lifestyle / Travel

It’s Lis-bon Real: Our Portugal Experience

Hi friends,

It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve returned from my vacation in Portugal with my best friend, Christina and we really needed the time to recover before unpacking our suitcases and unpacking the details. During our entire stay, I had bronchitis which was awful (then Christina got sick,) but I think we made the most of our time in Lisbon. Even though our time was brief, I thought I would spill the chá (that’s tea in Portuguese) about the food, the traveling, the experiences and the spending.

Food

So I don’t know about you guys, but food is the most important part of a trip (at least for me!) I heard so many good things about the food in Portugal and I have to say, I was not disappointed. I tried a variety of different meals and I enjoyed almost all of them. If you’re a seafood fan you absolutely have to try cod cakes, sardines and basically all the seafood Lisbon has to offer. Even though I was not a seafood person before this trip, I think I’m a changed woman now. Seafood is a staple, so it’s no wonder it’s fresh and expertly cooked throughout.

My favourite seafood dish I had was actually a Lobster rice at Taberna 1300 in the LX factory area (home of many restaurants in former warehouses).

Christina and I also rated the Piri Piri chicken at A Valenciana as one of our favourites. Outside of Lisbon, we also loved our lunch on the beach at Restaurante Praia do Tamariz.

I also never thought I would try wild pig, but you only live once right? It was not bad!

We will never forget our final dinner in Lisbon at A Tasco Do Elavador – located near the Santa Justa Lift (an elevator built in 1902 with a view of Lisbon). We had our final meal on a chilly night in the street under the heat of the lamp and the warmth of the blanket supplied by the restaurant. We also had warm service from Daniel (who was so lovely to Christina, he got her a bowl of Kiwis after overhearing she loved them!).

Of course, a trip to Lisbon would not complete without trying the Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Egg Tarts) which you can find at almost every cafe or bakery but if you want the original recipe, you’ll have to visit Pasteis de Belem (which is beside the monastery where it was originally created).

We loved having the tarts by the Torre de Belem at the Confeitaria Nacional cafe.

Around every corner there are cafes littered throughout Lisbon. Kiosks grace the middle of streets and there are a lot of restaurants open late. For popular restaurants/experiences, be sure to call and check ahead to avoid disappointment. We experienced this personally, as some places may require a reservation well in advance. Not to worry, there are so many restaurants you can walk around and in less than 5 mins, find another gem.

There are a lot of places that were great that we just wandered in. I don’t remember the names those family owned restaurants, but I’ll always fondly remember the incredible meals served by the kindest people.

Travel

We booked with Air Transat and they were great. The trip was as comfortable as flying on a plane could be and the food was not bad. In fact, both going and coming our flight was not full so we had an extra seat between us which was really nice! Leaving and entering Canada was the easy part.

Entering and leaving Lisbon was a long process. It took us 3 hours to be cleared after landing as they had limited personnel. After that, we pretty much had smooth sailing when it came to getting around.

We stayed in Evolution Lisboa, located in the Saldanha area. It was a bit further away from all the action but very reasonably priced + the staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Thank you to Pedro and Rafael!

The hotel is very modern and beautiful. They have a 24 hour heated pool gym, steamer and sauna. They also have a lovely little restaurant with the option to opt-in for breakfast daily.


If you’re all about the uber everywhere life, then you’ll be happy to know that uber has a presence there and it’s really cheap, which made getting around so easy! The average we spent per trip was 3-8 euros. Some of the drivers know lots of English so we felt free to ask their recommendations on the best places to eat, things to see etc; Other drivers are a little more shy but everyone was really nice and we didn’t have any issues getting around this way.

My new address Pink Street

We also did bus tours, which I will go into more detail below but these were booked through our hotel. One required us to go to the terminal, not far from our hotel. The other picked us up right in front.

When speaking of transportation, you can’t forget the iconic tram which mainly operates in the older hilly parts of Lisbon. There are a number of tours at a variety of lengths so I suggested planning ahead as some tours can last all day, so you should give yourself enough time.

