This trip was the ultimate in spontaneous girly getaways. We booked the tickets on the Wednesday, and by Saturday morning we sipping prosecco and having brunch at Gatwick before hopping on the flight headed for Portugal.
Lisbon wasn’t a city that I knew too much about; I had been to Portugal a couple of times, but only to the Algarve and the beaches etc. From doing a bit of research online, and speaking to people who had visited already, we knew we were in for a treat. A short treat at that however – we literally were flying in on the Saturday morning and leaving for London on the Sunday evening.
It must be said, however – we did extremely well at fitting it all in!!
On arriving at the airport we took the short cab drive over to city and made our way to our accommodation. We had booked the most amazing (!) apartment for our stay at Residentas Sao Pedro in the Bairro Alto district. The apartment exceeded all of our expectations – it was beautiful.
We were even treated to afternoon tea (Portuguese style) all laid out and waiting for us, treats in the fridge and bags of ‘gifts’ including traditional Portuguese spirits and biscuits. We were particularly pleased to get our first taste of the traditional Portuguese tarts – Pastéis de Nata – delicious!
Having dumped our bags and chosen our beds we decided to head out and explore. Just across from our apartment was the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a lovely landscaped terrace which gave us our first panoramic views across Lisbon.
The Bairro Alto district is a great place to stay in the city so we really lucked out. In the day it’s a very, sleepy, traditional area which opens out in the evening with lots of great restaurants and bars – definitely the best of both worlds!
After a little while hunger had got the better of us so we decided to check out the Time Out Market. This is Lisbon’s equivalent to the likes of London’s Box Park and brings together loads of food and drink traders all under one roof. It was great – however far too much choice! We had an amazing lunch and a glass or two of wine before hitting the streets again for a wander.
We decided just to have a relaxed afternoon taking in the feel for the city; we were going to do our proper site seeing the following day which gave us plenty of opportunity to wander around, take in the sites, grab a coffee and soak in the Lisbon vibe.
We wandered down towards Terreiro do Paço (or Praça do Comércio – ‘commerce square’). This used to be the site of an ancient palace which was destroyed by a devastating earthquake. Nowadays it’s a buzz with tourists, live music and outside cafes.
We decided to soak up the last remaining moments of sunshine so perched ourselves down by the waters edged which was so lovely and relaxing. As the sun started to fade we decided it was well and truly cocktail hour so sat out in the square with a margarita in hand. It was bliss!
Whilst researching Lisbon we came across Park Bar which is a trendy place to grab a drink, perched right on top of a multi-storey car park. This is meant to be the place in Lisbon to catch the sunset – we were off! We hopped in a tuktuk and made our way across to the car park, praying that we would make it in time before the sun went down.
On getting up to the roof unfortunately we realised that the bar was shut – that didn’t stop us however (and the many other onlookers who had made their way up there with a bottle of wine or some beers in hand). We crawled up over the concrete slabs and set up camp, just in the nick of time to catch the sun set – it was beautiful – just a shame we didn’t have another cocktail to enjoy the moment with!
After checking out the sunset we walked back up towards our apartment, stopping off to pick up a couple of bottles of wine on the way of course. We had showers and got dressed before heading into town for our only night out in the city! We had better make the most of it…
We decided to head down towards the famous Pink Street, this – the ancient red light district, is apparently the place in Lisbon to go for drinks, we actually weren’t that impressed overall however we did find a couple of absolute gems. First we headed to a cool cocktail bar called Pensão Amor’.
Pensão Amor (meaning ‘pension love’) is located in a typical Portuguese 18th-century building and was once a cheap pension (lodging house) with rooms rented by the hour for prostitutes and their clients to enjoy a short moment of love . Along the 5 floors of the building you can admire remake copies of old posters from burlesque shows and peep shows. It’s definitely an interesting place to have a drink – we loved it!
After a couple of drinks here we headed only next door to Povo for some food. We were pleasantly surprised when we realised that not only did this cute little restaurant serve amazing food, we would also be treated to a show of traditional Portuguese music; Fado. Fado, which can be traced back to the 1820s in Portugal, is characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. The singer we watched was accompanied by a man playing the traditional Portuguese guitar; although sombre in genre, it was really beautiful to listen to whilst we ate the most amazing mix of food.
