I Love Portugal Round Two: Lisbon

Every potential Portugal traveler has at some point asked the same question: “Lisbon or Porto?”. I asked it myself many months before and settled on trying Porto first, being the less expensive of the two. Although I was deathly ill the majority of the trip and remember it only as some sort of surreal fever dream (who were all those sinister-looking people in capes?), I had the wherewithal to surmise that Porto is awesome and by extrapolation, Portugal too.

A few months later, I set my sights on Lisbon and environs and booked a week to check it out. I intended to only stay a few days in Lisbon itself before moving on to the Algarve and its famed beaches but luckily I didn’t book anything in advance. Unbeknownst to me (but apparently well-known by everyone), it always rains like hell during that time of year leaving my rally cry of “I need beach time!” unrequited. Instead of stare out of a foggy bus window as we drive past the Algarve’s turquoise water, we extended our stay in our amazing Airbnb apartment which I nicknamed “the dream flat” despite the fact that I fell down the stairs twice in 5 days. I never regretted that decision. Lisbon is charming and has enough to last you for more than a few days of slow travel.

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We spent our days enjoying the sunshine when it made a cameo and walking, walking, walking from one hill to the next in between fresh, simple, fish-based meals. One of my favorite places to chill was down by the river with steps leading in. If you like wind and pigeons, this place is for you! I’m not doing well on selling it but it really is a great place to sit and hypnotize yourself with waves.

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Turn around and you’ll see the colorful main square, spacious and bright. Here, you can grab an overpriced coffee or get hit up by drug dealers every few minutes. I’d recommend just bringing a snack down to the steps instead.

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To get an overview of the city, we took a tour by a company awesomely named We Hate Tourism (check out my review here) past parks, monuments and viewpoints that we definitely would have overlooked otherwise. Even though we were staying in Lisbon long enough to check all of these places ourselves, going on the tour helped us figure out where we wanted to go back to and where wasn’t worth the (always uphill) trek.

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these things

So, Porto or Lisbon? Here’s a quick guide:

You should go to Porto if… You’re a super budget traveler and want to fly in cheap, stay cheap and eat cheap. You love ruin porn. You don’t mind overcast weather. You prefer your food of the comforting variety: heavy, cheesy and covered in rich sauce. You want to go to a rocky beach and be the only one there. You love wine and everything about it.

You should go to Lisbon if… You love nightlife. You’re a budget traveler looking for prices only slightly less than average. You want to go on some awesome day trips (more on that later). You don’t mind a steep walk. You love fresh fish and simple dishes. You love history.

Have you been to Lisbon and/or Porto? Which did you prefer or do you love them both (like me)?

You can also read an interview with me about my time in Portugal and check out more photos from Portugal.

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12 thoughts on “I Love Portugal Round Two: Lisbon

  1. Good balanced analysis! I tend to dislike reviews saying “Go!” or “Don’t go!” because we’re all different and like different things. So it’s good to know why I should go if I like/dislike a certain thing.

    1. Yeah I agree and I think everyone should go wherever regardless of the advice they’re given. Especially with lisbon and Porto, I hope people go to both if they can!

  2. I really loved Porto. I liked the lazy old world feel of it and the food we had, though mostly fish, was quite light. I had a chilled strawberry soup at one place that was both inexpensive and delightful. I can’t wait to go back!

  3. I recently spent 6 days in Lisbon, and while I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of love or belonging while I was there, it definitely wormed it’s way into my heart somehow because I find myself thinking about it constantly! I was lucky to have friends living in the heart of the city when I arrived, so having a built in local tour group was a luxury for me that I know most people don’t have. Here are a couple of spots in or near Lisbon that are absolutely worth checking out and off the beaten path:

    playa de Ursa – this beach is only a 20 minute drive from Lisbon if you have a friend with a car or can shell out the euros for a cab (it was still cheap to take a cab, although I was splitting it 3 ways). We ended up taking a bus, then a train, THEN two cabs because between the 9 of us we couldn’t find one car big enough for all of us. Anyway, this place is magical. About a mile hile down a mountain to one of the most gorgeous and secluded beaches. It’s technically in the town of Sintra, and if you find yourself hiking back up the mountain at sundown, you’ll catch a phenomenal sunset at the cabo de roca lighthouse up the street. It’s the most Western point in all of Europe and you’ll be there with a bunch of people watching the sun melt into the ocean like some international Brady Bunch. A bus picks up at this lighthouse right after sunset, so all in all, this is worth a day of your trip. (Sintra also has some great little cafes right by the train station and palaces on the hillsides on the drive back down the hill to look at).