Jerónimos Monastery from the tour bus

I also suggest not relying on Google Maps as it is not necessarily accurate when it comes to exact locations and walking distance. If you can find a local that speaks English, most will be happy to point you in the right direction.

We had wanted to go down to the Algarve and even up to Porto but we had limited time and those trips could take up to 4 hours, so we decided for one week to maximize our Lisbon (and surrounding cities) experience.

Experiences

For the short time we were in Portugal we managed to pack quite a few adventures in our schedule. That being said, as I mentioned above, we did minimize some of the travelling. Even though we did not get to see everything on our list, I think we made the most of our experiences and some of the spontaneous choices ended up being my favourite memories! There is an endless list of things to see and do in Lisbon and surrounding cities, but here are some of my favourite things we did.

Hop on Hop Off Tour

As I mentioned above, This bus tour was one of the best ways to see all the attractions Lisbon had to offer. Plus the ticket lasts 48 hrs, so you can try out more than one route.

We had a mixed experience with this tour at first as the traffic and weather was bad, so it did not return to pick us up from the stop that day. It left a bitter taste in our mouth at first. Then we tried it for the second time and it was not bad. You can choose different routes for different prices and they drive around Lisbon while you plug in translating headphones. It stops near each attraction so you can hop off and take photos and wait for the next one to continue the tour! This is a great way to visit all the must-see monuments, churches and museums. One of my favourite parts of our bus tour was stopping off at Rua Augusta Arch because it is such a lively square with street performers and a view of the river. 

Becoming creatures of the night

With lots of clubs and bars open until 6 AM, Lisbon is known to be one of the most lively places for nightlife and we definitely experienced that. One night we even inadvertently stumbled into a saucy restaurant called Guilty.

What we thought was a cool place for a late night meal, turned into a very unexpected experience. Having done no research on this place, we were surprised to encounter the hip, English music, the delicious & savoury meal, the BEST apple-based sangria and the handsome servers pouring VODKA down your throat with the lights out (don’t worry there were also servers with sparklers coming out of bottles).

Needless to say, it was a night to remember even if I can’t recall all the details 😉

Another night we ventured out to find the best nightclub in Lisbon – which was LUX nightclub according to Google, but it was all lies! When we went to enter, the bouncer asked us “what do you want?” and followed up with “it’s 300 euros to enter” as if we were some dumb foreigners.

Then we ventured to another club we found on Google and well basically we were told that we couldn’t enter unless we were on the guest list. We thought we would be lucky as we saw another club down the road with a line. So, we waited in line only to realize that the line was filled with beautiful men, which made me suspicious. It turned out it was a gay club and we had no idea until a guy in the line let us know. The kind local was nice enough to point us in the direction of another happening club called ‘‘Havana” located on the docks.

After three strikes, we finally got in with no issue and had a fantastic night. Havana was electrifying, the drinks were great and the music definitely proved that hips do not lie in Lisbon.

On a more holy note, another experience we enjoyed was Lisbon at Night in the roofless Carmo Convent – a gothic church that still stands as a reminder of the 1755 earthquake.

Christina and I enjoyed an immersive theatrical light show that illustrated the history behind the convent and Lisbon. It’s only on until July 17 so we are glad that we had the opportunity to experience this limited presentation.

Nothing to wine about here…

Despite losing my $7 Walmart hat to the winds of the Arrabida Mountain, I gained a better understanding of the wine-making process, and of course a nice souvenir bottle of Moscatel during our wine and scenic tour. This tour was a birthday gift from Christina and she did me proud.

First, we visited the castle at Sesimbra with an insane viewpoint of the city and a gorgeous church.

After, we headed to the winery of one of the largest and most prestigious wine companies in Portugal, Jose Maria de Fonseca. Our guide was excellent, speaking both English and Portuguese. We learned a lot about the wine making process while taking in the beautiful scenery of the vineyard.

