Lisbon: Portuguese Pavements and Pastel de Natas
October 15, 2019
by Amy Barlow
I have been blessed with friends that will send an out-of-the-blue message like ‘how do you fancy going to Lisbon?’ I, of course, accepted and soon found myself flying with them from Stansted to Lisbon Airport. Upon arrival, we got a bus to the city center and located our accommodation.
An Artsy Arrival
Good Morning Hostel
Good Morning Hostel is accessed through a small unassuming giftshop and features quite the staircase to get to the reception. The hostel was great and managed to put our group in a room together even though we booked separately. The accommodating staff were also very helpful with their suggestions for things to do and the hostel organizes walking tours and themed food and entertainment nights, they also have a small bar which offers re-usable cups rather than giving out new ones each time. I still have mine at home!
By an amazing stroke of luck, our hostel was right next door to Fábrica da Nata, one of many cafes across Portugal selling their traditional custard tarts, Pastel de Natas. They were of excellent quality and were very reasonably priced, 1€ for a Pastel de Nata or 2,50€ if you add a (very good) glass of Port. Sitting outside the cafe in the sun assured me I had made the right decision accepting this travel invitation.
Miradouro da Graça
And inviting Lisbon continued to be, as we made our way on a (slightly rushed) walk to one of many miradouros (viewpoints). I would recommend a more leisurely pace, as we were chasing the sunset and I would have enjoyed stopping to enjoy the various pieces of art painted on the walls. Our incline up to Miradouro da Graça was delightful, and the art was bright and dynamic. I had not heard about this aspect of Lisbon, but have come to learn that the city highly encourages local and international artists to create murals around the city, some of which can be appreciated on Galeria de Arte Urbana’s site.
The Miradouro itself was very picturesque, with panoramic views across the terracotta-roofed city, from the castle to the far-off bridge. We sat and got some drinks from a small bar and enjoyed the setting sun accompanied by soft guitar music from a nearby busker. As the sun went down it got cooler (we went in April which can mean quite the range of temperatures) and the bar provided blankets. As a perpetually chilly person, any bar or restaurant that has blankets for cold evenings instantly goes up in my estimations. We also visited the speakeasy bar The Red Frog and were enjoying our cocktails when a member of staff opened up a bookshelf to our right to reveal a completely separate room, so if you like something a little unexpected it may be worth a visit.
The City and Travel
The next morning, we explored the city and walked to Barrio Alto area of Lisbon and took in the beautifully tiled house fronts, buildings and Calçada Portuguesa (Portuguese pavement). Famous for mosaics, Portugal and Lisbon in particular are peppered with tiles, from buildings to pavements. Although slightly slick after some rain, these mosaics add yet another artistic flair to the city and exhibit a Mediterranean style and many souvenirs can be found with characteristics of the area.
The city can be explored fairly easily on foot, although catching the tram may be easier for longer travels. The best tourist route around the city is often cited as tram 28, which traverses the hills and makes for some excellent viewpoints (if you can get a window seat). We managed to catch this tram after waiting in a badly organized queue (our Britishness was bristling as some sneaky queue-members tried to get ahead), but it was overcrowded and we shortly hopped off. If you just need to get across the city, we used Uber a fair amount as they were reasonably priced and quick, although we still got stuck in some terrible traffic which taught us that rush hour should probably be avoided.
Other forms of transport include hiring a motorized scooter, which we took from the waterfront in Lisbon and followed the well-maintained cycle and footpaths along the seafront to the surrounding town of Belém, home of Pasteis de Belem, which prides itself on being the oldest Pastel de Nata shop (although the queue for this was very long and there are many Pastel de Natas available in the surrounding area). This route took us past various buildings such as Tejo Power Station, which is now home of the Electricity Museum, and the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, which almost looks like you can ride your scooter up and over it (you can’t, but it is very tempting). Although there were some cobbled sections to liven things up, the scooters were largely a smooth ride and came out around £28 total for a few hours of scooting. The coastal path takes you past Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument to Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th century “Age of Discovery” which juts out over the edge of the water and the path takes you right to Belém Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where to Eat
The food was generally as expected, with many establishments aimed at tourists in the center catering to many different cuisines, though we did find a nice little place in a courtyard off the beaten track. The highlight food-wise for me has to be Restaurante Casanova, although it is not possible to book, the queue moved quickly and we were seated and enjoying Mozzarella in Carrozza (fried cheese) and ordering some fantastic pizzas in no time. Although the staff didn’t speak much English, they have a system where you switch the lights above your table on if you need assistance. Another recommendation would be Pistola y Corazon if you fancy something Mexican.
The following day we took a train ride further along the coastline for a day trip to Cascais to sun ourselves on the beach. Even in the temperamental spring weather, we got a good sunny day, though the water remained cold. Still, it was warm enough to warrant some ice cream, and the journey back to the city center was helped along by yet more Pastel de Natas.
Special Mention: Oceanário de Lisboa
Our final day in Lisbon took us out of the city again to the Oceanário de Lisboa, widely recognized as a prestigious aquarium internationally. It lived up to its reputation in many ways, including the fact that the building was centered around one large tank. This both gave the animals living in there a large area to inhabit but also showed those viewing the tank that many types of sharks, rays, and fish can co-habit without any problems. This tank had viewpoints all around the aquarium and I really enjoyed this layout. Oceanário de Lisboa also had incredible lighting and every tank gave the opportunity to take excellent quality photos, something often made difficult through the glass, which gave me a fair few shots to share to Instagram.
I hope this article can be some inspiration for your next trip or maybe that you have found a few hidden gems, enjoy!