This year my motto is “work, save, travel, repeat”.
So here we are with another destination in the 24 hour series. And this time it involved a plane and a passport…. yay!!!
It turns out that Lisbon, home of the yellow tram and the world’s most addictive custard tarts, may well be the perfect destination for a short city break. It’s a quirky little city with a great climate, reasonable prices and lots to keep the food enthusiast sated. Other enthusiasts too no doubt, but I tend to be all about the food.
Like Rome, Lisbon is built on seven hills and the old city can be a bit of a maze to negotiate, but taxis are super cheap so help is at hand if the inclines prove too great or Google maps gets itself all in a muddle. And remember that getting lost on a fine day in a pretty city is really all part of the fun. So having spent a short break chilling with my bestie in the Portuguese capital (mainly without any sense of bearings or direction), here is my advice for a fun and food filled 24hrs in Lisbon.
Arrival & Check-in
Arriving on an evening flight from Dublin for a very short trip, our first priority was a taxi from the airport to our accommodation. Having read somewhere that the taxis from arrivals regularly scam tourists by overcharging and not metering, the advice appears to be to go upstairs to departures and pick-up a taxi there, or at the very least agree a price prior to leaving the terminal. We did none of this!!!!
We jumped in, sped off and realised the chances of being ripped off were increasing steadily with every snippet of tourist information grumpily imparted by the disinterested driver who had not made any effort to turn on a meter. When we eventually arrived at our destination, double the standard fare was demanded (€37!!!), and while my travel companion was worried our luggage was about to be taken hostage, I simply refused to pay it, handing him €20 and telling him he was lucky to get it. There was a principle at stake! It worked out ok and he accepted defeat pretty graciously, but I would not recommend going head to head with foreign taxi drivers as a general rule. Especially when you don’t know where you are, don’t speak the language and he has your suitcase!!! Maybe just take the advice and go to departures for a taxi from Lisbon airport to the city centre.
We stayed in a lovely Air B&B in the bustling Barrio Alto but hotels are cheap too, especially if, like us, you go out of season. The advantage of apartment over hotel in this instance was that we had two rooms, effectively for the price of one. A nice luxury for two friends travelling together – especially if you have a snorer, an insomniac, a late night reader or someone suffering from tiny bladder syndrome in the travelling party!!!!
So what to do in a day in Lovely Lisbon???
Get up early and take a tour
A city tour can be a great overview of a new place and we did two very different ones during our stay.
For those with a penchant for seeing the sights but not trekking up and down endless hills, there was Lisbon by Beetle. This covered a lot of ground, included a lot of information both cultural and historical, and pulled in at some stunning viewing points all around the capital. Lisbon is a funny city, in that it is really quaint and atmospheric but there are few “must-see” sights, at least in my opinion. As a result we were happy to let the driver plot the route and put together a “Best of Lisbon” style tour. We enjoyed the stylish vintage wheels and we finished the morning happy to have seen the best of what Lisbon had to offer. Here is a little photo taster….
And for a tour of a different sort… just choose your niche and do a search, Lisbon has loads of options. I was enthused by the idea of local wine tasting (shocker!!!), electric bikes, a market tour with a cookery class (definitely on my next visit) and a tuk tuk tour. However, we opted in the end for a food tour and it proved a great choice. The Taste of Lisboa tour was basically a lot of deliciousness coupled with a generous flow of local tipples. We opted for the Tram 28-Campo de Ourique Food & Cultural Walk and on a sunny spring morning, it proved a definite highlight of the trip. Our guide was just really suited to her job – she didn’t just know the script – she knew Lisbon and she knew food. No question fazed her and she made me want to do her job – high praise indeed for the bubbly Madalena. The other strength of this tour was the variety of food on offer and the interesting mix of traditional and contemporary places and platters – it made for an unpredictable and delicious morning walk. I think it is time to let the pictures do the talking…
There was “the world’s best chocolate cake” from O Melhor de Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo .…
A market tour featuring wine, sardines and mackerel…
A myriad of mouthwatering things done with pork in Pigmeu, a trendy neighbourhood bistro…..
Some Belgian inspired Moules with strong and delicious craft beer at the simply named Moules & Beer.
And then there some traditional Portuguese home-cooking featuring cod, rice and green wine before finishing with a refreshing ice tea and cake in a stunning boutique hotel.
For those who know neither me nor the lovely Denise – this is pretty ideal in terms of ways to pass a morning. So yes, with only 24 hours in Lisbon, I would take a tour. And personally I would probably make it a food tour.
Break for Lunch
Now clearly if you have done a food tour you won’t need lunch…. or let’s leave it at “you shouldn’t need lunch”…. but if you do, this is the time to tip along to the Time Out Market, one of Lisbon’s biggest attractions. I can see why people love this place and they really do, flocking to it in large numbers all day, every day. It has a huge array of quality food, drinks, desserts and coffees to choose from and it is really well designed – but for dinner I think you can do better without necessarily paying more. I think if you are only on a whistle-stop tour of a city that has a lot to offer the culinary enthusiast, you don’t need to eat dinner off a canteen tray at a communal table…. and pay restaurant prices for the privilege. But lunch I can get on board with. Even better, a pitstop for a coffee and a delicious crunchy, creamy, eggy, vanilla spiked pastéis de nata from Manteigaria. The quintessential taste of Lisbon does not disappoint – who knew eggs, butter and sugar could create a morsel from heaven. Kudos to The Gastro Gays for the tip. Although Denise, who became something of an expert, argues that the Pasteis de Belem is worthy of the crown and the queues!!!
