Lisbon – Part 1

Next up on my trip in February was Lisbon, Portugal! I was really excited for this because I’d never been to Portugal before but I’ve only ever heard really good things about Lisbon. I was leaving Madrid the morning after carnival, running on about an hour’s sleep and leftover good vibes. It was also my birthday! Having celebrated it at midnight with my friend, I wasn’t too fussed about making a big deal of it once I got to Lisbon.

I had three nights in Lisbon, two and a half days. I didn’t really have any set plans before I arrived but I had lots of recommendations from friends, particularly one who spent her Erasmus year there! After talking to some people in the hostel on my first day, I added more things to the list. It may have been the hangover or the lack of sleep, but I felt pretty overwhelmed I arrived in Lisbon. I quickly realised that I hadn’t given myself enough time to do everything that I wanted to, having decided to go to Porto in the north of Portugal for a few days after Lisbon. I didn’t even know where to start! What helped was that I very quickly realised Lisbon is definitely somewhere I want to come back to in the future. That took some of the pressure off in that I didn’t have to try and fit everything into a few days.

Seeing as I found Lisbon a bit overwhelming (in the best way!), I wanted to try a slightly different structure to the blog today. Even if I was only there for a few days, I think I managed to see, do and experience a lot in that short time, and I loved everything I did! I learnt a lot as well so to try and adequately share what I know about Lisbon, without overwhelming you, I’m going to break it down into two parts – where to stay, where to go, and what to do first and then where and what to eat and drink next. Enjoy!

Where to stay

Home Hostel

I want to give the biggest shoutout to Home Lisbon Hostel. It is possibly one of my favourite hostels that I’ve ever stayed in. From the minute I arrived (extremely tired and running on a couple of hours of sleep), I felt so welcomed by the staff and the generally friendly environment. You’ll hear me mention going for dinner with girls from my dorm, meeting people on the walking tour and going to Belém with a friend from the hostel. Sometimes staying in a hostel can be intimidating and starting a conversation can be a lot of pressure but Home is somewhere where the environment is already so warm and welcoming that speaking to people feels like the natural next step.

The hostel has community at its heart. The owner, affectionately known as Mamma, cooks dinner every evening for anyone in the hostel that wants to sign up (€15 for a three course meal). There is also a great value breakfast, €5 for a buffet of eggs, bacon, beans, bread and spreads, granola and fruit, plus tea, coffee and juice that anyone can help themselves to. I had breakfast there every morning because I don’t think you could beat the value for money. I wanted to take part in mamma’s dinner on my first night but not enough people signed up and the other nights I was there, I was too full from lunch for a three course dinner! There is also the bar which is always lively in the evenings. It was a great place to have a few chill drinks with the friends you’d already made or to make new friends! They also run walking tours, day trips to places like Sintra and pub crawls.

I cannot recommend this place enough if you are going to Lisbon!

Yes! Hostel

I stayed in Home which is a very sociable hostel but if you want something that’s a bit more lively, a proper party hostel, look no further than their sister hostel, Yes! Hostel. I didn’t stay here but have a friend that did and really enjoyed it. The walking tour, as well as the pub crawl, is an activity that is shared between Home and Yes so you can meet people from both hostels. That’s what happened on one of the walking tours I did (yes, I did two! More on that below). I made friends with a guy from my hostel and a guy from Yes!, both from Quebec. I got to try out my French on them and attempt to understand their accents! Even though I lived with a guy from Montreal last year, he didn’t have the accent but these guys did! Combined with the different vocab they used, I could just about understand them when they were talking to me (I think they slowed down for me) but when they were talking to each other, no chance!

At the end of the walking tour we agreed to meet up again that evening at Yes! hostel to play some beer pong. We got there just as a lot of the guests were finishing their version of a family dinner. It was very wholesome but as soon as the meal was finished, the lights went down, the music went up and the beer pong tables came out. It was a really fun evening chatting with the guys from the walking tour and a few others, crushing it at beer pong and then going Home (pun intended) to bed as everyone from Yes! went out on the pub crawl.

