Escape the university workload and explore the beautiful Portuguese capital of Lisbon with its charming character, culture, and cuisine. Let us tempt you with another delightful student-friendly destination to add to a travel bucket list worth saving for!
With its characteristic streets of colourful tiled buildings, old yellow trams rambling through the neighbourhoods and the not-to-be-missed sweet treat ‘Pastéis de Nata’, Lisbon makes for a fabulous weekend away. It lies beside the River Tagus, opening up into the Atlantic above which stretches the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, a cousin in appearance to San Francisco’s Golden Gate. This coastal city offers a cuisine based on fresh fish and seafood and is where I indulged in the most flavoursome risotto I’ve ever had. Discover Lisbon’s culture, food and traditions with your uni mates or go solo – don’t forget to bring your student card for discounts!
A definite highlight of your weekend will be touring the city on one of the iconic trams visiting sites such as the cathedral, the main square Praça do Comércio and the vibrant Alfama district, all of which are must-sees. The yellow-tinted main square in Lisbon’s commercial centre is bordered by the River Tagus so you’re never far away from the water. Climb aboard tram number 28, which costs €2.90 for a single ticket. Boarding at the less busy Martim Moniz stop gives you the best chance of bagging a seat for the bumpy ride! Otherwise purchase the 24-hour public transport pass costing €6.40, which covers all tram and metro journeys and can be bought at any metro station.
The beautiful Alfama neighbourhood is absolutely worth an explore. It is a maze of colourful houses up and down its tiny streets, each covered in detailed ceramic tile-work called azulejos. You can buy an individually decorated tile from one of the gift shops to stick on your flat fridge back in Manchester, making it the perfect memento! Every building façade is unique and showcases Lisbon’s culturally-embedded artistry.
Alfama is also home to the traditional Portuguese fado music, a typically melancholic string sound. If you’re lucky you might hear it at one of Alfama’s river-facing viewpoints such as Miradouro da Graça. See the incredible city views from this spot in the hilltop grounds of Castelo de São Jorge; a cityscape of bright terracotta roofs against the shimmering blue River Tagus. A breathtakingly beautiful sight that definitely shouldn’t be missed. Visit the historic walled Castle of Saint George and its pride of roaming peacocks for €5 (discount for up to age 25).
On the other side of the city, in the Belém district, lies another of Lisbon’s main attractions, Torre de Belém. This UNESCO-protected riverside tower used to act as a fortified gateway into Lisbon, and you can explore its winding staircases and climb up to see the views for €3, courtesy of the student discount. Nearby along the river lies the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery), with an exceptionally peaceful courtyard to roam around, for only €5 for students.
The Belém district has one further treasure to behold; it’s the place where the famous egg custard tarts ‘Pastéis de Nata’ were created. Dusted with a little cinnamon, these delectable delights are traditionally made and sold in the eatery Pastéis de Belém not far from the monastery, and the monks here established the very recipe you can enjoy today.
One quicker way than walking to visit Belém’s attractions is by grabbing one of the green Lime scooters which are dotted around the city. Lisbon is one of many European cities to host this cheap electric scooter network, much like Madrid. The flat cycle lanes by the river make perfect routes for an exhilarating ride, tried and tested by yours truly and undeniably great fun! To use, simply download the Lime app to find the nearest scooter, unlock for €0.50 and then its only €0.15 for every minute used for a ride.
Elaborating on Lisbon’s food scene, head to the Time Out Market or Mercado da Ribeira near the main square Praça do Comércio. Here you can choose from dozens of food stands for a hearty lunch, whether that be fish, meat or rice. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time to ensure you find a seat! The dishes hover around a price of €10. Slightly more pricey but I’m forever pining for the incredible seafood risotto I tried there. I’ll be returning to Lisbon simply to re-experience its unparalleled flavour.
For a more modest meal, exploring the Bairro Alto or Alfama districts is the best way to come across a humble restaurant full of traditional delights, such as grilled sardines, typically eaten in summer, and fresh cod.
In terms of transport, Lisbon’s metro system is made up of only four lines and is the cheapest way to travel around this very hilly city. You first purchase the reusable ‘Viva Viagem’ card for €0.50 at any metro station, charging €1.50 to it for each single trip. It’s perfect for reaching areas slightly further outside the centre, such as Belém. Otherwise, the commercial centre is relatively flat and walkable, plus there’s always the thrill of the Lime scooters!
Flying to the Portuguese capital for a long weekend costs from £35 with Ryanair, around the end of January/early February 2020. Again it’s perfect for a post-Semester 1 exams treat, with 2-3 days recommended for experiencing all the main sites and making the most of all Lisbon has to offer.
We hope colourful, culture-rich Lisbon has been added to your travel bucket list! Where to next? Join us next time as we explore another student-friendly destination.
Flight prices correct at time of publication. Book early to avoid disappointment!