Some Afternoon Rambling
City breaks are made for aimless rambling really, and to be honest we did very little in the afternoon. For some high street style shopping wander around the Chiado area, particularly Rua de Carmo and the surrounding streets, and you will find offerings consistent with almost every global capital. For more unique purchases Embaixada & Praça do Principe Real have some stunningly curated concept stores, that well warrant a browse, even if your purchases are curtailed by Ryanair’s luggage policies. And finally, if your inner hipster fancies some retail therapy, take a taxi to the insta-worthy LX Factory – worth the trek for the bookshop of dreams alone. You can take a look below. But really it doesn’t matter where you go, Lisbon is a city made for wandering – there is plenty to see, an abundance of cafes and bars and if you get tired just hop on a tram and take in the sights from a different perspective.
Dinner & Drinks
So of course dinner is the most important meal in a holiday!!! To this end I am going to make two restaurant recommendations, followed by two bar recommendations…. all of these come HIGHLY recommended.
First off is Palacio Chiado. Based on a recommendation from a colleague, I had booked a table here before ever boarding the plane and I was so pleased with the forward planning – the place is stunning. The restaurant is set in a former palace dating back to 1781 and it has all the elegance you would imagine from a building of this nature. Think sweeping staircases, chandeliers and opulent artworks. And then there is the food….
Basically Palacio Chiado is seven restaurants and two bars sharing one space. But if that sparks images of a food court, you are miles off the mark. Although you can visit the chefs at work if you choose, this is more high end restaurant in vibe and there is definitely not a plastic tray in sight. You can choose from any menu and mix and match between eateries – so you could opt for a starter from the Sushi menu and a main from the Meat Bar. But you order and pay as at any single restaurant. And it was delicious. We had a sharing starter board, consisting of ibérico ham, pork sausage, “farinheira” sausage and a variety of local cheeses. This was from FARROBODÓ and, while I know someone who says “you could taste the quality” should be beaten to death with their own Hunter wellie, in this case it was true.
We both ordered our mains from Meat Bar – one fillet and one sirloin steak – with fries of course and they were perfect. Two cheesecake style desserts from the Confeiteria do Palacio rounded off a seriously high quality meal and at prices far, far gentler than anything you would find in Dublin or London.
The second recommendation was the result of what turned out to be a happy inconvenience. The restaurant I really wanted to try was fully booked and the next lead we attempted to follow could only offer a 9.30pm table. But it was 7.30pm and we were starving, so with hunger and desperation at risk of ruining a perfectly lovely day, we almost begged the ‘waitress without tables‘ to send us somewhere close by. And she did.
And they were fully booked.
But there was a kind, kind man who just knew that to say no may well have devastating consequences and so we were, very literally, squeezed in to a table in Agua Pela Barba. I admit I felt quite trepidatious when we were presented with the tiny menu to match the tiny restaurant. A few things were off, a few things were raw (words like ceviche and tartare make me squeamish) and although we guessed the concept was kinda tapas, we couldn’t really be sure. But we steadied our nerves and ordered a selection of dishes, that did come to for sharing and at intervals. It was delicious – lots of seafood that was fresh and perfectly cooked. We devoured fish tacos, cod fritters, pulled pork sandwiches and Asian buns stuffed with crab meat. We drank local beers (x2) and local wine (x2) and the bill was about €40 for two. With a clearly local clientele, a location in a tiny cobble street and zero pretension, this was one of my favourite meals in a while…. well at least in 24 hours!!!
For anyone in search of a nightcap there are really no shortage of places in the Old Town for drinks but to be honest we weren’t actually looking to party much. I don’t know when or how it happened – but somehow as the years trundle by, we seem to have become more about good food and early nights than wild parties and sick heads. Age? Long working weeks? Possibly even sense? The mind boggles, but the fact is that we did very little late night drinking. But don’t worry, I am still Irish and I do have two well known but worthy suggestions.
The first is Pensao Amor, a trendy bar housed in a former brothel. Once part of the red light district, the punters rented rooms by the hour. Today, as the area becomes increasingly gentrified, tourists and well-heeled locals come to enjoy cocktails and burlesque. There is an erotic bookshop, a pole made for a particular genre of dance and some really eclectic interiors. Sink into a comfy chair and enjoy.
The second bar is equally unique. Park Bar is a rooftop garden terrace situated at the top of a multi-storey carpark. You walk up the ramp through the parking lot, wondering if you could possibly be in the right place. And then you realise you definitely are…because there it is. A breathtaking view of the city, enjoyed for the price of a pint of Super Bock.
Remember when in Lisbon to make time for a custard tart first thing in the morning and last thing at night…. they are everything they are hyped up to be. Your jeans will never fit again, but some things make buttons and waistbands a worthy sacrifice.
So that’s it for 24 Hours in Lisbon. It has whet my appetite for a little more urban Portugal and I have now placed Porto on the ever-extending bucket list. Hope you love Lisboa as much as I did. And remember a life spent travelling and dreaming of travelling is surely a life well spent. xo