In August, I had the opportunity to travel to the capital of Portugal with my friend, Marissa. Despite what people say, the end of August was a wonderful time to travel to Lisbon — it was warm and sunny, yet nearing the end of the busy tourist season. We stayed our first night 30 km west in the Sintra region and the following two nights in the city of Lisbon.
Upon landing at the Lisbon airport, we immediately took an Uber to our first hotel in Sintra. When traveling to Lisbon — many people make a point to explore Sintra on a day trip. Getting to Sintra from Lisbon is simple in theory — but the roads are very tiny, steep, and winding. It is not uncommon to be sitting bumper to bumper trying to get in or out of this hilly Portuguese town. For this reason, we decided it made more sense to stay one night — in order gain more than just a few stressful hours there.
If you do choose to stay in Sintra (which you should!), I would absolutely recommend Sintra Boutique Hotel — the rooms were simple yet elegant, the staff was overwhelmingly helpful, the breakfast was vast and delicious, and the location was more than ideal.
After getting settled in our room, we hopped on a tuk-tuk to head up the mountain!
Tuk-tuks are one of the most popular forms of transportation in Portugal. You will see them everywhere you look. To my surprise — they are actually an efficient way to get around at a low cost.
If you could only take one tuk-tuk ride, I suggest it be up toward the castles of Sintra. It only costs 5€/person and once you get up there — you will be very thankful you did not walk or wait hours for the bus.
Just be sure to hold on tight 😉
There are a handful of castles to visit in Sintra. In fact, castles are the main reason people do visit Sintra. Because we only had one day, we chose to draw out our time at two of the most popular castles — Pena Palace & Moors Castle. (A combined ticket to visit both costs 20€.)
First up — Pena Palace. The Pena Palace is becoming more and more popular due to its many appearances across Instagram. But there’s no need to wonder if it’s just because of a good filter.
Of the many castles I’ve seen and explored since moving to Europe — none have been quite like this…
It’s bright and bold and stands tall on the side of a mountain — granting it an amazing view. We spent a couple hours here, wandering around the inside and out, and enjoying the view of Moors Castle and the city of Sintra below.
Budget Tip: You can access the outside of Pena Palace without purchasing a ticket — the ticket allows you to tour the inside 🙂
After we had taken more than enough photos — we made the 30 minute walk over to Moors Castle.
Moors Castle couldn’t be more different than Pena Palace. It’s a 9th century ruinous castle that was restored in the 19th century. Surrounded by heavy stone and thick trees, you will feel like you have stepped back in time.
Moors Castle also has a stunning view — you can look out over Sintra and even toward Lisbon — or back up at Pena Palace one last time.
After a lot of walking, we decided to take another tuk-tuk back down the mountain — holding on for dear life!
We ate dinner in the main square at Cafe Paris. As you can imagine from the name and location, there were definitely parts of this restaurant that felt very touristy (most restaurants in Sintra are this way). But overall, the food and wine were delicious and the people watching couldn’t have been better.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to Sintra as we walked to the train station.
A one-way train ticket from Sintra to Lisbon (Rossio) cost €2.70. The train is fairly clean, timely, and the cost can’t be beat. Would definitely recommend going this route.
Within two minutes of stepping off the train, we were already wowed by Lisbon. The blue skies, the bright colors and textures — we couldn’t wait to see more!
We stayed in THIS AirBnb — located in the heart of the city, two blocks away from Avenida Liberdade.
After dropping off our stuff, we headed back toward Rossio Square to catch a trolley. Trolleys (along with tuk-tuks) are very popular in Lisbon. We could not believe how crowded they were! It might not have been the most comfortable ride — but it was definitely an experience.
For just a couple euro, the trolley brought us up to the São Jorge Castle. From there we enjoyed a beer overlooking the Alfama District and the Tagus River.
We used Rick Steve’s Lisbon Guidebook to do the Alfama Walking Tour — which included Lisbon’s castle, São Jorge — and eventually led us down to a quick and refreshing lunch at Restaurante Lautasco.
