actually spotted one with +800 reviews that seemed really perfect to try a simple but typically Portuguese menu: O Eurico (R. de São Cristóvão 3-4, 1100-179 Lisboa, Portugal). I decided to try it and arrived early to be certain to have a table. The place is small and the staff isn't very attentive but the menu is translated and cheap to fit the local cost of life. You can have a bottle of wine for 3€ and a meal for 8€.
I wanted to try the sardines but also the lamb ribs so I ordered both. I had a good table with a view on the preparations and that's when I started to be scared ^^' I saw my ribs and they looked whitish/grey instead of pinky/red so either they were stored in water or frozen or just old...Seeing this scared me about the sardines. A typical meal is served with potato chips or rice or just plain potatoes and that's what I saw being served on several tables. The food arrived and I didn't know anymore if I wanted to eat and potentially be sick... I still ate some of the food and it was rather plain: the meat and fish were just grilled, without lemon or pepper or anything else and the potatoes were boiled. It might have been a bit too simple to be honest and I am not sure why people rate this place 4,3/5. I doubt I'll ever come back there...
SO that didn't go too well but I didn't get sick so this is sort of a win! I went back to the hotel and slept my first night in town.
The following day, I had an excursion booked to know more about Lisbon. The last time I visited this city, I had a book and a map but was that really enough? I really prefer to learn from other people and to be able to discuss matters and ask questions. I found a provider called Lisbonne Âme et Secrets (sorry the tours are in French but highly customizable if you call Priscilla) that offers 3h-4h tours covering 2 neighborhoods. The tour I booked focused on Alfama & Mouraria which are neighborhoods were I stayed during my previous trip and I wanted to know more about them. The tour costs 20€/person and a maximum of 8 participants can join the group.
We met at 9:15AM at Praça do Comercio and received a bunch of explanations about how to get around Lisbon, the best transport methods and tips about unsuspected places to visit nearby. We received also a thorough explanation of the history behind the place and why it looks the way it does (statues, decorations on the floor, etc). It is impressive to think that Lisbon has gone through 3 massive earthquakes (200 years apart each), fires, a tsunami and a revolution...
We then headed to Alfama while discussing the average salary of Portuguese citizens and new laws on housing. It is appalling to think that people are paid an average of 600€ ~ 900€/month and have to pay exorbitant rents...But also that elderly can be evicted if they can't pay despite living in their home for +20 years... We walked through the maze of small alleys that make Alfama, stopping to greet locals and to admire pictures of prominent figures of the neighborhood. These people are the soul of Alfama and still reside in it for the most part, it's lovely to recognize them in such a way. We also stopped in a few shops and discovered the history behind some the houses we passed by: why some doors are so small, why the ceilings are so low, why some signs/tags can be seen on facades, etc.
The second part of the tour brought us to Mouraria which is the neighborhood where Fado was born. It was awesome to see where it all began, to hear the history behind this musical style, the influences and where some singers used to live. We also found a few lovely restaurants loved by locals which is always a good sign. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and always looked out for us, especially since there are some pickpockets in Lisbon. The dynamic of the group was also amazing. We ended up walking more than 3h but Ludovic didn't care, he just wanted to share his passion for the city and to answer our questions and that's the kind of guide you want on a tour :) He didn't look at his watch and that made a world of difference. He even walked us back to Rossio and suggested good lunch places nearby before leaving us.
In short, I recommend to use Lisbonne Âme et Secrets if you want to discover what makes Lisbon special and to dive deeper into the history of neighborhoods.
Some of us decided to follow the advice of Ludovic and it was a wise choice! Both addresses are located next to Praça da Figueira and almost in the same street so if you don't find a table at one, try the other :)
➤ Zé dos Cornos: Beco dos Surradores 5, 1100-591 Lisboa, Portugal
This is the first place that was recommended. It is located on the corner of Beco dos Surradores and is rather small. Zé dos Cornos serves typical Portuguese food which means grilled fish or meat with a side of potato chips ^^' However the food is fresh, properly cooked and seasoned here! Make sure to come early to get a seat!
➤ O Trigueirinho: Largo dos Trigueiros 17, 1100-528 Lisboa, Portugal
This restaurant is bit bigger than you'd imagine and the decoration is a bit more elaborated than at Zé dos Cornos. O Trigueirinho is managed by 2 grandmas who are lovely and will try their best to understand you! The rest of the staff speaks English and will help you navigate the menu. You'll mainly hear Portuguese if you listen to other tables as most of the customers are locals. The food is typically Portuguese...with a twist. I took for example the bacalhau and it was actually baked under a layer of mayonnaise so this dish is quite rich but quite fun to eat. The fish was really tasty and fresh!
Visiting these local addresses ensures a good ratio price/quality and you'll be rarely disappointed (Ô Eurico was the exception).
The last day in Lisbon was all about enjoying my time and the morning started with a pastry and a good coffee from a little confeitaria located almost around the corner (Rainha Dona Amélia Confeitaria). I like this neighborhood life with everyone coming in to have their morning coffee and to chat before work, it's so much more social than staying home. Breakfast has never cost me more than 3€ and it gave me time to get organized with what I wanted to do/see. That day, I actually wanted to go back to Alfama but I also wanted to see the Panteon Nacional which I missed during my last visit. I first started walking the streets to Sé do Cathedral, passing in front of the house of Saint Antonio (being renovated), and further up to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia.
Finding the Panteon was easy from up there, just look up and follow what you see! When I arrived, it was open (fortunately) and the entrance fee cost 4€. Inside this monument you'll learn about history figures like Vasco de Gama, presidents, artists, poets and many more who made Portugal renowned worldwide. The monument itself is stunning and made of marble, it reminded me a little bit of Rome. The ground floor is dedicated to the men and women buried at the Panteon Nacional while the higher floors are home to expositions and amazing views of the city! It is a must-see if you want to know more about Lisbon :) (and the country!)
From the Panteon you can easily wander into Alfama or you can visit the Sao Vincente de Fora church. You can even take a train from Santa Apolónia station to Porto...I decided however to head back down to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, through the streets of Alfama to enjoy a little concert! I had noticed that bands would play all day long and that there was also a kiosk serving drinks on an improvised terrace with an incredible view. It seemed like a perfect way to spend my last hours in the city, living the good life and enjoying a clement weather.
Next to the kiosk there was a chestnut vendor so I bought myself a bag of snacks before ordering an espresso. I then sat down and enjoyed the view and the music. I stayed there for probably an hour or 2 before heading back to Praça da Figueira. It was so nice to just take in the charm of Lisbon during that time without thinking about anything else... But hey, good things always come to an end and I had to catch my flight soon.
On my way down I stopped further than my hotel at Mercado da Figueira to get a snack for the road. This little store has some nice products and meals so I had to take a few things back with me including some ham, sausages and cooked pork. I then grabbed my suitcase at the hotel and waited at Praça da Figeuira for the Aerobus that would bring me to the airport...And back to Brussels!
The highlight of this trip included the weather as well as a few things that I would definitely recommend you try:
Make sure to visit the Carmo Covent and its exposition
Wander alongside the Tage
Buy some sweets from Alcôa
Try some local restaurants, I suggest one of the addresses above (you'll find some more on my maps in the favorite section)
Visit the Pantheon Nacional
Have breakfast with locals, not just at your hotel
Have coffee in one of the many kiosks around the city, better even, have coffee at a Miradouro!
Get lost in Alfama
Take the train at Rossio station and visit Sintra (or take a train from Santa Apolonia and head to another major Portuguese city like Porto)
Have you been to Lisbon already? What did you like best?