After checking out the stunning south coast of Portugal I took the train north from Lagos to Lisbon (click here for my post about the Algarve). I found that trains were a bit cheaper than in the UK (but that’s not difficult) – the four hour train journey and was only around €20 (with one change in Tunes – you can buy the ticket at the station or online with Omio, there wasn’t much difference in price). Taking the train also gives you an opportunity to really take in the gorgeous landscape. As you get closer to Lisbon you cross the impressive Ponte 25 de Abril bridge (which is not too dissimilar to the Golden Gate Bridge) – the date marks the 1974 revolution which overthrew the totalitarian regime in power at the time. The crossing gives you a fantastic view of the Cristo Rei statue of Jesus, inspired by Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. You arrive at Oriente station (which I have to confess I don’t like, there’s a lot of concrete and it was impossible to find a bus outside, but on the upside there’s a pervading smell of chocolate). Luckily Ubers in Portugal are super cheap and it was only about £3.50 for a twenty five minute drive to the centre.
|Some of the popular sights – a decorated tram, the Rossio station, Monument of the Discoveries and Jeronimos Monastery|
I had left booking my accommodation to the last minute so I didn’t have as much choice; I ended up at the Green Heart hostel really close to the central Marques de Pombal square. I had a double room and there was free coffee so I couldn’t really complain, and the location was great (it just got a bit noisy on the weekend). On my last visit here in 2018 I stayed at the trendy Independente hostel/hotel in between the Chiado and Principe Real districts, but unfortunately it was full. I pretty much used Booking.com to book all of the accommodation for this trip as I got cashback using the Moneybox app, but sometimes it can be cheaper to book direct).
It’s a twenty minute walk from the hostel to the centre but it goes quickly, not so much if you pop into some of the interesting antique shops scattered along the way. The hostel was close to a tram stop, but funnily enough on this trip I didn’t take the tram and just walked everywhere (I did trams to death on my last trip but it’s a must do – the tram to Belem is a popular route). Last time I managed to tick off some of the major tourist spots such as the Castelo de Sao Jorge – a hilltop castle which gives you a great view of the city (I remember there was a wine van and sitting admiring the view sipping Portuguese wine) and the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem. This time I was just happy to walk out of the door and get lost, seeing what I came across along the way.
|Heaven for modern art – Dali, Yves Klein, Cesar Baldessini’s Thumb and Gerard Fromanger|
I knew I wanted to revisit the Museu Colecao Berardo, one of my favourite contemporary art museums which is also in Belem (this is where you’ll find the original custard tart shop). The museum is home to the work of some of my favourite modern artists, Dali, Yves Klein, Man Ray, Basquiat, Warhol and Lichtenstein just to name a few. There was also an outstanding exhibition of the work of Gerard Fromanger whose massive colourful canvasses really inspired me. I love browsing in the gift shop and reading in the coffee shop here. There’s also a cool cafe close by where the coffee is served from an out of use tram! You can also find Belem Tower close to the museum, a UNESCO world heritage site and where the Portuguese explorers disembarked after their epic voyages.
Food wise I would highly recommend the Time Out Market, an indoor food extravaganza where you can try pretty much all types of Portuguese cuisine as well as world food (there are forty different food stalls). There are so many vendors it can feel overwhelming to decide; I tried the salt cod from Terra do Bacalhau which stinks to high heaven in the supermarket, but isn’t too pungent and is really good with chilli jam. Then I sampled croquettes – a popular Portuguese snack – made with cuttlefish and squid ink, one with goats cheese and a tuna variety, all equally as yummy. Also on offer – Michelin starred dishes, fusion sushi, amazing seafood, all day breakfasts, Portugeuse soups, a stall where you can get traditional queijadas from Sintra (delicious pastries) and all manner of drinks and cocktails. There’s also a great salad bar, Vitaminas Garret not far from the market where you can build your own salad and feel very virtuous, until you load up on custard tarts.
|The addictive custard tarts, veggie burger at Nicalou, salt cod and croquettes at Time Out Market|
Foodwise I also really enjoyed Nicolau, a health food cafe which serves up colourful and delicious salads, all day brunch and breakfast dishes, comfort bowls and to-die-for cakes. I choose the vegan burger and asked for a pink bun (saw someone with it and needed) – a chickpea and sweet potato patty with curry and mango sauce. You might have to wait a little bit to be seated but it’s worth it, and you can find it near the Sao Nicolau church. My shoulder had been a bit painful for a few days so I was thrilled to stumble upon Ecomassage just across the street (the incense burning outside pulled me in). Filled with plants and instantly calming, I opted for a twenty minute chair massage (€20) and was stretched out, kneaded and cracked back into alignment by a seasoned professional. Feeling human again, I spent the rest of the afternoon sifting through vinyl at Louie Louie, a popular record shop where the ceiling is covered with vinyl (I picked up a limited edition Beatles EP).
|A plant paradise at Eco Massage, record heaven at Louie Louie|
I didn’t get the chance to venture outside of Lisbon on my last trip, so this time trips to Sintra and Cascais were high on my list of things to do. Sintra, famous for it’s fairytale castles and Cascais being a popular seaside destination. I decided to stay in Sintra for a couple of nights and spend one day sightseeing there, and the next day in Cascais before traveling on to Porto; both are good options for day trips if you base yourself in Lisbon. An hour by train from the capital, Sintra boasts stunning natural scenery, the fairytale National Palace of Pena and the Castle of the Moors which offer fascinating insights into Portuguese history as well as fantastic views of the Sintra region.