After lunch we walked west toward Praça do Comércio. Located right by the water, this square is scenic and lively in every direction.
There are people everywhere — shops, vendors, restaurants, and even a wine tasting located right on the square (as recommended by Rick Steves)…
VINI Portugal is an (air conditioned!) wine tasting room with a really neat concept. Marissa and I each put down 5€ and received a wine glass to sample wines from different Portuguese regions. They essentially have wine drafts on the walls that you can carefully select from. Each wine “pour” costs anywhere from 0.75-2€ — so with 5€ I was able to try 5 different wines.
This was such a fun way to learn about and sample delicious Portuguese wines — as well as hide from the sun for a hour or so.
We spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost around the city — checking out different squares and street entertainers.
After getting cleaned up for dinner, we first stopped at Limão Rooftop Bar (which is located on top of H10 Hotel) for yummy cocktails, snacks, and a gorgeous sunset view. The bar is super trendy and aesthetically pleasing — but it’s also super small. Luckily we got there early enough to snag a table with a view. This was a highlight of the trip! — So go early!
After taking a night stroll down Avenida Liberdade, we had one of my favorite dinners at Jardim dos Sentidos. It’s a vegetarian restaurant that was (to our surprise) packed when we arrived. They have a beautiful, calm outdoor space — where you can enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine while you wait on your table.
Luckily, we ended up only having to wait 10 minutes — but by the end of the meal we would have waited muchhh longer. The food is amazing and the organic bottles of wine are cheap!
A wonderful way to end day 2.
We began the day with a quick coffee and breakfast croissant at Fabrica Coffee Roasters — close to our Airbnb.
After realizing we did not have much of a plan for our final day in Lisbon — we were “talked into” getting a private tour via our new friend, Pedro and his tuk-tuk.
For 70€, Pedro took us everywhere he could squeeze into our 1-hour time frame. Not only was this a great way to learn about the city (who better than a local?!) — we were able to cover a lot more ground than we could have otherwise.
Pedro kept us laughing and informed — making it a very memorable hour of the trip.
He took us to the Jerónimos Monastery, the 25 de Abril Bridge (built by the same company that constructed the San Francisco Bridge), the Belem Tower, and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos aka the “Monument to the Discoveries”
Not quite ready to leave the view of the Tagus River yet — we grabbed lunch at A Margem. A Margem is an interesting pop up restaurant/bar right by the water. The food wasn’t anything to write home about but the overall atmosphere and sunshine was very much worth the stop.
After lunch, we took a very inexpensive Uber ride over to the Carmo Convent. This former-Roman Catholic convent is located on a quaint square — where you’ll find restaurants, an outdoor bar, and if you’re lucky, a market stocked with homemade goodies — all underneath beautiful shady trees.
If you walk further behind the convent, you’ll find the Santa Justa Lift. From there you will have a wonderful view of Lisbon — specifically, Rossio Square and the back of Carmo Convent.
As we slowly made our way back to our AirBnb — we stumbled upon another rooftop bar that grabbed our attention. Located on top of the Altis Avenida Hotel, was yet another sunny spot for a panoramic view. We were sweaty and very much underdressed but the staff was so kind to pretend that wasn’t the case. We had the entire rooftop to ourselves as we sipped another tasty cocktail in the sunshine — very much in denial that our weekend was coming to a close.
Our final dinner was at Cantina Peruana, which is located within Bairro do Avillez, in Chiado. Cantina Peruana is essentially one of many amazing restaurants under the Portuguese chef, José Avillez’. It is located in the same building (Bairro do Avillez) as three other restaurants that all seem to pay great attention to detail and flavor.
Cantina Peruana offers a Peruvian tapas menu — something neither Marissa or I had ever tried. Everything that came to our table was delicious and we were more than satisfied by our final meal in Lisbon.
If you couldn’t tell by now, Lisbon’s restaurant and bar scene definitely didn’t disappoint…
And neither did my lovely travel companion 🙂
Until next time, Portugal…