A lovely European capital nested in the heart of 7 hills, little lanes that go up and down, garments hanging from the windows to dry, beautiful buildings covered with colorful azulejos, music at every street corner… Today I am taking you to Lisbon for a great weekend getaway!
LISBON: A LOVELY DISCOVERY
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to spend 3 days in Lisbon for my birthday and I discovered a charming and very pleasant city. During these 3 days, I walked (a lot !), I breathed in the air of the sea, I listened to the melancholic rythms of Fado music, took hundreds of pictures, ate way too many pasteis de nata, tried bacalhau in many different ways… I just fell in love with this charming city and all I want now is go back as soon as I can! Let me take you to Lisbon and discover the 10 spots I preferred during this weekend… here we go!
1. HAVING COFFEE AT CAFE NICOLA ON ROSSIO SQUARE
SATURDAY – 8:00 – Let’s start our weekend at the terrace of the lovely Café Nicola, located on Rossio square, in the heart of Lisbon and very close to our Airbnb. We woke up early to make the most of the day and the city is still asleep. At the end of February, the air temperature is very pleasant: we will sit outside to have breakfast. We take a quick look at the menue but we already know what we are having: pasteis de nata! It is impossible to visit Lisbon without trying these delicious little pastries. These custard tarts sprinkled with cinnamon are a delight! I ate quite of few of those during my stay in Lisbon but I think the ones I had at Café Nicola were probably my favorite! Together with a cup of coffee, it was the perfect breakfast for me!
2. VISITING SAINT-GEORGES CASTLE
9h00 – Now that we have got off to a good start, we are ready to start exploring the city. We are heading to one of the “must-see” of the Portuguese capital: Saint-Georges castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge). Built by the Visigoths in the 5th century and restored by the Moors in the 9th century, this imposing castle is still standing there, on top of one of the 7 hills, proudly watching over the city.
Our day of exploration will be dense: we’d better save our efforts. Instead of going to the castle on foot, we will take an elevator! From Rossio square where we are right now, we are heading to Pingo Doce, a nearby supermarket equipped with an elevator (largo do Chão do Loureiro 11). In a few seconds, we rise up to 7 levels. We just have to walk a few meters to the castle.
As we are early-birds, we can peacefully walk around the castle. Tourists are not there yet. As we walk through the gates, we are immediately struck by the beauty of this place. From up there, we have an amazing view on the roofs of Lisbon, the lovely praça do Comercio that we will later explore, the famous 25 de Abril bridge and the river Tage.
Towers, ramparts, crenels: we are undoubtedly in a fortified castle. We walk around these incredibly well maintained ramparts and enjoy the lovely view on the city.
3. WALKING DOWN TO MIRADOURO DE SANTA LUZIA
11h00 – We are now walking down the hill, heading towards the gorgeous Santa Luzia viewpoint (Miradouro de Santa Luzia). We are in the Alfama, the most picturesque area of Lisbon. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we come face to face with the star of the Portuguese capital: the mythic tram 28, this lovely yellow tram that bravely criss-crosses the hilly city with the same rhythm from the last century. We are thrilled.
We walk closer to Santa Luzia church, which is nicely decorated with azulejos on one of its walls. Then we reach the viewpoint that offers a lovely view on the colorful Alfama houses, on the Tage river and on the dome of the National Pantheon. The city has many viewpoints (which is not so surprising for a city built within 7 hills…) and I discovered several of them but Santa Luzia was a total crush! What do you think ?
Largo das Portas do Sol is another viewpoint (located only a few steps away from Santa Luzia), which offers another lovely view on the Alfama, and more precisely on the beautiful Sao Vincente de Fora church that we will go and visit later (on the top left hand corner on the below picture).
4. GETTING LOST IN THE LITTLE STREETS OF THE ALFAMA
After enjoying this lovely view, we continue to go down the hill on which the Alfama neighborhood developed. We follow the trail of tram 28. It proudly parades before the cameras of the tourists who became paparazi for this occasion.
