I have been keeping this secret from you. I recently fell in love with a new city besides Paris. I cannot wait to tell you about my recent trip to Lisbon Portugal.
We did not have any expectations going into this trip and left in love with the city as well as the surrounding areas we visited. Even though Lenny is one hundred percent Portuguese, he had never been to Lisbon as his family is from the Azores. There was this air that folks from the continent looked down on folks from the islands. Completely a misconception! Everything about Lisbon was lovely from the old tiled buildings to the mode of transportation, as well as the warm and welcoming people and the simple but delicious food.
Lisbon is a coastal city which is very hilly quite like San Francisco; they have an amazing tram and cable system for transportation if you tire of walking. Our apartment was located in the Santa Catarina neighborhood, which is not far from the city center, up the hill and past a great little shop called Pastelaria Orion, which sold amazing egg tarts, and in our opinion the best we had in the city. As we had no expectations of Lisbon, we also had no agenda, other than finding the best egg tarts as well as good food. We spent our days walking the city streets, tucking into small mom and pop places for meals or a bottle of wine, and taking in the sites. It was a lazy vacation of just exploring; we never tired of the looking at the beautiful old buildings covered with tiles (called azulejos). The Moors introduced these gorgeous ceramic tiles to Portugal in the 15th century. They are everywhere from buildings, to streets and even on the trams.
The city is a maze of alleyways, cobbled stoned streets, old churches, crumbling buildings, but beautiful, trams rushing by filled with business people, children, old folks, nuns, and everyday life. It is a city meant for walking, exploring, and losing yourself. Tuck into a small street, explore a new gallery, a cafe serving strong coffee or maybe listen to some jazz before doing a little shopping. Grab a traditional meal of codfish or beef steak with a mound of crispy fries. The new compliments the old here in Lisbon and there is life around every corner.
We did take two separate day trips out of Lisbon, one to Belem and the other to Sintra. Belem is a coastal city where the monument to the Discoveries is located; it is easy not to mention scenic tram ride away from Lisbon. The monument is worth spending some time at just wandering around and learning of the Portuguese exploration. We also took a stroll through the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, which was an old monastery founded in 1501. It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. One cannot leave Belem without a pastry stop at Pasteis de Belem for their famous egg tarts (we decided the ones at Pastelaria Orion were still the best). If you are lucky enough, we weren’t, to score a reservation at the only Michelin starred restaurant in Portugal you should try to hit Feitoria. Instead, we opted for a lovely fish heavy lunch at Floresta, which offered wonderful service and very fresh fish.
One overcast day we started an early journey on the train and headed to Sintra for some culture. Sintra is nestled among the hills about 30 km away from Lisbon and is worth the trip. Our first stop was at Casa Piriquita for coffee, egg tarts and their famed queijadas de Sintra that are sweet cheesecakes. After fueling up for the rest of the morning we jumped in our tuk tuk for a guided tour of the area, which we highly recommend. Our guide was amazing, and she whizzed that little car up and down the hills of Sintra, past palaces, hideaways for royalty and old homes that kings and queens use to live in. After a fun-filled three hours we grabbed a late lunch at Restaurante Tacho Real before heading back to Lisbon.
Now that we are home, and the lure and romance of Lisbon have somewhat disappeared from our everyday life, we often reminisce about those lazy but fun-filled days of taking in the culture of Lisbon. Often asked if we would go back, our answer is yes, and maybe someday we could see ourselves retiring there. I could see myself walking up those hills, past beautiful old buildings with laundry swaying in the breeze, on my way to the markets, museums or just to sit and watch people like us falling in love with an ancient city with so much heart and soul.
Highlights from Lisbon:
Rent an apartment. This is the only way we travel when it is personal, having our own apartment makes us feel more like a local than a tourist. As well we can have breakfast in and maybe a light dinner of tinned fish, cheese and bread before hitting the bar scene at night.
Pastelaria Orion – we tried almost every pastry shop we walked by for breakfast, lunch and afternoon delights, it was a goal to find the best. In our opinion, these were,hands down the best we had. Good strong coffee as well.
Views – enjoyed many beers and sunsets here
Park Terraco – killer views, have a beer and relax while taking in the sunset.
Restaurants – so many great places to eat, you can wander around and fine one. These are a few favorites that we would go back too.
Faca & Garfo – a traditional Portuguese restaurant run by a very friendly couple who serve satisfying and delicious dishes such as grilled sardines, steak with cream and port sauce as well as codfish.
Sol e Pesca – a must stop for the fish lover, as everything is about tinned fish at this cool little former fisherman’s tackle shop. I was kind of on the fence but game about tinned fish, and left there being a lover. Order a couple of beers, and let the very informed waitresses surprise you with a few tins as well as some bread. Makes for a great light meal.
Sea Me – this was the first place we stumbled upon when arriving in Lisbon, and later realized it was also a David Leite recommendation. Outstanding, fresh and local seafood. Icy cold beers as well as lovely Portuguese white wines as well as their famed gin and tonics are to be enjoyed with a platter or two of oysters.
Cruzes Credo Cafe – located near the grand cathedral, we stopped in this hipster spot for a coffee, and spent a couple hours enjoying good Portuguese beer, jazz and conversation with the artsy waitstaff. We enjoyed the vibe so much that we went back a few times after a morning spent wandering the streets and alleyways of Portugual.
Casa da India – don’t let the name fool you, there is no Indian food here. We walked by every night, and saw the same chef grilling what looked like the best chicken. Ever. Always a line out the door, so get there early. We finally were able to score a couple stools at the bar on our last night, and had amazing grilled chicken, fish, fries and piri piri sauce.
Shops – not much into shopping but we did find some treasures and gifts here.
Loja da Conervas – tinned fish heaven. We came home with a delicious case full of all sorts of tinned fish. A tasty souvenir.
A Vida Portuguesa – a shop filled with old fashioned Portuguese products. The gorgeous Claus Porto soaps are not only a treat for yourself but they make great gifts.
Fabrica Sant’Anna – beautiful hand-made azulejos (tiles).
Fado – you cannot go to Lisbon and not listen to Fado.
Tasca do Jaime – spent a late Sunday afternoon here, drinking beer, sipping port, eating codfish and listening to Fado with the locals. It is a hole in the wall, not many tourists and a treasure to find. We loved every second.
Bars – there are many small bars throughout Lisbon but we tended to head to the Bairro Alto and Chiado for a late night drink and jazz. Just pop into one of the smaller ones that do not have a cover charge, and you will be more than happy. A couple musts are:
A Ginjinha – a must stop for the cherry flavored liquor. This place is an institution, and was jammed packed. Be prepared but have fun with it.
Trams – ride all of them. They are a blast, not to mention romantic, and the best way to really see local fair.
Best travel book – Lonely Planet Pocket Lisbon has a travel map with all the streets, and it is pocket sized. Saved us many times.
More travel suggestions on Lisbon can be found over at the ever so lovely site Leite’s Culinaria by David Leite, not only great travel ideas but outstanding Portuguese recipes. David is my go-to guy for all food Portuguese … shhhh, don’t tell Lenny’s mom!
O – Trevo – beef sandwiches
Manteigaria Silva – salt cod and custard