We were booking a holiday in October. It needed to be warm (or warmer than Ireland at least). It needed to be fairly cheap, as we are house hunting in Dublin, and it needed to be a country we haven’t been to before, to meet my 30 countries by 30 travel goal.
We discussed booking a surf/yoga retreat, so we could actually rest on this holiday in one or two locations, but not get bored. We’re not the ‘lie by the pool for a week’ type. (You might have noticed). There is a surplus supply of yoga/surf retreats in Portugal.
However, once I did my Portugal research and blog reading, there was just too much to see and do. We only had a week. I eventually scrapped the retreat idea and this is what we did instead.
Known as the city of seven hills, but it felt like the city of 100 hills. I was up and down like a yo-yo. This was a theme that continued on our trip as you will soon find out.
My favourite things about Lisbon…
- the cobbled streets (Slippy, beware!)
- the tiled facades known as azulejos. I didn’t see the same tile on two different buildings on my whole trip.
- the ‘miradouros’ viewpoints and roof top bars.
We arrived in Lisbon at around 10.30am. We got a taxi from the airport to Bairro Alto. It cost 14 euro. We later found out we could have got a free taxi, if we had downloaded the Uber app and used the promo code UBERLISBOA. This will get you 2 free rides up to 20 euro.
I also left my phone in the taxi with all our directions and booking details/contacts. Always email a copy to your travel buddy, and print important info. Lesson learned.
We booked an Air BnB in Barrio Alto. I can’t recommend it, so I won’t mention it. The location however was great, and we could walk everywhere from there. It was also close to all the bars and restaurants which made it feel lively and safe when walking home, (but a little noisy at night). Bear that in mind when selecting your area in Lisbon to stay.
We spent the first day walking around and finding our bearings. It’s a very walkable city and everything is in walking range if you are staying in Bairro alto. It is not a very accessible city and I wouldn’t fancy pushing a pram/buggy or a wheelchair up and down those cobbled hills.
We made our way down the river and enjoyed lunch on deck chairs looking out onto the water with a glass of white wine from Douro Valley (northern Portugal).
On our walk we stumbled across Rossio Square. The paving here messes with your brain, and the train station is a beautiful building, especially when it’s lit up at night time.
We had dinner in Opicino (forgive me if I’ve spelt this wrong). I thoroughly enjoyed my veggie dinner, but Ciaran wasn’t impressed with his greasy steak.
We also found the Santa Justa Lift viewing tower. It had a huge queue at the bottom. Don’t bother! If you go to Topo Chiado Rooftop Bar, behind the Carmo Convent (Convento da Ordem do Carmo), you’ll find steps that lead to the viewing tower, no queue and free entry. If you want to go to the very top you can pay 1.50 euro from there (and no queue).
After a cocktail on the rooftop we could hear music coming from the medieval ruins of Carmo Convent. Turns out there was a free orchestra show, so we went in. The orchestra was great, but the building was the most impressive of all. It has remained roofless after the earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755. Go in and have a look on your way to the viewing tower.
The next day we went on the Sandeman’s free walking tour. I always like to do the free walking tours. You get a better sense of the place, and understand what it is you’re looking at. I particularly loved this tour. If you go, ask for Yuri! He’s a great tour guide and storyteller. He also directed us to good vegan/veggie restaurants and pointed out tourist scams to avoid. Portugal and Lisbon have a very interesting history, that I myself, was completely unaware of. If you are a history buff, I would also recommend these tours.
Everyone jumps on the 28 tram! Yuri said “I would only get on this tram if you love the smell of body odour and like the risk of being pickpocketed.” There are three old yellow working trams in the city 28, 12, and 5. Jump on the 12 and 5 to get the experience without the squeeze. There is also a funicular, Elevador da Gloria.
Another tourist scam to be aware of is Castelo Sao Jorge. This castle was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1755. It was reconstructed in the 1920’s and is therefore a replica. The walls however, remained fairly intact. If you want the views from the castle there are plenty of free viewpoints beside and around the castle. The entry fee is 8.50 euro.
After the free tour and a quick lunch we booked a Sandemans Belem tour. I’m not sure I would recommend this, unless you are a complete history buff that really enjoys facts, dates, and figures of Portuguese history.
If I was to do it again, I would jump on the train to Belem from (3 euro return) at Cais do Sodre train station. If you walk to the river through the square and continue right along the coast you’ll find it. It’s a 10 minute train journey or a 40 minute bike ride if you would prefer to do that.