    Cafe tati – about a 7 or 8 minute walk from the metro station on the river, this cafe is really charming and has delicious food, especially the Bacalhau in a butter almond sauce. I am a musician and was super lucky to be able to play a short set here. The owner and his partner as both Spaniards, very laid back. She prepares the menu and is considered the head chef so to speak, and he runs the bar. The place really fills up at dinner time, but it’s a great spot to rest your legs after all those hills mid-day for a coffee.

    Cemitério dos Prazeres (cemetary of pleasures) – this cemetery, if you’re not creeped out by such places, is stunning. It’s like a miniature village with some tombs dating as far back as the late 1700’s! Almost all tombs have glass doors where you can see the shrines and coffins stacked up, but it really is beautiful. Old photographs from the 19th century, ornately carved wooden caskets in mint condition make it a really interesting place to visit if youre adventurous. All you have to do is take the famed tram 28 to the end of the line North and it ends at the cemetery.

    Anyway, Thank you for writing this article! I’m looking to move to Madrid from Texas in the next year, but happened to see your post on Portugal and couldn’t help clicking! ciao!

  4. I recently spent 6 days in Lisbon, and while I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of love or belonging while I was there, it definitely wormed it’s way into my heart somehow because I find myself thinking about it constantly! I was lucky to have friends living in the heart of the city when I arrived, so having a built in local tour group was a luxury for me that I know most people don’t have. Here are a couple of spots in or near Lisbon that are absolutely worth checking out and off the beaten path:

    playa de Ursa – this beach is only a 20 minute drive from Lisbon if you have a friend with a car or can shell out the euros for a cab (it was still cheap to take a cab, although I was splitting it 3 ways). We ended up taking a bus, then a train, THEN two cabs because between the 9 of us we couldn’t find one car big enough for all of us. Anyway, this place is magical. About a mile hile down a mountain to one of the most gorgeous and secluded beaches. It’s technically in the town of Sintra, and if you find yourself hiking back up the mountain at sundown, you’ll catch a phenomenal sunset at the cabo de roca lighthouse up the street. It’s the most Western point in all of Europe and you’ll be there with a bunch of people watching the sun melt into the ocean like some international Brady Bunch. A bus picks up at this lighthouse right after sunset, so all in all, this is worth a day of your trip. (Sintra also has some great little cafes right by the train station and palaces on the hillsides on the drive back down the hill to look at).

    Cafe tati – about a 7 or 8 minute walk from the metro station on the river, this cafe is really charming and has delicious food, especially the Bacalhau in a butter almond sauce. I am a musician and was super lucky to be able to play a short set here. The owner and his partner as both Spaniards, very laid back. She prepares the menu and is considered the head chef so to speak, and he runs the bar. The place really fills up at dinner time, but it’s a great spot to rest your legs after all those hills mid-day for a coffee.

    Cemitério dos Prazeres (cemetary of pleasures) – this cemetery, if you’re not creeped out by such places, is stunning. It’s like a miniature village with some tombs dating as far back as the late 1700′s! Almost all tombs have glass doors where you can see the shrines and coffins stacked up, but it really is beautiful. Old photographs from the 19th century, ornately carved wooden caskets in mint condition make it a really interesting place to visit if youre adventurous. All you have to do is take the famed tram 28 to the end of the line North and it ends at the cemetery.

    Anyway, Thank you for writing this article! I’m looking to move to Madrid from Texas in the next year, but happened to see your post on Portugal and couldn’t help clicking! ciao!

  5. Oh! And try Pastéis de Belém with your morning coffee! This is a famous custard pastry from Portugal, and while nothing I tasted was ever too sweet, this pastry was a perfect balance of sweet and palatable. You must go back if for nothing else than these. :)

  6. I have been to Lisbon twice . There is something about the city that draws one in, I can not explain it . The place you mentioned with the wind and pigeons ( I believe is is called Cais das Colunas), is truly a little magical place. Pictures nor words really do it justice. I went there almost everyday my vacation to chill out. I hope to get to Porto one day.

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