I have fallen in love. I cannot wait to tell you about our recent trip to Lisbon Portugal. This was our first trip were we did not have any expectations going in. We came home utterly in love with Lisbon. Even though Lenny is one hundred percent Portuguese, he had never been to Lisbon as his family is from the Azores. There is this air that people from the continent look down on those from the islands and he has always been a bit hesitate to go. I am happy to report that this is a misconception! Everything about Lisbon is lovely from the old tiled buildings to the mode of transportation, as well as the warm and welcoming locals. And did I mention, the simple but amazing food scene? I cannot recommend Lisbon Portugal enough, and you will soon see why.
Lisbon Portugal is a coastal city that reminded us of San Francisco as it is very hilly. It is often referred to as the San Francisco of Europe, and there is even a bridge that looks like the Golden Gate Bridge, called the 25 de Abril Bridge. We dreamed that Lisbon was more of what we imagined Paris was probably like 50 years ago, a bit gritty and bohemian as well as a little chic. Don’t worry about those hills as Lisbon does 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 bakery called Pastelaria Orion, which made the most amazing egg tarts, and in our opinion the best egg tarts we had in Lisbon.
As mentioned we had no expectations when planning our trip to Lisbon Portugal, which also meant we had no agenda, other than finding the best egg tarts. We spent our days walking around the city streets, tucking into small mom and pop spots for meals or a bottle of wine, and enjoying the must see spots. It was a lazy vacation of just exploring. Honestly, 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, with 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 completely. 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 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 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 as well as very fresh fish dishes.
One overcast day we started an early journey on the train and headed to Sintra for more historical 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 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. Maybe someday we could see ourselves retiring there. I could see us walking up those hills, past beautiful old buildings with laundry swaying in the breeze, on our 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.
Become Familiar with the City Right Away:
Learned something about Lenny on this trip, which is something I never knew after all our travels in the past. He likes to take the Hop on Hop Off Bus tour at the beginning of a vacation to become familiar with the area. The first morning in Lisbon we got up early, had coffee and egg tarts and then hopped onto the bus. I have to admit it is a great way to get a feel for how the city is laid out, and being able to hop on and off makes it easy to spend a little extra time in an area that looks interesting. There were a couple of options available for Lisbon Portugal, we picked the longest one that went out near the airport. Not really necessary. If I had I do over, I would have picked the shorter excursion.
Tips for Hop on Hop Off Bus Tours:
- If the weather is nice plan on sitting on top of the bus. Easier to snap photos!
- Wear sunscreen!!!
- Bring a hat!
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 find one. These are a few favorites that we would eat at again and again
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 as well as gifts at these spots
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 feel like a local in Lisbon.
Top Tourist Sites – all are fairly walkable within each other. We usually pick a different neighbor every day and focus on that area when hitting the best sites to see in a city. This was same way we mapped out our days in Lisbon.
Belem Tower – this is the Tower is Saint Vincent which is part of a 16th century fort in Lisbon, that served as a point for embarkation and disembarkation for the Portuguese explorers. It is a very historical part of Lisbon and the tour was interesting, as well the tower offers some lovely views of the area.
Jeronimos Monastery – the monastery is not far from Belem Tower, and it is worth a visit. The grounds of this monastery are really beautiful and a great way to spend an hour or two wandering around. We grabbed a coffee and enjoyed the gardens.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos – also located near Belem Tower and the Monastery is the beautiful monument that celebrates the Portuguese discovery of exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries.
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