From the station you can see the famous Pasteis de Belem, and a queue the length of the street. This café opened in 1837 selling their traditional custard tarts (pastel de nata) using a recipe from the monks. It still uses the original recipe from it’s neighbouring monastery.
In my opinion, it’s another tourist trap. You’ll find pastel de nata in every bakery/café in Lisbon, so don’t panic if you don’t have time for Belem. You can get pastel de nata in Lisbon city centre at Manteigaira (Chiado Square), that are just as good. I just wish they would come up with a vegan pastel de nata somewhere in the city.
Another local fixation is Ginja, a cherry liquor they sell all over the city. I loved it! They sell it by the shot, and sometimes in a edible chocolate cup (1 euro).
Back to Belem! If you are at Pasteis de Belem and you follow the road for 10 minutes you’ll see the Jerónimos Monastery. It is free to go inside to the cathedral, or it could have been included in our tour price.
There is also a water fountain, a monument to the explorers, and at the end, the Belem tower. We couldn’t get into the tower (which was disappointing), because the tour ran on past 5pm and it closed at 5pm. They should really factor that in to the Sandemans Belem tour.
The Torre de Belem is 500 years old and was originally built as a protective fortress against unwelcome ships. When the building was finished they no longer needed it and it was used a prison for a short time. Bad prisoners ended up in the lower levels, where the water seeped into the building. There is a 6 euro entry fee.
Belem is a good spot at sunrise/sunset. There is also Belem Botanical gardens if you have time to squeeze that in (we didn’t).
If you are looking somewhere to eat in Belem, there is a burger restaurant beside the Pasteis de Belem that has a vegan burger option! We found this after a disappointing meal elsewhere!
The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) is about a 5 minute walk from the Belem train stop. We were advised to get on the train and missed MAAT! Another disappointing error that day! I would recommend you visit this building. I will have to go back to see it. Sunrise and sunset are the best time to go.
That evening we went on the hunt for Rua do Alecrim, the famous pink street. I didn’t like this area at all, it was hard to find, which is odd, as its a bright pink street. I found it very seedy. I guess it’s where the hens and stags would go on a trip to Lisbon. It’s not somewhere I would recommend. Rua Nova do Carvalhlo is known for its nightlife and cais de sodre is the nightlife near the river.
On our third day we checked out and headed to Rossio Train station to get a train to Sintra. The trains run on the hour every hour (although the website told us they were more frequent). Go early to get a ticket (4.50 euro) because the queues were massive. The train journey is only 40 minutes. We jumped on a tuk tuk and stayed in a BnB called Quinta du Murta. It was old fashioned, but had a (cold) pool and a Jacuzzi in the garden.
We dumped our bags and headed straight for Quintas De Regelarias. It was approximately a 30 minute walk from our BnB, or 20 minutes from the centre of Sintra. The entry fee was 6 euro each, and we spent about 2 hours there, casually strolling around the tunnels, caves, grottos, gardens, churches, monuments, towers and bridges. My favourite was of course the Initiation Well. I had seen this well 100 times and never knew where it was until I was reading about Sintra while researching my trip. This is why I always do my research! Just imagine if I’d missed this and discovered it was there, once I got home.
There is also a house in the grounds and a café. The food in the café wasn’t great. I would suggest a packed lunch or eat before you go.
That evening we ate in Tasha do Xico and I had a had the vegetarian option (which was vegan). It sounded peculiar, but it was really tasty.
The next day we got the 434 bus (orange line) from the town centre up to Castello de Mouros (the Moorish Castle). The bus cost 3 euro return. You can walk if you like! I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, but if you are an exercise-aholic, then be my guest. The entry fee was 8 euro. It feels like a miniature version of the Wall of China. We spent about 1-1.5 hours here.
After our walk along the wall, we walked up further to Pena Palace (entry fee 14 euro). I can’t remember doing more steps or steep hill climbs as much as I did in Portugal! Lisbon is the city of seven hills, but it appears to be the same elsewhere. There is a transfer bus at the gate that takes you to the hill to the palace. It’s 3 euro return and worth every penny in my opinion.
Pena Palace is at the very top of the hill, you can see it from the village centre. It’s a collection of different buildings styles, slotted together. You can do a tour of the palace and walk around to get some good pictures. The café food wasn’t great here either. I would suggest a packed lunch, or hold off until you get back to Sintra village centre.
