This trip was three years in the making, and Lisbon landed on the itinerary precisely when I realized that it was meaningfully cheaper to fly there instead of Madrid or Barcelona. As a result, our Andalusia trip extended to the Western part of the Iberian peninsula, where we stayed for two days. Lisbon is simply breathtaking. Its terracotta rooftop skyline can be seen throughout a couple of prominent lookout views- the castle as well as an elevator literally built in the middle of a street. Lisbon can be done in one day, but I’d suggest staying for at least two days for the city and an extra day for excursions outside the city. From the airport, you can catch a shuttle into the city for only 3,50 €, which gives you free access to all of the buses, trams and even the Santa Justa Lift for 24 hours. Otherwise, expect to pay 1,75 € for the bus and 2,85 € for the tram. For a self-guided tour, take the #28 train, which goes all over the city center and crosses many major tourist attractions.
Sights: Castle of São Jorge
Santa Justa Lift
Jerónimos Monastery Belém Tower
Pastéis de Belém
Castle of São Jorge
Adults: 7,50 €
Students <25: 4,00 €
Seniors: 4,00 €
Some of the best views can be found here. Unfortunately, the castle itself inside isn’t all that exciting and it’s easy to get lost amongst all the dirt walkways that result in dead ends. Make sure you read the map because you can easily climb up to a tower that will lead to nowhere. While there are indeed places close by that offer decent panoramic views of the city, the best views are still found within the castle grounds. Peacocks and cats roam the grounds. I had a pleasant surprise when I came out of the loo (downstairs) and ahoy! There was not one but three peacocks greeting me.
Santa Justa Lift
Admission: 5,00 €, valid for two trips
Also known as Carmo Lift, this iron lift is located in the lower streets of Baixa, a district that was reconstructed after the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake. As a result, the streets in Baixa are in grid-form, contrasting the winding and narrow roads that surround the castle. The proposal for the lift was first presented in 1874 but the inauguration did not occur until 1902. By 1907, the elevator was converted from steam to electrical. Rather than appearing magical in the nightlight, it exudes a sinister touch, perhaps reflecting its Neo-Gothic style. It’s totally worth a trip up as the panoramic view gives you glimpses of the castle, the sea and a direct birds-eye view of Rossio Square.
Jerónimos Monastery & Belém Tower
Jerónimos Monastery & Belém Tower Admission: 10 €
The frontal view of the monastery is spectacular. Interestingly, it was built as a thanks to the Virgin Mary for Vasco de Gama’s successful voyage to India and even funded by successful Portuguese voyages around the world. Similar to the monastery, the Tower of Belém was also built to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s expedition. We did not go into either. However, the church on the side is free of charge. A climb up the Tower of Belém offers a good view of the monastery.
Pastéis de Belém
Website Pastel de Nata: 1,05 €
The Pastel de Nata is Portugal’s iconic dessert. While the pastries are no beauty compared to the cupcakes at Magnolia bakery, they are really delicious. The original egg tart recipe was believed to have been created in the 18th century by monks at the monastery above. Supposedly, egg-whites were in high demand during Medieval days, as they were used to starch clothes as well as the clearing of wines. The leftover egg yolks eventually lead to these tasting treats. Furthermore, a liberal revolution in 1820 led the monastery to sell these pastries at an attempt for survival. Today that shop is known as Pastéis de Belém, and this is the place to go to for a legit pastel de nata. The pastel de nata at Pastéis de Belém are truly one of a kind. Unlike the ones you find at bakeries, these tarts are not too sweet and with just the amount of richness. But what truly distinguishes them is not the custard (in my opinion), but the crust. Its flaky crust is composed of rings upon rings that don’t wilt delicately in your mouth. They’re crisp and crunch at the pressure of each bite. The line does get long but it usually goes by pretty fast. The pastries are so good that I would line up again despite the crummy service. They do sell other baked goods and there is limited seating inside.
Website Calcada do Sacramento 40-46 Lisbon, Portugal Price range: $23 – $35
Now onto my favorite part of our first day- Sacramento. We relied on TripAdvisor where people gushed about this place. Apparently it’s also on NY Times’s eating suggestions in Lisbon. The place serves traditional Portuguese dishes prepared with a modern-day twist. We arrived a tad bit too early (7:15pm) so we wandered around before heading back at 7:45pm, when the restaurant opened for dinner. Call for reservations if you plan on coming after 8:30pm, as the place fills quickly. Our total bill was roughly 60 €, which was a steal, given the quality of food, the number of courses and wine for both of us.
Bread served with Rosemary olive oil (2,50€)
For those who are first-time diners in Portugal- nothing is free, including the bread. Restaurants will often present with you food without your request. If you touch it, you pay for it. For instance, the bread was presented to us, just like it was to every other table. It was so delicious that we gobbled it up. Before we knew it, the server came to refill the bread. I touched a piece and we were charged another 2,50 €. You should politely refuse if you’re not interested.
Scrambled eggs with sausage
Despite looking rather curious, these scrambled eggs were divine. They eggs were just a bit undercooked so they’re not your average completely dry and slightly burnt scrambled eggs. The flavor is so intense, though oddly reminiscent of flavors of shellfish. The bits of sausage are generous though not needed given how flavorful the eggs were. Overall, a really good/solid dish.
Salty cod with potatoes
The Portuguese really like their Bacalao (codfish) and Sacramento’s take on Bacalao is salted served with cornmeal. This was obviously salty (as indicated by the name) but well balanced by the potatoes. If you’re into fish, this is recommended, though there are definitely other worthwhile dishes to pursue on the menu if you’ve had cod before.
I ordered the duck rice, which came with a side salad. My biggest complaint was that the duck was immensely salty. It seemed to be cured, despite the layer of fatty goodness that graced the top of the slice. Nevertheless, the rice, which was topped with some goat cheese and rosemary, was absolutely delicious. Despite how small this dish looks, it was actually quite filling.
Coconut Cake with walnuts served with lime ice cream
The dessert was hands-down the favorite of the night. The coconut cake was perfect- the flavor was all there without being too obnoxious. The cake itself could have been a bit more moist but at least it didn’t feel greasy or over buttered. The candied walnuts were also a great touch. Combined with the lime ice cream, this cake sets you back to tropical paradise. We were super impressed with the cup that holds the ice cream- it’s not really a cup but rather hardened and molded sugar!
After dinner, we took the Santa Justa lift again, just to see how the city looked at night. It was disappointing. There were few lights, but at least Rossio Square was well illuminated.
For the two nights, we stayed at a flat that we found on Airbnb. The flat was small but cozy (it could nearly fit inside my bedroom) and was located near Rossio Square. It had everything but hot water (which was quite unfortunate). Nevertheless, it at least had internet, which apparently is not as easy to find as you’d think.