My absolute favourite European destination, so unique but so underrated!
Which is your favourite European capital?
My absolute favourite European destination, so unique but so underrated!
Which is your favourite European capital?
Lisbon is a beautiful city. That much is clear from climbing up to its breathtaking miradouros to tasting the delicious food you can find here. It’s also got a quirky-ness and vibrancy which is also worth discovering and you can find some of that in the street art which covers the city.
A few weeks ago, I took part in a walking tour with Vero at Street Art Tour Lisbon, who provided the group with an invaluable insight into the inside world of street art which I admittedly don’t know much about.
Not only were were taken to locations with some fantastic street art that I would never have stumbled across on my own, we learned about the unspoken rules of the scene, the history of how it all began, the appropriate vocabulary (of which there seems to be a lot) and even took our hand at (legally) having a go with some spray paint, although it’s harder than you may think and I only managed to paint a basic smiley face!
The tour lasted just over three hours, with the meeting point at Largo de Camões. Payment is by donation, usually 10-15 euros but it is up to you on how much you decide to pay. The tour may have lasted for three hours, but we took our time at each place and even had a much needed break half-way through at a café for some tasty ginjinha. We were not rushed from place to place.
One of the highlights was walking around a car park located in Baixa. Each floor was dedicated to a different “writer” and it was interesting walking from top to bottom and learning about their different techniques and inspirations.
We also went to the Galeria de Arte Urbana, an area located on the street where there is the Elevador da Gloria. It’s a place for street artists to do their thing. Proposals are put forward and those which are accepted get to put their ideas into a reality on large billboards on the hill. These change often apparently, so every time you go you should expect to see something different. On the street adjacent, you’ll also see walls covered in graffiti, where anyone can have a go legally. By creating spaces like this, people are less likely to go do it elsewhere on private property.
Unfortunately, the tour did not cover some of the most impressive street art that can be found in Lisbon. However, this is understandable, as these are mostly dotted about the city and it would be challenging to cover on a walking tour! Luckily for me, I had time on my hands, so jumping on and off the metro to discover some of the highlights I wanted to see was easily accomplished last Saturday afternoon.
The Crono Project in 2010 gave Lisbon international attention, putting the city on the street art map, by inviting international names to collaborate with local Portuguese street artists. If you are taking the bus or a taxi from the airport into the city center, it is impossible to miss these particular boarding up buildings as they easily grab your attention for all the right reasons.
If you want to get a bit more of a look than just a glance through a taxi window, get off at Picoas metro station on the yellow line and direct yourself towards the main street, Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, where the buildings are located.
My personal favourite is found between the two metro stops, Terreiro do Paço and Santa Apolónia on the blue line, on a building which has art covered on three sides by VHILS and Pixel Pancho. Vhils, also known as Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto, carves into the wall which makes his works unique and stand out. His website goes into more detail here
If you’re in Lisbon, keep your eyes open, as you never know what amazing street art you may find!
A visit to the Mercado da RIbeira should be essential for any visit to Lisbon.
It’s not somewhere I had even considered on my first weekend trip to Lisbon, which I regret in hindsight. I had even left it until two weeks into my stay here this month to finally see what the fuss was all about. Now I have finally experienced it, I would say that the Mercado da Ribeira is a must if you would like to taste a variety of good quality food on low-medium budget.
The Mercado da Ribeira is Lisbon’s historic market hall. Since 2014, it has been run by Time Out who have totally revamped the market so that it now includes an indoor Food Court, home to 35 permanent stalls offering some of the best gastronomic delights that can be found in the city.
My first experience of the food court at the Mercado da Ribeira was last Thursday for lunch. It was James’ first day of his trip to visit me in Lisbon, and we went straight there after I got back from my language classes at 1pm. I had a class test that morning and it was something I was very much looking forward to in the afternoon.
We walked from my flat in Bairro Alto, which is only 10 minutes downhill to the market. You can alternatively get the metro or a bus there to Cais do Sodré, which is opposite the market hall.
