22nd September 2017
This week just gone was time for another trip to Lisbon after my last visit in February, but this time I was accompanied by my sister Ellie! Exploring the city from Wednesday 13th to Monday 18th, we spent a good few days wandering the city’s gorgeous winding streets and even hopped on a train to visit another town near the coast. Buckle up, there’s plenty of photos on the way!
We landed early on Wednesday afternoon and so headed out to get exploring straight away after we’d dumped our stuff in our hostel room. We covered an impressive amount of the city’s centre on this first day of explorations, wandering down to the waterfront and then up into the city’s western quarter.
Once we started getting a bit peckish we headed for a place that me and Izzy had visited back in February and had an amazing meal, Taberna da Rua das Flores. When we rocked up however, the wait had already reached an hour and a half! It’s definitely a place worth waiting for, so we decided to head elsewhere and vowed to return earlier the next day.
We wound up having a lovely meal at a place called Fábulas, where we found out that our waiter had starred in an advert for the local beer Super Bock, and Ellie tucked into a vegetable strudel which sounded strange but was quite delicious.
The next day we had breakfast at a little café near our hostel which became our morning haunt for our daily breakfast, before heading out to the oldest part of the city in the east, in an area called Alfama. This is the only area of the city which survived the huge earthquake of 1755 that destroyed most of Lisbon, and its age is definitely given away by its charm and its windy, narrow and very steep streets.
We really enjoyed traipsing up and down the various flights of steps and severe inclines of the area, as unforgiving as they may have been – we were saved from burnout by a decent breeze which was blowing in off the Atlantic! We even had a moment to compose ourself and bag a decent selfie before our hair was ruined said salty breeze.
As you can see above, I basically dragged Ellie into being a model to stand in front of some of the lovely backdrops which presented themselves to us as we traversed around. When I wasn’t instructing her to stand in front of brightly coloured doorways, however, we took plenty of time to soak in the views and enjoy the ambience – until the wind made us too cold, that is…
We also spotted some peculiar things in Alfama, including a gravity-defying pigeon and a “you tried” attempt at covering up an embarrassing bald spot on where the tiles had fallen off a building…
After a pit stop for some bruschetta and a quick coffee, we finally began to descend the hill and wandered past a few of the area’s churches and plenty more jovial street art along the way.
After returning back to sea level and an unsuccessful attempt at finding Ellie some vegetarian lunch on the TimeOut market by the waterfront, we eventually gave up and boarded a train to the far west of the city and the area known as Belém. There we stopped to snack on some pastries, had a quick bathe in the sun and had a good look around some of the buildings and monuments in their pretty surroundings.
I even managed to snap this photo of a rainbow’s fleeting appearance as the sun hit the spray which appeared every now and then when the fountain in the centre shot out a high jet of water. I was very proud of the shot, which even features a sliver of Lisbon’s famous bridge, but I think Ellie was getting bored of just sitting waiting for me to look at rainbows and so we soon headed back to the city centre.
Once back in the city we headed straight back to Taberna da Rua das Flores and managed to get a quaint little table for two after a mere half hour wait. We used said wait to go and get ourself one of Lisbon’s infamous custard tarts, so it wasn’t that bad, and then the food itself was definitely worth waiting for.
After our tapas dinner for two, we headed back to our hostel to get refreshed and then walked down the road to a rooftop bar that Ellie’s friend had recommended, and we were not disappointed. Sipping on a mojito and a martini overlooking the gorgeous hills of the city, we chatted away in the lovely evening atmosphere before heading back to the hostel to get a decent night’s sleep before the next day’s adventure – a day trip to Sintra.
Sintra is about 40 minutes on the train outside of Lisbon, and we discovered that it’s well worth the visit – just be sure to top up your travel card before you head to the train station in order to avoid the huge morning queues for the ticket kiosks! On arrival we immediately decided to stop for some lunch and to get our bearings, and so we made a plan of action over a cheese and ham toastie and a much needed 2L bottle of water – it may have been breezy but the sun still got us!
We began by first heading up a hill through a lovely park, where we stumbled upon the above shine. After sticking our heads in led us no closer to working out what it was there for, a gardener approached us who spoke Spanish, and so he explained to me that it was the spot where one of the local saints had apparently appeared.
After getting slightly lost trying to work our way out of said park, we eventually found the small centre of Sintra, and walked up to one of the many castles and palaces. We decided not to go in this big white one, and instead sat on a bench just outside, taking in the views and munching through a bag of warm fresh popcorn which Ellie had bought from a lovely street vendor.
Before heading to Sintra, I remembered that I’d seen a multicoloured palace whist researching which I thought we should try and visit, however we couldn’t seem to see it anywhere on the surrounding hills. After a quick Google search we discovered that the place that we wanted to visit was called Palácio da Pena, and so headed to the tourist office to ask how we could use public transport to get up there – this was a trip on a budget!
After having to miss the first bus as it was full, we eventually made it up the hillside and were dropped off at the gates to the grounds of the palace. We then had to part with more money than we expected, but once we’d found the palace itself we soon realised that it had all been worth it – the architecture was magnificent and the views were truly something else.
Whilst I was taking picture after picture of the palace’s colourful walls and beautiful blue tiles, Ellie wandered off and found a little door which I would have probably missed. She came back to tell me about it leading to a little path called the “Wall Walk”, so we both headed through it to check it out.
