Minha Cidade Favorita – Lisboa, Europe’s most modest and beautiful city

praca de comercio
Those who know me know how much I am obsessed with Portuguese culture. It all started on a trip with friends to the Algarve back in 2013 – was it the serenity of the pristine beaches, the azulejos and winding rustic streets or the pasteis de natas? I’m not sure, but I’ve loved Portugal ever since. So, for my 29th birthday, my wonderful wife planned a trip to to Lisbon for four amazing days. We originally planned to make a blog about the best pastel de nata in the city, though we lost track of how many were consumed along the way, so instead, here is a quick guide to unmissable Lisboa – the city of seven hills (leave the heels at home, because you are gonna do some mega walking!)

If you are flying from the UK, Manchester Airport’s Ryanair service to Lisbon is inexpensive if you book in advance (I think Kristi got flights for about £40-50 return for the two of us – though, they get you with choosing seats together and baggage – make sure your bag will fit in the hold!), and the flight as around three hours.

We visited in mid-November, so we were a little unsure on what to pack – but the weather was actually decent considering the time of year and only a little rainy at times.

GETTING AROUND LISBON
The easiest and probably cheapest way to get from the airport to the heart of Lisbon is the train. The station is just across from the airport’s exit and can get you into town pretty quickly (around half an hour). Purchase a Viva Viagem card from the station before you board – the ticket can be reloaded your entire stay and isn’t very expensive by capital city standards.

ALFAMA DISTRICT
Whenever Kristi and I travel we tend to stay in hostels and Airbnb’s rather than hotels – mainly because it’s cheaper! The hostel we stayed in was one of our favourites (second only to King Kong Hostel in Rotterdam). It’s situated on one of the Alfama district’s many winding streets (and on the famous Tram 28 line) – Brickoven Palace (now known as Sant Jordi Hostel). For sharing an 8 bed female only dorm, this place was surprisingly spacious and our space didn’t feel invaded. We really enjoyed the rustic charm of this place, the bathrooms and dorms were clean, plus the amenities were good (full use of the kitchen, bar, very cheap food some evenings and walking tours!) and it was pretty cheap, you can find the booking page here.

alfama

After settling into home for the next three nights, we ditched our bags and headed for a walk around the Alfama. The district is covered in beautiful graffiti art – cafes and bars line the narrow streets waiting for the next funicular to rally around the corner. One of our favourite things here was a small makers market in the shadow of Saint Vincent and the Castle of Saint Jorge, above a rooftop bar overlooking the Rio Tejo (or River Tagus).
alfama 2
It was a great starting point for a walk deeper into the Alfama where we found a fantastic pastelaria (pastry shop) which also sold a large Vinho Verde for a very reasonable 2 euros a glass, though the wine and free shot of Ginjinha went to my head and I never took note of the little shop… there are quite a few like this dotted around the Alfama: it’s always good to support a local business.
alfama 1
If you want authentic, this is the place to find it. It is beautiful, quaint and quintessentially Portuguese and for many of Lisbon’s families, home. It’s also the home of Fado – a type of sad and beautiful Portuguese folk music. If you want to experience the famous saudade that all the fishwives of Lisboa are singing about, an evening here is definitely on the cards.

BAIXA DISTRICT
This is the main entertainment and shopping district in the city, a vibrant mixture of historical landmarks and modernity –  as well as world-class shopping and dining options on Rua Augusta, you can find some real one-of-a-kind gems. If you aren’t fond of sleep anyway, visit the ever-creepy Doll Hospital. If you’re looking to have a poo with a view, visit the The Sexiest WC on Earth – a necessary experience, trust me. If you need a pick-me-up from the thousands of miles and hills you will have walked so far, call into A Ginjinha where you can walk into the smallest and probably oldest bar in Lisbon and buy a shot of delicious and warming cherry brandy, have two if you aren’t driving. It is fantastic.
a ginjinha
Genuinely the best cherry-flavoured anything.

fabrica de nata
We also really enjoyed a very reasonably priced breakfast of a pastel de nata and a latte here at Fabrica de Nata. Though, the place that we visited most often for breakfast on our trip was A Padaria Portuguesa near Martim Moniz tram stop. We got an espresso each, two breakfast pastries each (my hips don’t lie) and an orange juice for around six euros and it was bloody delish! I’m a true nata enthusiast, so you can trust my opinion. Sainsbury’s do the best ones in the UK 😉
tram 28
If it is a traditional snack you’re after though, you should definitely try a pastel de bacalhau or to you and I, a cod fishcake with a cheesy surprise in the middle. It is Portugal’s answer to Gregg’s sausage roll – fast, comfort food and they are pretty delicious.
bacalhau
BELEM DISRICT
One of the most beautiful places that we have ever visited! Belem is an absolute must for a number of reasons:
1) The ancestral home of the nata (or Pasteis de Belem as the shop is also named)
2) The landmarks and tourist attractions: you have the Jeronimos Monastery,  Monument to the Discoveries and Museu Coleção Berardo (a massive and free to visit collection of contemporary art)
3) The waterfront is lush and home to the Belem Tower (one of Lisbon’s oldest standing buildings – it actually survived the famous earthquake!)
belem tower
Best way to see these things? Walk down to the Harbour next to Praca do Comercio in the Baixa district and hop on a boat. We used Yellowbus tours to see some of the best sites and got the card that allowed us on any bus tour, boat and the airport bus, as well as the red trams and entry to the Santa Justa lift in Baixa. A little pricey but we got our money’s worth and used it even just to get around the city. From here, you get amazing views of the Cristo Rei from the water and the 25 de Abril Bridge!
25 de abril bridge
The queue when we got to Pasteis de Belem was insane in the autumn time, so I can’t imagine how it would be peak tourist season but WELL worth the wait. Do yourself a favour and buy more than one each because they are magical and you will want to eat a thousand. If you don’t you’ll just have to wait in the queue all over again – trust me.
pasteis
“There is no limit to the amount of nata’s one can eat in a day” – Ronaldo, probably.

