Travel Diaries – Lisbon, Portugal

A rooftop view of the Alfama district complete with a view of mouth of the Tagus River.

Sometimes I travel and not just to run races but to explore and to experience new cultures. I recently travelled to Lisbon, Portugal with friends for a much needed break. Even though it was a short trip, we still managed to take in quite a few of the sights. A few quick facts about Lisbon:

• Lisbon is the capital and the largest city in Portugal and one of the oldest cities in Europe.

• Alfama is the oldest district in Lisbon and the only to survive the earthquake of 1775 which destroyed most of the city.

• Lisbon is nicknamed “The City of Seven Hills”; the city streets often traverse steep inclines and many are paved with cobblestones.

• Many in Lisbon speak both English and Portugese, tourists who don’t speak Portugese should be able to get by.

The neighbourhood where we stayed Lisbon was filled with street art, cobblestoned streets, colourful rooftops and multiple flights of stairs.

The sights:

Because we were only in Lisbon for six days, we tried to see as much as we could. To get around, we walked a lot and made good use of the public transit system. The buses and Metro cost €1.40/ride or €6.00 for an unlimited day pass. The Metro system consisted of several different lines but was fairly easy to navigate.

The hills and cobblestoned roads proved challenging at times but I found the best approach was to go slowly, watch for dips, slippery spots and uneven pavement. I used a pair of running shoes which I found ideal for the hills as well as walking around for several hours.

My favourite part of Lisbon was the architecture. I found the designs and the buildings to be unlike anything in North America.

Below are a few of my favourite pictures from around the city.

Street side cafes and colourful backdrops are a staple in Lisbon
Tram #28 is a popular way to see the city. The tram travels through several districts including Alfama, Baixa and Estrela
I loved the old world architecture I saw in the city – even the building archways are beautiful
The Monastery of Jeronimos is one of the most decorative churches in Portugal. Construction on the site began in 1501 and took almost 100 years to complete
Belem Tower is not too far from the Monastery of Jeronimos and is worth a visit to explore. You can climb the stairs all the way to the top of the tower

Where do I start when it comes to food? I think the pictures say it better than any description I could give.

Pastel de nata can be found at bakeries and cafes all over Lisbon. The tarts are made with a flaky shell and filled with a sweet and creamy egg custard. Best if they’re served warm!

No trip to Lisbon is complete until you’ve eaten several pastel de nata – egg tarts. My favourite places for these delicious treats were Pastéis de Belém and Manteigaria. The line up at Pastéis de Belém stretched out the doors and onto the street. It looked long and intimidating! But we got in line anyway and were surprised by how quickly it moved. We were eating egg tarts in less than 10 minutes!

Bifana sandwiches are also a must do! The idea is simple but delicious – thinly sliced pieces of marinated pork served on crusty fresh bread. We discovered this little gem at Casa das Bifana, a street side cafe.

Bifana sandwiches can also be found alongside pastel de nata at many local establishments. They are delicious on their own but I enjoyed mine with a splash of peri-peri sauce. Note: you can also purchase bifana sandwiches from McDonald’s restaurants in Lisbon. But I’ll save you the trouble, the McDonald’s version isn’t anywhere close to the original.

Don’t forget to try a few seafood dishes while in Lisbon!

Carmy and I randomly walked into a restaurant on our girl’s night and ordered steamed clams in a buttery broth – delicious!

And because I love carbs and all things sweet, I had to sample a few goodies when I stopped by a bakery.

A few pastries I sampled during a rare coffee break. Top left is arrufada – sweet bread, sprinkled with sugar and a bit of apple filling in the center. In the middle is pão de deus (divine bread), also a sweet bread with a soft and sweet coconut topper. To the right, is a chocolate almond croissant.

Running and fitness:
With all the walking we did, especially with the hills and the stairs, I’d never need to go to a gym again if I lived in Lisbon! That said, running is a part of my weekly routine and I don’t like missing one even if I’m on vacation. Plus, I think running is a great way to see to see any city. I found the routes closest to the Tagus River were relatively spacious and flat. You avoid the hills and the wide open sidewalks made it easy to maneuver around pedestrians and tourists.

For those who like running in a group, I recommend checking out the Nike store in Chiado. While I wasn’t able to participate, I felt it would have been a great way to meet local runners.

The Nike store in Chiado offered group runs every Thursday night at 8PM with distances ranging from a quick 5K, all the way up to 10K
Running in Lisbon gave me a chance to get in my workout and explore new sights at the same time. On one of my runs, I passed by the Praça do Comércion near the Baxia district (📷 Photo credit: Gary Chak)
Eduardo VII Parc is also a great place to run and do hill repeats. According to Strava, it’s a short 0.5 km on a 6.8% hill. The view from the top is well worth it!

But that’s not all we saw while we were in Lisbon – coming up, our day trips to Sintra and Cascais! Click here for the second half of my Lisbon trip report.


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