Last weekend I did a whole city break to Lisbon on my own. Not by choice mind you. I was supposed to go with a friend but she was ill and advised not to travel. Nobody was able to take her place at such short notice, while Daddy Chambers couldn’t accompany me as we had nobody to look after Aidan and Sarah.
I toyed with the idea of not going but I had been looking forward to the trip since I booked it last October. Given that, I decided to throw caution to the wind and head off on my own in the wee hours of the Friday morning. It was one of those crazy early Ryanair flights!
In the airport I picked up two books for the trip, boarded and off I headed. After the early start, I popped in my headphones, put on some relaxing music and dozed off. When I awoke we had just landed and I was excited to get my Lisbon adventure started.
The next thing I hear is the hostess welcoming us to Faro. Now it doesn’t take a genius to know that Faro is indeed not Lisbon and is in the Algarve instead. It turns out Lisbon was covered in fog and we were unable to land and were then diverted to Faro. Apparently the captain was keeping us all up to date as the drama unfolded but sure I was conked out and none the wiser.
Soon after it was announced that we were unable to fly back to Lisbon but that Ryanair would supply a bus and drive us back to the Portuguese capital. Three hours stuck on a bus wasn’t ideal but at least I was alone. I really felt sorry for the people who were travelling with young children though. I didn’t have to worry about that! Wee hoo!
So here’s the thing about this post. It’s a guide to Lisbon, the tale of my weekend, but more importantly it’s about me advocating solo travel. I didn’t think I would be before I left but, if at all possible, I urge any mammies that can to get away on their own once a year.
Why? Because it’s total bliss, that’s why. You quite literally have nothing or no-one to annoy you. You can do what you want when you want. You get to have a big bed to yourself. You can go to bed and get up whenever you want. You can indulge in long and uninterrupted showers. You can eat in whatever restaurant you want. You won’t have a husband or partner moaning at you that he doesn’t want to go shopping. Us mammies rarely get time to be selfish but we should at least get one weekend of pure selfishness every year! Am I right?
And Lisbon is the perfect city to be selfish in. It’s small. It’s very safe. It’s super duper pretty. The food is amazing. So too is the wine. Oh and don’t get me started on the shopping! Out of this world ladies. Absolutely out of this world. And the best thing is, it’s cheap. In fact it’s the cheapest city break destination in western Europe. If you don’t believe me, just have a read of this article from the Irish Times.
So the flight to the Portuguese capital (minus a diversion that is!) is 2.5 hours long. The airport is only about 15 minutes away from the city centre. You can get public transport in but on the advice of a friend I used Uber and did so for the whole weekend. It’s so cheap compared to local taxis. It only cost me €7 for the airport to my hotel and the app is so handy.
Speaking of my hotel, I stayed in the Hotel Figueira which was in such a central location. I booked it through Booking.com and it was only €45 per night for a double room. Yes, that’s €45 for a four star hotel smack bang in the centre of the capital city. Unbelievable Jeff, as Chris Kamara would say! The property had a really funky bar and restaurant, while my room was small but fabulous. There was a mini bar in the room and it’s contents were free, while it had the most comfortable window seat that overlooked Praça da Figueira (Figueira Square to you and me!).
I ate in the hotel bar the first evening as it was late enough by the time I got settled in. I like to try local food when I’m abroad so I went for a platter of Portugese sausage and a glass of vino verde (green wine). This vino verde is a delicious Portugese wine. It’s really fruity, which is right up my street but if you like your wine dry then this isn’t for you.
That evening I took a stroll around and despite the shops were all open. They all seem to open until 9pm on weekdays. If you’re after designer gear definately check out Avenida da Liberdade, a tree lined avenue that is home to the likes of Hugo Boss, Gucci and Prada. Unfortunately my budget didn’t stretch that far so I had to be content with the more modest high street stores! One can dream though!
I spent most of Saturday in and out of shops but not before I fueled up with brekkie first. So I had heard a lot of talk about Pastéis de Nata (custard tarts) being a local delicacy. I first found out about them from Russel and Patrick who blog over at Gastro Gays. They have a post about the best Pastéis de Nata over on their site so I visited the second place on their list, Fábrica da Nata, because it was close to my hotel.
Well oh my good God, these yokes are divine. Crispy pastry, soft custard inside with a slightly hardened top. They are definitely not the healthiest thing in the world but feck it, I was on me holliers and literally could have ate hundreds of them!
The sugar from the tarts gave me the energy to shop. The Fábrica da Nata I went to was on Rua Augusta (Rua is the Portuguese word for street), which is a pedestrianised street packed full of shops. I was in my element.
