This was our first holiday together and we decided on a fleeting visit to Lisbon. I had absolutely no annual leave left but we managed to get a late flight and squeeze in two nights. It’s a short flight and whilst it’s raining and miserable in the UK in January, Lisbon is warm and dry and well… a lovelier place to be for a weekend!
We were so excited to be going away together on our first trip and I was in such a good mood. I managed to pack my four pairs of jeans, three shirts and ten pairs of pants (yes for two days) into a hand luggage suitcase with only a very slight two-three-minute meltdown (which Steffan pulled me back from quickly). On to the airport, we went! We started as we meant to go on, downed a couple of glasses of wine in Frankie & Benny’s with lunch, (because it would be completely rude not to) and before we knew it we had landed in Lisbon.
We had a loose plan of what we wanted to see and had drawn circles on the map in our guidebook. I was extremely impressed with just how chilled out I was being, considering I usually have plans, times schedules and google map directions overflowing out of my handbag…. Steffan has clearly had an impact on my highly strung, over organised nature already.
We arrived early evening and got an Uber to the hotel. Using uber is highly recommended. It was so simple and all the drivers we met whilst in Lisbon were so friendly! We checked into our hotel, Hotel Riverside Alfama – a really cute boutique hotel with an amazing view surrounded by colourful buildings. After we got changed and had a few drinks, we spoke with the receptionist and she recommended a local Portuguese restaurant worth visiting. Maruto, just a short walk down the street and right by the river. Have the black pudding and orange and a bottle of Papa Figos Portuguese red wine, amazing!
– TIP –
The Wine is strong!! We could barely taste our food by the end of the meal and were finding everything hilarious! Even more, a reason to visit here! And try and book a table… it’s a really small cosy restaurant and there were no tables free when we arrived which meant we had no choice but to order a bottle of wine at the bar and wait. This suited us, but that could be something to do with why we ended up more than a little tipsy by the end of the evening.
Our plan was to get up early but, we just didn’t. The bottle of wine from the night before had clearly sent us into a deep slumber.
But once up and fed we headed to Praça Do Comércio, a beautiful square overlooking the sea. Then we headed up Arco Da Rua Augusta which is a triumphal arch with an elevated view of the square. It’s only 2.50 euros and worth the price for the view and photography opportunities.
However, to note, I am not a massive fan of Spiral staircases (dizziness after one too many wines the night before is the usual reason or just the fact I generally do not enjoy the feeling of spinning round and round whilst moving upwards, or downwards). If you too have an issue with tightly spiralled staircases, this building may not be for you! I rate the difficulty and unpleasantness rating an eight out of ten. Steffan? A less dramatic four out of ten.
That said there is a traffic light system. You hit the button and it tells you whether you can go up the stairs and confirms that they will be clear of any other people coming down. Whilst you are going up it avoids any awkward close contact encounters. You know the ones where you are just about touching someone else, their face and your face a few inches apart. You laugh awkwardly and make your excuses. Not enough to be completely inappropriate but enough to be emotionally uncomfortable for everyone involved. You can feel their breath on your face and you are trying not to touch any body parts that do not belong to you (That combined with the fact you suddenly realise how much weight you have gained in the last 3.5 hours as you try and breathe in as much as possible). So, these spiral staircases do something many, many in Italy, and similar places do not. And it makes the whole experience much less stressful. Except for the spiralling.
Coffee shops, cake and wine. Steffan and I realised on our first holiday together that we do have some things in common relating to our travel styles. We both love tea, coffee and cake. We both LOVE a glass of wine and we both love stopping at various coffee shops & restaurants, for any type of food whilst people watching. A break every 90 minutes or so was pretty much set in stone by 2 pm on day one.
We got an Uber to the top of the hill to visit the castle, Castelo De Sao Jorge. I have written more about this below but it’s worth a visit if not only for the view and the wine!
Then we headed to the famous lift, Elevador De Santa Justa and joined the queue. After waiting for just five minutes, we left. The queue was killing our souls, so we decided to come back to this the following day. Our final sightseeing stop of the day was the local flea market. This is only on certain days so it’s worth checking out. There are lots of Lisbon locals selling anything from belts to paintings to 2nd hand items they are trying to sell on.
No visit to Lisbon is complete without a ride on one of the many famous tram lines or funiculars.
We had read about Tram 28 that takes you around Lisbon. We also read that you usually have to queue a fair time and as we once again didn’t wake up early enough we chose to visit Ascensor da Bica. It’s the most photographed funicular in Lisbon and has been in operation for over a century. We saw the picture of it on the front of the Lonely Planet guide and thought it looked cool, so we set off to find it. It’s not too easy to find so use google images as well as google maps if you want to see it. We ended up walking up and down the street in front of the building which has Ascensor da Bica signed on the front of it. This may have been a product of how much wine we had consumed on the previous night. Yes, the guy is super grumpy when you don’t know what you are doing and spend ages counting out your unfamiliar coins in your hand trying to work out what you need to pay him! But it’s a cool five-minute ride in what is now classified as a national monument. It takes you to another neighbourhood where it’s less touristy and everything is cheaper, you can get wine for 2 euros. Just go!!