Hand painted on the left, machine made on the right

Then, we headed to a tile (azulejos) maker who taught us all about the long process of creating the tiles you see all over Portugal. Did you know that sometimes the process for one tile can take up to a year?

For the final leg of the incredible wine and scenic tour, we went all the way to the peak of the Arrabida Mountain. The view is breathtaking and also hat taking. The wind was so strong it lifted my hat off my head and it blew away into the mountains. At least I know I left a little piece of myself with the beautiful land.

Playing princess for a day

One of my favourite memories of this entire trip is Christina and I becoming the royalty we were meant to be – at least for a day. We got up early, got dolled up and decked out in our royal glam. Hopped on a bus on an empty stomach while trying to stomach the winding hills of Sintra – all to see the majestic Pena Palace. It was all worth it!

People stared at us and our fabulous outfits but we didn’t care because we focused on the beauty of the castle 😍 Our tour was great because we had express passes so not only did we get to skip most of the line, we also had transportation right to the front step of the castle.

View from the palace

Pena Palace is a must-see! From the architecture to all the ornate royal objects and the royal view, we kind of wanted to move in…

We also met our new friend, Romil from India on this tour! We spent time exploring with her in the charming Sintra marketplace and we had a nice moment on the beachfront area of Cascais.

#VIEWS

View from the Fenix Music Terrace

As seen on my Instagram, Lisbon and all of Portugal is really photogenic. Since the landscape is hilly, one of the best views is from the top. There are lots of rooftops on restaurants, hotels and in unexpected places (you just have to look for them!)

We stumbled upon the HF Fenix Music rooftop patio on our first night and it was definitely love at first sight. You can also get one of the best 360 views on top of the Amoreiras Shopping Center at #Amoreiras360.

Beach Bae

The weather during our trip was a bit temperamental. We were told it was unusually cold for the time of the year (lucky us!) We did get some warmer weather towards the end of our trip, so we headed to Praia do Tamariz, located in Estoril. It was such a pretty beach with a castle, beachfront restaurants, cabanas and of course, the iconic sparkling blue water.

Cash me if you can

Before this trip, I pictured all of Europe as this glamorous but historical place with boujee everything. Portugal is a gem but is not at all crazy expensive as perceived. It’s lovely people are happy despite the wage not being at all on the same level as it’s other European counterparts. That being said, it is cheap to get around, it’s cheap to eat and it’s cheap to shop, so we definitely took advantage of it. Lisbon is modern so there are a lot of the brand names you might recognize from North America. You can find both big North American and European brands at the Amoreiras Shopping Center and Vasco de Gama Shopping Center.

Everything from China, to cork products, to fashion and jewellery all outdoors.

However, if you are looking to shop local your best bet is sometimes just walking around Lisbon or visiting places like Mercado de Santa Clara (an outdoor flea market) or the Embaixada Concept Shopping Centre – The latter is more pricey but almost everything is made in or sourced from Portugal.

As for how much money to bring, it’s definitely possible to do Portugal/Lisbon in a week for under 1000 euros (this does not include flight + hotel), but if you factor in additional gifts you might need to carry some extra pocket change. I say this as we totaled our spending before our final day of shopping and it all added up to less than a 1000 euros! I advise when converting your money to Euros to ask for lots of lower bills such as 5s or 10s as it is a hassle sometimes for some smaller places to make change. We were also advised by our cab driver on the first day to be mindful of pickpockets by keeping a small amount of money on you and avoid wearing bag packs. Nothing happened to us but always good to be cautious!

Overall, as you can tell by this essay (or long loveletter) I am in love with Lisbon and I could go on forever. It might not look like it, but I omitted a few things. Some memories will just be for Christina and myself. You can however see a few more photos/videos on my IG @byallmeens my story highlights!

If it wasn’t crystal clear (like the water,) I definitely recommend it as a travel destination. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer it.

I would love to go back to Portugal and visit again someday in the future!

Christina and I would like to take a moment to appreciate Portugal for all the incredible memories, hospitality and love.

Sea you soon!

Until next time,

– your favourite, Portu-gal

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