Update: I revisited Lisbon in January 2019 and saw it in a completely different light. I'll be updating this post or creating a new one to reflect that… once I find the the time :)
I had high expectations for Lisbon, Portugal. A friend of ours visits the city often and absolutely loves it and as it is Portugal's most visited city, it must be great, right? Wrong. Well, at least that's my opinion.
When I was planning our trip I've spent a long time doubting on how many nights to stay in Lisbon. I even considered not staying in Sintra and instead spending five nights in Lisbon and doing Sintra as a day trip. I'm so glad I chose to spend two nights in Sintra anyway.
What was wrong with Lisbon? Well, I'm sure there's a lot of cool stuff going on in that city that I didn't see or didn't get to experience, but sometimes you just know a city isn't for you. When we got out of the bus and walked to the hostel to check in I still felt optimistic. I still thought I'd really like Lisbon, but then after our first day there, in which we saw quite a bit of the city, I changed my opinion.
It was just SO touristy. I heard just as many other languages as I heard Portuguese. Now, this doesn't need to be a problem, but it does become one when you're being treated as the tourist that's only there to spend some money and then never come back. At almost every restaurant or bar someone tried to pull us in (sometimes even literally), not bothered by the fact that this clearly didn't please us.
Another thing which really bothered me is that in the most touristy area of Lisbon, around the Praça do Comercio, the police tolerates drug dealers in Lisbon. That's right. We walked passed a man on the street who offered us marihuana while there was a police man standing only two meters from us. Nothing happened. I think we got offered drugs at least five times the first day we were in Lisbon and after a while you can just spot the dealers from afar, but they'll still talk to you. It's possible that they especially addressed us as we're a young couple. I can imagine they don't try to sell so hard to families and older people.
Now, I don't want you to think we only had bad experiences in Lisbon. We still enjoyed ourselves and saw quite a lot.
Let's have a look at our first day there.
We started at our hostel and walked along the waterside towards the Praça do Comercio. As it was already passed lunch time we both had a sandwich and a soft drink there at a place called Nosolo Italia (they also have a place in Belém). Of course we should’ve known that it wasn’t the best idea to have a bite at such a location, but the sandwiches were pretty good and not too overpriced. The drinks however… I don’t know exactly how much we paid but it was definitely more than €2,5 for a small coke.
After lunch, we walked up to Castelo de São Jorge, but we decided not to go in. It seemed really crowded there and as we’d just seen so many beautiful palaces in Sintra, we didn’t think that the Castelo would be able to top that. If you’re interested in visiting: adult tickets are €7,5, but there are several discounted prices as well.
From the Castelo we descended into the Alfama quarter. This is the part of Lisbon I liked best. Small streets that make you lose your sense of where you’re going. Tiny bars with just one or two plastic tables outside. And less people. We just walked downhill until we reached the water and the Praça do Comercio again.
From there we entered the car free shopping street of Rua Augusta which we followed northwards onto the Praça Dom Pedro IV and further onto the Praça Restauradores.
There we continued uphill along the Avenida da Liberdade until we reached the Praça do Marquês de Pombal and our actual goal: the Parque Eduardo VII.
We walked further uphill until we reached the top of the park from where we had an amazing view over Lisbon.
When we asked the only other people there to take a picture of us, the guy who claimed the task turned out to be a pretty good photographer:
There’s another small park behind the Parque Eduardo VII, the Jardim Amália Rodrigues.
When you exit that park on the other side and you go to the right, there’s a huge Corte Inglès. Now, Boyfriend usually isn’t into shopping but Corte Inglès often has some surf and snowboard brands he really likes, so we went in and spent about an hour there. The catch? Shorts and a top for me and shorts for Boyfriend.
After our little shopping break, we moved downhill again towards the Jardim Botânico, only… we couldn’t find the entrance! We walked around a bit, but by then we’d covered quite some distance already and we didn’t feel like searching for too long, so we walked further downhill on the Avenida Liberdade until we reached the Praça Restauradores again.
Food and drinks
There we spotted some restaurants and as we were getting hungry, we tried out this Italian places called Valentino (Rua Jardim do Regedor 45).
Best. Move. Ever.
We First felt a bit stupid for going to an Italian restaurant in Portugal, but we were glad we did. Personnel was friendly without being pushy and the food was great. I had ravioli with ricotta and spinach and Boyfriend had a pizza, of which I had a taste. It was the best pizza bite I ever had, and I’m not kidding. The crust was just as thick as it needed to be, not over-floury and you could really taste all of the ingredients (tomato, cheese, spicy salami and mushrooms).
Afterwards, Boyfriend decided to order a giant ice cream coupe for dessert. I just ordered some tea, but when the waiter brought the ice cream, he brought it with two spoons “just in case”.
Wouldn’t you love a place like that?
And the price? We paid €40,65 for two main courses, dessert, two or three colas (I don’t remember) and tea. The ice cream coupe was a bit pricey (€7 or €8), but so worth it: three giant scoops of ice cream covered in a mountain of fresh fruit. I’ll pay for that.
The next evening we wanted to try something else, but because we kept getting harassed by personnel from other restaurants we decided to go back to Valentino. I also secretly wanted to order one of their great pizzas. Boyfriend didn’t object and the food was great again. This time we didn’t have dessert and we paid €26,10 for two main courses and drinks.
On our third night, we felt like we had to try something different and we ended up at a nearby restaurant called Andorra. We left again after 20 minutes. It was terrible. I had overly fried calamari with a salad that came straight out of a plastic bag. Boyfriend had a shrimp cocktail that existed out of a glass filled with salad and cocktail sauce and 6 meager shrimp pinned on the edge of the glass.
Such a waste of money (€8 per dish, €21,10 in total).
