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by: Izzy in Copenhagen
I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal late Wednesday night with my friend, Jane, and we stayed until early Saturday morning. Here is a description of things we saw, visited, ate, and did while in Lisbon! I loved Lisbon (honestly more than Barcelona) so I took so so many pictures — scroll to the bottom of the post for all of those. Comment or contact me with any questions, and enjoy!
(The very end is the story of the big mishap I had at my hostel)
Free Walking Tour
Just like in Barcelona (read that post here), and many other cities I’ve visited to before this, I started my trip with a Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour. We learned about the earthquake of 1755 (that had a magnitude of 9.1, shook the city for 8 minutes, damaging 90% of it!), the Portuguese Inquisition, the past kings, and even how a Portuguese woman was the one to introduce tea to the British when she married a British prince! That was a very interesting story, read more about it here.
I would recommend doing a free walking tour to get a sense of the place’s history so you actually have an idea of the significance of the squares, buildings, and statues you pass while exploring!
TIP: go early in your trip to get an overview and get tips for the rest of your days
COST: free but expected to tip (we tipped around €5)
TIME TO SEE: 3 hours
ACCESSIBILITY: lots of walking and some hills but generally accessible
Lisbon does have its own “mini Eiffel Tower” built by the same architect (see the picture below), and there is a 360 degree view over the city from the top, but our guide recommended other view points instead of waiting in the crazy long line and paying a lot for a short elevator ride.
To take advantage of the warmer weather, sunshine, and beautiful coast we decided we had to go on a boat ride in Lisbon. We decided on a HelloBoat tour. It was fairly inexpensive (€20) and included a guided tour of a few landmarks that were visible by sea.
The bridge above, in the picture with Jane, was designed by the same architect who built the bridge in San Francisco which is why it looks so similar.
We stopped at each landmark and the guide explained its significance and history. We learned about Belém Tower (below) and it seemed it was actually better to see this way — we saw it from the water (where you could actually see all of the tower) rather than taking a long time to walk to the tower (it is out of the way from the city), waiting in a long line to get in, paying for a ticket, and then not even seeing much. Definitely recommend!
On our last day in Lisbon, we explored the old town of Alfama. It was one of the areas that wasn’t too affected by the big earthquake in 1755, so it was noticeably older-looking than the rest of Lisbon.
The narrow cobblestone streets were lined with beautiful colorful buildings, many of which had the classic Portuguese tiling. There were many cafés and shops selling artwork, postcards, as well as little tables selling exclusively small shots of Ginja (officially, Ginjinha) which is a Portuguese liquor made from sour cherries. Many of these stands were run by elderly women.
Scroll to the bottom of the post for more pictures of Alfama.
I happened to stumble across this restaurant on some travel blog or list of recommended restaurants, and I am SO GLAD I did because it was phenomenal. The food was delicious, the waiters were very friendly, but even if none of that were the case it still would have been worth it just for the view!
We ate here after our HelloBoat tour and made a reservation for 6:30pm. It was perfect timing. We were seated on the balcony looking out right over the water. The sun set shortly before 7pm, so as we arrived the sky was already filled with beautiful pinks and oranges — perfect photo op? I think yes.
I ordered a steak with gorgonzola butter and baked tomatoes, Jane ordered a chicken curry. We both loved our food. My steak was the melt-in-your-mouth type.. incredible. We also ordered edamame and bread with hummus and tapenade as appetizers. For dessert, we shared a chocolate mousse and cheesecake with papaya drizzle.
All together with the main course, appetizers, desserts and drinks, it was about €30 per person which was one of our pricey-er meals but still really not bad for how good the food was and how beautiful the view was.
We ended up being hungrier than expected while walking around Alfama, so we looked up a few places to eat and decided on Pois Café.
I ordered the “light lunch menu” for only €10 which came with 1/2 a soup, a coffee, a drink and 1/2 a main course. I got the chickpea soup and pasta with pumpkin and almonds. Jane ordered a bagel sandwich.
For our last night in Lisbon, we ate at a nice restaurant called Alfama Cellar. We were both pretty full still from our very late lunch, so we didn’t order appetizers or anything — just main courses. We both got fish dishes that included the entire fish (lots of bones to sort through) cooked with a tomato-based sauce and vegetables. It was delicious.
The restaurant itself was very cozy — it really was a cellar so it had a low ceiling and the tables were very close together.
