The Best of Lisbon; What to do, where to go, and what to eat.
Lisbon! Our first 4 weeks on our Europe adventure started off with an absolute BANG in the, nothing short of amazing, Lisbon, Portugal.
Gorgeous tiled buildings, Pastel de Nata galore, easily walkable (although there are hills. 7 large ones to be exact), deep history, and a wonderfully kind and welcoming community. Plus, it is an extremely dog friendly city which even if you don’t have a dog, is still a bonus because dogs make everything better. DUH!
To start us out, here’s a little map of the city and the districts:
Image Credit: Miss Tourist
The Alfama district is the old Moorish sector of the city with lots of history and the best place to experience Fado. It is the oldest part of the city with loads of charm and little corners to be explored.
Baria Alto is on another hill and has wonderful restaurants and great shopping + good nightlife.
Chiado is home to Rossio square, which is in the center of the city where most tours will meet, several museums, lots of restaurants and cafes, and shopping. The touristic spots can be a little overwhelming here if you're a seasoned traveler.
The Baxia district is right next to Chiado as you can see in the picture, but it has a bit of a different feel due to the difference in architecture which correlates with the history of the city and the earthquake. Great shopping here as well!
Principe Real is in a less touristy area but still has all of the Lisbon charm. This neighborhood is good for those who have visited before and want a different scene, are on a lower budget, or for families who need a bit of a quieter setting.
Now, if you’re headed to Lisbon, I recommend at least 4 days to really see it with a day trip or two. But first, let's talk about what to eat ;)
What and where to eat:
Pastel de Nata; obviously. Now, you can walk into any cafe and get one. They’re all good. Like, it’s really hard to find a bad one and I didn’t have a single bad one. However, I did have a favorite. Right next to the shopping street with H&M and Zara, there is a little Cafe called Castro, that serves just coffee and Pastel de Nata. The crust… ugh. When you’ve tried a few different ones, you’ll know what I mean. It was the perfect amount of bite, butter, and flake but it wasn’t to greasy, which can happen sometimes. The custard wasn’t too sweet and had the perfect dash of cinnamon. Literally my mouth is watering just thinking about it. There is a chain called Fabrica da Nata that I’m not overly ashamed to admit, the pastel de Nata’s do taste good and if you go in the morning, you can usually see them making them and get a fresh one. These are really not hard to find and we had so many... I did not write down the names because it is pretty hard to find a bad one!
A Bifana! Slow braised slices of beef marinated in ______ and slapped between a nice roll. You typically add some mustard and chili oil to it. We had a few favorites, but Solar da Madalena was the perfect "hole in the wall" shop to grab an authentic Bifana. You can find them really anywhere and ultimately, I recommend trying a few different ones. They’re also really affordable at usually only 2-3 euros a pop!
Cod Fish Cakes. They eat a LOT of Cod in Portugal, even though it’s not native to the waters of Portugal - they import it. Think of pan fried ball of mashed potatoes but mix some shredded cod and throw in some spices. They’re good. I think they’d be better with a little spicy aioli but the Portuguese aren’t really “sauce” people. For good, authentic ones, head over to Lisbon Tu e Eu. Grab a little port wine while you’re at it.
Cod Fingers; They’re lightly breaded and at this location, they serve it with some lemon aioli… YUM. We had ours at Leitaria Da Anunciada with some vino verde, or green wine, which is famous in Portugal and pairs really well with Cod.
What to do in Lisbon:
I have and always will recommend a food tour. They teach you so much and will bring you around to some local spots that are worth going back to. A few of the recommendations I gave you above came from the food tour we took. I recommend this one as it offers both group and private tours.
Also, do a city tour! The history of Portugal is really really cool. From the Moors, to the wars with the Spanish, collaboration with England, funding world navigation, revolutions, and natural disasters… if you’re into history, absolutely take a tour. I can only withstand 2.5-3 hours for any tour really, so HERE is one I’d recommend to give you a good overview of a few of the different neighborhoods. If you'd like a full day tour, this one on a Tuk Tuk is always fun.
There is also a castle, which I know you’ll see, it does make for a strenuous walk up hill, but you’ll get that anywhere in Lisbon so if you want to get some extra steps in, head up here while you’re in the Alfama district. The Alfama district alone is worth a tour (LINK) because of the charm, history, and amazing view points. This neighborhood is also good for finding homemade Ginjinha liquor - a Portuguese special.
Check out a Fado show! This can be a very touristy experience, but there are also more traditional ones you can pop your head into as well. You can book an experience online, like THIS one to secure a reservation, or you can walk around and catch the end of a show while grabbing a drink at the bar. In most cases, you can book your experience online and it will generally include your meal and the performance, or you can make a reservation and order off of a menu. Both options are good options. Fado is a traditional Portuguese style of singing that represents longing, sorrow, and loss. It derived during the great exploration when the sailors would leave their love either in Portugal or the new world.
Day Trips from Lisbon:
There is a really cool museum called Quake that gives you an in depth look at what the detrimental earth quake of 1755 looked like for the residence of Lisbon and the surrounding area. This is a good stop to make when you take a day trip to Belem. Belem is a fun experience as well. The tower of Belem acted as a watch tower during the 1500’s and also was used as a port to welcome and say farewell to some of the first world navigators. How f*cking cool is that.
You can NOT go to Lisbon and not go to Sintra. It just doesn’t make sense and you’ll regret it. Like seriously. I recommend taking the train and meeting a guide for a tour, or taking this one (LINK). The town is magical and you get to try the pastries that are known to the area; Travesseiro and the Queijadas. You can find the best ones at Casa Piriquita. Pena Palace is beautiful and really does make for some beautiful pictures, however, do not skip Quinta da Regaleira and Gardens. It is straight out of a mythical world and it looks like elves and fairies live there. The history of the constructing and design of the gardens and palace are also really fascinating. Again, a tour here is a must or you really won’t get to see as much as you’d like here.
Cascais is another town you can take a half day trip to. A lot of tour companies will include Cascais into the visit with Sintra, but my opinion is to slow down and do them separately if you can. Don’t stress out in Sintra… it really is a beautiful place and you can enjoy it more if you have enough time to breath, instead of hauling around. If you had to pick on or the other, go to Sintra.
Cascais is a marina town with a ton of restaurants and has a beautiful view of the Atlantic. The restaurants are a bit pricier here and I think it’s best to visit when it’s warmer. There’s a few little beaches where you can hop in the water and sun bath. The look out point is called Boca de Inferno and you should absolutely go at sunset. There are a few little restaurants and cafe’s right by the main view point and you could have a meal, or jus top into a cafe and grab a Gallo (a coffee with milk, coined by Portugal). Expect more relaxation and good eats in Cascais as opposed to site seeing here.
Best View Points in Lisbon:
Miradouro das Portas do Sol in the Alfama neighborhood
Jardim do Torel
At the castle of Sao Jorge
Day 1: Arrive in Lisbon and take a food tour once you've settled in.
Day 2: Spend the day exploring the city or take a city tour like mentioned above. Grab dinner at a restaurant and head up to one of the view points to see the sunset.
Day 3: Take a trip to Sintra and Cascais for the day and have a relaxed evening by the water before heading back into Lisbon.
Day 4: After a relaxed morning, head to Belem to see the tower and grab another Pastel de Nata. Grab dinner in the Alfama district and catch a Fado show (or pre-book one).
Lisbon is only ONE of the many beautiful cities in Portugal... I have not even scrapped the surface of Porto, Comporta, the Douro Valley, Algarve, or even the islands! Don't stop at Lisbon and don't underestimate the beautiful and versatility that Portugal has to offer.
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