It turned out to be one of the most impressive yet terrifying moments of the entire trip! We found ourself walking around the perimeter of the entire palace, which offered amazing views from atop its hilltop location. The only thing was that the wind at that altitude was pretty relentless, and we were both soon very cold and very terrified of being blown over one of the perilously low walls of the wall walk…
Once we’d had a few minutes taking in the views of the moorish castle and the landscapes beyond, we soon hurried along the wall walk and back to the other, sun-bathed side of the castle, where we basked in the warmth for a good moment, before eventually descending back to grab the bus back into the centre of Sintra.
Once we’d got the train back to Lisbon, we headed back into the Barrio Alto area of the city, which is the perfect spot for an evening meal or a few drinks in one of hundreds of tiny little bars. Tired as we were, we decided just to eat, and found a restaurant with some pretty amazing views over the water and the infamous red suspension bridge. There we tucked into a lovely selection of tapas, but soon found ourselves back at the hostel and in bed as Sintra had well and truly knackered us out.
The next day we were back in the centre of Lisbon once again, and yet again found ourselves faced with a ridiculous amount of steps. I assured Ellie that it would be worth it though, as we were to ascent to the viewpoint named Senhora do Monte, which offers unparalleled views over the many hills of the city.
The wander to our next destination at the other side of the city had us once again on our feet for a decent amount of time, but we were sure to break it up by stopping for some lemonade and having the quick break – even if it was just for me to take yet more photos.
Once we were lower in the city, it was time to head back up the hill on the other side, so we decided to be kind to ourselves and grab the metro up there. Once we hopped off we were soon greeted by an impressive sight, looking straight down a large grassy avenue down towards the front of the city. For the second time in a day we felt on top of the world!
After this we headed downhill slightly to pay a visit to another place which Ellie had found by doing a bit of Instagram stalking, some botanical gardens called Estufa Fría. Not expecting much more than a few plants in a glorified greenhouse, I was pretty blown away by the scale and magnificence of the place. One minute we were wandering through a cool selection of fauna, and the next minute we were in a big heated greenhouse chasing each other round a selection of cacti. For Ellie, a biology student, this place was heaven!
Once we’d had our fill of greenery for the day, and wolfed down a nice cool ice cream in the building heat outside the gardens, we headed back to the city and had another lovely meal at Fábulas. That evening, and seeing as it was a Saturday night, we heeded back out the Barrio Alto district and had a late night drinking caipirinhas, beers and even a cheeky glass of wine in the lovely nighttime ambiance of the city.
The Sunday morning we were once again back on our feet bright and early, heading back into Alfama as we’d enjoyed our wander around it so much a few days prior. From there we eventually headed down to the waterfront and hopped on a bus up to somewhere I fancied visiting, the tile museum.
The tile museum wasn’t exactly Ellie’s favourite place that we visited, but I enjoyed browsing the various patterns and colours and finding out about the technical process behind making the various types of patterned tile that can be found across the city. One room which was quite impressive was the golden chapel, which took us by surprise as it wasn’t what we’d expected to find amongst rooms full of tiles.
Eventually I got a bit too thirsty and Ellie’s craving for pizza got a bit too strong, and we wound up having a comforting pizza lunch at a local greasy spoon. We headed back into the city once we’d loaded up on calories and tried some pretty grim Russian chocolate, and I had a plan of how to get us back up into Barrio Alto to have some dinner at the restaurant with the lovely views over the water – one of the city’s infamous yellow trams!
This tram wasn’t a tram per se, but an elevador, named as such as it takes passengers up and down one of the steep hills rather than just along the flatter streets. We hopped on, got squished like sardines, and were soon rattling our way up the slope to a spot I wanted to visit for lunch.
That evening and all too soon it was our last night in the city. To celebrate we headed back to the rooftop bar a little earlier than the previous time, meaning we had time to grab a caipirinha and then watch the sun set over the city.
The next morning we’d to pack our things and then left our bags at the hostel, as we weren’t flying until quite late and had plenty more to pack into our final day! The first thing on our list was a visit to the oceanarium, so we made our way to the north of the city on the metro and when there found ourselves wandering towards the place under some menacing looking skies.
With our tickets already paid for online, we were quickly jumping all the queues and inside the oceanarium’s exhibition. The first one was a gorgeous look at underwater plant life by Japanese artist and “aquascaper” Takashi Amano, but this was merely a prelude to the rich array of ocean life which we found in the main building, a strange looking concrete structure seemingly floating over the water of the docks.
Ellie had a whale of a time nosing around the ocean life (sorry for the pun), and then after a quick lunch in a nearby shopping centre we headed back to the city centre. Ellie had a very important purchase to make at H&M, I completely forgot to buy some custard tarts to bring home (damnit), and I paid a quick visit to the city’s photography museum. There was a lovely exhibition on with photos from various stages of Lisbon’s history, but all too soon it was time to grab some dinner before picking up our bags and heading back to the airport.
After landing at Liverpool Airport and then driving along the motorway in the early hours, I managed to get us back home in one piece and we eventually managed to hit the pillow at about 3:30am. What a slog!
As tiring as this all may have been however, we both had a lovely time visiting the city together and I am definitely looking forward to visiting Lisbon again sometime in the near future. I was also happy to have taken Ellie on her first city break, and am happy to report that she enjoyed it so much she’s considering doing more in the future. As a brother then, it would appear, my work here is done!
Stay tuned for more exciting news and a preview of my new website over the coming days…