I’m a big fan of city breaks as you can make three days feel like a week by packing lots of activities in. Lisbon is a city that has been on my travel bucket list for ages and it didn’t disappoint. If you’re reading this then perhaps you’re thinking of travelling to Portugal too and hopefully this post will help you plan your trip.
Our Lisbon itinerary
Day 1: Explore central Lisbon, in particular the Chiado, Barrio Alto, Baixa and Alfama districts where many of Lisbon’s main attractions are located. In the evening, listen to Fado music.
Day 2: Visit Sintra where you can find the Castelo dos Moros and Palacio Nacional da Pena.
Day 3: Head to Belem to see the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and the Torre de Belem.
Where we stayed
We stayed in this truly quaint apartment known as “Lisbon’s Downtown Lovers Apartment.” It was located in the Baixa district just a few minutes walk from the Elevador Santa Justa and a stones throw from the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The apartment was exactly what we needed for a long weekend with plenty of space for two little suitcases and it’s own kitchenette to make breakfast. The only trouble was our pigeon neighbour who liked to sit on the chimney and hoot.
How we travelled around
Lisbon is an easy city to get around by foot. We used the train to get to and from the airport and the tram to get to Belem, but otherwise we walked everywhere. I always feel that walking around is the best way to see a city and it’s also good when you’ve got to hit 10k steps on your fitbit!
This will become a common theme for holiday posts, but we started our city break with a free walking tour. I really do believe that it’s an excellent way to get introduced to a city when you’re spending such a short amount of time there. You get a whistle stop tour of the history, culture, food, transport and more. We used Sandemans and had the most enthusiastic tour guide. 3 hours flew by. I also left feeling a tad more intelligent than 3 hours previous, so why not share some of the fun facts I learnt with you.
Did you know that Lisbon is older than Rome? In fact it’s the second oldest European capital after Athens.
Or that Ian Fleming (previously part of Her Majesty’s Secret Service turned author) was inspired by the Casino Estoril in Lisbon to write his 007 novel Casino Royale.
Or that Portuguese is the eighth most spoken language in the world after Mandarin, English, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Russian and Bengali.
After the walking tour we grabbed some lunch at Ao26 Vegan Food Project. We hadn’t made a reservation but they let us come in and order a quick meal if we were in and out within an hour. I had a vegan bean burger with sweet potato fries, which was delicious. The boyfriend had the beetroot burger which wasn’t quite as good, but still tasty. For dessert I had a fruits of the forest cheesecake, which was huge. It was fit for 2 or 3 but I demolished it myself having the sweet tooth I do.
Our next stop was Castelo de Sao Jorge which is a hilltop castle and regarded as the site of Lisbon’s founding settlement. You can either get the famous Tram 28 to the Castle or walk it. If you do decide to walk then you get to go through the quaint narrow streets of Lisbon in the Alfama district, which hold so much character that you don’t know where to look. From Castelo de Sao Jorge you get beautiful views across Lisbon. You can see Lisbon’s suspension bridge which looks like San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, and the Christ Statue which resembles that which you see in Sao Paulo. I would highly recommend.
In the evening we went to a Fado performance in Barrio Alto. For those of you that don’t know, Fado is a popular Portuguese folk music that can be traced back to the 1820s. Fadistas sing poetic lyrics related to love, death and sadness accompanied by instruments like guitars and mandolins.
Top tip: We bought tickets to an hour show rather than going to a restaurant to listen to Fado and am so glad that we did as everyone was focused on the performers rather than what’s on their plate. We had a young man and woman perform and they were fantastic.
For dinner we had another burger at Hamburgueria do Barrio where they had a selection of vegetarian and vegan burgers at a really reasonable price. You could get a burger, home made fries or sweet potato fries and a drink for around 7 euros. It was slightly off the beaten track but I’d recommend if you’re looking for a budget burger-joint.
One crucial part of a holiday when it’s above 15 degrees is ice cream and sorbet. As we walked home we stopped off at Gelato Deverro which had so many fruit sorbet options, but unfortunately no vegan ice cream, however they did have a vegan cone.
I had been told a lot of good things about Sintra but none prepared me for how magnificent some of the sites were. We arrived by train and then jumped onto the tourist bus after buying a round ticket. You have three stops, the town center, the Moorish Castle and the Palacio Nacional da Pena. First of all we walked around the town centre and had a look at the shops. Being honest, for vegans there were not many food options. I spotted a restaurant called Hamburguer Real that appeared to have a vegan burger, but there was also a mini supermarket where you could get crisps and fruit, which suited me fine.
The 8th Century Moorish Castle really was one of the best Castles that I’ve visited. You can walk along the walls and really imagine what it would be like at the time this castle was actually inhabited and guarded.
The Palacio Nacional da Pena was such a contrast. Brightly colored walls of red and yellow looked down upon the Moorish Castle from the next hill. The grandness and eclectic style of the Palace made you feel like you were in a Disney Castle. Take away the tourists, give me a poofy dress and tiara and voila!
In the evening we headed to Jardim das Cerejas in the center of Lisbon, which was a vegan buffet restaurant. It’s not often that you can go somewhere knowing that you can eat everything on the menu. The buffet itself was great with salads, curry, pakoras and more. For dessert I had their chocolate cake which had a fake creamy taste that wasn’t my cup of tea, but I did rate the buffet.
Top Tip: If you’re interested in eating at Jardim das Cerejas, get there as it opens. It’s not particularly small but it filled up within 30 minutes. It was very popular.
As the dessert didn’t quite hit the spot, I took me and my sweet tooth to Amorino Gelateria and oh my god, their vegan pistachio ice cream was to die for. I have eaten so much sorbet since becoming vegan and have so missed the creaminess you get from ice cream, but with this one you couldn’t taste the difference. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. You must go. Apparently they have branches in London, so I know where I can get my fix!
On our last day we got the tram to Belem. It’s in Belem that the Pasteis de Nata originated from. Although they are most definitely not vegan, we visited the bakery and sat in a blue and white tiled room where the boyfriend had his Pasteis de Nata and I had a bica (aka espresso). We then visited the Monastery, walked to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos and Belem Tower. We were lucky enough to have a very talented violinist playing modern music like Sia and John Legend by the tower, so we sat and listened for a while.
Food wise, Belem did not cater well for vegans. There were a few cafes with some vegetable sandwiches, but the proximity to the meat and the hygiene didn’t make me feel very comfortable so I gave it a miss.
When back in Lisbon center I had one last ice cream at Gelados Fragoleto which I heard had vegan ice cream options rather than just sorbet. Unfortunately they only had one flavour available when I visited, which was dark chocolate. It was ok, but compared to Amorino was not quite on par. Their vegan cone also tasted stale, so I wouldn’t recommend going there based on my experience when there are so many other great places to try.
After 3 jam packed days of exploring it was time to go home. I really rated Lisbon and feel like I needed another couple of days to explore it properly.
I hope that you find this travel guide useful and enjoy exploring Lisbon.