Pastéis de Nata
These are traditional Portuguese egg custard tarts and you have to try them when you are in Portugal! Almost every bakery or pastry shop you pass will sell them and I don’t know if there is one particular place that has “the best” ones, but I tried them at two places and they tasted the same to me — delicious. They are fairly inexpensive: I saw a number of places that had 6 for €5.
Lisbon was quite a walkable city. We used the metro a few times, which runs frequently and is very simple to navigate. For that, we bought reusable tickets which cost €0.50 for the actual card and you can load as many trips on it as you like. Each trip only costs €1.45 so really not bad!
When we were going somewhere a little further or just wanted a more convenient mode of transportation, we used Uber. There are many Uber drivers in Lisbon so they arrive quickly and the fares are quite low. The two of us never paid more than €6 for an Uber — the Uber from the airport was less than €5 each!
Our experience at this hostel started out great. We were surprised by the crazy good price — only €11 a night! It seemed to have good reviews, and when we arrived the staff members were very welcoming and the building was beautiful. I see why it was called a palace!
This was the reception:
We checked in close to midnight when we arrived on Wednesday night and in the morning we enjoyed the free breakfast the hostel offered. We couldn’t get over how good of a deal it was — only €11 per night for lodging, shower, and free breakfast! The breakfast spread was only two types of cereal, coffee, and bread with different jams (so no protein or things that will keep you full for a while), but hey — a free breakfast is a free breakfast. And look at where we got to eat! They had a nice dining room, but we chose to eat outside while we had nice, not-cold-Copenhagen weather:
The beds had been surprisingly comfortable and the sheets felt very nice and clean — closer to a hotel than a hostel. Our room slept 12 people but it felt smaller than our 8 person room in Barcelona because each bed was in a wooden nook like a little cubby, so you had more privacy and weren’t as aware of so many people being in your room.
I slept on a top bed, and Jane slept in the bed diagonally below me. The picture below is my bed.
Thursday during the day I noticed one or two bug bites (one on my ankle and one on my face) that were itchy but weren’t too bad, so I didn’t think much of it. But then as the day went on they got itchier and itchier and I started noticing more pop up. By Friday morning when I woke up, I had at least 15 penny-sized, red, warm-to-the-touch welts that had erupted on my arms, feet, backside, and two on my face.
After some serious Googling, far too many gross pictures, and putting two and two together, I realized that my bed had bugs… bed bugs.
Yup. It was bad. Friday morning after breakfast, we went to the reception to alert them. They got the manager and we all trekked into our bedroom to search my bed. After a quick strip and search of my bedsheets and mattress, they still did not see a single bug on my bed so the manager was suggesting that I brought the bugs from a previous place… as a precaution he was still going to switch my bed, change the sheets and wash my clothes, but he didn’t believe me that there were bed bugs.
Thankfully, when the manager stepped out to get bags for my things, another guest in our room came by to ask what was going on and shared that he too had a few very similar looking red bites on his neck and hip, and where did he sleep? In the bed underneath me. And sure enough, when the manager returned and searched the man’s bed, we found a number of bed bugs. Moral of the story: I did not bring bed bugs (considering the higher concentration/source was not in my bed). The manager then refunded my 3 nights and continued washing all of my belongings, including my suitcase and backpack. He did the same for Jane’s belongings since she had a few bites, and upon searching another bed in the room which was far from ours and finding more bugs there, decided to close the room.
Overall, the staff was very friendly and apologetic but definitely not the same level of customer service as would be expected in the United States. I would say most of the receptionists were actually nicer and more accommodating than the manager. He kept leaving the room to do something but then not returning for a long time, or was hard to track down again.
We first told the receptionist about the bugs around 10:45am and weren’t able to leave the hostel until nearly 2pm which was a bummer to waste so much of our last (and only 2nd) day in Lisbon since they did not just take care of cleaning our things — they gave us detergent and money for the machines but we had to wash it ourselves (then they took over for drying thankfully).
All in all, if there were no bed bugs I would have given the hostel 5 stars because it was so so cheap, had free breakfast, was beautiful, comfortable, and felt much more luxurious than most hostels, BUT due to the bed bugs and the fact that I’m back in Copenhagen itchy, swollen, and on antihistamines, I would reduce my rating to 2.5 stars.
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