Portugal has been on my bucket list forever and I’m so pleased to have checked it off this summer! I had a wonderful time exploring the hills of the city of Lisbon and soaking up the summer sun. I spent five days in the glorious city and did my best to condense all my favorite adventures that I had into a busy, yet, logical two-day schedule….
While in Lisbon I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz. I actually discovered the hotel via their blog which is kinda like a Lisbon version of It’s Not Hou It’s Me. Naturally, I was immediately hooked and was excited to have a stay at Lisbon’s original luxury hotel and arguably the best one in town. It was built in 1959 and filled with a standing collection of art *swoons*. The hotel was ahhh-mazing with long leisurely breakfast spreads, turn down service that consisted of homemade traditional Portuguese pastries like cherry tarts and pasteis de Nata, and a fantastic rooftop gym with running track that *almost* made me want to work out on vacation. Views from the top were amazing either way.
Disclaimer: Four Seasons Hotel Ritz provided me a complimentary hotel room during this trip. All opinions are my own.
Day 1: Orient Yourself with the City
Morning: City Tour
First things first when traveling to a new city? Walking the streets and getting a feel for the city. On the recommendation of someone I met in a hostel, I signed up for a Sandeman’s New Europe walking tour. Best decision ever! Not only are the tours free and offered multiple times a day (go early to avoid the heat!), but the tour guides are HILARIOUS and totally engaging.
In addition to bringing to life some of the incredible moments in Lisbon history (the All-Saints Day Earthquake, peaceful Carnation Revolution, etc.), we walked through much of the historical neighborhoods like Chiado and Bairro Alto. On the tour, I learned that James Bond was inspired by Portugal during WWII and that J.K. Rowling named Salazar Slytherin after the Portuguese dictator. We saw the Santa Justa Lift from the backside and totally avoided the crazy lines at the. We walked past the oldest running bookshop in the world, Bertrand’s. And went into this crazy incredible church (honestly unlike most other European churches I’ve seen) called São Domingos. I loved the Sandeman’s tour so much, I ended up signing up for a similar one when I went to Barcelona.
My tour ended in a super central, but touristy Arco do Triunfo square. So for lunch, I made a point to head to an authentic place that doesn’t have pictures on the menu (general rule of thumb while traveling). The vegetarian that I am, I found some incredible vegan food a Tibet restaurant called Os Tibetanos. Monks walked in, so you know that place is legit. I also had lunch (twice!) at Time Out Market, which is like a giant, upscale food court. First time, I had Raw Vegetable Tatar (I KNOW RIGHT?!) and second time I had Pad Thai. Since I’m not much of a sweets person I didn’t try it, but there was also a counter for Santini—arguably the best ice cream in Lisbon.
Afternoon: Side Moto Car Tour
One afternoon day during my stay, the Four Seasons coordinated a vintage moto side car tour of the city for me which was awesome! The tour was pretty customizable, so I was able to see parts of the city quickly that weren’t necessarily the easiest to walk to from the city center, like the Cascais Praia (beach), Torre de Belém and Pastéis de Belém. We also took a nice breezy detour through the Monsanto Forrest that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. After trekking 10+ miles up and down Lisbon’s 12 hills in 100+ degree heat, it was nice to just sit and chill and be driven around for an afternoon. Plus, riding in a 1940s Ukrainian motor bike was a genuinely unique experience that I don’t think I’ll ever find anywhere else! (It was way cooler than the tacky TukTuks that crowed the Lisbon streets).
My favorite part of the tour was eating two authentic pastries at Pastéis de Belém! This place invented what’s commonly known around town as pastéis de nata. The original spot has the super guarded secret family recipe that only two people know. You can find the pastries on just about every street corner, but the original ones were soooo good. My mouth is watering just thinking of them! Pro tip: avoid the long lines outside and grab a table on the inside to get served immediately.
Fun fact: First time I tried pastéis de nata was actually in Macau, China (read the blog post!) which is a former Portuguese colony!
