We visited Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal for Larry’s birthday! And even though it was in November, god bless Lisbon for maintaining sunny days and warm temperatures up to 20 degrees.
An incredibly bright, colourful and historical city, here is our video recap of 10 must sees/dos if visiting Lisbon and the surrounding area. And more detail on each below!
1. Pena Palace, Sintra
For just a few dollars you can catch an hour train from the main station that runs every half hour to the city of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A royal sanctuary nestled in the Sintra Mountains made up of a vast collection of castles and palaces which many visitors compare to a real-life Fairy Tale town.
And of all sites the most famous and probably the most photographed is the Pena Palace. Built in 1836, it’s known for its colourful façade and mix of whimsically designed towers and terraces.
2. Belém Tower
Located in the district of Belém, Belém tower, a previous line of defence at the mouth of the Tagus River, was built in 1515 and has also become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in a very historical part of the town and combined with neighbouring monuments just across the street from #4 and #5 on the list, it’s part of a trio of amongst the most touristed sites in Lisbon.
3. City Walks
Lisbon is a beautiful city and full of so much life and colour. With cobblestone roads, cafes, artisan buildings, picturesque squares and promenades and hidden alleyways, it’s a great place to just get lost in. A not to miss, walking through Alfama, the historical centre of the city and where the majority of Lisbon’s architectural design has been the most preserved. And the Praca do Comercio that leads from river up the most visited shopping and restaurant streets.
4. Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Built in 1958, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos was erected in honour of 33 of the greatest minds and explorers of the Age of Discoveries during the 15th and 16th centuries.
5. Jerónimos Monastery
Built in 1495 and located just across from the Belém tower, the Jerónimos Monastery was home to the Order of Saint Jerome. The inner courtyard of the monastery is particularly beautiful with intricately carved stone corridors and archways that sidestep into a grand cathedral. The monks at this monastery are also famous for their desserts of all things but we’ll get to that a little later in #10.
6. São Jorge Castle
The São Jorge Castle is the most prominent structure on a hilltop at the centre of historical Lisbon. Its first fortification was erected estimated to be as early as 48 BC. It’s a basic fortified stone structure with high walled walkways and epic in its age and stature, but really we enjoyed it most for visiting at sunset for panoramic views of the city and the Tagus river. Especially beautiful because it’s the best view of the traditional red-roofed district of Alfama.
7. Quinta da Regaleira
The Quinta da Regaleira was one of the most interesting and surprising places we’ve ever been. It was kindof like, this eccentric fairytale park.
Also located in Sintra, it’s a quirky mansion estate full of secret grottoes, waterfalls, stepping stones, winding towers and castle spires, underground aquariums, an underground chapel, secret trails, gothic buildings, structures and walls, stables and so much more. We got lost in there for hours just walking around going down one hole and popping up across the estate from another. It was strangely hypnotising discovering new things around every corner.
Our favourite spot of the trip!
8. The Night Life
If going out in Lisbon, much like Spanish culture, don’t expect for bars to start getting busy until Midnight. And for the dance clubs, not until 3am.
Not a surprise since you don’t usually eat dinner until 10pm.
After a long dinner of food and wine, Bairro Alto is a prime place to start your night. A well-stocked area of town made up of a grid of alleyways and cobblestone streets with bars and restaurants with crowds and tables that flow into the streets. Great place for a pub crawl and very easy place to make friends.
There’s like 10-15 plus gay bars in Lisbon with crowds strewn between them. About a 10-15 minute walk from Bairro Alto, in one of the gay quarters you’ll find Bar TR3S Lisboa, Woof, Shelter (All neighbouring bearish or 30+ bars), Finalmente, BAR CRU and many more.
But part of the fun is finding locals to give you recommendations to go anyway so be sure to ask!
9. National Coach Museum
Ok this may sound super lame, and we’re not ones to love traipsing from museum to museum in ANY city we go, BUT, the thought of a museum filled with 15th – 19th century royal carriages which princess, queens and kings of royalty from ALL OVER EUROPE ACTUALLY rode around cities and country sides in, for some reason sounded super interesting.
And to say with no shame, it was! In particular one modest old carriage, with an interior and seat cushion arrangement that wouldn’t even pass for economy seating theses days, that the King of Spain in the 1500’s spent 68 DAYS STRAIGHT riding in when he travelled from Madrid to Lisbon. Ouch.
Was totally worth the few dollars for both the history and the amazing air conditioning on a hot day.
10. The Food
Freshness and seafood are high on the list of food options in Portugal. But again,, for dinner prepare to eat post 9pm if you want to be on the same time track as the locals.
Highly recommend Palacio Chiado for being an incredibly stunning building like it was the inner chambers of a vintage royal mansion, and for its floor after floor of classy bars and restaurants. In particular we enjoyed Suschic (Yes I know it’s Sushi not Portugese but when the fish is that fresh you don’t turn down the chance.). And though the place looks ridiculously expensive it was very reasonably priced at what seemed around 15-20 euro for a main.
Also try sizzling your own steak on a stone at Restaurante Cabacas.
And Lisbon is super well known for its desserts, in particular a famous egg tart called a Pastel de Nata. Originally invented by the same monks from the Jeronimos Monastery. The original recipe is still sold at the Pasteis de Belém where long lines of avid snackers wait to try this treat. But let me tell you there are few things we wait in line for and food ain’t one of them. For us, we found perfectly delicious Pastel de Nata’s at café’s and restaurants across the city.
And don’t forget Sardines! They love them so much they have entire stores dedicated to just them.
We partnered with The Late Birds Lisbon during our stay. The Late Birds is a gay guesthouse in the Bairro Alto area. Very central. Modern, classy with a cocktail bar, beautiful courtyard and pool (a rarity it seems in central Lisbon) and with a breakfast/brunch buffet included every day until 12!! Because lord knows you’ve gotta be able to sleep in in on vacation. Especially with a late lifestyle like Lisbon.
Highly recommended! Albeit it’s male only 😊.
If you guys have any questions or want help or advice to plan your trip to Lisbon or anywhere else, let us know!
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Chris and Larry