I arrived in Lisbon airport quite late at night on the Friday and tried to navigate myself on the public transport to get to my accommodation, which was conveniently located in central Lisbon. As soon as I stepped outside the train station and onto the main square, I already fell in love with this place. It was my first solo trip abroad and I was ultra excited to see what this place has to offer.
Covering Lisbon in one day
I only had one full day to cover as much of Lisbon as I can. I woke up bright and early on Saturday and went over to the dining room to have some breakfast. I’m not a morning person, so trying to make conversation with the people around me was the last thing I wanted to do. Nevertheless, this Australian couple started talking to me and asked me to join them in the free walking tour that was picking them up downstairs in 10 minutes. As I didn’t have a concrete itinerary, I decided that a walking tour would be the best way to see the main sights of Lisbon quickly.
After picking up a few people on the way, we made our way to Rossio Square. The tour guide explained how this was one of Lisbon’s main squares since the Middle Ages and has seen popular revolts. One of the main monuments on this site was the Column of Pedro IV. The tour guide explained how this was made to reflect Pedro IV, King of Portugal, who was also the first Emperor of Brazil. The base of the column stands on a tall Corinthian order column which has four female allegorical figures of Justice, Wisdom, Strength and Moderation – all qualities attributed to Pedro IV.
Another beautiful monument in this square is that Baroque Mermaid Fountain. I loved how lifelike and elegant the mermaids’ look. Unfortunately the tour guide didn’t have much information about it and I couldn’t find much on the Internet. All I know is that they were made of bronze and imported from France.
While the tour guide was talking, a guy called David came over to me and started talking about the flooring. I didn’t initially notice this but the flooring was in waves of black and white giving the impression that there was some sort of movement on the pavements, like waves. The tour guide later said that Portuguese pavement is a traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal. It can also be found in Brazil and Macau – old Portuguese colonies.
We then walked past The Hospital de Bonecas – the hospital for toys and dolls. I thought this was a joke at first, but then the tour guide explains how this is a very serious institution in Lisbon and more than just a workshop for repairing damaged dolls. The dedicated team makes new ones, create costumes and have a collection over 3000 dolls. The hospital’s ambulance is a straw basket, used to transport the most serious cases to the operating room. There were several dolls laid out on the operating table, waiting for repairs or finishing touches. There were also cupboards full of spare eyes, hair, arms and legs. Very strange.
We moved onto one of the most notable sites, which is Elevador de Santa Justa. This is a Neo-Gothic iron lift, offering scenic views over Lisbon. The tour guide did not speak highly of this and just claimed it was a huge tourist trap. We just saw this from a distance but I didn’t think it was anything special.
We then pursued a more intimate stroll and zigzagged through the neighbourhood until we found our way to alleyway Escaindhas de Sao Cristovao that leads down to Rua de Madalena. When not covered with aged and traditional ceramic tile, the walls feature various graffiti art works honouring the neighbourhood as the spring of the famous Portuguese song: The Fado.
It was just a stone’s throw away to an enchanted small square right in front of church Sao Cristovao e Sao Lourenco.
We then walked over to Miradouro de Santa Luzia, a relatively small but romantic looking terrace embellished with plants and azulejo panels (ceramic tiles). One of the many things I love about Lisbon is Lisbon’s topography, with its many steep hills as it allows for many great look out points with magnificent views over the city. We had a beautiful view over the old Alfama district and the river Tagus. I admired all the red-roofed and white-painted houses as well as the onion shaped spires of the Sao Miguel church, which you can see behind me in this picture.
Continuing the tour, we strolled down to Graca district, which is one of Lisbon’s oldest suburbs, located on top of her highest hill – a few blocks northeast of the Castelo de Sao Jorge. It got a warren of narrow streets and crooked lanes steeped in a rich history. I thought this was Lisbon at its most authentic and unassuming. From here David, two girls called Joanne and Miriam and I decided to break off and grab lunch. We had lovely octopus salad and a few side dishes and I had a well-needed latte. We all got on so well and I really enjoyed just hearing about their travel stories.
Feeling refreshed and well fed, we made our way up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. As I have no idea about its history, I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
We then shamelessly took an uber to the Belem district. This is where you can supposedly re-live the Age of Discovery: the sailing to the New World and learn about Portugal’s glorious past.