It’s worth mentioning if you walk to Ascensor da Bica from Praca Do Comercio then you will most likely pass the famous ‘Pink street’ which used to be the red-light district in Lisbon. As you can see from the photo the street has seen more action in previous years as it was super quiet when we walked past it.
We then headed back to the famous lift, Elevador de Santa Justa after bailing out of the queue the day before in favour of going to search for food and wine.
We decided to give the queue another go, it was quite long, and to add to my frustrations there was an irritating woman knocking into me every two seconds oblivious to my presence. I made a note to order one of those jackets nervous dogs wear that are bright yellow and clearly state ‘GIVE ME SPACE’!! Luckily, we got up there without me complaining too loudly (kind of) and the view was incredible! If there are no irritating ‘body touching’ people in the queue I would say it is 100% worth it.
Our final stop before heading back to the airport was watching the sunset over the river. We missed the sunset by a few minutes the day before, so we headed back before dinner on our last evening. Sadly, Steffan had to drive at the other end but that only meant more wine for me! Something I never complain about. And whilst I pride myself on my drinking capability I didn’t manage the whole bottle and we gave it to some girls who were sat watching the sunset as well whilst chattering away. They were over the moon!
Our Favourite Moment in Lisbon
This is easy. Watching the sunset over the river with a bottle of wine!! We have both seen some amazing views, but this was the next level!
Yes, you are sat on spiky rocks, yes there are a few rats running around near the water’s edge (and your feet) and yes there were a few kids yelling and violently throwing rocks in the water, (ambience ruiners!). My suggestion for all the above is to drink more wine. And quickly.
The clear sky, the San Francisco esque bridge and the mini Christ Redeemer across the water just makes for such a beautiful setting! There are buskers playing music nearby and people gathering to watch the sunset and it’s honestly such a perfect experience. To add to this, you can get a decent bottle of wine for about four euros. And when I say decent I mean it doesn’t taste like nail polish remover and it does the job (just to be clear!).
Not to miss (But watch out for the Peacocks!)
The castle, Castelo de Sao Jorge. Okay so the castle itself wasn’t anything too incredible unless you are really into … well castles. But the view over Lisbon is amazing and some genius of a woman has a little wine van right by the best view selling white and red wine by the glass. What an idea! It took Steffan around three minutes to suggest wine which made me instantly fall more in love with him. Wine, sat looking at that view was a wonderful experience!
Views, alcohol and a great spot to take photographs, what more could you want?
There are also a few basic restaurants in the castle but don’t get too excited. It is snack food really. However, watch out for the overly confident massive peacocks. They were honestly the size of a medium to large dogs, and like us they love food. So they are all up in your grill. If like me, you have had a bird chasing incident as a child, (or an adult) … beware… they really do stand their ground. Guarding doors, fluffing up their feathers and walking around like they own the place. Steffan has a slightly different, less dramatic and more level headed account of what happened with the peacocks. But then again, he has never been chased by a bird and he doesn’t know the warning signs. But yes, if you don’t like overly confident peacocks the castle restaurant may not be for you. Unless you want to be eating a dry cheese sandwich, sat there rigidly, full of fear and ready to go into flight or fight mode.
If all else fails throw a bread roll and run. Or drink more wine and get a selfie with one.
Things you might like to know
Uber is amazing in Lisbon, they are very fast at collecting you and are all super friendly and CHEAP!
We were chuffed. On day one, we whizzed around the city to save time and energy and used Uber constantly. On day two we were checking google maps to get directions to our next location and Steffan realised that everywhere we had caught an Uber to had literally been a 5-10-minute walk away. No wonder it was, a) cheap and b) they were super friendly! I bet they loved us paying four euros for a five-minute walk away! So yeah if you want to be super lazy, take an UBER! But you really don’t need to as everywhere is so close.
What did we buy to bring back that we have absolutely no space for?
We bought this amazing painting of a tram and a view of Lisbon in the background. There is a super talented and very friendly guy outside the castle selling his paintings. He is called Georgi Charaka and he also has a website, so you can have a look at his work without even visiting Lisbon. His work is beautiful. The painting is currently in a plastic bag balanced on Steffans aftershave, blocking the only mirror I have to do my hair in. But we honestly love it. It will go in our house when we finally buy one at the age of 70 and 72.
Other things worth checking out
The street art. There are loads, and there are tons of articles and walking routes online if you want to check them out.
The weird and wonderful tinned fish shops. Just go and look at them. Tins of fish mixed with a circus theme…. weird right??
The flea market on a weekend…. loads of second-hand and new stuff sold by locals.
They eat dinner late, so heading out between 8-10 pm at the weekend is perfectly acceptable.
Things to photograph for your scrapbook
• The Castle view
• The sunset
• Backstreets and alleyways
• Tinned fish shops
Overall we LOVED Lisbon, neither of us had been to Portugal before and January seemed the perfect time to visit. It was quiet with queues kept small (aside from the lift which was around the length of England) and coffee shops had plenty of free seats for our hourly coffee breaks. It was quite warm (12-17 degrees Celsius) which was a welcome break from the freezing temperatures in the UK and it really is a beautiful city to walk around. Or Uber if you are feeling lazy or unaware of walking distances.