From the colorful buidlings, sea views, intricate architecture, and super friendly people, Lisbon should definitely be on your European Travel Bucket List.
I’m not going to lie. I had no plans to visit Lisbon during my sabbatical in Europe. However, I had a few days before I needed to meet a friend at the Madrid Airport for our sojourn across Northern Spain and while straight from Vienna to Madrid was an option, Vienna is expensive, was cold at that time, and I’d already hit all the sites. Luckily, I found a cheap one-way flight to Lisbon from Vienna and flights from Lisbon to Madrid are always cheap.
Lisbon Old Town
Lisbon’s old town is in a word: charming. There is a quality to the air that just has a calming effect. Maybe it’s the colorful houses, the sea breezes, or the gentle sun. I’m calmer just thinking about it.
If I could do it again, I would have the Uber driver drop me off at the Castle of Sao Jorge (above) as it is at the top of a very tall, very steep hill (Tip: Uber is super cheap in Portugal, like $5 or less cheap, and all my drivers were great. You can use my referral link to get a $15 credit towards your first ride(s)). Sadly, I had him drop me off at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major which is at the bottom of the hill. However, you can catch the cute little yellow trams here to get in and around the old town. (Tip: This is not the day to break in those new sandals. This is a trek up and down and over the hills kind of day.)
The views from the ramparts of Castle of Sao Jorge are simply unmatched.
(Tip: Grab some snacks or lunch and take it inside the castle grounds to enjoy in the shaded park with ocean vistas.)Also, one of my favorite souvenirs is small paintings of the locale sold by street vendors. On the way into the castle, I saw a fabulous artist who painted in café. You heard me right, coffee. They were amazing. I had planned to stop by on the way out and buy one but he was gone! So if you see what you want from a street vendor, buy it! I still regret that.
As you stroll around the old town, pop into the cute little ceramic shops, savor a coffee, marvel at the many old buildings (like the Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora below) and ocean vistas, and just feel yourself relax.
The Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
As you look out over Lisbon from the Castle of Sao Jorge, you will espy a strange set of arches in the distance. This is the Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which has been a ruin since an earthquake in 1775. It is located by itself tourist wise but well worth the trip for the beautiful photos. (Tip: You could walk to it from old town but it’s pretty far so just take an Uber as they are super cheap.)
The Jerónimos Monastery of Lisbon
When people say monastery, I think hooded monks in dark, torch-lit tunnels (too many movies I guess). The Jerónimos Monastery is not that monastery. The place is gleaming white, with intricate carved columns that stretch to the vaulted ceilings, not to mention the bright and airy courtyard. (Tip: This is not walking distance from old town unless you think hours is a stroll. Take an Uber.)
On your way in, be sure and take time to marvel at the intricate carvings on the main entrance doors.
I’m going to warn you so you are not shocked like me. There will be tourists. Busloads and busloads of tourists. This was by far the busiest place I visited. However, slogging your way through the busloads to view the interior is well worth the struggle.
For some peace and quiet from the crowds, head to through the back of the cathedral to the courtyard.
If you are set on having pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) at Pasteis de Belem (the originator), just head left out of the monastery main doors and down the street a few minutes. When I went at an off hour, there were lines out the door and down the street of tourists. Just wasn’t worth it to me. The ones I had at the hotel that morning were great.
Belem Tower of Lisbon
Before you leave the area around the Jerónimos Monastery, be sure and take a 15 minute stroll along the ocean to the Belem Tower. The 16th century Belem Tower will become the thing you see that makes you immediately think – Lisbon!
Where to Stay in Lisbon
I chose to stay at the Lisbon Marriott Hotel as it was centrally located (airport, trains, old town, etc.), is part of the Marriott group, and was cheap at ~$80 or 25,000 points a night (technically free). If you are a Gold or Platinum Marriott member, the free access to the Concierge Lounge will definitely covere you for dinner with tons of appetizers, desserts, and wine plus it comes with free access to the restaurant for a huge breakfast buffet in the morning. (You can use my Marriott referral link to get a jump start on free nights with up to 10,000 points.)