We loved the market so much, that we returned for lunch on the Friday AND the Sunday. It’s fair to say that I am a bit market-ed out now, and should probably cook from home for a few days before I consider eating out again!
It was great, especially because there was so much choice: from local Portuguese cuisine, to sushi, pizza and even places specialised in desserts. It is sometimes difficult to find a restaurant with a menu which we are both happy with (which I am happy with), so having plenty to choose from meant that I knew I was going to find something easily that I liked. On the Thursday, we both ate at Chef Miguel Castro e Silva, which specialises in Portuguese food. I opted for Time Out Lisbon magazine’s recommendation, the Iscas de bacalhau, fried cod pieces accompanied by tasty tomato rice, while James tried a Francesinha, a speciality from Porto.
On Friday afternoon we both tried chicken dishes at Miguel Laffan – Chicken All Around, which as you may guess, is a stall offering everything chicken. I had the Chicken Ramen which was lovely, and James had the Piri Piri chicken which I also ended up having on the Sunday, because it looked and tasted that good! On Sunday, James had the Prato do dia (Plate of the day), which happened to be Veal with potatos AND rice, because all the carbs, at Chef Marlene Vieira.
When you order your meal, you pay first and are given an electronic buzzer, which will sound when your order is ready. All you have to do is find somewhere available to sit and wait 10-20 minutes for your food to be prepared. At busy periods, like weekends, it can be near impossible to find a table, so make it your priority to grab somewhere to sit and then get a friend to order the food, saving you hassle later.
What I like is that the market is more upmarket than street food. You are given proper cutlery and crockery to enjoy your meal and you are not left hanging around in a queue waiting for your meal to arrive. The way the chefs present the food on the plate makes it all the more worth your money. It’s quality.
On the Friday, we shared a chocolate meringue cake from Nós é Mais Bolos which is both one of the most delicious and expensive slices of cake I have ever eaten. I would have taken a picture but it looked too tasty to simply look at. Maybe I should go back and get another one, you know, just for photographic purposes…
After a trip to the Mercado da Ribeira, walk along the waterfront to Praço do Comércio and enjoy this view:
Yes, you have indeed read that correctly, Lisbon has an illegal Chinese restaurant scene.
You won’t find this out in your trusty guidebook, no. Instead you need to know someone who knows what to do and where to go. And luckily, we had just the person who had already been living in Lisbon for quite a while!
See Natassa’s blog here where you can follow her Lisbon adventures!
It’s not like these restaurants have a TripAdvisor page with full directions and fantastic reviews on what to expect. There isn’t even a sign at the main entrance to reassure you’re in the right place. This restaurant didn’t even have a name, people just know it as an “illegal Chinese Restaurant” and that’s the way it is. You know exactly what you’re getting into that way and therefore they are by no means deceiving you. Enter on your own discretion; I guess there is a somewhat thrill to it too.
We met at Martim Moniz by the Rooster statue and made our way to a nearby side-side/alley.
Walking down the badly-lit cobbled street, dodging the odd bag of rubbish, we came to a door. This was just a normal door to a residential block. “I think this is it,” Looking around, there was no sign to hint that what lay behind here was delicious Chinese food goodness. We pressed the buzzer and were let in immediately. Okay, this seems promising.
We entered a dodgey-looking entrance hall with low ceilings and which smelled rather grim – decaying rubbish. Still, rubbish seems to be an issue everywhere at the moment in Lisbon in my opinion, so it’s nothing new.
Ignoring the smell as best we could, we climbed up a few flights of stairs until we came to a door which was left slightly ajar. An invitation? This door also had some paper cellotaped to it with Chinese words written on it. We breathed a sigh of relief as we realised that we must be in the right place, and we gingerly opened the door.
