Did you catch this week’s GBBO? Now, I haven’t tuned in as much this series, you know with the change of channel, hosts and judge controversy, but this week I turned on just as they tucked into some beautiful Pastel de Nata , and was transported back to my trip to Lisbon, late last Summer.
The city with pastel coloured houses, traditional decorative tiles and one of the most beautiful seafronts… let me introduce you to the capital of Portugal, Lisbon.
Where to stay
Our trip coincided with my Mum’s 60th birthday, so we booked ourselves into the sleek and super trendy Altis Belem Hotel and Spa and arrived in style with a private transfer booked via Travel Counsellors.
I honestly can’t rave about Altis enough. Yes, it is a 5 star hotel, but everything from the service, to the scrummy breakfast to the magnificent rooms is spot on. And I personally don’t think the price tag is anywhere near as expensive as you’d expect, and it’s certainly worth splashing out for a special long weekend.
The Altis Belem is located in the beautiful town of Belem, around a 20 minute drive from the historic and busy city centre of Lisbon. Situated on the banks of the river Tagus, we had stunning views of the famous 25 de Abril Bridge, Christ the King statue and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (which was unfortunately under scaffolding for repair at the time) from the comfort of our beds!
Although there is so much to see and do in Lisbon, we spent one leisurely afternoon at the poolside, to catch some rays and dip our toes into the pool, looking out over the harbour. Absolute bliss and definitely worth splurging in if you treat yourself to a break at Altis.
What to see
You’ll have a jam packed weekend in Lisbon, and if you can afford to take an extra off day either side of your weekend, you really won’t regret it.
If you are staying in Belem, try starting your day with a stroll down to the ferry port and boarding the ferry into Lisbon’s Terreiro do Paço, a few minutes walk to the Comércio square. You’ll see so much from the River and the view as you enter Lisbon is breathtaking. I bet it’s a little different from your usual commute!
Next up, you must hop on the famous Tram 28 from the bright and beautiful Praça do Comércio. Now, these trams can be VERY busy, but if you catch one in the nick of time, you can enjoy a seat on this vintage tram as it meanders around the tiny streets. A bit cramped? Stay on for a few stops and hop off at Praça Luís de Camões and explore the popular Bairro Alto neighbourhood.
Bairro Alto is famed for its fado music, wine bars and nightlife, but it’s a great area for an afternoon wander too. Head towards Praça dos Restauradores, and if you feel peckish, stop for a quick bite (see Where to Eat for my suggestion).
I fell in love with the pink marble building on the outskirts of Praça dos Restauradores- an Art Deco building known as Eden Teatro. Originally one of the cities grandest cinemas and theatre, the venue opened in 1931 but sadly closed in 1989. It was left all alone until 2001 when it was converted into the hotel Orion Eden. Apparently the hotel has a wonderful rooftop bar, which we missed, so be sure to check it out if you are an Art Deco lover.
From here, it’s a short walk to Elevador da Gloria, the famous Funicular which takes you up to the magnificent views from Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcántara. This graffiti covered cart takes a rickety journey to the top of this steep hill- with wonderful views of the real Lisbon on your journey up. After you’ve explored the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara areas and taken in the views and lush gardens, try to hop a seat at the front carriage of the tram for a marvellous view on the way back down.
Once back on ground level, you could either take in some of the traditional shops in the area or even hop on a sightseeing bus to take in more of the city. There is something interesting around every corner in Lisbon and it’s well worth taking a few hours to stroll and see what’s lurking around every corner.
On day two, you must explore Belem. Whether you are staying there or not, it’s a wonderful area filled with traditional gems.
Start your day with a bus tour to see the mass beauty in the winding hills without exerting yourself. From these buses you can see so much, and often a local tour guide can give you a better insight into the area than any book or website.
Jump off the bus in the centre of Belem and treat yourself to a famous Pastel de Nata before exploring the local shops and enjoying a cheeky white port. Few hours to spare? The Coach Museum is incredible! Beautiful Royal carriages, ornate ceilings, and rich culture, it’s a wondrous place and well worth a visit.
Once you are ready to get out and about again, walk past the Monstery Jeronamo, one of the most impressive buildings in Lisbon. Apparent from it’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status and the hoards of crowds you’ll find outside!
From here it’s a short walk down the River Tagus waterfront and the impressive Belem Tower, another gem recognised by UNESCO World Heritage. It’s stunningly beautiful with lots of intricate detail and one of my favourite buildings I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. The gardens surrounding the area are equally as beautiful, and a lovely place to grab an ice cream and admire the views. You’ll also spot the modern Monumento Combatentes Ultramar, which is dedicated to the soldiers in the Portuguese army who died during the Overseas War between 1961 and 1974.
Where to eat
Always start the day with a good breakfast! At Altis Belem we enjoyed a delicious buffet complete with sparkling wine, pastries and cold meat. Grazed on whilst sitting harbour side it was the most wonderful way to start a day.
For lunch, we headed to Hard Rock Café whilst exploring the Praça dos Restauradores area. Now, I wouldn’t usually recommend a chain restaurant, however the setting, in the old Condes Cinema is pretty impressive. The food was good, cocktails strong and reasonable and being seated below Ray Davies memorabilia was pretty epic too!
Whilst exploring Belem you MUST visit Pasteis de Belem. I visited three times during our stay- and still dream of their Patel De Nata now. It’s the most famed sweet treat in Portugal and dates back to 1837. The recipe is top secret, but the pastry is buttery and flaky with a rich, silky custard cream. Mouth watering yet?!
You can either eat in or out- just make sure you join the right queue!!! The ‘Eat In’ queue can meander down the street and be expectedly slow at peak times, (but still well worth the wait) whilst the ‘Eat Out’ queue is quick and you’ll be in and out in minutes if you know what you want.
The latter serves delicious traditional pizzas and pastas and we could not fault the quality, speed or service. Perfect for a quick bit to eat before retreating to our balcony with a bottle of fizz to enjoy the sunset.
As it was my Mum’s 60th during our stay, we booked Espaço Espelho d’Água for a Birthday treat- and what a treat it was!! Unique, stylish décor, with excellent food and wine choices, plus incredible service. I would definitely return one day.
Off the beaten track
So what else can you see?!
Venture a few miles out of Belem but before you reach Lisbon and you’ll come across a rather odd looking scrappage yard. One with raised buses, shipping containers and interesting art work. Find this and you know you’ve reached Underground Village. A creative community, the village houses offices, co-working spaces and a lovely little café. Worth a visit if you need to broaden your horizons!
And saving the best ’til last- Lisbon Time Out Food Market. This place is heave for a food and drink lover, and possible my favourite Off The Beaten Track find.
Now, many cities have a food market. In my hometown of Liverpool we even have our own, The Baltic Market, but as famous as this is, it doesn’t even come close. (Sorry guys!!)
Filled with restaurants, bars, cooking classes and good quality tables and chairs, it’s like having every 4 and 5 star food you can imagine in one place. Open from 10am and until 2am at the weekend, you have no excuse not to swing by and try something new.
Spending an extra few days in Lisbon? Hop on the train to the beautiful Sintra. We considered it, but decided to take this weekend a little easier. However, Rebecca from Roses and Rolltops recent blog post has convinced me to make the trip next time I return to Lisbon!