FOOD
Whilst visiting Lisbon, you won’t be able to get away from pasteis de nata and sardinhas, or tinned sardines, which are readily available in pretty tins and make great souvenirs for those back home. Obviously, fish is not only a major part of the Portuguese diet but a massive industry for them too. You can get fresh fish in almost any restaurant as well as polpo = octopus! Whilst understandably not for everyone, it is definitely worth trying some of the local cuisine, but places that offer a range of world foods are a-plenty famously the Time Out Market in Bairro Alto, offering only the best cuisine in a street food environment. However, if you’re a bit of a sucker for good old American junk food, you can always visit the Hard Rock Cafe offering a comfortable atmosphere and as usual, it is kitted out with some awesome memorabilia.

TRANSPORT
Getting around Lisbon is pretty easy via public transport – a decent bus and train system but walking can take a toll on you after a while. There are tourist trams on the Tram 28 line – a good option as the famous yellow Tram 28 is overcrowded for the locals who use it to commute to work. You get to take in some stunning views and watch as the trams navigate their way through the tight bends of Lisbon’s old streets and narrowly missing the cars parked on them!
I would recommend using an Uber late at night, especially if you are a lone traveller or feel conscious of walking a new city at night. They are tracked, super-cheap and will save you walking up and down hills. As will the Santa Justa lift, the idea of it being to get to the top of Bairro Alto. You also can get some amazing panoramic views of your new favourite city, especially if you climb to the top deck!

There were of course some other amazing parts of Lisbon that we just didn’t have time to explore. We did also visit the Oceanarium near the Parc de Nacoes which was fantastic but hopefully, some of our recommendations will make your list when you visit Lisboa.

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The Historical Heart of Berlin – Best Places to Visit in 4 days

Having developed an increasing enthusiasm for travel in my 20’s and as a politics student, one city I had always wanted to visit was Berlin. The city is steeped in history, rebuilding itself after the Nazi regime and the effects of East/West division through the years of the Cold War which are still visible today.

I visited for four days in June 2018 + 2019 and though much of my itinerary was set, there was plenty of time to get a feel of a city that is constantly reinventing itself.

ALEXANDERPLATZ
Your first stop should be Alexanderplatz, in Berlin’s Mitte (or middle). It is boasts walking distance for many tourist attractions, perhaps most notably the former East German TV Tower (the Fernsehturm), the Red City Hall (Berliner Rathaus) and the Brandenburg Gate.
From here, you can also take a relatively short stroll towards Museum Island, boasting five museums with UNESCO world heritage status and most importantly, it is free entry (save those Euro’s for daily currywurst or cheap, delicious beer).
museum island 1

From der mitte (the middle) you can access buses, the U-Bahn trams, the S-Bahn/regional trains, perfect if you want to venture out to the likes of Potsdam, Dresden, Oranienburg or Wannsee on the outskirts of the city. But let’s start with some of the inner city attractions.

TV Tower
Our group decided to go up the Tower as the sun was setting, around 8.30pm in June, the panoramic view did not disappoint! You can see for miles across the city and get a completely new perspective of Berlin from the Tower. East Germany’s head-of-State Walter Ulbricht wanted the tower built as a symbol of the communist system’s superiority which would tower over the kapital – it is now a symbol of a united and modern city and if you fancy a drink or some fancy food whilst in one of the highest tours in the world, you can do this, but a water will cost you about four euros so the rest of the menu is probably off limits if like me, you are a frugal traveller.

tv tower by night

An adult ticket with a Berlin Welcome card was about 12 Euros for the time slot we were allocated (highly recommend a Berlin Welcome card – very affordable, efficient transport and it gives you access to all kinds of discounts)

Website:
https://tv-turm.de/en/homepage/

Brandenburg Gate 
The Brandenburg Gate is just a short walk from the TV Tower and is a must-see iconic landmark of reunified Berlin. Built between 1788 and 1791, it bears some similarities to the Acropolis of Athens. It’s beauty is in the fact that it is one of Germany’s oldest standing neo-classical landmarks. It’s a monument steeped in History, worth a quick visit and a selfie whilst you are on your way to….

