A Little Guide to Lisbon
Lisbon has always been on my must visit list, so when I decided book a mini break as a treat for finishing writing my first book it was an obvious choice. I couldn’t wait to explore the cobbled streets and colourful alleyways of Lisbon. We went at the beginning of October, and were expecting pleasantly warm weather, what we actually got was a heat wave with highs of 32°. Perfect weather for wafting about in a sundress, drinking beer and eating ice cream, although it did make the steep hills and hundreds of steps in Lisbon a bit of a challenge.
Santos and Bario Alto
We stayed in an airbnb in the historic Santos neighbourhood, on the charming Rua da Esperanca, which translates as Hope Street. It was a quiet and pretty neighbourhood, and an easy walk into the busier neighbourhoods of Barrio Alto. We arrived just before three in the afternoon, so we had plenty of time to explore our first day. One of our favourite local finds was Mercearia da Milla, which is a lovely delicatessen selling great coffee, pastries, salads and sandwiches. After grabbing a coffee we made our way into town for a wander and a chance to get our bearings. For dinner we popped into the Time Out Market, which everyone raved about. Unfortunately it just wasn’t for us. The food looked great, but having to bring your food on a plastic tray to a vast communal table in hope of finding a seat somewhere near your partner as well as having to shout to each other among the crowds of people just wasn’t our kind of thing. I’ve realised that any restaurant described as having a 'buzzing atmosphere' just isn’t for me. I picked up an incredibly tasty custard tart at Manteigaria, the first of many, to eat on the go. It was warm, flakey, fragrent and slightly gooey; the best. We found a little family run restaurant in a quiet alleyway near where we were staying and had an excellent, and very affordable dinner there instead.
Alfama, the flea market and the tram
The Museum of Antique Art was just around the corner of where we were staying, so of course I dragged my husband there on our first morning. The museum is a real mixture from mediaeval art work to the home furnishings of the Portuguese royal family. One of the most memorable exhibits in the museum was a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch. It was my first time seeing a Bosch in the flesh, and we must’ve spent about 20 minutes just staring at it. After a few hours in the museum we decided to go to the flea market in Alfama, which is pretty much the opposite side of Lisbon. We made our way there slowly throughout the day, with lots of stops for iced coffee, beer, ice cream and a chance to take in the beautiful views. Santini in Chiado was our favourite spot for ice cream. Our route took us through the Praça do Comércio, a large plaza that looks out onto the river Tagus. From there we made our way into Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood in the city which is beautifully higgledy-piggledy and colourful. After walking up what seemed like hundreds of steps we made our way to a mirador (view point) where we enjoyed an iced coffee and a stunning panoramic view of Lisbon and the Tagus. After that we continued towards the flea market via George castle and the church. The flea market itself is vast, and I would describe it as containing everything you could possibly imagine, but don’t actually want to buy. Everything from rusty nails and vintage matchboxes to cheap shampoo and tourist postcards. It’s great fun to wander round and have a look. After that we decided to get the historic Tram 28 back, as we couldn’t face walking all that way in the scorching sun. Tram 28 is a traditional wooden tram from the 1930s and it’s a great way to see the city
We had dinner at the same place as before, partly because I had left my scarf there and partly because it was really good. After that we made I way to Barrio Alto to hear some Fado. Fado is to Portugal as Flamenco is to Spain. It is a haunting and melancholy music. There are many Fado bars in Barrio Alto and Alfama, and they get very busy in the evening.
We debated going to both Cascais and the castle district of Sintra in the same day and getting a taxi from one to the other, but in the end we decided it would be more relaxing to spend the whole day at Cascais instead. Cascais is a beach resort 30 minutes from Lisbon on the train (€5 return). It has lots of beautiful sandy beaches, stunning historic mansions, beautiful parks and lots of restaurants. It has such a relaxed, chilled out vibe, I would love to go back and stay longer. My favourite part was finding a teeny tiny hidden beach tucked behind a stunning mansion. There were only four people on the beach and you could only reach it when the tide was out.
On our last day we visited the Estrela Basilica, and paid to go up onto the roof, which was amazing, but not for those scared of heights. After that we had a wander in the park and explored the quiet neighbourhood Estrela. Looking for somewhere for lunch we stumbled across the Mercado de Campo de Ourique. There were vegetables, meat and cheese for sale as well as stalls selling hot food. The food section was similar to the Time Out market but much more quiet and family friendly. My husband had steak and fries and I had huge salad.
After that we decided to walk to the LX Factory which is a little way out of the city centre. We did an awful lot of walking on our last day! I’d been trying to drag my husband to the LX Factory since the first day but he is very resistant to anything that sounds too trendy. We had a coffee then explored Ler Devagar which Is probably one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. For a bibliophile like my husband this definitely made the journey to the LX Factory worthwhile. The bookshop is built around a huge antique printing press, which printed the very first ever newspapers in Portugal. Currently on the printing press, which is about the size of a small house, there is an exhibition of kinetic art run by a charming and eccentric old man. He makes electric sculptures out of old bits of rubbish and delights in showing them to visitors. There was something so wonderfully absurd and charming about them that you couldn’t help but to grin from ear to ear.
After that we walked back to the Santos neighbourhood and had a beer in a rather smart bar overlooking the river next to the Museum of Antique Art and waited until it was time to call an Uber.
This painting inspired by the lovely old neighbourhood of Alfama is now available as print in my shop.