Where to go


I’ve already mentioned that I did two walking tours while in Lisbon, both through my hostel, and the first was in the neighbourhood of Mouraria. This neighbourhood is the most diverse in Lisbon, with over 50 different nationalities living there, and was traditionally Muslim. It is also the birthplace of fado music, a very soulful and mournful type of music very closely associated with Lisbon. We passed through a square on Largo da Severa where Maria Severa, the first famous fado singer, lived. She was a prostitute credited with bringing fado music to the aristocracy, contributing to its growth in mainstream popularity. Fado is intrinsically linked with the past of Mouraria because it is said that its origins come from slaves longing for their previous lives, sailors longing for home, the women they left behind longing for the sailors and Muslims longing for the pre-Christianity Lisbon. Lisbon was a Muslim city until the Second Crusade in 1147 when it was converted to Christianity by the first king of Portugal. At this point, Muslims living in the city were forced out of the neighbourhood of Alfama, inside the city walls, and into the new Muslim ghetto of Mouraria.

Mouraria starts at the bottom of the castle hill by the Praça Martim Moniz, the starting point for the famous, yellow Tram 28. At the corner of the square, where you start to head uphill, there is a church but the most interesting part about it is actually on the floor. The facade of the church is reflected in mosaics on the street around it! Walking through Mouraria, you’ll notice that it’s not as aesthetic as other neighbourhoods like Alfama but it feels more authentic and real in some ways. We passed one of the oldest houses in Lisbon on Largo da Achada. When you look at other buildings as well, you’ll see that the upper floors of some buildings, including this one, stick out a bit because houses used to be taxed based on the surface area of the ground floor so often the upper floors were built outwards to get around that.


The second walking tour that I did took me into Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood. Cobbled streets will take you up to the Castelo de São Jorge and the Sé de Lisboa, the castle and the cathedral respectively. Alfama used to be a gritty neighbourhood filled with sailors and dock workers but nowadays it has a trendier, more vibrant reputation. As with Mouraria, be prepared for a lot of climbing! Lisbon is a very hilly city, particularly around the castle, but this also means that it has some incredible views. We started by heading up past some fado murals by the Escadinhas de São Cristóvão and then up to a great viewpoint next to the Palácio do Marquês de Tancos. We carried on further into Alfama, passing a house that is owned (but is apparently not really used) by Louis Vuitton.

Alfama is a great place to find fado houses but while we were in Alfama, we actually stopped for our tour guide to tell us about music that is more or less the opposite of fado. Fado is very melancholic and nostalgic but pimba is very uptempo and almost comedic. They range from corny to saucy to downright vulgar all while retaining an element of innuendo. We also heard about the massive street parties that happen in Lisbon, particularly Alfama and Mouraria. The Festival of Santo Antonio happens throughout the month of June and sees the streets draped in colourful streamers and filled with the sound of pimba music. People crowd the streets to drink traditional cherry liqueur, grill sardines and dance until morning.

One of the most interesting things I took from the walking tour I did in the neighbourhood of Alfama was the ‘Alma de Alfama‘ (Soul of Lisbon) project by British-born photographer Camilla Watson. The project commemorates the long-time residents of Alfama, from immigrants of former Portuguese colonies to young people to the elderly. Portraits are printed directly onto the wall of the house where the subject lives or lived. There is a big problem with the residents being forced out because of increases in prices. A lot of this is due to buildings being bought out to be used as AirBnBs as tourism in Lisbon has soared in the last decade.

Bairro Alto

The one and only stop for Lisbon’s nightlife, Bairro Alto has over 300 bars. I actually only spent one brief evening in Bairro Alto to watch fado music but if I had had more time in Lisbon, I definitely would have been here more. Spots not to miss are the ascensor Gloria (a funicular), the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (a viewpoint), and Rua Nova do Carvalho, otherwise known as Pink Street, a pedestrianised street lined by bars and clubs.


