By day Lisbon has a naïve theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night it is a fairy-tale city – Erich Maria Remarque.
A whirlwind trip that was jam-packed full of sightseeing, photo taking and lots and lots of white sangria. It was an annual trip my best friend and I have: visit a brand new city, on a budget, every January. It breaks up the longest month of the year (how long was last month?!) and it gives us a chance to start the year off in the right style: travelling.
Lisbon is a magical city, day and night, but some of it – like all cities – is a little overrated and a little bland. If I were to go again, I wouldn’t visit Castelo de São Jorge (overpriced with a lack of general information about the place with hardly any disability access if you are travelling with a wheelchair, or on crutches), but I would take advantage of the night life, try to drink more cocktails and eat more food, as well as visit surrounding areas. I certainly wouldn’t lock myself out of the apartment and I would pack a second pair of shoes because there are a lot of hills in Lisbon and you will get sore legs after just one day. As for my Lisbon highlights, carry on reading but you will be able to guess one or two.
Leaving a very wet, foggy England behind for blue skies and lots of warm sunshine in January instantly lifted that January mood. It wasn’t boiling hot, like a summer’s day, but we had highs of 17 degrees which is pretty fantastic when the UK was heading towards freezing point. If you are planning a trip to Lisbon, or Portugal and Spain in general, during the colder months of the year, I would suggest a lighter coat than your usual winter warmer. Not only is it warmer (obviously), you will be doing a lot more walking which tends to get that blood pumping. Still take jumpers, but perhaps not the thickest ones in your wardrobe.
TRADITIONAL DELICACY AT PASTEIS DE BELEM
Ellie’s boss told us that Pastéis de Belém was an absolute must on the Lisbon itinerary. It is the place where they recreate the traditional pastry from the days of the monks who lived in Mosteiro dos Jerónimos during the nineteenth century. Ever since 1837, Pastéis de Belem has created these pastries for tourists and locals alike, following the exact same recipe for over 180 years. For somebody who doesn’t love gooey centres to pastries, this was incredibly sweet and I devoured the whole thing with coatings of sugar and cinnamon on top.
DUCK AND WINE AT GORKI
You know when you just happen to find those places that perhaps nobody else really visits, and they end up being pretty spectacular? We came across that with Gorki which was down the road from our apartment. Nobody else was in there. For a Thursday night, we were a little sceptical, but it was a pretty quiet night in the small square surrounded by apartment blocks. We had the best night. A good bottle of white wine was flowing (Zé da Leonor, in case you’re wondering) and the talk was getting deeper as best friends’ chat does. Then, the duck. That duck was one of the best ducks I have ever tasted. It came with mashed something – I can’t quite remember, but it wasn’t potato and it was incredible, alongside sliced pear in a red sauce. My mouth is salivating, thinking about it now. It was something that the chef whisked up for me because they didn’t have the original duck dish I wanted. I bet this was 100 times better!
MUMMIES AT CONVENTO DE CARMO
We did a lot of stumbling across things during this trip. From one of the central squares in the city, we looked to our right and saw a towering building that clearly wasn’t modern. A quick Google and we found its name: Convento de Carmo. We love convents and churches and basilicas in Europe. There is something magical and terrifying about them. Sometimes I wonder how many people have died there and if they haunt the place… which is quite fitting for what was inside the convent-turned-museum. Not one, not two, but three mummies are in that convent. If you know me personally, you can imagine what I was like: face right up against the glass, dissecting every skin follicle and every strand of hair, wondering who these young people are (I assume children) and how they ended up as mummies, not buried somewhere. There isn’t any information about where, or when, they came from and that just intrigues me more. Ellie says I’m weird, but Warren shares the same fascination so I guess I’m not not-normal.
As soon as we touched down at 11am, alcohol was on our minds. We were in full holiday mode, especially as it was Wednesday and we’d normally be in work. After making our way to the city centre, dropping our bags and having a wander, a litre of white sangria was what we ordered with our burgers at Can the Can in Commerce Square – a gorgeous square with ocean views by the way. That sangria was gorgeous, and so was every glass or litre of sangria I ordered afterwards.
CATCHING THE FAMOUS TRAM 28E
If there is one tourist thing you do in Lisbon: catch Tram 28E. It might not seem like much of a tourist attraction, but this 1930s mode of transport takes you through the city and all its popular boroughs. It is like a rollercoaster ride, especially the way it jerks and jolts on turns and corners. Beware of the pick-pockets and try to get a seat. It’s the best way to enjoy the journey without feeling as though you’re about to have your valuables stolen. A tip that we found online is to head to the first stop in Martim Moniz – you are more likely to get a seat. Also, get there for 9am to avoid the crowds of tourists between 10am and 6pm. It is like stepping back in time when you climb aboard a tram: far more exciting than buses and subways.
MOSTEIRO DOS JERÓNIMOS
The building for the Hieronymites Monastery is huge. It is magnificent and breath-taking and honestly, a little overwhelming with its sheer size. Inside, it reminded me of the Alhambra Castle in Granada, Spain. The courtyard with huge arches and long walkways in a complete square are quite similar in presence. Again, with this place, it was imagining the history and wondering what the monks did in their day-to-day life. Pieces of information in the upper part of the church attached to the monastery told us that monks would spend up to seven hours per day in the choir room singing, praying, dancing, meditating, thinking. I crouched in the confessional rooms, went up the darkened stairs and stared in awe of the magnificence. It helps that the sun was shining and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. It would be more gothic in the dark.
100% my favourite place in Lisbon. LX Factory reminded me so much of the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool – completely independent stores with things you just want to have in your home. The cobbled street has two rows of shops, restaurants and bars that are full of people. There are home stores; the Insta-famous book store, Ler Devagar, complete with a café inside and an old man and his incredible metal creations which hover on a metal floor above the shop. There are graffiti walls and bare bricks, all of which hone in on the independent nature of this part of the city. I could have happily spent an entire day there, wandering in and out of each shop and tasting something from every single restaurant because I bet there was so much more to offer than what I saw. LX Factory was a bit of a surprise too; I assumed it would all be inside a kind of shopping centre, but I’m so glad it is exactly how it is – the way it should be.
I hope my favourite things in Lisbon help you decide whether you want to visit Portugal’s capital. Looking back, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I did. Lisbon has so much to offer for everyone and I am sure there are places that I didn’t have time to see, or somehow missed out on, that are waiting to be discovered in the future.
Have you visited Lisbon? What were your favourite places, or things to do?
Love, Faye xo