We go down Rua do Limoeiro street which later becomes Rua Rosa street when suddenly, after a curve, a gorgeous church appears in front of us: the Patriarcal Sé church. This beautiful roman church from the 12th century is one of the “must-see” of the city. Its crenels are a hint that this church used to be a fortress at its origin. I must have stayed in front of the church about half-an-hour to wait for the star of Lisbon to show up and take that photo.. I let you picture my face when an American tourist who had apparently had the same idea took place took place right in front of me with his tripod to take the same picture.
We walk around the church and continue on Cruzes da Sé street to go deeper into the Alfama and get lost in the maze of its little streets. We embark on a journey back in times : nothing seems to have changed there in centuries. The streets are very narrow, there are clothes hanging at every window to dry, some old people are chatting in the streets, cats are basking in the sun… We are in the heart of the historic part of the city. The Alfama was indeed spared when a terrible earthquake destroyed most of the city in 1755.
14h00 – We lost track of time and did not realize it was that late until our stomacks reminded us that it was about time to have lunch. There are many options in the Alfama but watch out for expensive tourist traps. I chose to have a piece of meat « brazilian way » at Le Petit Café (Largo do Sao Martinho 6-7) and it was delicious!
15h00 – After enjoying this delicious meal, we continued exploring the Alfama. We walked back up to Largo das Portas do Sol. From there, we took tram 28 to the Graca station to go to Sao Vincente de Fora church. We visited its lovely cloister and loved the walls covered with azulejos. We went up to the tower to enjoy the beautuful view on the National Pantheon located right behind the church. Then we walked down to Apolonia station, at the foot of the hill and took bus 794 to the Azulejos museum.
20h00 – After a well-deserved break at our Airbnb, we went on to have diner at la casa de Alentejo (Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 58), very close to Rossio square. The setting was fabulous. We walked through a gorgeous patio richly decorated in a Moorish style before reaching the restaurant that serves typical Portuguese dishes at reasonable prices. I highly recommend this place.
5. WALKING AROUND PRACA DO COMERCIO
SUNDAY – 8:00 : Let’s start this new day of exploration the same way that we started the previous one: with delicious pasteis de nata!! Today we are trying a new place located near Rossio square: la Fábrica da Nata. What a treat!
9:00 – We head to the beautiful praca do Comercio. All we have to do is go down Rua Augusta street: this lovely pedestrian street connects Rossio square to praça do Commercio. We are in the Baixa neighborhood. With its grid-pattern, it is very different from the Alfama district we explored yesterday. After a few minutes walking down Augusta street, the famous Santa Justa elevator appears on our right. We will save this little gem for later. We continue and then on our left we see the star of Lisbon: tram 28.
We have now reached praça do Comercio. This square is just stunning: flanked with beautiful buildings in yellow tones, its south side opens to the Tage river. The streetlamps gives a charming touch to the galleries all around. It is the perfect spot to have a cup of coffee, in the sun, at the terrace of one of the restaurants.
For 2,50€, we go up the Arco da Rua Agusta. From up there, we have an amazing view on the square, the Alfama, Baixa and on the 25 de Abril bridge. I highly recommend going up.
6. TAKING SANTA JUSTA ELEVATOR
10:30 – We go back to Rua Augusta street until we reach Santa Justa, this curious elevator that can’t be missed when visiting Lisbon! This surprising elevator which was built in 1901 in a Gustave Eiffel style takes us in a few second up to the Chiado neighborhood. The viewpoint of this elevator offers a lovely view on Rossio square.
7. TAKING A BREAK AT SAO PEDRO DE ALCANTARA VIEWPOINT
11:00 – We will now take a detour to the Barrio Alto area to discover the beautiful Sao Pedro de Alcantara viewpoint. To get there, we will take rua da Condessa street that goes up to the flamboyante Saint-Roch church (Igreja de Sao Roque). Richly decorated with woodwork and gilding, this church is well worth a visit. We then continue on rua de Sao Pedro de Alcantara street and we reach our destination.
Out of the many viewpoints I discovered in Lisbon, this one was one of my favorites, together with Santa Lucia. From up there, we have a great view on the Saint-George castle: it is right in front of us. We go down a few steps to reach a lovely garden with a great view on the lower part of the city. It is the perfect place to take a break and regrain some strength. I really loved that quiet garden and I highly recommend it!