Belém, 5 km to the west of Lisbon, is somewhere between a suburb and its own town but seeing as it’s basically attached to the city, it’s very easy and worthwhile visiting while you’re in Lisbon. I had planned on going with a girl from my hostel on my last evening after doing my second walking tour. I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the hostel and almost didn’t even go but I’m very glad I did! It’s very easy to get to Belém using public transport but Uma and I wanted to get there in time to catch the last of sunset so we hopped in a Bolt (the cheaper version of Uber that is popular in Portugal). Even the drive to Belém was lovely, along the water and under the Vasco da Gama bridge. It looks suspiciously like the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco but at more than 12 km long, it is actually slightly longer.

We got dropped off at the Torre de Belém just in time for the last rays of sunset. The Belém tower is a symbol of the city and more widely of the Portuguese age of exploration as it was a starting point for ships in the 16th century heading to East Africa, Brazil and India. You can walk along the banks of the estuary from the tower to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos – the Monument of the Discoveries. This is the official celebration of the Portuguese Age of Discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries. At 52m high, it’s hard to miss and has great views over the estuary and to the tower. Because I was there in the evening we weren’t able to climb it but I would love to. The figures lining the sides of the monument are the explorers themselves and those that made the expeditions possible. The monument is pretty impressive but I think it’s also important not to romanticise this era of discovery. It marked the adoption of colonial mindsets and practices by many countries and was accompanied by brutalities as much as discoveries.

The final major sight in Belém is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the monastery where the Portuguese national pastry, pastel de nata, was invented. Again, because we were there in the evening it was closed but it is somewhere I would have liked to go inside. Just a bit further along the street is Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém. It was the first place to sell pastéis de nata and now sells over 20,000 a day! I had heard that this place has THE best pastéis de nata and I have to say that it lived up to the hype! It was my favourite pastel de nata that I ate on this trip. There can sometimes be long lines so if you want to avoid those, go in the morning or the evening like I did, but I think that both the sit in and takeaway line move pretty quickly anyway and it’s worth the wait!

What to do

Walking tours

I’ve already talked at length about where I went and what I learned on these tours in the Mouraria and Alfama sections but I want to talk a little more about the experience of the walking tour. In general I’m a big fan of doing a walking tour, especially on the first day in a new city. I think it’s a great way to get your bearings and also figure out if there’s anywhere you want to go back to. Tour guides are a font of knowledge as well so you can ask them questions and for some off-the-beaten-path recommendations, as well as finding out if there’s anything that they think is overrated. Often these kinds of walking tours are ‘free’ but tip based. A ‘free’ walking tour should not actually be free. Your tour guide has spent sometimes hours walking you around the city and sharing their hard-earned knowledge with you and they deserve to be adequately compensated for that. I think €10 is a good minimum price but if you had a great time and think they deserve more, go for it!

If the walking tour is linked to your hostel, or even if it’s not, it’s also a great way to make friends. This is what happened with the two I did through Home hostel. I went on the first walking tour with a few girls from my dorm, met more people at breakfast that were doing it and then spent the evening with the Canadian guys I met on the tour itself. For the second walking tour the following day, there were four of us from the day before who were back for round two.

And now, a moment to speak about the man of the hour. The tour guide for both of the walking tours I went on was a Portuguese guy called Zé. He was the main reason that I decided to go back for the second tour. I was a big fan of his style, he was very engaging, clearly knew his stuff and has done this plenty of times before but at the same time it’s obvious that he enjoys not just showing people around Lisbon and sharing it’s secrets with them, but also getting to meet new people from all over. We got a lot of information from Zé which he also balanced well with his own opinions on certain subjects. He was also happy to go with the flow. At one point on my first tour, which was a smaller group of about 12, some people wanted to get a coffee so the whole group stopped at this little cafe in one of Mouraria’s narrow streets. Zé ordered a round of espressos and we drank them outside the cafe before moving on. The following day the group was much bigger, more like 35 people, so it had to be slightly more regimented to make sure it didn’t take us all day to get around the route but the vibes were still great. Zé also got to know me quickly enough that halfway through the first tour, every time we passed a cat he would look around and make sure I’d seen it!


