The best of Lisbon and beyond – in Portugal

My Lisbon Guest post today is by Fiona Hilliard of ArgusCarHire. Fiona usually writes about car hire Faro, but after a recent visit to Lisbon and its coastline, she was eager to share her experiences of Portugal’s west coast.

The essence of Lisbon in Alfama

No 28 Tram in Lisbon to see the sights

No 28 Tram in Lisbon to see the sights

Santa Justa Elevator: check
Bairro Alto: check
Castelo Sao Jorge: chee-eck

You’ve completed your Lisbon checklist, but have you really seen Lisbon? Really?

You can’t say you’ve truly experienced the essence of the Portuguese capital until you’ve made at least one trip to Alfama.

“Alfama is a higgledy-piggledy neighbourhood where sunshine yellow trams squeeze through pin-thin streets and twittering songbirds flutter between top floor balconies…”

When describing Alfama it’s impossible not to sound like you’re referencing a scene dreamt up by Walt Disney. Yes it’s slushy, but it’s also true, so in it goes. Indeed every street you pass is a pastel-coloured blockbuster waiting to happen.

28 is the magic number. Sharpen your elbows at the Chiado and scramble aboard this vintage tourist tram – if you’re lucky you might just nab a window seat. As the streetcar sets off on its uphill route, ordinary details like cobblestones, chipped wall tiles and swirly streetlamps became weirdly fascinating – and very photogenic, but once you reach Alfama, the whole city of Lisbon opens up like a pop-up book.

There’s the dazzling River Tagus, a ready-mixed backdrop for the artists sketching the brilliant white churches, terracotta rooftops and gently swaying palm trees. Tempting as it is to do nothing but sit and watch the paintings take shape, a sense of incurable curiosity prevails, propelling you up mountainous steps and winding streets, on and on past secret Fado bars and snoozing cats, flapping paper chains and festive lanterns. Make sure you have plenty of memory in your camera because you‘ll be compelled to photograph everything in sight. As light fades, let the magnetic blue of the Tagus tow you back downhill.

Night falls in Lisbon

Night falls in Lisbon

Evening in Lisbon is signalled by the smoky smell of sardines grilling. First popularised by the city’s patron saint, St Anthony, sardines have been celebrated as Lisbon’s favourite dish ever since the 13th century. After eating your fill of oily fish, enjoy a little R and R and prepare yourself for a night on the tiles.

Night falls in Lisbon

Lisbon is as famous for its lively nightlife as it is for its seven hills. From the trendy ‘dive’ bars of Bairro Alto to the celebrity owned hangouts that line the waterfront, sleep should be the last thing on your mind when you find yourself in the Portuguese capital after-dark. One of the city’s most unusual venues is an all-night circus school called Chapito. Situated high in the hills of Alfama, Chapito attracts a kaleidoscopic whirl of actors, artists and guitar-strumming bohemians. Any sense of surrealism is dispelled by the stunning views of the cityscape that stretch from Alfama’s warren of tightly knit rooftops to the winking lights of the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Docas waterfront.  

Just beyond Lisbon

Monastery of Jeronimus in Lisbon

Monastery of Jeronimus in Lisbon

Dance ‘til dawn parties not your cup of tea? Don’t worry – it’s not all ‘go’ in Lisbon.

More tranquil pursuits can be found in the towns and villages of the Lisbon coastline. First stop on the coast road is the historic town of Belém. The architectural wonders of Belém Tower and Jeronimós Monastery make it a worthwhile day-trip, but no journey to Belém should be considered complete without sampling a locally baked custard tart. These crisp, papery pastries are purported to be the best in Lisbon – try for yourself before leaving town. They should at least see you through the 25-minute car journey to Sintra.

Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon

Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon

Once described by the poet Byron as “Glorious Eden”, Sintra is home to no less than three wonderfully romantic palaces and has been classified as a World Heritage site since 1995. The most westerly point in Europe is not far from here – neither are the pristine golf courses of Estoril.

After a leisurely round in Estoril, proceed down the A5 motorway to the seaside town of Cascais. Along with Estoril and Oerias, Cascais forms what is known as the Portuguese Riviera.

