Lisbon in February is still cold, but the sun is shining so it makes a world of difference compared to dreary Germany. There are regular direct flights from Stuttgart too.
Uber is the greatest thing on earth in Lisbon. It cost less than 10 euro to get from the airport to the center – total. Return was peak time so a bit more, but still cheap. Can’t beat that. Short trips within the city were a few euro each time so perfect when traveling with friends since we split the cost. We did not take public transit, though the trams and buses are everywhere.
We stayed at a boutique hotel in the very center, Tesouro da Baixa by Shiadu. It included breakfast, great staff and was within walking distance to everything. The entrance was a bit funny – the elevator to reception was through a shoe store below, but we had a fantastic view of the castle fortress from our room. The mosaic designs throughout the streets are amazing too, on every street downtown.
To Do – MAP
The top rated tourist things to do include going up an elevator (Santa Justa) in the center of the city, taking an old tram (tram 28) down the narrow streets and going on a daytrip to Sintra outside the city.
The first two of the three things we skipped on purpose because of crowds and we were not sad about it, and the later we simply ran out of time and will definitely do on the next trip back to Portugal.
We did, however, do the usual free walking tour starting at the Camões Monument in Camões Square. We did not sign up online, we just went there and joined in.
The tour was about 3-hours and walked us through the main landmarks, and told us about the history of the great earthquake, fire, and flood that shaped the city. Walking by the elevator, the cost was 5 euros and there was always a line. You can reach the top by the stairs just around it for free. The tour stopped outside the Carmo Convent, Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that remains standing in part despite the disasters. The tour ended at the huge Praça do Comércio, or Commerce Square on the water. There was a small outdoor market of local crafts on the perimeter selling pottery, jewelry and chachkies we of course walked through.
After the tour, we grabbed a beer and planned our next stop for dinner.
- Cerveteca Lisboa – Our favorite of the trip for both beer and vibe.
- The Beer Station – Small place but good selection, a great stop on the way to dinner.
- Duque Brewpub – Great spot, crowded but we still managed a spot at a table. Its a hike up the steps to get there and a great view during the day we didn’t realize was there when hiking up at night. We saw it again on our walking tour.
- Lis Beer – The location was cool, up an arched alley not far from Commerce Square, but also our least favorite for interior atmosphere and also there is smoking in side which ruins everything for us. Outdoor seating would have been nice too.
- The Beer Museum is in Commerce Square and we didn’t stop there, but they had lots of outdoor seating.
- Across the water via ferry: Birraria Beer & Gin – great local spot with a few taps and bottles.
On arrival, the hotel recommended Pinnochio for lunch. It was OK, expensive, they had large traditional cod dishes that were good if you like cod. We sat outside in the sun and that was perfect no matter what we ate. We had the fresh cod and seafood rice pot. The rice dish was good, not memorable.
Sea Me – A much better option for lunch though it is indoors, with great seafood, drinks and atmosphere. The scallops were amazing, whole fish options, tartar, and they made a great sangria.
Tip: Vinho Verde is the best, lightest most refreshing local Portuguese wine served everywhere. It is also the cheapest. In the U.S., we would buy it seasonally at Trader Joes for the hot summers.
The famous sour cherry liquor, Ginjinha or Ginja, is also a must-try, however, you really have to like cherry (I do not). Plus, there are whole cherries soaked in the liquor. The shops to stop in for a shot are: Ginjinha Sem Rival and A Ginjinha.
Our favorite restaurant of the entire trip, was Gin Lovers & Less in the old Moroccan Embassy. We did the tasting menu and everything on it was spectacular. We would definitely go back. The bartenders were also amazing, making custom cocktails while we waited for our table. They all were cocktail competition winners too.
