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22 October 2015

Lisbon Day 4: Sunshine and Azulejos

Tuesday was my last day in Lisbon and finally, the sun came out to play. It was 24 degrees and sunny right up until the time I had to leave for the airport. This was the weather I had hoped for on this trip.

I checked out of my B&B early and went straight to the start point of Tram 28, Lisbon’s most famous tram, at Martim Moniz. It was just after 9 am but there was already a long queue. I had to wait for the second tram — about 25 minutes — before I could get on, and the queue had doubled in length by then. It was quite fun to ride the tram and I managed to get a seat by the window, albeit facing sideways so I ended up with a bit of a stiff neck. 


Tram 28 circles up around Castelo São Jorge and then descends past the cathedral and through Baixa before climbing up to Estrela, west of the city centre. There are a lot of great sights on the route, which is why it is so popular, but I had already seen most of them and the tram got so busy that the view wasn’t that great. I got off near Miradouro das Portas do Sol to take in the view from this terrace once more. There are some beautiful miradouros in Lisbon, but I think this one is my favourite.


I then walked downhill to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, which is a 20-minute stroll north of Santa Apolónia metro station. It’s an easy walk but not particularly scenic, so if you’re coming from Cais do Sodré or Praça do Comercio, you’re better off hopping on one of the regular buses that run along the route. The museum is an homage to the country’s azulejos — tiles — and features room after room of artisanal tiles, some centuries old, some only a few years old. I thought that the word azulejo came from the Spanish azul (blue), but instead, it derives from an Arabic word meaning ‘small polished stone'.



My favourite display was the huge panoramic view of Lisbon, which depicts the city before the devastating 1755 earthquake. I also watched some of the curators at work restoring tiles in the workshop. I spent about an hour in the museum and it costs €5 to get in (free entry with a Lisboa Card).



I took a bus back to Praça do Comercio and then walked along the waterfront, enjoying the glorious sunshine. Lisbon really does look its best when the vibrant reds and yellows of the buildings contrast with the perfect blue sky and sparkling turquoise river.



For lunch, I visited the Mercado da Ribeira, a huge building divided into a traditional food market and a gourmet food court, sponsored by Time Out, where you can enjoy food from many of the city’s top restaurants and bars. Most of the vendors serve traditional Portuguese cuisine but you can also get a gourmet burger or some sushi. I went to Alexandre Silva’s counter and ordered the tuna with sweet potato and a sort of deconstructed kimchi sauce (€8.50), which was excellent.




I wasn't quite full, though, and I certainly hadn't yet had my fill of pastéis de nata, so I walked up the hill to Manteigaria, a rather excellent bakery in a former butter factory (hence the name). I bought a couple of the custard beauties (€1 each), which came packaged in a cute pastel de nata carrier. I sprinkled some cinnamon on top and devoured them before the pigeons could steal any.


There’s a lovely miradouro on R. São Pedro de Alcântara, which offers a great view of the city, the castle and the river. I stopped to enjoy the sunshine and take a few more photos and then followed the road around to Praça do Principe Real. This street — and Rua da Escola Politécnica, as it becomes a few blocks further west — has some great shopping options, particularly if you are interested in fashion and design. Embaixada, at number 26, is a series of concept stores and pop-up shops, focusing on clothing, accessories and homewares, located over three floors of a beautiful, historic building. It’s a great place for gifts and there is even a gin garden at the back.



A little further west, at Rua da Escola Politécnica no. 42 is Entre Tanto, which is a smaller version of Embaixada, with a few small fashion pop-ups and a couple of cafés. I also stopped into a boutique called This and That, located at Rua da Escola Politécnica no. 50, which has some nice, original gift ideas, for kids — big and small.


My time in Lisbon was running out, so I headed back to Fábrica for one last coffee. The weather was much nicer this time so I sat on the terrace and enjoyed my macchiato, before walking back in the direction of my B&B. I went back to the miradouro at the top of the Elevador Santa Justa, peering down the 19th century lift shaft, and then heading inside the Convento do Carmo (€3.50). The convent was built in the 14th century but was mostly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. The archaeological museum houses a large number of artefacts from the site. 






My B&B was Casa do Carmo and overlooks the convent. I liked it a lot — my room was huge with high ceilings and a view onto the convent and up to the castle and the 170-year-old building is beautiful. The staff are friendly, wifi good and a decent breakfast included. A few points: bathrooms are shared, but they are big and I rarely had to wait (most of the other accommodations I found in this price range also had shared bathrooms); there is no lift up to the third floor (but don't come to Lisbon if you don't like steep climbs!); and it can be a bit noisy at night — Largo do Carmo often has live music and, less pleasantly, on Monday night there was a rowdy British hen party singing Abba until the wee hours. The noise issue is probably true for any other central Lisbon location, particularly in lively Chiado, so bring your ear plugs! 


Overall, though, I would recommend Casa do Carmo and a trip to Lisbon more generally. You can see most of the main sights in three or four full days, but do bring a good pair of walking shoes; you will need them. A quick note on the Lisboa Card: it costs €39 for 72 hours, including free transport (including the metro, buses, trams and funiculars), and entrance to various museums and sights. However, do check which ones are included as some only offer 10 or 20% discounts, including Castelo São Jorge, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the Sintra palaces. I just about got my money's worth and I would pay a little extra for the convenience of not having to keep buying public transport tickets.


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