We planned to leave Sintra after our site seeing and head to Cais Cais for 2-3 days. We wanted somewhere with a beach for some relaxing, swimming and surfing. However, we couldn’t find any accommodation and re routed to Ericeria. We eventually found out there was a surf event on Cascais, which explained the lack of accommodation. Do your research before you go!
We wanted to rent a car. Everyone in Sintra told us there was no rental cars in Sintra and we would have to get the bus. We Googled it and found a Hertz just outside the town centre. We booked a taxi and low and behold there it was. I still find it bizarre that all our tourist information and hosts told us they had never heard of it. We rented a car from there and drove 30 minutes to the coast, to Ericeria.
I think Ericeria was my favourite place we visited. We stayed in a newly renovated guesthouse called Ola Onda guesthouse. We found it on Air BnB, but they have a website you can book without the Air BnB fees.
I can’t recommend this place enough! The rooms were simple, modern and clean. The breakfast was great, and we ate our breakfast outside on the terrace beside the pool! Darcie and Jasper are the loveliest people you can meet. We were lucky that our stay happened to be during the weekend. They host yoga on the terrace, followed by a gorgeous (accidently vegan) brunch. Yoga and brunch was just 20 euro.
We booked two nights at Ola Onda and stayed three. We would have stayed longer, if we’d had more time!
We spent our first evening in Ericeira roaming through the cobbled streets and the blue and white painted houses of the old medieval town. We found a place called Mar das Late with a great tapas and wine menu and wait for it …. vegan burgers. The Green (roaming vegan) van was finished for the summer, but you could still get the burgers in this narrow little restaurant. We found the van parked outside a house on the way back to Ola Onda! We loved this restaurant! Great atmosphere and cosy.
The next day after yoga and lunch, we attempted to lounge by the pool with a book for the day! That lasted a total of one hour, before Ciaran got bored! So, we jumped into the car and went to find a ‘secret’ beach that Darcie had shown us on a map. Google maps sent us the wrong way, so it ended up being a bit of a trek. We spent a few hours there, with 4 dogs and 4 humans. Turns out, it’s not that secret!
On our way back we stopped at Pescadores beach for sunset! It’s beautiful, don’t miss it!
That evening we went for dinner at Green is Good. They had two vegan options. I had the vegan lasagne! It was gorgeous, but I could have ate two or three of them.
Our third day in Ericeira was surf day! Darcie and Jasper booked our surf lessons for us with Surfriders. The company picked us up from Ola Onda, and Darcie and Jasper followed us there to take photos of our attempts at surfing. Which included a a 20 minute lesson and then straight into the water for a total of two hours. I really enjoyed it, despite being pretty bad at it! We were warned the water was freezing, but with a wetsuit on and the workout of surfing, I could have stayed in the water all day.
We had lunch in town with some of our surf buds and back to Ola Onda for a siesta! Surfing is tiring!
That evening we had dinner in Tik Tapas. I was excited about the veggie tapas (earth tapas). However, there was bacon pieces on my potatoes! Best to ask when ordering. You might have to make a reservation in high season! This is a popular place in town!
Other restaurants in Ericeria that have vegan options are Nalu Bowls, Sunset Bamboo and Ourico. I didn’t manage to get to these places!
The next day we set off on the road. We drove to Peniche, which was disappointing, purely due to the weather. There was a thick white fog on the coast that day and the next which hindered our last two days. Peniche is a major surf haven, but we could barely see the sea from the beach.
We also wanted to do the boat trip to Berlengas island and the fortress from Peniche, but we decided the weather wasn’t designed for this day trip. Google Berlenga island and decide for yourself. I wish we could have gone on a good day.
We drove on to Nazare, another surf haven famous for ‘the big wave’. Peniche and Nazare have regular surf festivals and we just missed them by a week or two. We drove to the view point (sitio) to spot some big waves, but there was barely a ripple.
We were still stuck in fog so we had food in town, at Little India. I found this place, because I typed Nazare into http://www.happycow.net to find restaurants with veggie/vegan options. We couldn’t have been happier with the service. They weren’t showing the Ireland football match, so one of the staff got his laptop and put the match on so we could watch it from our table. The food was good too. We had a look at the famous A Celeste restaurant but the menu was ‘meh’ and the staff were grumpy, so we left.