A lady ushered us into the room with all smiles and greetings “Olá, boa tarde!” to try to make this situation a bit less awkward – well done, you have found us!. There were seven tables and it was not very busy for a Thursday night. We sat down and she brought over a menu with a writing pad. The menu was in Chinese, Portuguese and English but the waitress/owner conversed with us fine in Portuguese when she got us our drinks. Looking around the room, it’s interesting to think “wow, so this is what an illegal Chinese restaurant looks like!” They must get this expession of intrigue a lot. There was even a TV. Other than that, it was just your typical, cheaply furnished restaurant. This restaurant just happened to be in an apartment block, totally normal. I started to wonder how annoying it might be to be neighbours with this place; random people coming in and out all the time, the constant smell of food cooking… no thank you. The owners must own the flat next door where they live. This flat was only big enough for the restaurant and the kitchen.
The menu was quite extensive but it didn’t give a great explanation for things. One option was “Drunk ribs,” another was “cow something.” I’m sure they taste better than what the menu lets off though. I settled for a vegetable spring roll *best I have had) to start, followed by the “Sizzling Chicken” which was pretty amazing compared to all of the Chiense food I ate during my time in Spain, so that’s something. We also had chicken noodles and rice to share and were even given complimentary watermelon to finish. Watermelon!
For a drink, spring roll, a share in the rice and noodles and a dish of Sizzling Chicken, 10€ was not bad for some pretty tasty Chinese.
Helen’s food was the last to arrive and we were wondering why it was taking so long. I understood how she must have been feeling, seeing everyone else’s food arrive but her plate remaining empty sucks. This always happened when I was younger and my parents never failed to reassure me that it was because I was “special” and that because of this, the chefs were taking extra time to make sure my meal was perfect. It always worked on me but it wasn’t really helping the food appear..
We inquired to see what was the issue (maybe they forgot?), when the lady pointed to my Sizzling Chicken dish and explained she was “waiting for this.” When I had eaten as much as I could of my food, the waitress returned and scrapped my leftovers into Sarah’s Sizziling Chicken Dish and walked away with my plate. It suddenly all made sense. Basically, they didn’t have enough dishes for all of us and she was waiting for me to finish, so she could use the same plate for Helen’s food. She came back a few moments later with Helen’s much anticipated Sizzling Beef on my old plate. It was quite strange but then again, this is an illegal Chiense restaurant and are you really going to complain? Give them a bad review? It was more amusing than anything, really. I wonder if they washed the plate in between though?
It was interesting to do “something different” and discover somewhere off the-beaten-track.
Lisbon doesn’t pretend to be perfect. It is beautiful, full of charm, falling apart and accepts its imperfections. It doesn’t entirely act upon all its problems and yet we’re still here, loving it.
I previously visited beautiful Sintra for a day-trip back in March, during my first visit to Lisbon. I loved it so much that I have been eager to return ever since! There is so much to see and do there: palaces, gardens, castles. Despite spending two days there now, I still have not seen everything and Sintra deserves time to be fully appreciated. I’m intending to go back in two weeks time, when James comes to visit so I can finally see the Castel dos Mouros and return to my absolute favourite for him to appreciate too, Quinta da Regaleira.
We arrived in Sintra at 3:30pm and bought some tasty queijadas (pastries from Sintra) from a pastry shop on the walk from the train station. We decided to go to the Pálacio Nacional de Sintra, the palace in the town center which is characterised by its two very big, white chimneys. We ideally wanted to go to the Castelo dos Mouros, but we would have had to go up the hill to the Castelo, come down for dinner and then go back up again for the Pálacio da Pena later on, so this plan seemed more ideal.
Like almost everywhere it seems in Sintra, entry for the Pálacio Nacional de Sintra was not cheap (10€) and there was no student price. The Pálacio Nacional does not take long to look around and it would be a dissapointment to visit if you were to compare it to the likes of the Pálacio da Pena on the hill, which is simply magnificent. If you have only a short visit to Sintra, I would not include this on the itinerary, as Pena and Quinta da Regaleira are much more enjoyable.
After our visit to the palace, it was time for an early dinner. Sintra is extremely touristy and there are plenty of places to eat. We opted for a small restaurant where I ate Bacalhau à Lagareiro, my favourite Portuguese cod dish, which has onions, garlic, potatos and which in this instance was swimming in olive oil!