The second was Ponto Final – A reservation is a must to sit outside on the pier. The hotel made it for us, though English is no issue in Lisbon anywhere it seemed. It was unfortunately shady on the pier at 2 p.m. unless you sat at the very end table on the water, so we were cold, but if it was a little warmer it would have been so amazing. To get there, go to the ferry terminal, across from the Time Out Market area. There are ticket machines, or we bought ours from the ticket window. Take the ferry at least 45 minutes ahead of your reservation to allow for the 20 minute walk along the water once the ferry docs. The graffiti and old tile on the abandoned port buildings had us stopping for a photo every minute along the way. From there it also the best view of their replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, the 25 de Abril Bridge.
After, we walked over to the scenic elevator where for a euro you can go up to the top for a view over the bridge. We walked into the town but there isn’t much there. The church was in the direct sun so we sat there for a minute while waiting for our Uber.
Next stop: to see Jesus.
Lisbon has an exact replica, though a little smaller, of the famous Jesus statue in Brazil, the Santuario Nacional de Cristo Rei. Tickets were about 5 euros and we bought them at the entrance. There are stairs and an elevator to the top. The 360 view is the best and well worth the stop. We grabbed an Uber from there back to the town near the Port, but didn’t mention the port so ended up in the city center of Cacilhas. It was good luck to end up there, because the Uber driver dropped us right outside of Birraria Beer & Gin where we of course had to grab a beer or two before continuing onto the ferry to get back over to Lisbon center.
São Jorge Castle – The fortress is another must from the center of Lisbon for views. The walk is 20 minutes up hill but we of course Uber’d. You have to pay for the museum to get to the outer part of the fort for the view but it is worth it and it was also the best timing to get there early just after it opened to avoid the larger crowds. After taking in the view, walk the outer wall for a 360 view from above. There are peacocks in the center garden roaming around, and also in a few of the trees, too. There was a small indoor museum of tiles and pottery where they also had period performers dancing for the royal court for show. The archeological site is only open at scheduled times during free tours, we missed it by a few minutes and didn’t want to wait out the next one another hour. You can still walk around it.
At the top of the hill just outside the castle was my favorite part of our trip to Lisbon (aside from the glow-in-the-dark Fatima I purchased).
Pastel de nata. The mecca of traditional things to eat in Lisbon. They aren’t too sweet though they look like a mini crème Brule tart. They are egg custard tarts served warm with port or coffee. Before eating them be sure to sprinkle a healthy dose of cinnamon on top. They are small, but rich and filling. We stopped at three places:
- Pasteis de Belem – Famous, also a sit-down cafe. The line moves fast so don’t worry.
- Fábrica da Nata – Pastéis de Nata – has a great port combo and plenty of seating.
- Pastelaria Santo Antonio – Our favorite of the trip, just down the hill from the entrance to the São Jorge Castle. Looks small in the counter area but there is a lot of seating upstairs.
Belem Tower: Venturing out to the famous and beautiful Belem Tower via Uber, we walked around for a minute, took some photos and went on our way. It was beautiful on the water with the bridge behind it. Worth a stop, plus, the famous Belem cafe is a 20 minute walk from there.
Jerónimos Monastery: In between Belem Tower and pastries is this former monastery which has a beautiful church open to the public where Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea, is entombed.
Red (Pink) Light District: We ended the day with cocktails at a former brothel-turned fantastic bar, Pensão Amor, above the famous pink street. The street is pictured online much cleaner and prettier than it actually is fyi. It was not the highlight, or as large as photos make it seem. The bar was really cool with great cocktails, vintage furniture and risqué décor. We met some new friends there, currently living in Paris, we will keep in touch with for future travels.
Up the hill from the bar are also tile shops not to miss during the day. The favorite was Fabrica Sant Anna. Broken tiles were in boxes as well as new tiles and custom pieces. Everything we liked was expensive (though we did come home with one of the 3-d tiles for 15 euro), or impractical for renters right now, but they deliver! One day we will have this wall fountain (below). Across the street not too far up the hill was a second shop with vintage tiles called Dory Antiques. Worth a stop. The boutique shopping in Lisbon is great, just plan to walk uphill a lot.
All in all, the trip was not long enough and the city is much larger than we thought. The food is amazing, there is so much to do and see, we will have to make it back someday to take a daytrip out to Sintra.