We could’ve had some great food at the Italian!
I hate it when food turns out to be awful, especially when it’s overpriced awful food. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t let this spoil our last night in Portugal so we did the only thing we could do: we went to the Italian for a giant ice cream, and boy, did that taste good.
I do have to say that the Andorra experience it was also a bit our own fault. Our hostel was located near the center and thus near touristy places. I’m sure there are lots of great Portuguese restaurants in Lisbon, but I think you have to know how to find them. I have to admit that when I’m hungry, I need food. When I’ve spent the entire day walking through a city and I’m tired I don’t feel like searching for the best quality/price restaurant for over an hour. I just want to sit down and have a nice meal. Nothing fancy, just nice. So yes, if we would’ve looked a bit further I’m sure we could’ve found something else that was great, but we didn’t.
Lastly, it might have also played a part that the Lisbon Calling Hostel we stayed at in Lisbon was just okay. It wasn't bad, but in comparison with the other places we'd stayed at during our trip, this one was a bit of a downer.
A day in Belém
On our second day in Lisbon, Portugal I'd planned for us to visit the city's civil parish of Belém. To get there we took tram 15 at Cais do Sodre (€1,4 per person for a return ticket) and after about 20 minutes, we got off at the Rua de Belém.
Just a couples of meters away from the tram stop is the famous Pastéis de Belém shop and bar. I’d read online that there’s almost always a queue outside – there was – but that if you go in and grab a seat, you’ll get served almost immediately.
We were lucky to find a spot and indeed, within seconds a waiter came to take our order. I had pasteis de nata and Boyfriend just had a coffee. To be honest, I don’t know why everyone makes so much fuzz about those pastéis de nata. They were good, but I had other pastries in Portugal that were way more delicious.
Normally we take our time for a morning drink and bite, but it was so crowded and noisy at Pastéis de Belém that we left pretty quickly.
Our next stop was the Jardim Tropical at the Largo dos Jerónimos. There turned out to be a €2 entrance fee (€3 if you also wanted to visit the temporary exhibition that was going on), but because we usually like botanical gardens we decided to pay up.
I think this was the poorest botanical garden I’ve ever seen. Okay, I haven’t seen that many, but still. The garden was just not well maintained. We saw a dead bird or two, there were empty spots were you would expect plants, the water of the ponds was pretty dirty and well, it just couldn’t charm me at all.
Because of that I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but I’ll show you some I did take (although I don’t feel they’re representative, as I tried to take tome nice pictures, of course).
What was impressive, was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We didn’t go in, but this building is huge and looked well maintained.
From there we walked on passed the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia and the Museu de Marinha to the water…
… where we checked out the Padrão dos Descobrimientos, an impressive monument honoring the grand explorers of the 15th and 16th century.
In the background of the picture above you can see the famous 25 de Abril Bridge over de Tejo river. Although it looks a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, its design was actually based on that of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, a bridge near the Golden Gate Bridge.
When it was inaugurated in 1966 the bridge was named the Salazar Bridge, in honor of the Prime Minister of Portugal. Not long after the military coup of 1974 the bridge was renamed '25 de Abril', after the day on which the Carnation Revolution had started.
From the Padrão dos Descobrimientos you can already spot the Tower of Belém. Definitely a charming building, but again we didn't go in. I think that after Sintra we felt like no other castle-like structures on that trip would live up to what we'd seen there.
We had lunch by the water and then decided to go ‘hang' a bit at the park Praça Alfonso de Albuquerque. It was so hot that day and we enjoyed just having an ice cream and watching other people in the park. There actually was a large group of Flemish guys playing sports, so we halfy eavesdropped on them and followed their game.
We returned to our hostel at the start of the evening to get ready for dinner, but you already know how that went.
Escape to the beach from Lisbon to Cascais
Because we didn’t really like Lisbon that much and it was too hot to just wander around the city, we decided to go to Cascais beach on our last day in Portugal.
As we’d dropped our car off earlier, we decided to go by train. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Cascais by train from Lisbon and the trains are pretty modern, equipped with air conditioning.
When we got to the station we noticed we weren’t the only ones who wanted to spend a day at the beach: there were long queues at the ticket offices. I suggested we’d try out the automatic ticket machines, but that turned out to be a bad idea.
When it was our turn the ticket machine was out of paper and couldn’t print any more tickets. Boyfriend then went to wait in line at the ticket office while I tried another machine. This one only excepted coins and I only had a bill.
I gave up my battle with the ticket machines and joined Boyfriend, who appeared to had chosen the one line that didn’t advance at all. 40 minutes later, the time it took to get from Lisbon to Cascais, we finally had our ticket and were ready to go.
Another 40 minutes later we got off in Cascais. Everybody seemed to be heading to the beach so we just followed the crowds. The train station is just a five-minute walk from the beach and you really can’t miss. We didn’t crash on the beach immediately, though.
We first walked a bit through the town’s tiny car-free streets, had lunch at a small pastry bar and then walked on following the coastline. After a while, it was clear that we had left the center. We only saw the ocean to our left and some big houses and fancy hotels on our right. It was a nice walk, but it was so hot that after some time we decided to head back to find some shade.
On our walk, we'd seen this tiny beach far from the crowds, a bit away from the center, where there was actually some shade as well. Normalldinner be the last person to go lie in the shade, but it was just so hot this day that I had to.
We spent the rest of our afternoon at the beach and returned to Lisbon when it became time to freshen up for diner. And believe me, we needed to freshen up!
I know I'll go back to Portugal to explore the south as well. I might give Lisbon another chance when I do. But it won't be happening soon.
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Have you ever been to Lisbon? What did you think of the city? Do you think I maybe picked a bad time, going in high season? Let me know in the comments.
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