We first went to the Monument of the Discoveries – a 50m tall monument shaped like a ship’s prow which stands at the marina in Belem (The starting point for many of Portugal’s explorers). I like the fact that this monument shows more than thirty statues of people who played an important role in the discoveries. Leading the way is Henry the Navigator who is standing at the front on the bow holding a model of a caravel. Behind him are King Alfonso V who supported the exploration and colonization of Africa and the explorers Vasca da Gama (who found a direct route to India), Pedro Alvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil) and Ferdinand Megellan (the first explorer to circumnavigate the world).
We then walked down on the riverside to one of the most iconic images of Portugal, which is the Tower of Belem. It sits at the River Tejo and acts as a signpost for Lisbon’s harbor. This was constructed in 1514 by Francisco de Arruda as a fortress to stop unwanted arrivals by sea. We sat down on the grass in front of the tower for a few hours to relax and chill. For some bizarre reason, we had a really intense conversation on the impact of Brexit.
At this point, I left the group, as I wanted to catch the tram back to Rua Augusta – the city’s longest pedestrianized street to do some shopping! On my way back to the tram, I walked past the extravagant Jeronimos Monastery. After visiting this, you’d understand why the affluent and elite used to hang out in Belem to escape life in the city (aka. the poor people). I believe the monastery later became home of an orphanage before being turned into a museum. It really is a very beautiful former monastery.
Right next to it, I walked past the infamous Casa Pasteis de Belem. The Portuguese are famous for a lot of things but when it comes to pastries, their custard tarts are known all over the world. Of the main varieties, Portugal’s most famous tart is probably the pastel de nata. Officially created just before the 18th century by catholic monks at the Jeronimos Monastery, the tarts are also known around the country as Pasteis de Belem in honor of the town in which they were invented. After the Liberal Revolution in 1820, most religious orders shut their doors and the delicious tarts stopped being produced. Thankfully, a few enterprising monks decided to sell the delicious pastel de nata again at the Casa Pasteis de Belem. I even took a few tarts home for the family!
After eating the custard tart in the nearby park, I took the first tram opposite the shop in the hope that it would take me back to Rua Augusta. I was just glad that I could experience a tram ride through Lisbon. Fortunately, the tram stopped off at the start of Rua Augusta, at Praca dos Restauradores – which is a large square commemorating the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy in 1640. I was far too eager to go shopping to appreciate the importance of this square – but apparently it has a lot of history too.
Rua Augusta is a very lively shopping street, which holds a number of big European fashion brands to some smaller Portuguese boutiques. After reaching the end of street, I was definitely getting peckish so decided to make my way back to the hostel to find a family run café or restaurant that sells Bacalhou. I walked past some really beautiful side-roads and streets
I then walked over to a friendly shop assistant and asked him where is the best place to eat Bacalhou in a local family-run authentic Portuguese restaurant. He told me to go Mimosa de Camoes. I reached the restaurant, which just happened to be a 3 minutes walk from where i was staying. It’s very simple décor but as promised, it looked like it was very popular with the locals. As there was a staff party there at the time, i walked straight back out. I was about to head off before the waitress came out and told me that I’m more than welcome to sit on the single table at the side of the restaurant. I told her that I would’ve loved to but I don’t think I’d be comfortable sitting on my own with the staff party right behind me. She basically dragged me back in and said that in Portugal, no one cares about that. A few people noticed me looking a bit lost, and asked me to join them on the table – which I did. It was rather out of character of me as I’m a typical Londoner who wouldn’t usually mingle with strangers – but It was actually a really liberating experience. I ordered Bacalhau (dried, salted cod), which is the Portuguese national dish. The people I was sitting with told me that Bacalhau is actually caught in much colder waters near Norway, Iceland and Canada. They also told me that the popularity among the Portuguese dates back to before the Age of Discoveries (15th – 18th centuries) when sailors traveled all over the world, relying on fish as a food source. The Portuguese locals were very friendly and invited me to the local pub to watch some football with them. I politely declined the offer and made my way back.
The Pub Crawl
Just as I was about to doze off, David from the walking tour called me and asked if I wanted to join them in the pub-crawl. As I didn’t have any plans for the evening, I decided to join them and brought along the two Irish girls who was staying in the same place and the Irish couple I met in the morning. I had 15 minutes to have a shower, change and meet them at the square. Luckily i made it on time. It was so much fun just to let my hair down for the evening, meet some great travelers and dance for hours on end. It was a lovely way to end a perfect day in Lisbon!