In a city as picturesque as Lisbon, there is no shortage of spots to appreciate it from. Bearing in mind how hilly Lisbon is, the viewpoints can be a double-edged sword – the views are incredible but the climb up is killer. Therefore, any viewpoint where you can enjoy a cold beer after arriving gets bonus points!

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

This is the highest point in Lisbon and honestly an underrated viewpoint in my opinion. At least from what I’ve heard and read, it gets talked about a lot less than Portas do Sol or the castle for example but the views are better! The viewpoint is in the neighbourhood of Graça, just next to Mouraria, and has fantastic views across to the castle, over to the downtown neighbourhood of Baixa, into Bairro Alto and across the water.

Miradouro das Portas do Sol

Miradouro das Portas do Sol is potentially the most popular viewpoint in Lisbon and it’s not hard to see why. There is a large terrace area where you can sit with a drink and enjoy the view over Alfama’s burnt orange rooftops, the National Pantheon, the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora and the Tagus river.

Just behind the square at Portas do Sol is the oldest house in Lisbon. This house is 500 years old! What is even more impressive is that it survived the earthquake of 1755. On 1st November 1755, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake with its epicentre in the Atlantic ocean destroyed Lisbon. Because the epicentre was at sea, Lisbon was also hit by a massive tsunami. As if that wasn’t enough, religious celebrations for the Feast of All Saints meant that candles had been lit in churches all around the city which caused a huge fire. Bad things really do come in threes! Between 12,000 and 50,000 people died making it one of the deadliest earthquakes ever. After that, the city had to be rebuilt and was earthquake-proofed by using internal cage-like wooden structures in the new buildings. They thankfully remain untested. When you walk around Lisbon, you will see a mishmash of buildings because some had to be rebuilt so there are newer ones shoulder to shoulder with older ones.

Just below the Miradouro das Portas do Sol is a fantastic mural covering the history of Lisbon which is definitely worth checking out! It starts with the Phoenicians founding the city of Ulissipo, through the Portuguese Inquisition, the earthquake in 1755, ending with the carnation revolution in 1974 which overthrew the Estado Novo regime.

Miradouro de Santa Luzia

Portas do Sol‘s little, lesser known sister is a great option if you want basically the same views but much smaller crowds. It is behind the Igreja de Santa Luzia which feature some beautiful tile panels showing Lisbon before the earthquake and also crusaders storming the castle in the 12th century. There is a little cafe and often artists selling their work and buskers providing ambient background music to this romantic corner of Lisbon.

Feira da Ladra

Feira da Ladra, the Thieves’ Market, is a flea market that happens in a square behind the National Pantheon every Tuesday and Saturday. The word ladra means ‘female thief’ but some people say that the name of the market actually comes from the Portuguese word ladro, referring to a specific type of bug or flea that is found in antique furniture. A nice little play on words there. It has everything you would expect from a flea market, some tourist souvenirs, lots of beautiful tiles, stalls with a mishmash of books, jewellery and a random assortment of bits and bobs, local artists and more. This is where we finished the Alfama walking tour and even though the market carries on until 6pm, some sellers will pack up around 2pm. That’s around when we arrived though and it was still pretty bustling!

That’s it for now but I hope this has been helpful and given you an insight into why this city captured my attention so much and makes you want to visit it as much as I want to go back! Part 2 is coming soon and going to cover what and where to eat in Lisbon. Most of the things I’ve written here are based on what I did myself on my trip but next time I’ll also talk about some of the things that I didn’t do but wanted to or had recommended to me. See you soon for part two!

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