The main attraction of going to Sintra yesterday (04/07/15) was for a charity evening being run at the Pálacio da Pena for the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Sintra. Yesterday evening, the Pálacio da Pena was exceptionally open from 8pm-midnight in solidarity for this charity. The usual entrance fee of 14€ was waivered, instead tents were set up outside the entrance to the Palace which housed food banks and a donation of foodstuffs allowed you free entry!
I just handed over a can of chopped tomatos I had brought from my kitchen, but if you didn’t bring anything, you were able to give a donation of 3€.
Thousands of people turned up for the event – thousands! We expected there to be a lot of people trying to get to the Palace, so instead of waiting until 8pm to get the free bus from the Train Station, we took a tuk tuk from the town center which climbed up the hair-raisingly steep and winding road. The traffic to get there was a nightmare, there were obviosully a lot of locals from the region who had come for the event and were trying to park near the palace. The event had been soley advertised in Portuguese, not English, and maybe this explains why we heard hardly anyone at all speak any language other than Portuguese all evening/saw any tourists.
By the time we reached near the palace, we noticed there was already a queue forming all the way up the road to get in! We jumped out of the tuk tuk and joined the queue which managed to move very quickly. It wasn’t long before we were inside the palace grounds, climbing up to the fairytale palace.
The weather turned out to be just as foggy as it had been as when I visited in March. The fog makes the park and palace seem to be surrounded in some magical mist…
We waited until sunset for the lights to go on, but we couldn’t really see the sunset as it was so foggy and cloudy. By this point, the grounds were heaving with people and it was difficult to move around. We ended up walking back down to catch a bus to the train statiion at 10pm. All the way down through the palace grounds, we went past the longest queue of people waiting to get inside! It was absolute madness. We found another queue for the free bus which came every 20 minutes, but there were already so many people waiting for it, we would have had to have waited at least an hour to get on one, and we were worried about missing the last train back to Lisbon.
Suddenly, another tuk tuk came around the corner and we managed to secure a ride before anyone could even think of getting the idea. We descended the winding road amongst loads of traffic. Some people were even walking down the road, without any street lights on! It was very dangerous, many even had small children and babies in push-chairs which was insane but, that’s Portugal for you, I guess?
Overall, I had a wonderful afternoon and evening exploring more of Sintra and I’m looking forward to returning very soon.
Today I started my classes for the Curso de Verão da Lingua Portuguesa (Portuguese language summer school) at the Universidade de Lisboa in Lisbon. The course is going to last for the next four weeks, every weekday 9am – 1pm.
I was surprised by how quick the journey took this morning, from my studio in Bairro Alto to the university campus which is on the other side of the city; it took 25 minutes, most of which is spent on the metro, and I am glad, as I am not used to such early starts!
I found out today as well that I had been placed in a B1 Level class which I am pleased with, as this is the level I was hoping to take. The content was just the right level for me which is a relief, especially after the horror of the terrible Spanish language classes I had to take for three weeks during my Erasmus placement in Salamanca. The teacher actually got to learn all our names in three hours, yet my teacher in Salamanca never even bothered to do such a thing even after three weeks of teaching us, so this I feel, is a good start.
I arrived in Lisbon on Monday afternoon and stayed in Goodmorning Hostel located in Restauradores. I stayed at Goodmorning Hostel last time I was in Lisbon in March and I chose to stay here again as I really loved it – especially the breakfast! Once again, the staff were exceptional and go out of their way to make you feel welcome and give you loads of useful tips to enjoy Lisbon. I didn’t do any of their day trips but I did the Portuguese Tapas evening and the Cooking Class where we learned how to cook the Portuguese dish Bacalhau à Brás, which was delicious but very filling! Their day-trip to Sintra and Cabo da Roca looked really good though and I was disappointed I couldn’t join them for it.
