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.
- 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.