The first shop I stumbled across was Kiko Milano, a make up store. Girls, it was pure heaven and so affordable. I would absolutely love if this brand was available in Ireland. I treated myself to their Full Coverage 2-in-1 Foundation and Concealer, a Highlighting Effect Fluid Concealer, Coloured Lip Balm and this Skin Trainer CC Blur stuff, that I know I will never live without again! So you put it on after your moisturiser and before your foundation and it literally make your skin feel like silk and utterly smooth. It really is the business. Because the January sales were on I got the lot for €37! Amazing value.
Portugal is famous for it’s quality leather and on Rua Augusta there is no shortage of shoe shops. Because I only had hand luggage with me I could only lovingly look in the window at all the gorgeous real leather boots; some of them reduced to as little as €20.
Jewellery shops, of the costume variety, is another thing that Rua Augusta is full of. I picked up some bracelets, rings and chains for as little as €3 each and then it was on to the massive Zara! There was pure excitment when I spotted it! Three floors of heaven. The whole bottom floor was sale items only. Zara in Portugal is way cheaper than it is here so the sale was unreal. I spent €20 an got myself three tops and skipped on to the next place.
While walking down Rua Augusta I looked up and saw this magnificent arch, which I now know is the Rua Augusta Arch that leads on to the even more magnificent Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square). Underneath the arch was a wee market where locals were selling their handmade items. Portugal is the world’s biggest producers of cork and there was a girl selling jewellery made from cork. It doesn’t sound that nice but her stuff was really funky so I got a ring for a grand total of €6 and then headed in to Praça do Comércio.
This square was by far the prettiest of many I seen in Lisbon. It’s huge, with a big statue of former king, King José I in the middle of it and it over looks the river Tagus. From the square you can see the Christ the King statue, which, from a distance, looks just like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. It was quite the view.
Eager to savour the view I slipped in to one of the square’s restaurants called Can the Can, for lunch. Seeing as it was so close to the river I would have been a sin not to opt for a seafood option. I went for the spicy shrimp with garlic and peppers and holy moly, it was delicious.
A must see
When we’re talking about food, I need to tell you about the Time Out Market, which is a must see if you visit Lisbon. I first saw it on Donal Skehan’s TV show on RTE and it looked deadly. It didn’t disappoint in real life!
The Time Out Market is, put simply, a huge hall packed to the gills with top notch restaurants, bars and funky shops alongside a traditional market. It was comfortably packed with a visited. In terms of food there’s so much to choose from, from top Portuguese chefs. This time I fancied something different and went for Asian cusuine and it was so tasty.
LX Factory, an uber cool spot
On the Saturday night I was advised to check out the LX Factory, a super cool complex of artsy shops and unique bars and restaurants. I could actually smell the cool from this place the second I stepped out of my Uber car! I’m not quite sure I fitted in!
Stand out for me in the LX Factory was a shop called Bairro Arte, which sold all sorts of quirky gift and home wares. However I must admit the everything in the complex seemed to be a lot more expensive than other parts of the city but it still is worth a look around.
I ate a yummy burrito in a Mexican place called Mez Cais before rounding off my evening with a glass of wine and some chapters of my book on the rooftop terrace in a bar called Rio Maravilha. It was sufficiently mild to enough to sit outside and once again look out over the river and the lights of the city.
My flight home on the Sunday wasn’t until 6pm so I had myself a lie in before getting ready to check out. The hotel held on to my luggage for the day as I went off exploring. Not before having yet another custard tart for breakfast though!
There seemed to be a few places closed on the Sunday but for the most part everything was open. A few years ago I did a city break in Frankfurt for Daddy Chambers’ 30th and nothing was open on a Sunday so we could do very little.
Solo Travel Lisbon: Bring comfortable shoes
I decided to stay away from the shops for fear of being divorced when himself spotted the credit card bill! Instead I just went rambling the hilly streets. Be warned, if you do want to tour the city on foot, it’s very hilly so leave the fancy shoes at home and bring your runners.
I saw locals heading to mass, old men hanging out their apartment buildings smoking a cigarette, clothes hung out to dry from many a window and families enjoying a Sunday in the park. Oh and how could I forget about the tiles. So they are everywhere; on the front of buildings, on the floors, inside and out, even some of the streets are tiled. They are so so beautiful.
I walked for so long (22,000 steps) according to my phone, that I lost track of time. I just had time to head back to the hotel, get my bags and hop in to another cheap Uber back to the airport.
Oh and before I finish, let me tell you about the duty free shop. Unreal value. Daddy Chambers is a big fan of Jameson Round Whiskey, which retails here for about €73 but I got a litre bottle of it in the airport for €37! I didn’t want to feel left out so I got two bottles of Vinho Verde for €6. Not €6 each, I got the two for that price!
And that was that. I flew home after spending the whole weekend on my own. It was one of the best weekend’s I have ever had. I wish my friend could have came but her illness made me realise that solo travel is not scary. It is, in fact, what every busy mammy needs from time to time.