Lisbon, Portugal has rapidly become one of the most popular (and cost-effective) city break destinations in Europe – so we sent Cool FM Radio Presenter Curtis McCosh across on a 4 day trip to see if the reality is as good as its growing reputation ….
A 7am Aer Lingus flight from Dublin got us into Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport for approx 10am. The flight time is roughly about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Once we were through the airport and collected our bags, we went straight to the hotel to drop our suitcases off. There are a couple of different ways to get to the city center from the airport, such as the bus or the metro, but given it was our first time in the city we opted for a taxi. We hopped into a taxi outside the terminal to get us to our hotel, and after about 20 minutes we arrived at Hotel 3K Madrid. Surprisingly, the journey only cost 21 Euro! By the time we arrived at the hotel it was just too early for us to check in, so we left the bags and decided to go for a walk with no real destination in mind. You can easily spend a couple of hours walking around looking at lots of the traditional Portuguese tiled houses that lined the narrow, hilly streets, and wondering how anybody manages to drive a car there!
Before long we found ourselves at Praça da Figueira, where there was a little market selling lots of handcrafted pieces. After a quick browse of the market we crossed the road and found a little cafe called Confeitaria Nacional, where we had a quick bite of lunch and our first “Pastel De Nata”, a traditional Portuguese egg custard tart. (Fair warning, these are addictive, it was the first of MANY!) After lunch we continued our walk down Rua Augusta, a lively pedestrian street with loads of restaurants, cafes and brand name shops. The street ends with an impressive archway (Arco da Rua Augusta) which leads out onto Praça do Comércio, a huge pedestrian square right on the bank of the River Tagus. After spending a bit of time walking the square we decided it was time to head back towards the hotel to get checked in. On the journey back to the hotel we landed upon Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe, located just off Praça dos Restauradores.
We always try to visit the Hard Rock Cafe if the city we’re visiting has one, so this was already on our list for dinner later in the trip, however with all the walking and the fact that it was 25 degrees, we decided a few cocktails were a good idea! After spending a bit more time than we had anticipated there, we resumed our journey back to the hotel, which was about a 20 minute walk. The hotel was clean, convenient and had everything we needed for a short city break. A combination of the early start, the walking and the (multiple) cocktails was enough for us to call it a day.
Day 2 started with the 25 minute walk from the hotel towards one of Lisbon’s main attractions, The Santa Justa Lift. Before getting to our destination, we stopped for some breakfast at Fábrica da Nata, a cafe specializing in Pastel De Nata. While waiting in the queue, you can watch the famous cream custard tarts being made fresh, and around the walls of the cafe you can read the story behind the sweet snack. Breakfast was two cheese and ham baguettes, two Pastel De Nata, a coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, which only cost 16 euro, which I thought was surprisingly low compared to most other major European cities where you can easily spend 30 euro for breakfast!
After breakfast we made our way to the famous Santa Justa Lift. The lift is technically part of the Lisbon public transport network and is the fastest way for pedestrians to get from the Baixa neighborhood to the Bairro Alto district. While it may be the fastest way, the queues tend to be very long, and when we arrived and joined the queue, we were told to expect to be waiting for at least 45 minutes to an hour before we could get near the lift.
However, after a quick google search, we discovered a hack to get us to the top of the elevator viewing platform without having to take the lift. An 8 minute walk gets you to the The Glória Funicular which will take you up a steep street to Bairro Alto, and when you get off the funicular, a 2 minute walk around the corner gets you to the top of the Santa Justa elevator where you can take in the views of the city below. While taking in the scenery, we spotted a rooftop bar off to the left, and decided it would be a nice place to rehydrate. The bar, called Carmo Rooftop, is located against the backdrop of Carmo Archaeological Museum and boasts impressive views of the city. It’s the perfect place to rest your feet and enjoy one of the local lager beers or a cocktail.
Once we got moving again, we made our way west towards TimeOut market, which had been recommended to us. The walk lasted about 15 minutes, and luckily, was mostly downhill! Along the journey, we passed Lisbon’s famous “Pink Street” which you’ll see in lots of TikTok videos. Pink Street is rumored to be one of the liveliest streets in Lisbon, however on this occasion the street was being repainted, so there wasn’t too much happening. After a few photos we continued on our way and eventually arrived at TimeOut Market, a huge food hall located in an old market building (Think Common Market in Belfast, only bigger!). It’s one of those places that has something for everyone, in both the food and drinks department. At this stage in the day we were still quite full from breakfast, so we opted for an Aperol Spritz each.
After another Aperol Spritz or two (one of which I managed to spill over myself and dye my shoes orange), we hopped in an Uber and made our way towards the Lisbon Oceanarium. This attraction is located about a 20 minute drive away from the main city, so it’s best to get a taxi or uber there. The Lisbon Oceanarium is one of the biggest aquariums in Europe. Inside you’ll see everything from sharks to penguins, puffins and even otters. You’ll also learn about the conservation work taking place. With Portugal being a country with a rich maritime history, this is something they take very seriously.
After spending a few hours at the Oceanarium, we jumped in a taxi to take us back towards the main city. We stopped for a quick dinner in the Hard Rock Cafe, and realized we had walked almost 25 thousand steps, so decided to call it a day and make our way back towards the hotel.
