Exploring Lisbon and beyond
Caffeine and Custard
We needed to start Day 2 in Lisbon right and we knew just what to do - seek out pastéis de nata! If you haven’t tried one of these delicate flaky parcels of creamy custard you haven’t lived – honestly it’s an experience. You might as well book a flight to Lisbon now and make your first taste the best and most authentic sample of this heavenly pastry. There are numerous cafes and deli’s to try them, the most famous being out at Belém which we’ll come to later. But we may have a contender! We tried a few in the city and finally found the best (in our humble opinion) in Manteigaria on Rua do Loreto. They are freshly baked and served at the standing-room only counter where you can also see the whole glorious process of their creation behind a glass wall. It’s a very small café so I’d imagine in the high season it’s packed. You can also get them to take away here so if there’s no room inside to have a coffee, get your fix instead in Cafe A Brasileira. This café is over a hundred years old and was the first to serve Bica, a small strong coffee like an espresso. Take it from us, it’s really strong! Just one cup and we had coffee jitters for a couple of hours after! The interior is beautiful though and well worth a visit for stepping back in time.
We headed back to Praça do Comércio, picked up the tram to Belém and jumped into window seats so we could take in all the sights along the way. Tram 15 runs every twenty minutes and the entire journey takes around thirty. Heavy traffic can mean it’ll take a little longer but only by about ten minutes or so. Public transport is frequent, fast and efficient in Lisbon so there’s really no need to even think about hiring a car and negotiating the traffic. Trains, buses and trams zigzag every part of the city with stops displaying times and destinations making it really easy to find your way around. Once you reach the area of Belém you can choose to get off down near the Palace and then walk up to the famous Belém Tower. This means you can explore the gardens, visit the various museums and stroll along the riverfront on your way. It gave us time to visit the maritime museum (housed in the impressive Jerónimos Monastery) and get to the viewing point of Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), both a must see in my opinion. I did a school project on Vasco Da Gama so I completely nerded out when I got to see the replica of his ship and relics belonging to him at the maritime museum! Belém was the launching point for Portugal’s explorers during the Age of Discovery making this maritime museum one of Europe’s most significant. It’s huge and fascinating and don’t be surprised to find you have spent nearly two hours there without realising it!
Belém is also reputedly the home of the best pastéis de nata in Portugal, which of course, we just had to try. Close to the monastery you'll find Pastéis de Belém, the original and famous baker of these tarts and still using the same recipe since 1837. Be prepared to queue a loooong time! It’s packed with tourists year round and it’s crazy busy so you have to be very patient. You can take a seat inside or get them to takeaway – either way you’ll be having more than one!
Sunset at Belém Tower
Belém tower is a beautiful building and well worth a visit. You can get a tour inside and read about its history and each level has a viewing point from which you can imagine seeing the huge wooden ships rolling out to the Atlantic, on their way to find the New World. Straight across the river you can see the remnants of a second tower. Both towers were built to be armed with massive guns pointing towards the coast and hammered any ships who dared to cross the mouth of the Rio Tejo. There's some fascinating info about the engineering and clever design of the defences on the tour. After a few selfies (great spot for it!) and some epic sunset photos we set off to catch a bus back to the centre.
Lively LX Factory
Well, we thought we were heading for the bus but ended up walking most of the way, rush hour had arrived. Not that we minded, there were still loads of hidden nooks and crannies of the city to admire. The LX Factory is right beside the Pont 25 de Abril - the Golden Gate's twin sister and we found ourselves walking right underneath the bridge while the lights were coming on. This area is really atmospheric where old abandoned factories have been turned into funky art spaces, craft shops, hip little bars, design and fashion houses and unique restaurants. Its a creative hipster's heaven but don't let that put you off :p it's cool without being pretentious and there's a great vibe at night with live music and a happy young crowd. You could also spend a small fortune on the cool souvenirs that you definitely won't find on the high street. I'd come here for Christmas shopping (hmmm there's a thought!)
We hopped on a bus right outside easily enough this time and got off near the Santa Justa Lift. This is definitely on the tourist trail and there will be a queue to get on but here’s why. Alternatives to walking were built back in the early 20th century to bypass the tiresome stairways and steep hills that connected Lisbon's many street levels. Santa Justa is the only vertical lift still in working order and it’s such a unique way of traversing a city’s streets your curiosity will get the better of you. It’s like one of those really old lifts you see in 100-year-old buildings with it’s ornate ironwork and beautiful interior of old wood and mirrors. Saving our tired legs the lift took us seven stories high to Largo de Carmen with no effort on our part at all! From the top we had a fine view of the ruins of the great Gothic Carmo Convent and across the city to the Castle, nicely lit up for the evening.
Nightlife in Lisbon
We were curious to see ‘Pink Street’, Lisbon’s former red-light district and check out some of the night life around the now trendy quarter of Cais do Sodré. We ambled around the colourful streets and found a bar called “O Bom O Mau e O Vilão” which translates to “the good the bad and the ugly”. It’s a cool place with good beats and cold beers and the barman invited us back for live Jazz later that night. With that in mind we went looking for a feast and found a queue outside a very busy Taco place called Pistola y Corazon Taqueria. We queued for ages but the staff kept coming out with nachos and beer to keep us tempted. We were delighted we waited because the Tacos were phenomenal, as was the atmosphere. Definitely come here for a night out in Lisbon! We were still eating right up until midnight. Needless to say, we didn’t go back to for the live Jazz because we. were. stuffed! We ate so many tacos, we had to try them all and all we could do was roll back to our bed and call it a night. We still had a whole other day to explore, click here to read on.