Yes I’ve been to Lisbon before! But that was back in 2011 after my first ever group monsoon and spent only 12 hours wandering. Didn’t even make it to Belem Tower then. So this is a return for a proper visit.
After our successful trip last month to Cyprus, I wanted to balance out the high with some solo travel: When I saw roundtrip flights between NYC and Portugal drop down to $340 USD all inclusive (for both flights!), I jumped right in, timing it to the reopening of the EU after the pandemic and before flight prices would rise. And what better way than with additional island hopping to Madeira and Azores via the mainland of Portugal for less than $90 USD per leg between each destination?
If there was a time to travel fully vaccinated and with a good deal, this is the time to do it.
After obtaining negative PCR tests the day before and boarding a 9pm Iberia flight from JFK to Madrid, I spent a 5 hour layover catching up on sleep at the Plaza Mayor lounge in Terminal 4 of MAD airport.
Then I boarded the 3:40pm Iberia flight onwards to Lisbon, landing at 4:05pm local time.
But before leaving, I made sure I picked up a pre-purchased 48 hour Lisbon Card for 34€ to save some money for the rest of my time here. It activates only when you first use it and is valid for a year since purchase, it’s hour to hour (so if I first used the card at 8am Monday, it would last until 8am Wednesday), and covers numerous admission fees at the top sites and most public transportation. If you missed getting a card at the airpot, you can also snag one at the Lisboa Welcome Center or Foz Palace.
Then catching an Uber at arrivals, we finally reached our lodgings at Porta do Mar in central Lisbon, a few paces away from Praca do Comércio:
And not even within an hour of landing in Lisbon, we ran into friends back home: Jinny and her friend Maggie, both of whom who had actually cancelled their trip to Portugal a few days ago, only to rebook it the next day on a whim and find us here. It was meant to be. We reunited with dinner at da Prato 52:
After a spirited conversation and 2 hours there, we headed up to the photogenic 19th century Santa Justa Elevador…
… making it up the stairs and just in time for drinks at Topo Chiado before their 11pm curfew:
I struggled with not being able to sleep for more than 4 hours my first night before heading out again to meet with Jinny and Maggie for brunch. Thankfully I didn’t have to walk very far as I recuperated from jetlag:
After bidding them farewell as they headed off for Porto, we began our day at the Lisboa Story Center, located in Praca do Comércio. The admission fee is included in the card and expect to spend at least 45 minutes here learning about Lisbon’s history. It can be a decent a family-friendly (or cheesy, depending on the perspective) primer before you explore the rest of the city.
From here, I made a 4 minute walk uphill to the 18th century Saint Anthony’s Church (believed to be the birthplace of Saint Anthony):
…and across from the church stands the 12th century Lisbon Cathedral, which has been rebuilt numerous times in different styles due to earthquakes. The admission fee is not included in the Lisboa Card.
Another 10 minute walk up to the very top led me back to the 11th century Moorish built Castelo de Sao Jorge. Its admission fee is also not included on the card.
Then I headed back down to sea level by Praca do Comércio and took Bus 728 for a 25 minute ride to Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon:
With the admission fee included in the Lisboa Card, it took about half an hour to explore the monastery in its entirety:
Next to the monastery is its accompanying church, which you can visit free of charge:
Across from the monastery at the Tagus riverfront, start your boardwalk at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, built to celebrate the Portuguese “Age of Discovery/Exploration” in the 15th to 16th centuries:
From there walk along the river past the unexpectedly diminutive Belem Lighthouse:
…and you’ll eventually reach the landmark medieval defensive tower and de facto symbol of Lisbon, Belém Tower:
If you’re looking for a cafe in the area, look no further than the original Pasteis de Belem:
If you ask me though, its mortal enemy and competitor Manteigaria has a better crust experience at the expense of the creaminess of the custard you’d get with Pasteis’:
And in the spirit of gastronomy, later that evening we snagged reservations at José Avillez’s Belcanto, with 2 Michelin stars and ranked the 42nd best restaurant in the world:
I went all out for its Evolution Tasting Menu, beginning with Elderini with lemon foam and zest, and paprika salt, Brioche with cod liver and trout roe:
Oyster and tuna belly tartare with borage
Golden sphere with foie gras and Port, Minced squid with roasted chicken skin, egg yolk purée and huacatay, Marinated and brasied sardine, bell pepper and eggplant (bottom 3):
Carrot and olive in different textures with pine nut milk and lupin bean “caviar” (bottom plate):
European lobster “Casear salad” with avocado, tomato water and, yuzu and truffle emulsion:
Springtime scarlet shrimp with shrimp head curry, green apple, green asparagus and coriander:
Creamy egg yolk with spring flavors and, chicken and mint consommé:
Hake in fig leaf with its ‘tongues’, Barbela wheat crunch toast with fig leaves, dried fig butter and cured ham:
Crispy suckling pig ‘sandwich’ with sarapatel paté, peppercorn sauce, orange purée, watercress emulsion and puffed potatoes:
“Bacon-from-heaven” and earth:
Strawberry-tomato textures (yes with real tomato!):
The Vegetarian version of the Belcanto Tasting Menu
Explosive Olive, Brioche bun filled with eggplant caviar:
Golden sphere with hummus, Jerusalem artichoke with avocado and corn, Charcoal toast with eggplant, and bell pepper (top 3):
Carrot in different textures with cashew milk, olive and tangerine bonbons (top plate):
White asparagus with avocado, tomato water, yuzu and truffle emulsion:
Artichoke with spring flavors and mushrooms consommé (top plate):
Vegetable curry, green apple, peas and coriander (top plate):
Sweet egg cream and lemon:
The next morning to save us time, we arranged a bag pickup by Luggit from our lodgings; this way we could sleep in and leave later for Sintra, spend more time there (instead of returning to Lisbon for our bags), and then head directly to the airport afterwards where our bags would be waiting for us.
After getting our bags quickly picked up by Luggit without any drama (other than I slept through my alarm and made my keeper wait 20 minutes outside…sorry!), we took the hourly Linha de Sintra railway west from Rossio to Sintra, a 40 minute train ride away and also included in your Lisbon Card perks:
If you had to choose one castle out of the countless ones to explore in Sintra, choose the National Palace of Pena:
As my friend Sharon remarked, it’s “Disney World without Mickey Mouse.”
Each castle can either take an hour to explore (reading every exhibit and taking a ton of photos), or as little as 15 minutes if you’re not a big museum person. After enough spelunking they might start to blend in together, so unless you’re an expert in this field of Portuguese history and since most come to Sintra on a day trip, pick one or two at most to fully take in instead of trying to knock them all down in one day.
In the area I also recommend taking bus 403 (or an Uber) for a 40 minute drive away to the viewpoint and lighthouse at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost part of the main European landmass:
Afterwards given the convenient luggage service of Luggit that couriered our bags from our lodgings to the airport this morning before we left for Sintra, we saved ourselves a trip back to Lisbon and instead headed from Sintra directly to the airport. This trip took an hour from Sintra by means of public transportation, all of which included in the Lisboa Card.
After nearly 3 days in Lisbon, we are now about to board the evening 7:05pm Azores Airlines flight to Ponta Delgada in Azores.
- At time of posting in Lisbon, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 42% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny