If I had to rate all of my top trips, Lisbon would definitely snatch the top spot. If I were to rate all of my trips that I’ve taken in my entire life, Portugal would definitely be number one. This is a very strong statement, I know, and for somebody that travels a minimum of atleast once per month, that is saying a lot.
I loved Portugal. Lisbon is a dream city. I would drop everything to live there. The warm weather, the breeze from Tagus River, mouthwatering seafood, scenic views, the wine and definitively cool culture has got me ranking it with top marks. I cannot stop raving about it this country.
The theme for the 2018 Vancouver International Wine Festival was Spain and Portugal and after falling in love with their wines, I was inspired to take a long-overdue trip out there. We started off in Barcelona, along the beautiful Spanish coastline and then down to Madrid, over to the beautiful coastal city of Porto, and ended our trip in Lisbon – and I couldn’t have planned it better.
Lisbon has this energy that is so different than the other three cities we had visited on our trip. Portugal’s largest city has a beating pulse so alive you can’t help but contract it. It’s completely contagious. Everyone I encountered was super friendly, food was fresh, delicious and didn’t break the bank, and the views were absolutely breathtaking.
What I loved most about Lisbon was that 1) most of my friends have not visited and 2) I was able to be completely free and explore on my own and just wander. Sometimes I feel on other trips and larger cities like Madrid and Rome, I receive so many recommendations and “must-dos” from people that it can be overwhelming, that you end up visiting attractions simply because you are obliged to do it. However, I didn’t feel this at all when I was in Lisbon. I didn’t get any feelings of FOMO whatsoever! I think that this may have been the best part of this trip overall was that I wasn’t following a guide or itineraries. I was purely being exploratory in a new country. I can’t quite describe it but it is the best feeling ever. Very liberating!
Back to the city: there are so many different areas in Lisbon but once you’re in the city centre, it’s all relative and within reach. Even though I stayed quite a distance from the centre at the Lisbon Marriott Hotel, it didn’t take very long to get home at all. I would have much rather stayed in Bairro Alto (the most scenic area, in my opinion) or along the Avenida Liberdade. Heck, even by the Time Out Market Lisboa in Cais do Sodre would have been better! But honestly, Lisbon’s seamless public transportation made getting around the city extremely accessible.
Getting around Lisbon:
24-hour Metro Pass – Absolutely essential. This 24-hour pass allows for unlimited access on the metro, busses, trams and funiculars. And at only 6 euros, it is quite a steal!
Walking – I would say that Lisbon is a suitable city for a combination of using both public transportation and walking. Because of the extremely hilly terrain, your calves will be getting quite the workout so bear that in mind.
Uber – Yes, the city has Uber and it is quite reasonable, compared other European cities. Can be quite useful especially in those cases where you don’t feel like climbing mountains (literally!).
Things to see in Lisbon:
Time Out Market Lisboa – The most beautiful market I have ever seen in my LIFE. Complete perfection for food lovers may be found here. On one side you will find a traditional market selling fresh produce but on the other side, a food lover’s heaven may be found. High ceilings and numerous food vendors line this 10,000 square foot rectangular-spaced food hall. An array of multicultural food may be found here – not just Portuguese. The southwest wall also houses mini outposts of four celebrity chef’s restaurants – Alexandre Silva, Marlene Vieira, Miguel Castro and Henrique Se Passoa.
Bairro Alto – When I think of Europe, this is what I’d imagine: snaking alleyways, beautiful terraces and viewpoints, rustic and old architecture, old buildings adorned with barely-cracked tiles, flowers hanging off of windowsills and doorways. This is the exact picture that the Bairro Alto painted for me. It’s quite an old area of Lisbon that has so much character. You cannot go to Lisbon without visiting this area. I would take the tram up to save you a bit of the walk (it’s quiet steep!). From the top, you can visit the Castelo de S. Jorge and hop along the many miradouros, or viewing points, and take in the view.
Baixa-Chiado – The beating pulse of Lisbon! This is the definitive center of the city. Lots of beautiful squares and monuments in this area, as well as open-air markets – no need for me to list them all. Museums are also located in this area as well.
LxFactory – It’s a little bit out of the city (train ride or a verrrrrrrrry long walk from Cais do Sodre) but worth it! The LxFactory is an industrial cluster of restaurants and boutique shops – very trendy. Ler Devagar is my favourite spot in the area – part bookstore, part coffee shop, part bar. The famous Landeau Chocolate also dons a location here too, boasting “the best chocolate cake in the world”. If you’re in the Belem area, I’d highly recommend spending some time here in the late afternoon/early evening!
Pasteis de Belem – Yes, this is an absolute must! The purveyors of Portugal’s famous egg tarts, natas, were born here in 1837. Eating in takes some time, but the take out line goes quickly. Do you like it warm? With a sprinkle of fresh cinnamon? On its own? We sampled a lot of natas during our time in Portugal and this was far superior than all of the others. Take a quick train ride from Cais do Sodre and you’re only a stop away and a short walk!
Miradouros – Because Lisbon is so hilly, there are SO many vantage points to take pictures at. If you ever see “miradouro” on your GoogleMaps, you can expect a gorgeous view of the city here, or even the Tagus River.
Mercados - The markets! So many great markets where you can stop for a bite or have a meal. Markets here are comparable to other ones you’d find around the world, especially in Europe. You can expect great food, artisanal products and excellent and unique products to bring home.
Things to eat in Lisbon:
Natas – Ahhhh, the infamous Portuguese egg tart. A flaky pastry with a custardy centre with a perfectly bruleed top. I’ve had good and bad natas - they exist! But if you’re trying it for the first time, all of them will probably taste divine.
Fresh fish - Because Lisbon is situated right by the Tagus River, you’d expect that its seafood would be out of this world - and it is. Try some fantastic whole fish at absurdly cheap prices. We had two whole fish + 1 L of wine for 20 euros. Fantastic…and so fresh!
Giginha – Fancy a liqueur that is definitive of Lisbon? Giginha is a Portuguese liqueur made from the ginja berry. It is a deep red colour and sweet tasting. It was actually quite pleasant! Its served in shot form and I would recommend sipping it to savour the flavour longer. Very similar tasting to cherry. Try it at the historical A Giginha in central Lisbon.
Tascas - Old, cheap, no-frills, homemade food. Tascas are just that - they are old houses scattered throughout Lisbon with no menu, usually no sign serving up some fantastic locale fare. We dined at Das Flores near the Time Out Market. It opens at 12pm for lunch and make sure you have a reservation or be prepared to be turned away. The place is tiny but food was fantastic!
Conservas – Tinned fish is SO much better here in Europe than the crap we have at home and may find in your local grocery store. Fish is super high quality and preserved with flavourful oils and sauces. We stumbled upon Miss Can near the Sao George castle and was completely blown away. You’d best believe I brought 4 of these cans home. The rice-stuffed squid was my favourite.
Caldo verde - Traditional kale and potato soup. Who knew something so simple could be so delicious? I had a fantastic bowl of this at Creme de la Creme at the Time Out Market. Their other soups were so good; it was incredibly difficult to make a decision.
Chocolate cake – Not sure why Portuguese chocolate cake does not get the recognition it needs, but I’m telling you now: you must try this when you’re in town!
Linguica - Portuguese sausage. You can find this almost anywhere in Portugal on any menu. Standard sausage fare, can’t go wrong!
I loved Lisbon - it is a true gem. With tourism increasing tenfold every year, who knows what will happen to the city and the charm that I experienced. From the food to the wine to the sights to the sounds and to the people, Lisbon has it all. And I cannot wait to return.