I’m hopelessly in love with Portugal: Lisbon in the Winter
Portugal was a country that was added to my itinerary mostly because of geography. I’d always dreamed of visiting Spain and I figured I may as well visit Portugal while I do it. I didn’t really know anything about the country or the culture before arriving in Lisbon. I hate to admit that I’m probably guilty of doing what most people do and lumping Portugal in with Spain.
It was only after spending two weeks getting to know Portugal that I realised the vast differences between this country and Spain. For one, the Portugese speak much better English, in fact I didn’t face any language barriers the whole time I was there.
The Portugese are also some of the most fun, easy going and friendly people I have met. A real contrast to most of the Spanish people I’ve met along the way.
It only took me a couple of days in Lisbon to fall utterly and completely in love with Portugal. After visiting 25 countries, it is still my favourite country in Europe and it’s probably only slightly beaten by Thailand for my favourite country in the world.
So over the next couple of posts in Portugal, I’m going to try my best at articulating exactly what is so special about Portugal. And there is no better place to start than in Lisbon, one of my favourite cities.
I had always planned to spend just over a week in Lisbon during my trip to Portugal. But I only intended to spend around 3-4 days exploring the city itself and the rest of the time making day trips to nearby towns. Whilst I managed to make a couple of day trips, I ended up spending more time in Lisbon because I just loved it so much.
So what is there to love about Lisbon in the Winter?
I arrived in Lisbon right in the middle of winter. I decided to head to Portugal and Spain in January simply because they offered warmer weather than the rest of Europe for that time of the year. My decision was immediately validated.
The whole time I was in Lisbon I didn’t need to wear a coat. I even managed to go out at night in a skirt, stockings, a short sleeve top, a light cardigan and flats without feeling cold at all. Lisbon in January was a cozy 15 degrees and sunny almost every day.
By ‘vibe’ I mean that special something about Lisbon that I just can’t put my finger on. Maybe it’s drinking a freshly squeezed orange juice out in the sun in one of the city’s many squares. Or the old Portuguese man on the tram to Belem that quickly jumped up to help some lost tourists buy a ticket from the machine.
Or the owner at one of my favourite restaurants who broke into a huge grin when he saw that I’d returned for a second time. It’s most definitely the small alleyways and neighbourhoods, the tiled buildings, the changing street art and the smell of the sea.
Portugal is the cheapest country in all of Western Europe, and it’s even cheaper in winter which is low season. Hostels will rarely cost more than €10 a night, you can easily eat for €5 and you can pick up a crappy bottle of wine for €2 or an excellent bottle of wine for €8. Portugal and especially Lisbon is the place to come if you are feeling the sting of prices in places like the UK or France.
And more specific reasons to love Lisbon in the Winter:
The Bairro Alto
The Bairro Alto is the central district of Lisbon, and it happens to be my favourite neighbourhood. I love the little bars where you’ll find some of Lisbon’s cheapest drinks, the small alleyways lined with tiled houses and buildings and the sloping and elevated streets.
Lisbon is a very hilly city so you’ll find yourself getting a work out just by walking around. In the Bairro Alto, at the top of the Santa Justa Elevator you’ll find one of the best views of Lisbon. You can pay the €2.80 to go up in the elevator or you can just climb the back streets to get to the same viewpoint.
It’s my favourite view in Lisbon.
Praco Do Comercio
This beautiful square was my favourite part of the Baixia (downtown) neighbourhood. Chances are you’ll have at least one beautiful sunny day while in Lisbon (most likely more than one) and this square is spectacular in the sunlight.
This square was traditionally home to the royal palace which was completely destroyed in Lisbon’s infamous earthquake. Instead you’ll find plenty of cafes to sit back and relax in (although they tend to be a little overpriced) and a nice view of the water. Here you’ll also find the tram to Belem.
Rossio square is where you should head if you want to sit out in the sun with a not so overpriced cup of coffee (or in my case a freshly squeezed OJ). This square is huge and always buzzing with activity, which I think only adds to the atmosphere. I particularly love the symmetry of the two fountains on either side of the square.
Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon- the city begun here and thus it has a decidedly medieval vibe. In Alfama you’ll find houses that almost seem stacked on top of one another. Most of the alleyways don’t make any vertical sense, it’s hard to work out where one house ends and another starts.
I loved the old charm of this district, especially the contrast between the blue of the water and the scattering of mostly white houses. The tiled buildings are also particularly beautiful!
Alfama is located directly across from the Bairro Alto which means you’ll also get a stunning view from the top of Alfama. Most people pay to go into the castle to get this view, but it’s easy enough to get similar views from any of the high points in the district.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays you can also visit the Fiera da Ladra, Lisbon’s local flea market which occurs on Campo de Santa Clare street in the Alfama district.
Belem is a suburb of Lisbon, about a 15 minute tram ride from Praco do Comercio. Most people flock here to line up for the famous Pasteis de Nada at Pasteis de Belem, the only place to eat these pastries!
But there are more reasons than just pasteis to head to Belem. Belem is the only part of Lisbon that is UNESCO World Heritage Listed and is home to many beautiful monasteries.
The most famous of these is the Jeronimos Monastery (or the Monastery of the Hieronymites) and the Belem Tower. The church part of the Monastery is absolutely free to enter but you’ll have to pay a small entrance fee to enter both the monastery itself and the Belem tower.
I didn’t do either of these things and was content to just take pretty pictures of the outside. Unfortunately I don’t think I quite enjoyed Belem as much as I could have because I went on my one day of bad weather in Lisbon and the wind was absolutely terrible. I’m still blaming the wind in Belem for my subsequent ear infection!
There are many beautiful Portugese towns that can be reached easily as a day trip. I’m a huge fan of picking a base and doing day trips than moving around too often. And lucky for any Lisbon winter visitors, not all of them are to the beach!
I did two day trips while I was in Lisbon. One was the most popular day trip to Sintra, and another was a day trip to Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar (easily doable in one day if you rent a car and get an early start like I did). I’ll be writing more extensively about these trips in further posts!
Amazing Hostel Culture
Lisbon is home to some of the world’s best hostels. In the 2015 Hostelworld Hoscars Awards, five of the best medium sized hostels in the world were in Lisbon.
Personally I’d never stay anywhere else other than the Yes! Lisbon Hostel. It’s still the best hostel experience I’ve ever had. The staff are incredible and will know who you are from the minute you check in, the facilities and rooms are super clean and they have an amazing dinner deal where you get a three course meal for €10 which includes unlimited beer and sangria for two hours.
We would often find ourselves sitting back on the bean bags or the bed in the common area just watching movies all afternoon. Or drinking at the hostel until 6am every night and being made late night pizza by the staff. It’s the kind of place where you make friends for life and it’s probably a huge reason why I loved Lisbon so much.
AirBnB is also a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!
Anything to Add?
Did you love Portugal as much as I did? Have I missed any of the essentials? Comment below!