After finishing our food, our waiter (who it turns out was brought up as a child in London before relocating with his family to Lisbon) asked us if we would like to try some traditional Portuguese vinho verde (green wine). Never ones to turn down such an offer we tried four or five different varieties which were surprisingly delicious.
After we had finished our meal it was time to make a swift exit from Lisbon City centre to Torres Novas about an hour north of Lisbon. The whole reason we were visiting Portugal was to listen to a potential band for Elle and Jason’s wedding this coming October, so Elle had kindly invited us to join her for a girly weekend around checking out the band’s music.
Annoyingly our apartment host had SERIOUSLY underestimated how much a taxi would cost to take us up to Torres Novas. We were told roughly 100 euros return, however the cabs which we were flagging down wouldn’t accept anything less than 500 euros! Disaster. We actually started to panic as it was looking like we would miss the gig completely with all the difficulties we were having trying to find a taxi – in the end even our waiter from Povo came out to try and help us. Finally we decided to try Uber which gave us a MUCH better deal. Our taxi driver, Hose, was a complete saviour – he drove us the hour to the gig, waited for us there, and then drove us home. Thanks to him we made it to the gig just in time!
We had a brilliant rest of the evening enjoying the live music and sipping away at cocktails. We definitely expected the gig to be in a small bar somewhere so you can appreciate our surprise when we were dropped off at a sport centre – yep, we literally flew all he way to Lisbon to watch a band play in the equivalent of Donyngs! We did have such a fun night however, even if the desserts left a little to be desired….
The next morning we all woke up feeling surprisingly chipper from the night before. We hadn’t got home until gone threeish but clearly the Lisbon air agreed with us. We had showers and got dressed before leaving the apartment on the search for a good brunch. We had read online that Tartine was the place in the city to have breakfast, so of course, we couldn’t wait to check it out. We had the most delicious meal which cured any last remaining niggle of a hangover. One brunch wasn’t enough for us three hungry girls – we all had our individual meals (I had a gorgeous aubergine, pesto, mozzarella and rocket open sandwich) and we all shared a stack of pancakes as a chaser. This was all washed down with copious amounts of coffee and fresh juice of course!
We were leaving Lisbon that evening and therefore wanted to see as much of the city as we could in a short amount of time. Our apartment host had recommended that we hire a tuktuk for the day as this will take us to all the main sites pretty quickly. We weren’t too sure at first, it seemed a little gimmicky, however after realising how spread out (and on different levels!) the city actually is, we decided a tuk tuk probably was a good shout.
You’ll find tuk tuk’s all over the city and you can definitely haggle with the drivers to get a price you feel comfortable with. In the end we settled on a two hour tour, costing us €20 each, with our lovely driver Alexandro.
One of the first stops on our tour was at the magnificent Church of Saint Roch (Igreja de São Roque). Dating back to 1506 this church was one of the first Jesuit churches built anywhere in the world. Now a Catholic church, it doesn’t look particularly spectacular from the outside. This church was actually only a stone’s throw from our apartment – we walked past numerous times not blinking twice. When you step inside however, everything changes, it’s interior is one of Lisbon’s most lavishly decorated spaces, in keeping with the onetime wealth and power of the Jesuit order. The glint of gold surrounds you in this beautiful oasis. Among the extravagances is the stunning São João Baptista – reportedly the most expensive chapel in Europe at the time of its installation.
We spent a little while admiring the stunning church; Alexandro was really hand on, he came inside with us and gave us a great talk about the Catholic faith in Lisbon and of course the Church itself – it was all super interesting stuff. We soon left the glimmer of the church and made our way back to the tuk tuk, ready for our next stop off.
Continuing our tour of Lisbon’s ancient churches, we pulled up outside the Sé de Lisboa (the Lisbon Cathedral). The inside of this Cathedral is much more dark and imposing compared to the grandeur of the Saint Roch Church – it felt much more like the types of churches and abbeys we see back in the UK. There was a service taking place whilst we visited which of course added to the ambience. The Cathedral dates back to 1147 and has survived countless earthquakes in that time; it’s definitely a beautiful place to stop off and admire.