During my time in the hostel, I didn’t feel compelled to visit places frantically like the other people staying in the hostel, as unlike them, I am lucky enough to stay here for a month and not just a few days, so I was happy to take things slowly! I did end up however visiting the Castelo de São Jorge on Tuesday, which has the most impressive miradouro (panoramic view) over Lisbon.
Wednesday, I ended up also going to the Oceanário de Lisboa, the aquarium, which is apparently the second largest in Europe, but after spending the most amazing day at the Oceanográfic in Valencia (Best in Europe), nothing can compare, and I left feeling very disappointed and thought the tickets were overpriced and would not recommend it.
I am quite proud as well to say I even sorted my “Lisboa Viva card,” so I now have a monthly metro pass in Lisbon.
This will come in handy as it will save me a lot of money as I will be using the metro every day. I managed to fill out all the forms and speak with the lady behind the desk all in Portuguese too, which felt like a good achievement. However it was a complete nightmare even to find the desk within Marquês de Pombal station as it is a big station and has many different exists – it is not all connected – why, why?!?!
The staff would not even allow me to borrow their pens as they just replied “they are MINE”, like I was some pen thief, so I had to find a newsagents sort of place and buy a Bic pen just to fill out my paperwork without having to go all the way back to my hostel (the one time I don’t carry a pen!)…
Really though, filling out the form was easy. All you need is:
Luckily I had all these things and I was able to return the next morning to collect my card. Usually it costs 6€ and will come in 10 working days, but I wanted it the following day which instead costs 12€. I was not able to pay by card as the machine only accepts Portuguese cards (I swear she was just trying to make things more difficult…), so I had to leave the queue to take out money from an ATM nearby.
On the way out of Marquês de Pombal metro station with my new Lisboa Viva card, I walked up to the miradouro nearby, and I must say that so far it is my favourite!
Last night, I was finally able to move into my studio flat in Bairro Alto – I could not be more central, it is amazing and most importantly, it has air conditioning! Luckily, it is completely double-glazed as well, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sleep due to the noise from the bars below – I am living in the nightlife district of Lisbon!
I am pleased with living so centrally as I feel I will get a better experience exploring the old streets of Lisbon.
So far, Lisboa is holding up to its wonderful charm and I am looking forward to getting to know this city better!
As I have mentioned once or a thousand times, I am studying in Lisbon this July for a language summer course. I am so excited, especially after having visited during a weekend in March and having fallen in love with the city!
I thought that after booking my course and my flights, it would be a good idea to look into accommodation as it is mid-April.
I guess the fact that July is prime tourist season, it makes accommodation more expensive and it gets snapped up quickly. I had a rude awakening last night when I realised this. Especially as I am so used to seeing an abundance of student properties available all the time posted on Facebook for Salamanca, that are both reasonably priced and in good locations. Maybe Spain has just made me too chilled, accommodation-wise. There doesn’t seem to be much of this culture for Lisbon, well, sure, plenty of activity online for the next academic year for the new influx of Erasmus students, but I am not going in September, I am going in July!
After trawling through many options, some of which had no windows, others didn’t have proper beds (?!?!), yet still double the price of what I pay in Salamanca, I was wondering how much it would cost me to stay in a hostel for a month. If that would even be possible. I am so relieved though now to announce I have been accepted to stay in a studio flat in the hip Bairro Alto, very close to the metro for me to get to uni every morning.
Okay, when I was first looking, I decided I would live anywhere BUT Bairro Alto. Although it’s a very cool neighbourhood, it is also the center of nightlife in Lisbon and despite loving the vibe walking through the cobbled streets when I visited the quarter twice during my trip, it would be so noisy at night to try and get to sleep. I really hope this won’t be the case for me, because that’s where I have ended up living! I have accepted my fate, but I am living very central, which is what I wanted more than anything (and by a metro stop!) and I will never be far from a vinho verde or restaurants to choose from in the evening. I’m actually excited to live there now.
So, this goes to show that not getting what you necessarily wanted doesn’t always turn out all that bad. I’m mean, at least this place has windows!
Até Julho, Lisboa!!