Lisbon, Portugal

Everywhere you look in Lisbon, it's drop-dead gorgeous: all pastel-coloured houses and flower boxes and mosaic-tiled roads and old fashioned trams. Every time I turned a corner, I wanted to capture the view with my camera. The city is built on seven hills, so there are lots of nooks and crannies hidden among the ups and downs of the city, lots of lookouts over the red rooftops and the water, and lots of pretty views.

That being said, Lisbon wasn't my favourite city so far. I stayed in an amazing hostel, and met a bunch of nice people, but I still didn't love it. I think I found it to be a more inaccessible city, as in, it felt like you needed a local to tell you exactly where to go, since the only main area in Lisbon is full of expensive, sub-par restaurants and shopping. It's very pretty, yes, but I found it hard to navigate as a solo traveller – not logistically (it's pretty straightforward) but in terms of finding unique, local places. I also felt uncomfortable in Lisbon compared to other cities I've visited, even in broad daylight. It could just be all in my head, but compared to Paris and Madrid, I felt that in Lisbon I was really stared at and catcalled as I passed, even in the middle of the afternoon. That hasn't really happened in other cities. Plus I was there probably a day longer than I really needed (there's not a ton to do in terms of tourist attractions), so by the time I moved on I was more than ready.

None of that stopped me from having a good time, though! I still made some great memories in Lisbon. I loved the communal dinners that my hostel hosted, it was an awesome way to get in some greens (finally) and eat healthy home cooked food, and to meet new people. I made some Australian and American friends and we spent the next day together wandering around. We took the historic tram 28 up to a great lookout, and another tram to the area of Belem to get the famous special secret-ingredient Portuguese egg tarts, which we ate in the park. Afterwards we sat on the pier and looked at jellyfish and crabs in the shallows. That night, we had a massive picnic in the big square in downtown Lisbon, with cheap but great bottles of wine, loads of cheese and fruit, and watched the tail end of the sunset.

On Sunday, a few of us spent the morning at the big flea market where I got a couple little (tiny!) treasures. The market was huge and amazing, selling anything you could imagine. That afternoon we took a minibus tour (run by our hostel) to Sintra, a town nearby Lisbon that houses all the castles that were the summer homes of the monarchy, back in the day. We stopped at a little shop to try a bunch of kinds of port, as well as a delicious almond liqueur and jams made from port and champagne. Then it was on to the Quinta da Regaleira, a huge fantastical, mystical adventure land of a castle, complete with caves and grottoes and big empty wells. There were lush plants everywhere and it was so fun to run around and get caught up on the mystery of the place. At one point, climbing the circular staircase that twists around a well, I felt like I was living in a combination of Harry Potter and The Dark Knight Rises. Very cool.

On one of my last days, I took a little adventure to a highly recommended (by the great cook that made my vegetarian dinner at the hostel one night) vegetarian restaurant for lunch. I sat on the shady terrace, drank pineapple juice, and delighted in all the fresh, delicious food. It was a buffet, so I went back for seconds of (not even kidding) fried eggplant and roasted potatoes. I know! I don't even like eggplant! But everything was so leafy green and seasoned perfectly. I ate like a queen, and finished my book on the patio. I'm starting to get the hang of long, long solo lunches, and am making it a point to seek out great vegetarian restaurants!

I even stumbled onto an outdoor music festival one night, where the DJ was playing seemingly all my favourite songs! It was nice to lounge on the grass, enjoy the dusk, and eat a piled-sky-high vegetarian hot dog. Totally amazing.

All in all, Lisbon was a good time. When I look back and appreciate all the special things I did when I was there, I am grateful for and happy about my time in Lisbon.

Favourites:

  • Terra Vegetarian Buffet: amazing service, great terrace, and completely delicious food (huge selection too!). The location is great, sort of tucked away in a corner of a beautiful street, right near a park.
  • Yes! Hostel: top rated hostel in the world on Hostelworld.com! It was great. Some of the staff learned my name and used it throughout my stay, it has all the facilities you could want, and they were so friendly and helpful. Free shots at 11:30 pm, great big dinners for 10 euros, and a really great location.
  • Pasteis de Belem: you'll probably read this one on any list of things to do in Lisbon, but I want to add my two cents and say it's completely worth the tram ride, and believe it or not, completely better than other egg tarts. There's the secret ingredient for one, the pastry is just much crispier, and they come with a big packet each of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Amazing.
  • Joe

    Strange that you found the restaurants in Lisbon to be expensive and no interesting shops, since it’s one of the cities with some of the most affordable and reasonably-priced restaurants in Europe and with some of the most interesting old shops (some even archaic) that survive thanks to low rents. But I guess travel experiences vary from person to person, and it does depend on where you stay, the company you have, itinerary, travel planning and research, etc. The first time I went to Paris, for example, I found it to be overrated and monotonous, yet when I returned with better planning and better company I loved it!

    But you do have some wonderful photos. Although I must say you didn’t explore the city enough if you feel it didn’t have tons to do in terms of tourist attractions. You don’t seem to have gone to the modern district of the city (Parque das Nacoes), or to any of the museums (some of which are quite unique and magnificent even if you’re not interested in the subject, like the Tile Museum)…

    I understand that when traveling alone you often depend on the company of your hostel mates for company but I have found that to be a mistake since they know as much as you do about the city, and even if the hostel staff prepares a nice itinerary, it’s always a good idea to explore on your own, following your personal interests. And as you said, everywhere you turn in Lisbon is a gorgeous view, and if you just followed those inviting lanes up and down the hills you’d have found plenty of surprises and lots to do.

    • Stephanie Pellett

      Hello Joe,

      I hope I didn’t sound too negative about Lisbon in my post, since like I said I had a wonderful time there and found it to be an incredibly gorgeous city. I am afraid you may have misunderstood my comments. On many occasions while in Lisbon (most of the time, in fact, as I am travelling alone) I explored on my own without hostel mates, and wandered down several of the “inviting lanes” as you called them and was met with cute houses and little cafes and restaurants. Let me reiterate, I had a very good time in Lisbon and did a fair bit of exploring. But I maintain that I found it to be a less accessible city than others I have visited. Perhaps you’re right that I didn’t explore it enough, I must admit I am still getting the hang of travelling all alone for a long period of time. If you have ever travelled alone, you will know that sometimes the mood or state you’re in can colour your impressions of a city, so that may also have had some bearing on my experiences. Frankly, you sound quite annoyed about my comments, which I find rather surprising, as these are merely my honest impressions, and as you said, travel experiences vary from person to person. I met a well-travelled Dutch couple in Lisbon who shared many of my feelings about the city, for example, but I have met many people who love it very much and have had wonderful experiences there. Again, I believe it is very personal.

      Anyways, I found your response interesting, and again let me just say that these posts are meant to be honest and they are simply personal reflections. I have never claimed to be an expert traveler, I am simply trying new things and pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.