After heading out form the Cathedral, the sun had well and truly come out. Alexandro drove us across to a fantastic viewpoint across the Graça district of the city – it really was beautiful. We stayed here for a little while, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the live music. The orange rooftops looked so beautiful across the vast horizon.
After spending some time out on the viewpoint, we hopped back into the tuk tuk and Alexandro drove us across to our final church of the day The Monastery of São Vicente de Fora (meaning “Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls). In the 12th century King Afonso Henriques made a vow to build churches on sites where Portuguese soldiers and northern European crusaders who fought the Moors lay buried. This particular church, built in 1582, stands on the site of one of those churches, which was located outside the city walls, hence the meaning behind the name. This church was incredibly beautiful inside, more muted with marble tones, however, still completely stunning.
By this stage, the three of us had become decidedly peckish. One of the main recommendations that we received on visiting Lisbon was that was must sample the traditional Portuguese custard tarts (Pastéis de Nata) and we must do so at Pastéis de Belém.
History tells that at the beginning of the 19th century in, next to the Mosteiro dos dos Jerónimos (the Heironymite Monastery) in Belém there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store.
As a result of the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were closed in 1834 and the clergy and labourers expelled. In attempt at financial survival, someone from the monastery started selling sweet pastries in the shop – these soon became known as Pastéis de Belém
At that time, the area of Belém attracted many visitors to the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) who soon grew used to devouring the delicious pastries which originated in the monastery.
In 1837, Casa Pastéis de Belém opened its doors and became the first and only place outside the convent selling the Pastéis de Belém made according to the original recipe. Today, around 15.000 Pastéis de Belém are sold every day.
The recipe is a secret very well kept. The master confectioners (mestres-pasteleiros) working there are obliged to do an oath and sign a document stating they will keep the recipe’s secret. That’s why the Pastéis de Belém factory is known as A Oficina do Segredo (The Secret’s Room).
You can, of coursem buy Pastéis de Nata in other places in Lisbon, but the real ones are the Pastéis de Belém, made with egg yolks and sugar.
The three of us decided to sit down inside the beautiful (and vast!) blue and white tiled cafe and enjoyed our tarts with a cup of warm tea and coffee – they were absolutely delicious.
The proper way to eat them is by dusting them with cinnamon and icing sugar – completely amazing. All three of us bought box loads to take home to our colleagues back in London! Full, we headed back outside where Alexandro was patiently waiting for us – of course we couldn’t help but bring him out his own sweet tart which of course made him love us even more!
Having learned about the Torre de Belém we decided that it would be rude not to go and pay it is a visit. The Belem Tower is a fortified tower located in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the significant role it played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the era of the Age of Discoveries. The tower was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus river and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.
From here we started the to drive back towards Lisbon city centre, driving past the famous Ponte 25 de Abril (25th April Bridge) which, not surprisingly, is often referred to as the Golden Gate Bridge of Lisbon.
Unfortunately when we arrived back into Lisbon city centre, that brought our tour with Alexandro to an end. We really had lucked out with him, although we had agreed on a two hour tour, we were with him for closer to four and he certainly brought the history of Lisbon to life for us – we had a great afternoon.
By this point we were pretty hungry, and on Alexandro’s recommendation headed towards Palácio Chiado for our last meal in the city. Originally built as a nobleman’s residence in the late 18th century, in recent years, the grand confines of Palácio Chiado was home to the Institute of Visual Arts, Design and Marketing before spending a period of time in abandoned disrepair. It’s a really interesting place to have a meal and we were all pleasantly surprised by not only the quality of the food – but also the price! It was steaks all round! Apart from me of course…
Soon after we finished our meal Elle realised that Jason was just about to finish his cricket match across in India. The three of us literally ran all the way down to water and found the grottiest English sports pub so we could catch the end of the match – that’s dedication if nothing else!
After catching Jason on, erm, the big screen we decided to have one last drink in Lisbon before the sun set and before we would have to head to the airport. We came across the nicest little bar right on the water’s edge in the Cais do Sodré district. Apparently this area used to be one the seediest suburbs in the city, however recently it’s had a huge regeneration project about it and its now full of trendy bars and restaurants – it really is lovely. We sat out on the balcony at Vestigius sipping our last aperol spritz’s and glasses of wine and sharing the most delicious desert. It really was the perfect end to the most fantastic girly weekend away.