Portugal was the first stop on our world tour and we both had no idea what to expect. When we arrived, we took a taxi to our studio apartment in Alfama, Lisbon. And I must say, it is such a charming town and a must-see during any trip to Lisbon. Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon, built during Moorish times, and is a maze of tiny cobblestone streets and small squares filled with markets, restaurants, and fado music. There are countless lookout points (or “Miradouros” as they say in Portuguese) and historical sites in Alfama. We enjoyed walking everywhere but were surprised by the steep inclines all over Lisbon. We heard some locals describe it perfectly, “If you’re down you must go up, and if you’re up, you are bound to go back down.” So be prepared with comfortable, sturdy shoes. We didn’t see any ladies walking in high heels, as the streets are all old cobblestone and can be very slick at times.
Here is a brief description of our favorite sites in and near Alfama:
From Alfama, it’s an easy 10 minute walk to the Baixa district, with its grand avenues, plazas, and tons of shopping and restaurants. The Terrerio do Paco (Commerce Square) is one of the largest squares in Europe and is located in the center of Lisbon, near the Tagus river. It’s an excellent starting point for a day of exploring on foot or by tuk tuk. The Tuk Tuk rides are quite expensive though and can run you €60 for 1.5 hours of touring. We much preferred walking through the city, meeting the locals and enjoying the terrific weather which is almost guaranteed year round in Lisbon.
Rossio Square is an easy walk to the heart of Lisbon and it’s very common and fun to just wander the streets and experience the culture. Walk around, shop, sit down for a drink and enjoy the people watching. It’s a tad bit more expensive here for food and drinks, but the location is worth it. You can expect to purchase an average Portuguese lunch for €10-15 per person and a bottle of wine starting at €10. House wine is always the cheapest and don’t be shy to order a glass (copo) as they are all generous with the pours!
The most popular local beers are Sagres and Super Bock, both will cost you €1.50 for a small glass in any restaurant. But keep in mind, there are no open container laws in Lisbon, so you can easily pick up a bottle of beer at any local shop for €.75-1.00 and drink as you stroll around town.
As far as dining, there is an endless string of restaurants on every main street. Our approach was very organic in that we would look for an affordable menu in an approachable environment with typical Portuguese food. It was always a bonus to find great service and/or live entertainment. But one restaurant that really stood out to us for several reasons was Pistola y Corazon a hipster Mexican-style restaurant with a great vibe, excellent food, AMAZING cocktails and a top notch staff. The owner, Damien is there most nights greeting guests and managing the waitlist. He is so generous and cool, offering us chips, salsa and beer while we waited. We had a wonderful and knowledgeable waiter named Eduardo who recommended all the excellent food we ordered. I have to say, this may be the only incredible and authentic Mexican food you can get while in Europe, so don't miss the opportunity!
As far as nightlife, keep in mind that most restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 7pm and you will find most locals come out to eat around 8 or 9pm. That said, there’s a very friendly and exciting nightlife in the Baixa district with many bars open until 2am.
Here is a recap of what to do in the Baixa District:
Santa Justa Lift – a 19th century elevator that transports people up the steep climb from Baixa to the Carmo Church. The lift costs €5.20 pp or you can walk up yourself and enjoy the view for only €1.50pp. It’s an excellent view point for photos.
Praca do Comercia & Rua Augusta Arch - located in Commerce Square, it’s a centrally located striking work of architecture that leads you to the Targus river and river walk.
Bairro Alto – Sloping streets of the upper district offer excellent culture, food, shopping and Exercise!
Other TOP local attractions by train, tuk tuk or taxi are as follows:
Oceanarium – Located in Parque das Nacoes, the exhibition grounds for the 1998 Expo, it boasts the largest aquarium in Europe (€15 pp).
Belem Tower – A monument to the Age of Discovery in Portugal, a world heritage monument
Tram 28 – The Tram 28 line connects Martim Moniz with Campo Orique and passes through the popular districts of Graca, Baixa, and Alfama. Ride this old-style, open air tram around town and if you buy a day pass (€6pp), you can hop on/hop off all day. The entire route start to finish takes about 1 hour; so, you can always buy a one-way pass too (€2.90pp). Go early in the morning or at night to avoid huge lines and long wait times. Try to avoid (11am-6pm) for crowds and be careful for pick pockets here.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – A monastery founded in 1501 in the beautiful Manueline style of architecture (€10pp).
Pasteis de Belem – Famous bakery serving the iconic Portuguese egg tart pastry “Pasteis de Belem” since 1837. We certainly don’t have anything like it in the USA. It’s worth a taste and quite affordable (€1.15 each).
There are so many architectural wonders and museums in Lisbon, however we only chose to highlight the sites that most appealed to us. Overall, we found Lisbon to be an extremely charming town, with the hustle, bustle and grittiness of a city combined with the history and tourist appeal of an ancient town.
We also chose to spend some time exploring the outskirts of Lisbon and took day trips to both Sintra and Cascais which we highly recommend. In order to get to both towns, it was a very easy 45 minute train ride from any of the Lisbon stations (€4.30 round trip).
First, we went to Sintra and when we arrived, we were immediately struck by the fairy tale feeling of the town. From the moment you exit the train station, you see luscious gardens, thick forest and pastel-colored homes and businesses. The air was sweet and the wind was brisk, with the town nestled in the mountains.
It was here that the Moors built Castelo dos Mouros, in the 9th century. You can easily grab a Tuk Tuk; however, we recommend the 2km hike up the steep trail, off the main road. Just ask a local to point you in the right direction. It’s a peaceful, quiet and enjoyable hike. Entrance fee for the castle is €8pp and absolutely worth every penny for the sweeping panoramic views.
Continue the climb and you will reach Palacio da Pena (The Pena Palace), which is a beautiful Romanticist castle (€14pp). We didn’t take the tour of The Pena Palace, we just admired it from the outside.
On our last full day in Lisbon, we took the 1 hour train to Cascais (€4.30 round trip) in search of a relaxing beach day and we found something even better. When we arrived, we walked the gorgeous and elegant streets of Cascais and found fisherman fishing off the steep cliffs of Boca de Inferno, one of the most beautiful and dangerous fishing locations we’ve ever witnessed.
Then we took a €7 Uber ride to Guincho Beach, one of the finest beaches of Lisbon for its intense surfing, kite boarding and dramatic scenery. After a few hours, we headed back into the heart of Cascais and walked up The Estoril Coast on the lively boardwalk all the way to the Estoril train station. It was a terrific day in the sun and well worth the visit. We would definitely return to Sintra and Cascais again!
1. Almost ALL the streets are cobblestone so make sure to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes as it’s easy to trip or slip and hurt yourself.
2. There are no open container laws in the city, so feel free to walk around with a drink in hand.
3. The streets are very steep so be ready to get a little exercise.
4. Many restaurants and businesses offer free wifi, you just need to ask.
5. There is no need to tip waiters or cab drivers. It’s not customary in Europe.
6. Expect people in the street to approach you selling hash and marijuana. Be weary of this, as they are known to rip tourists off.
7. Everyone warns of pick pockets; however we were fortunate and did not have a bad experience. Just always make sure to keep track of your belongings and keep your valuables on your person in a discrete manner.
8. Water at most restaurants is not FREE so be ready to pay for it (€2 per bottle) and neither is the bread, olives or cheese. Know that even if you do not ask for it, they will bring it to the table and charge you later. Feel free to decline these appetizers if you do not want to incur the extra expense (€1-6).