I stayed at Quinta De Sao Francisco, a large property about five minutes drive from the centre of Sintra in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park with amazing views of the Pena Palace and a huge breakfast on offer. I ditched my bags and called an Uber to take me to the Palace; a lot of people take one of the many tuk tuks to the top but that looked pretty scary! The super fit can attempt a forty five minute steep hike or you can take the 434 bus from outside the train station. It costs €14 to gain entry to the Palace and the Park, you can book your ticket online or on one of the machines outside. It’s completely different to any castle or palace that I’ve ever visited before, it’s almost like a child’s drawing has been brought to life in front of your eyes – a lemon yellow, lilac and burnt orange romantic wonder with grey and canary yellow walls/turrets and chess board, moorish tiled archways. Inside you’ll find numerous staterooms filled with the luxurious possessions of its previous resident, King Fernando II (the Artist King) who cryptically told his architect that it must represent an opera. It was used as a summer residence to escape the heat of the city.
|The stunning colours of Pena Palace, the tile detail, the light in the chapel and the gorgeous view|
I was most impressed with the terrace walk, the chapel with the light reflecting off the stained glass windows and the amazing views of the valley and park (on a clear day the Palace can be seen from Lisbon). It’s worth a visit for the eighty five hectare park alone which plays home to trees from far-flung places – Sequoias from the US, Japanese Cryptomeria and a wide variety of ferns from Australia and New Zealand, as well as waterfalls and secret pavilions. There’s a reasonably priced cafe and gift shop for all of your palace souvenirs (it was lovely to have a coffee and custard tart and savour the view). I didn’t have a lot of time so I prioritised visiting Pena Palace; if you have more time there’s also the Palacio National de Sintra (with the white cone towers) and the Moorish castle to visit.
Everyone knows about the addictive pasteis da nada (custard tarts) which are quite common in the UK now (I fell in love with the Nutella ones in Lisbon). Sintra boasts its own must-try pastry – the Queijada, a small sweet cake made with soft cheese, eggs, sugar, milk and flour. You can buy them in pretty much every cafe in Sintra, and on the way to the Palace you can stop at the original bakery Fabrica das Verdadeiras (founded in 1756) to try different flavours including almond, milk and orange (you can get six for five euros – I bought a box to bring home but typically ate them in one night). There are plenty of cafes and restaurant around the train station – I recommend Cafe Saudade and Incomum restaurant which has a bargain €12.50 lunch menu.
The day after I took the bus from Sintra to Cascais, another popular tourist destination with great beaches and plenty of culture/galleries. You can take the 403 or the 417 bus from outside Sintra train station; the 417 is faster at thirty minutes so I took that on the way there. If you’re going back to Sintra take the 403 which takes about an hour but is well worth it for the stunning views, you can even stop at the Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe for pics of the lighthouse or if you fancy an unforgettable hike.
|The beach in Cascais, sculptures in the art square, street art|
A charming traditional Portuguese fishing town, Cascais like Sintra historically was the summer retreat of the Portuguese nobility – you’ll find an imposing fort, lavish mansions and villas and tiny cobbled streets as well as lively bars and restaurants, boutique hotels and lots of shopping options. I left the bus station and headed towards the beach craving an ice cream. Not far from the 17th Citadel, I stumbled across the Cidadela Art District which is home to a number of independent galleries, bookshops and sculptures set around a large cobbled courtyard (I loved the giant pair of binoculars and huge heads). I spent quite a bit of time in Indie not a bookshop (which pretty much is a bookshop) which had a great selection of the newest fiction and non fiction. There were also a couple of second hand book shops, you could spend hours browsing and trying not to spend a fortune (I’ve notices that books are much more expensive abroad – a novel is often around €15 so yeah I was mainly browsing). I stopped for sushi at Sushissimo and did a bit of shopping (I recommend Be We) before catching the 403 back to Sintra via the scenic route which was amazing although pretty steep at points. I had an early night and in the morning caught the train back to Lisbon and then bought a ticket for the five hour train journey to Porto (€28), for the final leg of my Portuguese adventure! Find out more about fabulous Porto in my next post.
I’ve tried to link all places I visited in the text above, so just click on the places to find out more. Obviously I didn’t get everywhere that I wanted to go so here are some other places in Lisbon to check out:
- Botanical gardens complete with peacocks!
- Castelo de Sao Jorge – great views of the city
- Santa Justa lift – more great views
- LX Factory – cool arts centre with shops and eateries
- Ride the famous tram 28 to the Alfama district
- The National Tile Museum (if you’re into tiles)
- Visit the lively Barrio Alto for nightlife