Why You Should Plan Your Next Trip to Lisbon

In the past couple of years, organising gatherings amongst my friends from Norfolk has become a challenging process. Not challenging in a bad way, but challenging in that they've decided to live all over Europe and so popping over to see each other isn't quite the 'see you for coffee in half an hour' that it used to be. Last year saw me visiting my enviably clever friend Marol as she completed a masters in Warsaw and the tres chic Fran in Paris, where we ate and drank our way through each day in a lackadaisical, and arguably very French fashion.

Sure, we're only ever together for a few days every few months and it takes a bit more planning and budgeting than usual, but there's nothing quite like having your gal pals next to you when you're exploring somewhere new and talking a-mile-a-minute in the process. This time we tried to find somewhere to meet in the middle, between London, Leeds, Norwich, Paris, Barcelona and Nottingham. Lisbon, being uncharted territory for all of us, came out on top.

After a very early coach trip and lots of talk about how many custard tarts we were going to eat when we landed, we arrived at our AirBnb. It was cool, open plan and very grown-up. Naturally, the first thing we did was put all the mattresses in one room to make a giant bed, so all six of us could sleep alongside each other. #adulting

In a similar vein to what I've done before, here's my break down of the trip. I'm saving Sintra and Belem for their own posts because a custard tart factory and fairytale mountain castles deserve a post of their own. Here we go!

First Impressions

I had a view that Lisbon was really cool and you know what? It really is. Not in a 'GTFO if you don't like flat whites' way but in a laid-back, long lunch, amble past beautifully painted tiles and sit by a fountain kind of way. It's a city that has just the right amount of people in it. Public transport isn't over crowded (I mean, trams are very much in use and not exactly the Room of Requirement but still work). The streets are bustling but you don't feel in anyone's way. Bright white window shutters are open and inviting. Beautifully laid out shops are everything Pinterest dreams are made of and *shocker* are actually affordable.

Lisbon is incredibly beautiful. Not that I didn't expect this as a 'first impressions' point, but there are so many open and intricate squares of bright white stone, art deco buildings and warren-like alley ways to explore that it took forever to get anywhere due to the incessant taking of pictures. It instantly made me want to don a floaty chiffon skirt, wedge heels and large sunglasses just so I could flounce around and catch cabs to no where in particular. 

Except the weather didn't necessarily lend itself to that. Don't get me wrong, look at those pictures. Sunshine, with a smashing golden hour at 7pm. Did I forget what 13 degrees actually looks like? Did I get so over-excited that I packed summer dresses, light scarves and a small collection of sandals? Yes. Yes I did. Not ready to accept the double denim look, I begged and borrowed additional layers off my buddies to battle the occasional gust of chilly wind. It wasn't bad weather. I was just waaaaaay overly optimistic!


Lisbon, being by the sea, has a gorgeous selection of sea food and you should absolutely capitalise on that. However, you may want to head out to dinner a little earlier than we did, so around 7pm. By the time we were looking for a place to eat at 9pm, a lot of the restaurants in Bairro Alto were full and we ended up having a not so great dinner for a lot of money. I think I can still taste the funky cod cheek cakes we had. Side note: Who knew cod had cheeks big enough to eat?!

The best places to eat look the worst from the outside. Plastic table cloth and metal chairs? Head straight in my friend! I had a beautifully simple but delicious squid dish with boiled potatoes and tomato sauce in a really basic restaurant. The cod cakes are a speciality in the area too so eat your little fishy heart out.

On the other side of the trendy Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market) is a huge indoor food market that sells an amazing selection of fresh fish and vegetables. The traders are so friendly and we picked up ingredients for 6 people for around £20. Bloody bargain. We then went back and had an unsuccessful BBQ with all that we'd bought. Unsuccessful because we had no charcoal and were generally incompetent, not because of the food at all! The fish was meaty, the salad and roasted vegetables just fit to bust full of flavour.

On our last night we went big. I had an absolutely brilliant restaurant recommendation from Lisa over on Not Quite Enough for where to eat, which saw us in a restaurant called 'Bastardo'. It's just off the Rossio square in a beautiful art deco building and is super trendy. Like, ironic Renaissance paintings on the wall and salt and pepper shakers made out of lego trendy. We made a reservation and rocked up in our best dresses and clippy clop shoes, looking more adult than we felt. The dishes were Masterchef style quirky and tasted SO good. The above pictured dish was called 'Sea World'; an artwork of seafood that cost around £10. The waiter was so attentive and handsome I tried painfully hard to think about what wine to choose before asking for the house red. I went to the bathroom three times just to use the hand soap. I sat so straight the whole time we were there I reckon I could skip Finishing School. 10/10. 

What Surprised Me

It's cheap! Hurrah! That market with the amazingly rotund sea bass for a couple of euros? Result! Although, since Brexit I'm not sure it will be such a resounding joy for the ol' purse. Still, in addition to the beautiful shops and local bakeries which sell traditional Portuguese jewellery, crockery, sardines and pastel de nata, you could still make your way around the city for a tidy price. Head to A Vida Portugeusa for genuinely the most exquisitely gorgeous shop I have ever been into. There's a store cupboard food area, crockery, toys, homewares and tons of other bits. I picked up some chocolate sardines and three porcelain swallows that are tacked to the wall and make me smile when I look at them.

I actually enjoyed going out too... If you're new to this here blog you may have gathered that I love a good Grandma activity by now. Don't get me wrong, I love having a dance with my buddies and a few rum cocktails along the way, but large clubs or bars with generic music and lecherous lads have never really done it for me. The Bairro Alto part of the city is buzzing with tons of people in high spirits. It's a grid of tiny bars with cheap drinks and often live music and is so great for dancing! We didn't get in until 3am. That never happens to me! Sore feet, sore head, hilarious photos.

Top Tips

// Take a day in your break to visit either Sintra or Cascais. We headed to Sintra and it was absolutely magical despite an accidental mountain hike and unexpected rain. More on that later. The trains are cheap and frequently go from the city centre so it's totally worth it.

// Don't just yell 'Bastardo?!' at an unassuming taxi driver and assume he knows that it's a trendy restaurant. He may think you're just insulting him and drive off... 

// Cook a huge dinner at home and then head out to the bars. Spend what you would have saved on a restaurant meal on more cocktails. Solid advice. #drinkresponsibly

So here's another little guide to my four day stay in Lisbon! There is so much more to see than what I managed to do, so I would really love to go again. I mean, is there a limit to how many times you can visit a place based on the traditional pastries they offer? Medical practitioners would say no, but what do they know, eh?

I'll be following this post with a couple more on the district areas that we visited. I've just got to dedicate a post to the most amazing old man who makes mechanical art at the top of a bookshop that used to be a printing press. Sounds made up. It isn't!

Have you been to Lisbon before? Do you think it sounds like your kind of place? Also, if you went and did/saw something really great, let me know. I'd love to revisit one day!

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