In the last few months I haven’t had much time to travel, given that I’ve been working also during weekends. I did manage to escape for 2 days to visit a city I had never been to: Lisbon.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, and I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect about it. It is a very strange city, relaxed, old and shabby, and it feels as if it is full of secrets; but at the same time its people are lively and energetic, and love to party. One of the best things about it is how cheap everything is! You can get a UBER from the city center to the airport for about 5 or 6 euros, drink large cups of sangria for 1,50€ and shots for 50cents.
So here’s my guide to what to do in a weekend!
The airport is well connected to the city center, so just take the metro line or a cab and in about 20/30 minutes you’ll be in your hotel. So first of all you should visit the city center: start walking down Avenida da Liberdade, the city’s Fifth Avenue, and stop at Restauradores, a square that really gets you into the city’s curious vibe wih the Palàcio Foz gloomy apperance.
Stop to see Rossio Square (Pedro IV Square) with its wavy pavement to taste a Ginjinha or Ginja – a traditional portuguese cherry liquer also served in small chocolate cups. The best Ginjinha is made in Óbidos and Alcobaça. (I really think I could get drunk on this liquer!)
Following down the main road you’ll get to Praça da Figueira (in the Baixa Pombalina area), where the amazing Confeitaria Nacional is located. You must stop to taste local specialties such as the Tarte de amêndoa and the Bolo de arroz, and the coffee in Lisbon is extremely good (trust me I’m italian)! If you’re not into sweets then you must stop at Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau where you can find the most amazing Bacalhau (codfish) cakes with creamy Serra de Estrela cheese – I have no words to describe this delicacy.
Walking down Rua Augusta you’ll cross Rua de Santa Justa where the beautiful Santa Justa Lift is located – it was built in 1902 to connect city levels and is now one of the main touristic attractions (very lovely to see, but I don’t think it’s worth waiting in line if you only have 2 days to visit Lisbon).
Following down Rua Augusta you’ll get to Praça do Comércio, the entrance to which is majestically lined by the Rua Augusta Arch,
the giant square opens onto the river Tejo and it is where the Paços da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace) is located. In the middle of the square is a bronze equestrian statue of King José I, inaugurated in 1775. If you get closer to the river you’ll find Cais das Colunas (Pier of the columns), with a stairway that leads down to two columns that overlook the Tejo River. Depending on the tide you might find the columns are flooded, on other days you can walk down.
At this point it is time to head up towards Chiado, one of the main shopping areas in the city, mostly between Rua do Carmo and Rua Garrett. Follow up Rua do Carmo until you get to the Largo do Carmo where a very peculiar city sight is located: the Convento da Ordem do Carmo – a medieval convent that was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and never fully rebuilt as for a period of time it was occupied by the Royal guard and eventually the militia. The building was then turned into a museum, which it still is today, and I definitely recommed visiting it to envelop yourself in this bizzarre and surreal atmosphere.
Walk towards Praça Luís de Camões, the square dedicated to the poet of the epic portuguese poem Os Lusíadas, and follow Rua do Alecrim down towards the sea. You will cross over the notorious pink street that gets very lively at night time. On Avenida 24 de Julho you’ll find the Mercado da Ribeira. This market used to be the city’s food market, and in 2014 it was taken over by Time Out magazine who created a food hall with many different stalls that offer local delicacies! I tried the Bacalhau a Bras by Chef Miguel Castro e Silva (AMAZING!) and various croquettes from the Croqueteria, all accompanied by a wonderful glass of White wine Sangria.
Right outside the market you can find the Cais do Sodré station, from which you can catch a direct train to Belem. Belem was a parish named after Santa Maria de Belem, where you can find some of the most beautiful buildings in town: the Jeronimos Monastery – a UNESCO world Heritage site, with its stunning gothic style and intricate works on the facade and inside the monastery’s cloister.
It is very peculiar to note the difference in the intricate ornament on the side door compared to the Aixal door (in front of the main altar), since the second is the most important door but is smaller in size but its decorations are sublime.
Entering the church you’ll be greeted by Vasco De Gama and Luís de Camões, both resting here since the late 1800s. The darkness of the church really contrasts with the colorful stained glass works.
The wide cloisters, on two floors is also a majestic art work. All the mullions with embellishments and ornaments, and a central fountain. The richness of the scenery was meant to represent Portugal’s growing power.
When leaving the Jeronimos Monastery a must stop is Pasteis de Belem to taste the original portuguese egg tarts with the secret recipe that was invented right here, in what used to be a sugar cane refinery. If you want to try and make the tarts yourself experiement with the recipe I posted: Pastel de Nata
To complete your day head to the Torre de Belém (Belem Tower) a fortified tower that overlooks the river, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was meant as defence, since King John II deemed that the existing fortifications were not sufficient, thus its location at the mouth of the Tejo river; and it also served as a ceremonial location for people navigating into Lisbon. The tower is visitable inside, for a price of about 6€.
Visit it at sunset for a breathtaking and extremely romantic moment with Portugal’s marvellous pink sky.