Then we take rua Sao Pedro de Alcantara street and rua de la Misericordia street to Luis de Camoes square. We are now back in the Chiado neighborhood.
8. GOING WINDOW SHOPPING AROUND LUIS DE CAMOES SQUARE
12:00 – We are now on the lovely Luis de Camoes square, in the heart of the Chiado neighborhood. Crossed by the mythic trams, this little square is flanked by beautiful buildings covered with azulejos. Do not miss the elegant rua do Camro street and rua Garrett street and their boutiques with ancient front windows, their famous book stores, bakeries, coffee shops…. The lovely boutique called A vida Portuguesa (located on rua Anchieta 11) was my favorite. It offers a large selection of articles ‘made in Portugal’: cosmetics, delicatessen, stationery, papeterie, décoration, textiles, etc.
9. TAKING THE BICA ELEVATOR
13:00 – We grab a sandwich and go deeper into the heart of the Chiado neighborhood. We leave Luis de Camoes square via rua Horta Seca street. Little streets that go up and down, stairs with their wrought iron ramps, lovely street lamps: everything there reminds us of Montmartre in Paris.
And then we reach the Bica elevator, the highlight of our visit (and probably of our whole weekend in Lisbon!). If I had to choose my number 1 favorite spot, it would be this lovely place. From the top of rua da Bica de Duarte Belo street, we have an amazing view: the funicular is patiently waiting for the next passengers to come, the river is peacefully flowing in the background, tourists are walking down this colorful street… I loved it!
10. SPENDING AN AFTERNOON IN BELEM
15:00 – We walk down to praca da Figueira square, in the lower part of town, next to Rossio square, to take tram 15E that will take us to Belem in some twenty minutes.
Even though Belem is a bit far away from the historic center of Lisbon, it can’t be missed during a weekend in the Portuguese capital. There the Tage river blends into the Atlantic ocean and the sea air is floating on this neighborhood. Portuguese explorators from the 14th century left from Belem to go and explore new lands. Today Belem gathers many “must-see” sites, such as the Jernonimos monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), the Monument of the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos), the lovely Belem tower and the world famous Pasteis de Belem, said to be the best in town!
On this fine Sunday, many like us had the idea to go and spend the afternoon in Belem. The tram that took us there might have been crowded but it was nothing in comparison with what was expecting us there. It seems that all Lisbon had agreed to meet there to visit the Jernonimos monastery and eat pasteis de Belem.
We patiently wait in line to enter the monastery. It is impossible to miss the monastery as we get off the tram: it is right next to the station. After some 30 minutes, we finally have our entrance ticket and we are able to get in. First impressions: oh wow! We have never seen anything like this before. This monastery is truly gorgeous. The galleries are so finely craved that it is hard to believe that they are made of stone.
17h00 – Then we start waiting in another line: the one leading to the famous bakery Antigua Confeitara de Belem (rua de Belem 84-88). We understand that there are actually two lines: one to buy the pasteis to go and one to sit down. Inside it is nothing but meer chaos. It is impossible to understand where to wait for a table to become available. Waiters in a hurry and impatient tourists coexist in an eletrical atmosphere. All we want to do is get out. We decide to stand in the “to go” line and surprizingling it goes much faster than expected. Within 15 minutes, we are ready to go with our little bag of pasteis de nata. We go and sit in the park in front of the monastery to try these pastries. Verdict? Not bad, but I wouldn’t say that they were the best in town. I much more enjoyed the ones I had peacefully had at Café Nicola on my first day…
Then we head to the imposing Monument of the Discoveries. We feel very small next to this stone giant. It is the starting point of a pleasant walk by the Tage river to the Belem tower.
We then end our walk by the lovely Belem tower, the emblem of the city. This tower used to be standing in the middle of the river but it ended up closer to the shore when an earthquake modified the course of the river in 1755.
20h00 – Then we take the tram back to the center and make a stop at Cais do Sodré, Lisbon train station. From there, we are very close to the mercado da Ribeira market. This huge industrial hall houses many stands to eat and drink. I highly recommend this place.
This is how ended our weekend in Lisbon. I hope you enjoyed following me in this adventure.
MY 10 FAVORITE SPOTS
PLANNING A WEEKEND TRIP TO LISBON?
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