A handsome town hall with painted shutters, black and white cobbled thoroughfares and a colourful beachside market all contribute to a sense of old-fashioned colonial decadence. Throughout the summer months, the main square is filled with al-fresco diners and open-air music performances. There are various cultural attractions on offer too, including Museu do Mar (Museum of the Sea) where you can learn all about the area’s sea faring explorers and their heritage. Though, with surroundings so beautiful, it’s hard to see why anyone ever wanted to leave.

Heather’s comment

World Heritage site at Sintra

World Heritage site at Sintra

Having just returned from Lisbon I can agree with everything Fiona suggests – get lost in those narrow streets and make sure you take your most comfortable shoes for those steep hills and cobbled streets! Sadly, we didn’t have time to explore all of things just outside Lisbon, but all the more reason to return another time. If you need a car to get around Portugal’s coast, the check out Fiona’s website at Argoscarhire

Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

Photo Credits: Sintra photo by Szeke, Lisbon at night by Sergio Condeco, Alfama photos by Fiona Hilliard, all other photos by Heather on her travels

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels
    November 24, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    What an expressive opening sentence – higgledy-piggledy neiighbourhood with sunshine yellow trams squeezing through pin-thin streets. Made me read every word with relish! I was in Portugal in 2007 but was at the end of a 6 month backpack trip and I was tired, so I spent most of my tine in Cascais lying in the sun on those lovely pocket beaches. Didnt see much of Lisbon, but I guess that just means I’ll have to go back some day, especially based on this post.

  • Reply
    Mica Nazare
    November 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you and to Fiona Hilliard for your article about my loved Portugal and my city – Lisbon. I took the liberty to mention it in my website http://www.micanazare.com.

    Best regards

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    November 25, 2009 at 8:09 am

    @Mica Thanks for the mention – your website looks to have some great resources on Lisbon – I’ll mention it as a resource in future articles.

  • Reply
    November 25, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I know I could get lost in this city easily, particulary around the cafe areas. It is very photogenic.

  • Reply
    Public Transport in Lisbon | Heather on her travels
    February 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    […] The best of Lisbon and beyond – in Portugal my-travelling-year-2009 An autumn weekend in Lisbon – Podcast Episode 5 […]

  • Reply
    london paris train
    May 25, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Thanks to share the information of Lisbon. I like your article and your pictures of Lisbon very much.

  • Reply
    London Paris Trains
    July 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for the information. I am creating a blog on Lisbon , can you please share more informations about places to visit and hotels. If possible please share few pictures.

  • Reply
    London Paris Train Tickets
    July 22, 2010 at 4:40 am

    A very well information about Lisbon. It’s a beautiful city and you have described it in a very nice methods…

  • Reply
    London Paris Train
    July 23, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Nice Information. Keep updating more as I am following up.
    London Paris Train´s last blog post ..LONDON PARIS TRAIN – Eurostar London Paris Train starting £69 Return Book Eurostar London Paris Train now!

  • Reply
    Chunnel Train
    August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Very nice information. Now i am love to see this beautiful city Lisbon. Amazing pics also

  • Reply
    Cheap Eurostar Tickets
    February 9, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Dear Admin,

    I would like to appreciate your efforts for such a wonderful and informative post. Lisbon is truly one of the beautiful cities in the world. It is worth to visit this beautiful city.Keep writing. I will surely follow your blog.

    Many Thanks,
    Cheap Eurostar Tickets´s last blog post ..Cheap Eurostar Tickets

  • Reply
    November 17, 2011 at 10:53 am

    hi Heather, thanks for the intersting article. I’ve been to the Algarve which Lo loved and hope to make it to Lisbon next year!

  • Reply
    Indian Tourister
    April 30, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Great information keep updating.. I’m following you ..
    Indian Tourister´s last blog post ..Summer Festival – Popular Indian Festivals

  • Reply
    Brighton Security Alarms
    November 6, 2012 at 5:50 am

    Regards for this marvelous post, I am glad I found this site on yahoo.

  • Reply
    Hugo Gonçalves
    February 18, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Your Blog is fantastic !!!

    My name is Hugo , and I am an oficial guide in Lisbon .

    I invite everybody to came to Portugal…The Tile museum in Lisbon is free every Sunday morning .

    Hugo Gonçalves

  • Leave a Reply

    CommentLuv badge