Evening: Go out. Duh.
In case you haven’t walked up enough hills in one day, get dropped off in the Alfama neighborhood and climb up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Although the castle isn’t actually a castle any longer—it’s just the walls with a pretty garden, the Alfama neighborhood is pretty historic and the architecture is lovely. Also at the top of the hill you can get some great sunset views of the city! I stumbled upon some fantastic public art (I told you I’m an art nerd!) at the NYT recommended Leopold Restaurant as well.
My favorite spot for dinner that I went to was Estrela de Bica in the Bairro Alto neighborhood—it’s super hipster af with craft beer, modern Portuguese cuisine and plenty of local patrons. It’s also a few blocks away from the legendary pink street (actually called Rua Nova de Carvalho) that’s filled with bars and discos. Spoiler: it’s actually not that exciting to see because as you can imagine, that street gets pretty gross after a big night out.
Must try drinks to try in Lisbon are vinho verde (green wine) that’s made from super young grapes and ginjinha which is a sour cherry infused aguardente (Portuguese brandy)! Also, if you’re into movies, I went to a film festival (in Portuguese/Spanish) at the Cinema Sao Jorge. They regularly do cool events there.
Day 2: Delve into the History
Morning Full of Art
I’m a huge art lover and totally nerded out over the fantastic art and architecture in the city. In addition to taking apx 230948204 pictures of the tiled buildings which are all over the city—I went to the National Tile Museum. I saw the most incredible works of art formed out of tiles and was in the museum for a solid hour.
I also went to several museums inside the Gulbenkian Museum—I loooooved the modern art collection, but was also super impressed with the collections collection of Mr. Gulbenkian, oil mongul of the 1800s, who just donated his private collection to Lisbon. I went on a Monday, where they just so happened to be having tours in English! I signed up (tickets are half off if you’re under 30!) and basically got a private tour because there was no one else there. It was awesome! I spent hours wandering around and starting at everything from ancient Greek coins to Marie Antoinette’s chair to original jewelry from Rene Lalique.
I also fell in love with basically every exhibit at the MAAT—Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology. Never have I ever been to a museum dedicated to architecture (which I’m on a huge kick on recently) and it was amazing. The building itself is a dream, which incredible views of the 25 of April Bridge (basically the same as the Golden Gate in San Fran), but it also has all sorts of cool installations and edgy videos. You can also walk onto the roof!
Side Note: While there’s a public transportation system in Lisbon, I only used it once when getting from the airport to the hotel. I pretty much either walked or when the heat was too much took an uber. The city is suuuper spread out.
Afternoon of Shopping
From the Four Season’s blog called City Guide Lisbon, I found a bunch of recommendations for how to explore the city like a local, like taking a visit to the concept store Embaixada or finding the best rooftop bars. One of my favorite spots during the trip was taking a visit to LX Factory. It’s this super hipster factory that’s been converted into a multi-purpose space with farmer’s market, art fair, and restaurants! Plan to relax and have lunch here 🙂
Evening at the Waterfront
I always somehow manage to make my way towards a body of water. One evening I spent watching the sunset at the Royal Market on the River Front (near Cais do Sodre) that was popped up on the water front. There was a live DJ, beer that cost the same as water and all sorts of fun vendors. I bought myself a cork purse. Cork is very popular in Lisbon and is trendy AF in Houston! There’s also a few beaches nearby. I saw Cascais, which is an easy day trip from the city, on my moto side car tour. Although I didn’t go because I was coming off the high of Menorca, it looked like a lovely spot to spend the afternoon. Comporta was also highly recommended to me.
I absolutely loved spending time in Lisbon this summer. If I ever go back I’ll brush up on my Portuguese and convince more locals to practice with me (everyone seems to speak English). I’ll also go to the beach and climb more hills because why not 😉
What do you think of Lisbon? Want to go? What do you recommend?