The next day we had to make our way back to Lisbon. We decided to make a pit stop in Obidos on the way back. This is a beautiful medieval walled village. However, because it is reasonably close to Lisbon, it has become a popular tourist spot. Bus loads of day trippers will there with you. I still enjoyed it! We walked along the wall (watch your step), drank fresh orange juice and meandered through the cobbled streets. It felt like a movie set.
We decided to follow the sign for Obidos Lagoon. It was much further than we anticipated, and when we arrived we couldn’t see anything through the white fog. It was a wasted trip, but would probably be worth it in good weather.
On our way back to Lisbon we added another hour to our journey following Google maps to ‘petrol stations’ that turned out to be car mechanics. If you’re using Hertz, they have a petrol pump at the depot, so save yourself the stress and fill your tank up there. If only we’d been told!
Another big tip that when driving in Portugal….MAKE SURE you don’t drive through the green lane at the tolls. They are for locals only. We had to pay a hefty ticket of 25 euro. Go through the other lane, get a ticket and you’ll pay at the next toll.
Our last night in Lisbon we stayed in a different Air BnB on the old part of town, Mouraria and walked to the viewpoint beside Castello de Jorge for the sunset. We had dinner in a Thai food restaurant called ‘Lost in Esplanada’ and stayed for a bottle of wine on the terrace before heading home.
I was told that Alfama is a bit touristy, and on the other side of the hill lies Mouraria, which has a more authentic old city vibe. I won’t recommend this Air BnB either! The location wasn’t as good at the first place and we ended up walking all the way back to Bairro Alto for dinner and drinks that evening. We also had to walk through a ‘dodgy’ looking street. It was the only place in Lisbon I felt unsafe in. The taxi we booked for the airport the next morning, couldn’t find our location and cancelled on us after a long wait. We ended up walking and hailing a taxi.
I’ll be honest, Portugal was on my travel list because I hadn’t been there, and part of me loves ticking off another country on my list. I was blown away by all this country has to offer, and we barely scratched the surface. Add Portugal to your travel list immediately, and book a flight.
Did you know…
- Lisbon is the second oldest city in the world, after Athens.
- Porto works, Brago prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money.
- Lisbon was hit by an earthquake, a fire and a tsunami on all Saints Day (1st November) in 1755. The only area that remained intact was the seedy ‘red light district area’ known as Alfama. A lot of people lost their faith, wondering why God would bring down churches and leave the area full of sinners in tact.
- It will be hard to find two of the same tile ‘azulejos’ (tiles) in Portugal. Let me know if you do!
- Bifano sandwich is the local food of Porto, which consists of a heart attack on a plate. Google an image to see what I mean.
- Miradouro means viewpoint. You’ll see these signs everywhere! I suggest you follow them! Miradouro de sao pedro de alanatara and Miradouro de santa catarina for sunset.
- Olives and bread offered to you at the table are not free. Only eat if you are willing to pay for them after.
- On Mondays most of the main attractions are closed.
Rooftop Bars in Lisbon
- Sky bar
- Epic Sana Lisboa Hotel (with infinity pool, 50 euro per day).
- Park (bohemian, Bairro Alto)
- Topo (sunset)
- Lost in Esplanada Bar (Thai)
- Limao @H10 duque de loule
There are loads and loads of veggie/vegan restaurants in Lisbon, sadly every time we attempted to go to one it was closed. I will just have to come back.
- jardim das cerejas (vegan all you can eat buffet)
- A026 vegan food project (cheap fine dining, make reservation)
- princessa do castello (100% vegan)
- the food temple (vegan, make reservation)
- vegana burgers
- organi chiado
- miss Saigon
- espiral (veggie)
- terra (veggie buffet, most famous)
- a colmeia (oldest veggie restaurant, 1963)
- primo basilica (1x pizza/calzone + foccacia vegan opton)
- jardin dos sentidos (all you can eat veggie)
- tao (veggie canteen)
- paladar zen (veggie buffet)
- espaco da rosa (veggie near airport)
- Sao Tome (vegan and meat pizza)
- farm food ink (vegan options)
- brio Grocery Store (vegan food)
- fragoleto (vegan sorbet)
Check out my Pinterest Boards for Portugal and travel.
Check out my travel blog for more travel tips.
If you have any comments or travel tips on Lisbon or Portugal, I’d love to hear them!
I hope you enjoy your trip and return safely,
the wandering boomerang 🙂