Since my husband and I are in the thick of winter here in Northern Europe, the choice to fly south for our next destination was all too easy. London’s cold and bitter temperatures were making us absolutely crave the sun, and what better place to soak it all up than in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal? Lisbon is located in Portugal right along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, making it the farthest place that we have traveled to from London thus far. Coming here was a bit of a question mark because it seemed like hardly anyone we knew had ever been to Portugal before, and we once again felt a little out of our element. There ended up being no reason to worry about the unknown because this sunny city in my opinion is truly one of Europe’s hidden gems! Although not a common stop for travelers in Europe, Lisbon sure was popular with us easily making it one of our most memorable (and warmest!) trips yet.
As soon as we stepped off the plane in Portugal, we instantly knew we had picked a good one. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we couldn’t have asked for anything better, especially in the beginning of December! My overall first impression of Lisbon was how highly laid-back and relaxing it was. Our travels around Europe have been so fun and exciting, but none have been anywhere close as relaxing and stress-free like Lisbon. It was so refreshing to finally take things slow and enjoy the calm culture that the city had to offer. We really wanted to spend all of our time in the sunshine, so we took the metro (super easy to use) into the center and main square known as Praca do Comercio. This area felt like the heart of the city and included landmarks such as the Rue Augusta Arch which is surrounded by streets loaded with awesome shopping. Our favorite part of the square had to be the stone steps that led right into the ocean, it was so peaceful and inviting!
Step right in!
From Praca do Comercio, we walked a little bit further to up the hill to visit the Castle of Sao Jorge. This Castle dates clear back to the medieval century and is now a popular tourist attraction that offers scenic views of the entire city. On our way up to the castle (bit of a hike up) we stopped by to see the Lisbon Cathedral which offers free admission, and is worthwhile to spend time admiring the beauty of the Portuguese architectural style. I have mentioned before that in Europe, no two castles are the same, and this too goes for cathedrals. No matter how many castles and cathedrals you see, it really just never gets old! We continued on from the cathedral and up to the main castle entrance. We were super pleased that they accepted our student IDs making it only 4 Euros per person. We immediately were wowed by the incredible views we saw of Lisbon from here. Nothing can make you appreciate a place more than sitting back and enjoying a good overlook. There are plenty of things to explore inside the castle, and be sure to climb the towers to get even better views.
After all that exploring, we weren’t exactly looking forward to walking back down to the city. Thankfully they have a tram that runs from the top of the castle and into the city center. We had heard earlier before that taking tram 28 is the perfect way to fully see all of the historic sites well-known to Lisbon. We jumped right on to an old-fashioned trolley that reminded us a little bit of the trolleys found in San Francisco. It was definitely a fun ride and possibly the best way to see the downtown area without all that walking. It was so neat to look at all the bright-colored buildings with red-roofed tops! All the streets in Portugal are so fun to see and I highly recommend taking tram 28 to observe things you would miss out on by only taking the underground metro.
For the rest of the afternoon we wanted to spend it in an area in Lisbon known as Belem. Belem is lovely part of Lisbon that includes other main attractions and is located about twenty minutes away from Praca do Comercio. We planned that day to go visit Jeronimos Monastery as well as Belem Tower but learned that if we went the following day we would get in at no cost because it was free museum day! YAY! We quickly made arrangements so that we could go the next day instead. The great thing about Belem is that there are plenty of other things to do, so we continued to check out the area even though we would be going the next day as well. We headed over to see the Monument to the Discoveries which is a massive monument built to honor the Portuguese age of discovery that began during the 15th century. This tribute was magnificent and a stunning surprise of the day. Don’t forget to view the big world map just below the monument.
One of the main reasons why we loved Portugal so much was for the FOOD, and in particular their popular specialties of Bitoque and custard tarts. Bitoque is a typical authentic meal served in Portugal that consists of homemade fries, white rice, and steak with a fried egg on top. We had this meal our first night in Lisbon and about died because of how delicious it was. My husband was so infatuated in fact, that he ordered it for dinner every night the rest of the trip (every man’s dream meal). We had some in Belem that day that was pretty delightful but our favorite version of it was at a little restaurant near our hotel called Mr. Papas. Please do yourself a favor and go there, we were beyond impressed! The custard tarts are also famous in Portugal, and are like a mini creme brûlée which happens to be my favorite dessert… like ever. There was a great spot in Belem we found that is supposed to be the best place in town. It was called Pasteis de Belem and they were also quite affordable as is most of the food in Portugal. Be sure to take note that Yelp! is non-existent in Lisbon so if you need a website to find good meals, then I would recommend using TripAdvisor which was very helpful for us.
I think my husband is going through Bitoque withdrawals already.
We finished the day by eating our goodies and watching the sun go down (one of our favorite things to do these days) over Belem.
Just as planned, the following day we took the tram and made our way back out to Belem again. Free museum days are the best, the only problem is that they tend to be pretty busy and this was indeed the case on the day that we went. But what can you expect when things are free?! We first went to Jeronimos Monastery which was really enchanting to marvel over the ornate gothic architecture. There was a great big and beautiful cathedral inside that is also worth seeing. After spending quite some time admiring the inside of the monastery, we walked a little further down the water to see the iconic Belem Tower. This tower along with the monastery are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although very appealing on the outside, I have to admit that we weren’t completely blown-away by our tour inside Belem Tower. It was literally just an empty tower which was completely overcrowded making it impossible to get around, and the views were just ok. We were sure glad that we didn’t have to pay anything because we felt that the tower was best enjoyed by observing it from the outside.
I spy with my little eye..
No, that is not the Golden Gate Bridge, but the 25 de Abril Bridge. It was a little freaky how much Lisbon reminded us of San Francisco!
Our weekend spent in Portugal was such an enjoyable experience. Lisbon truly has all the key ingredients for a world-class destination and should be a city not to look over when planning your next European getaway. In fact, my husband and I are looking forward to the day when we get to come back during the warmer months and test out the Portuguese beaches that looked absolutely beautiful. Until next time…
The Savvy Suitcase Top 3 Picks:
1. Portuguese Food. MUST try Bitoque & a custard tart.
2. Belem. A beautiful area of the city with lots to do.
3. Castle of Sao Jorge. Fantastic views of Lisbon.
Thanks for stopping by!