The Reichstag
The Reichstag is an absolute must on your visit. An infamous symbol of a turbulent Berlin, it is a beacon of German history. If you are well-prepared and book in advance, you can go on a guided tour, even climb up to the dome and have a bite to eat at the restaurant with amazing panoramic views of Berlin’s metropolis.
reichstag
You can register to visit the dome here: https://www.bundestag.de/en/visittheBundestag/dome/registration/245686

Also notable:
Taking a ride on the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz which enables you to see some remainders of the Berlin Wall in permanent fixture among modern shops, cafes and the Sony Centre.

If you stumble upon Hannah-Arendt Straße, you will find the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a breath-taking architectural endeavour in memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust – very important to stop by and pay respects.

Website:
https://www.visitberlin.de/en/memorial-murdered-jews-europe

We also made use of our international student cards and visited the DDR Museum. Along the riverside and adjacent to the Berliner Dom, this museum has it all when it comes to the Deutschland Democratic Republic – a Trabant car, a typical house and kindergarten setting, good for a smaller museum. Worth a visit, worth the discounted entry fee, but beware! Pickpockets are known to operate in this area, we were approached and we politely told them to do one, so bare this in mind.

KREUZBERG
Undeniably West Berlin, from its architecture to its middle of the road tram system (very American, I thought), this cool suburb is teeming with life. There are bars and coffee shops a-plenty and the reason we initially went: The Ramones Museum (with bar and cafe). We absolutely loved it – being fans of the greatest punk band ever (arguably). The espresso I had was under two euros and the playlist was fantastic. There are some real jams from the bands glory days and it feels like you could spend a lot of time here.

kreuzberg

FRIEDRICHSHAIN
EAST SIDE GALLERY – nearest station OSTBAHNHOF
Across the River Spree and in the eastern area of Friedrichshain, is the 1,316 metre long stretch of the Berlin Wall, the longest remaining stretch of wall today. It is the best place to see and appreciate how serious the border security was. Take a stroll with a coffee and appreciate the amazing art that adorns the wall these days as a celebration of creative freedom.

east side

LICHTENBERG
Stasi Museum – Lichtenberg Straße
The headquarters of the former East German state police/turned museum is a must for anybody interested in the history of the Cold War. It serves as an exhibition displaying surveillance and observation technology and Erich Mielke’s (head of the Stasi from 1957 until just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) ministerial office. The grounds since have been featured in film and television, most notably Deutschland ’83. It has been open to the public since the reunification of Germany in 1990 and is an epicentre of information about the DDR and it’s state security (or stasi). It is well worth a guided tour (which again must be booked in advance and lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes) however, these can be a tad expensive at 51€ if you don’t have a student card. Again, if you get a Berlin Welcome Card, you can get 25% off the ticket price and it is worth it, it feels like a step back in time – there is absolutely so much to learn about the elusive communist state of the DDR.

kommunists Casual Communist propaganda!

marx
The man himself, Marx (though perhaps not how he would have wanted things)
Website:
https://www.stasimuseum.de/en/enbesuch.htm

Hohenschönhausen Prison
Not too far away from the Stasi Headquarters is the DDR’S largest Berlin prison – Hohenschönhausen. The in-depth tour is over an hour and it is here that you can really see the extremes that the Stasi went to in order to protect the spread of information to the West and its citizens from defecting. Here, the DDR’s citizens could be imprisoned for even making a snide comment about the state or its government.

WANNSEE
Wannsee Conference House
Around 40 minutes outside of the city to the south-west of Berlin’s mitte, we find the locality of Wannsee, now used as a base for sailing clubs. The Wannsee Conference House is well-preserved and serves as a memorial museum. The villa was the meeting place of high ranking Nazi government and most notably, the SS met here to discuss the implementation of the ‘final solution’. Their barbaric plan of action was decided before breakfast but what happened after that would be the start of the most accelerated and gruesome genocides to ever happen. I only wanted to take a single picture here as the tour explains the audacity of the events that took place here in Wannsee more than pictures ever could.

wannsee

Please take part in a tour if you can – the guides are extremely knowledgeable.
Website:
https://www.ghwk.de/en/

ORANIENBURG
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

A harrowing experience, to say the least. Sachsenhausen is located in the small town of Oranienburg, north-east of Berlin. We opted to have the audio-tour but walking around is obviously quite an emotional experience to say the least. A look into the history of Sachsenhausen is recommended before visiting. It makes you understand the importance of preserving places like Sachsenhausen for memorial and educational purposes. A real shame is that some tourists use the opportunity not to educate themselves but to take selfies in front of the gates – a tad disrespectful considering the atrocities that happened here. An audio tour is recommended and available from around 15 Euros.

Website:
http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/en/index.htm

These were just a few of the things that I got up to on my trip to Berlin, but it is a vibrant and modern city that has adapted to the world as it changes around it. If it’s old-fashioned Bavaria that you are looking for, Berlin is not your city but it is a cool and cultured European hot-spot that refuses to forget its past.