On day 3, we wanted to take in as many of the Lisbon sights as we could, so we booked some tickets for the obligatory open-top sightseeing bus. There are a few different companies operating in the city, and we opted for Grayline as they offered a 48 hour unlimited hop on – hop off ticket, with a few different routes around the city, as well as a route to Cascais, a seaside town just outside of Lisbon which we wanted to visit. A quick walk from the hotel got us to Marquês de Pombal Square, where the bus route started. The first bus route lasted around an hour and 45 minutes, and took us past some of the city’s most famous sights, such as Belém Tower and Jeronimo’s Monastery. We got off the bus where we started and decided it was time for a late breakfast/early lunch. We walked down Avenida da Liberdade, a large street in the city filled with high end shops such as Gucci and Versace, although it didn’t have too many options for somewhere to eat. We ended up back outside Fábrica da Nata, the cafe we were at the previous day. It also just so happened that the bus stop for the second hop on hop off bus route we wanted to do was right outside, so we went back in for some lunch, and you guessed it, another Pastel Da Nata.
After lunch, we headed to the bus stop and didn’t have to wait too long, as Grayline provides an app that shows the live location of their buses. This bus route took us through the windy narrow streets of the Alfama district, up to Castelo de São Jorge, a large historic castle overlooking the city. We jumped off the bus at the stop for the castle, and directly opposite us was a lady making Pina Coladas in a fresh pineapple, and how do you say no to that? After a quick refreshment stop, we made our way to the castle. The entry fee was 15 Euros each and we spent roughly an hour and a half enjoying the views, exploring the views and meeting the castles (many) resident peacocks. After, we made our way back towards the city. As it was all downhill we decided to walk, which gave us the opportunity to explore some of the narrow local streets.
We were getting hungry so decided to head back towards TimeOut market, as we didn’t actually eat there the day before. Along the way, we found a shop called Força Portugal, where you can buy the football shirts of the top Portuguese teams such as Benfica and F.C. Porto as well as lots of Ronaldo merchandise, and is a great place to grab a gift for a football fan. As we didn’t have time to make any stadium visits, I picked up a Benfica shirt and we were on our way.
When we arrived at TimeOut market, we grabbed a few drinks and a spot at a table so we could decide what we wanted to eat. I went for “Tartine”, which specializes in hot dogs, and I would definitely recommend it to any hot dog lover.
After we’d finished at TimeOut, we decided to take a walk along the banks of the River Tagus in the general direction of the hotel. The river bank in the evening is a lively place, filled with locals walking their dogs, joggers, tourists, street performers and one or two bars. We stopped in to one of the bars and enjoyed a quick drink with amazing views of the River Tagus, the “25th Of April Bridge” and The Christ the King statue on the opposite river bank. After another short walk, we were back at Praça do Comércio, where we stopped off at another bar for a last drink of the night to wrap up the day.
Although this was our last day, our flight home wasn’t until 10pm, so we still had plenty of time to explore. We had planned to take the Grayline bus route to Cascais, and needed to be at the bus stop at Marquês de Pombal Square at 11:15am, so we used the morning to get our bags packed and check out of the hotel. Once checked out, the hotel held our bags and we made the 10 minute walk to the bus stop. The bus route to Cascais lasted about an hour and a half, and took us past some of the sights we had seen the previous day. We arrived in Cascais around lunch time and spotted an Irish Bar in the square where we grabbed some pizza for lunch. We were pushed for time as the bus was due to leave again at 3pm, so after lunch we quickly got on our way to check out the famous Mercado da Vila, an indoor market with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, coffees, pastries and clothes from local sellers.
After a browse around the market, we made our way slowly back towards the beach, stopping for some gelato along the way. The gelato was some of the best I’ve had, and was made better by sitting looking out at the Atlantic Ocean while locals played volleyball on the beach below.
When we got back to Lisbon, we still had a bit of time to kill, so decided the best way to use our last hour was to head back towards Fábrica da Nata to eat one last Pastel da Nata before we had to leave. We got back to the hotel to collect our bags and a quick 20 minute taxi got us to the airport with plenty of time before our flight. The airport itself has plenty of places to eat, and a decent amount of shops to pick up those little last minute gifts.
Lisbon had never really been on my list of cities to visit, however after spending a few days there, it has become one of my favorite European destinations, and I can’t wait to go back! The vibe of the city is amazing, and it really has something for everyone, whether you’re a history lover, a foodie or you enjoy lots of walking. There’s plenty of touristy things to see and do to keep you busy, but alternatively, there’s plenty of little bars, cafes and restaurants to relax in and watch the world go by. We’re already planning our next visit! I’ve listed some key NInja Tips below which hopefully will come in useful ….
Lisbon seemed to be a city with very heavy traffic, especially at rush hour, so if you’re considering using an uber or taxi for a short journey, you might actually be quicker walking. For those longer routes, a taxi or an Uber is never too far away and isn’t overly expensive.
The Grayline sightseeing took us past everything we wanted to see, however we were disappointed at the lack of a live tour guide. Instead, it was pre-recorded info clips, with traditional music in-between. I don’t know if any of the other sightseeing companies use live guides, but when we go back we plan to do a tuk tuk guided tour which seem very popular.
Our time in Cascais was extremely limited because we decided to take the sightseeing bus to get there. Consider using the train as it will get you there quicker and cheaper and you won’t be tied to a schedule.
Bring comfortable shoes, you’ll need them!
Oh …. And you should try and bring some Pastel da Nata home with you, you’ll miss them!
Why not visit your LOCAL NInja travel agency and ask them to plan your next NInja adventure to Rome!! You can contact them via Holiday NInja CLICK HERE and we can easily make that connection for you!!
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