The word is out on Lisbon and the city is now frequently sitting at the top of the travel destinations list every year. Having been eyeing it for a while, Andrew and I planned our Portugal adventure in 2019 and spent three days each in Lisbon and Porto.
Lisbon is a hilly, coastal city (emphasis on “hilly”) with gorgeous weather and beautiful architecture. Even the ground tiles are well designed here! Lisbon is also the capital of Portugal and is home to 2 million people throughout the metropolitan area. Lisbon’s international airport, LIS, makes it easily accessible and the iconic yellow trams or street cars allow visitors to explore the many neighborhoods throughout the city. We spent a weekend exploring Lisbon and would recommend at least including these activities in any Lisboa itinerary.
Though we arrived in Lisbon at the start of the week, we booked a train up to Porto first and planned to spend time in Lisbon during the second half of our week. Traveling by train again, we arrived into Lisbon on a Friday afternoon, checked into our Airbnb to drop our bags and began exploring the city. We were hungry by this point so we headed straight to a local restaurant called A Cevicheria for a late lunch. Located in Barrio Alto, this restaurant serves causal Peruvian cuisine with an Asian twist. We ordered several seafood small plates to try and loved it. Plus, the decor is especially interesting with a giant octopus hanging from the ceiling and a large raw bar that calls for your attention as soon as you enter.
From there, we continued walking through the neighborhood, popping into shops and a few bars as we made our way south toward the water. Portugal has a great gin and tonic scene and we enjoyed several at bars such as Gin Lovers and Pensao Amor. As we neared the coastline, we found musicians playing in a small park and enjoyed the music and people watching for a while before continuing our walk.
When it was time for dinner (I basically find ways to kill time between meals when traveling), we made our way to the Time Out Market Lisboa which was among my favorite meals of the trip. This market is packed with local restaurants and chef stalls, bars, and lines of long tables to encourage community. There were so many delicious options that we ended up selecting different items from multiple stalls – mussels from one, tuna tartare from another, a slice of pavlova, and a glass of port. You really can’t go wrong here. Here’s what we tried:
- Port wine from Pap’Açôrda
- Mushroom and proscuitto pizza from ZeroZero
- Pork fritters from Cafe de Sao Bento
- Mussels from Chef Marlene Vieira’s stall
- Tuna tartar from Tartar-ia
- Berry pavlova from Nos e mais Bolos
The next morning we joined a free walking tour with Lisbon Chill Out at 10am. We booked in advance to ensure it didn’t sell out and spent the next three hours walking around the Barrio Alto, Chiado, Baixa, Alfama and Graça neighborhoods. Our tour began at the Praça Luís de Camões (Luís de Camões Square) where we learned about the history of the square and several key figures memorialized with statues. From there we began our walk through the various neighborhoods and heard stories about the people who lived there, including the older ladies in Alfama who make their own ginja, a sour cherry liqueur. Our group stopped to purchase samples for a euro each (though it’s debatable if the samples we had were actually homemade – they were great nevertheless) and learned about the traditional custom of creating a selling this liqueur in the neighborhood.
Our tour continued on through the winding streets back toward the coastline and then up the hill for more history, architecture and great views. I always love these free walking tours. They’re a great way to become acquainted with a new city and to meet a few fellow travelers, too. Don’t be deceived by the word “free” though. While the tour itself is free, you’re expected to give your guide a tip (usually 10 euro or so per person) that represents how valuable you believe the tour to be. Either way, it’s a great deal and a perfect way to learn more about the city you’re in.
For lunch we popped in to a taverna near our Airbnb that was small, filled with locals and only offering one dish for the day. The chef had made a stew with meat and vegetables and that’s all there was. We were happy to agree and so thankful we stumbled upon this spot as it was flavorful and satisfying. Though I don’t know the name of the restaurant, I will say that it’s often a great idea to stop into restaurants based on the atmosphere rather than only selecting places you’ve read about online.
From there we visited the Lisbon Cathedral and grabbed an afternoon cocktail in a nearby park. After more walking, we paused for a wine tasting at By the Wine. We were super spoiled in Porto with all of the amazing port wine and were actually surprised to see that there weren’t many port wines on offer in Lisbon. Instead, we opted for tastings of other local varieties. We weren’t complaining.
Our final day in Lisbon was also my favorite day. In the morning we boarded a tram to Belém Station to spend the day exploring Lisbon’s Belém district, home to the Belém Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and the famous Pasteis de Belém. We purchased combined tickets to the tower and monastery and really enjoyed exploring both of these historic sights. The monastery is absolutely beautiful and an example of Portuguese gothic-style architecture. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and contains the tombs of the royal family, Vasco de Gama, and Luís de Camões. Next door to the monastery is a smaller chapel that’s free to enter and also worth your time.
After the monastery, we checked out the line for the pasteis. This pasteis is famous for the pastel de nata, an egg tart pastry that’s common in Portugal. Being common, one would think there wouldn’t be a line to try one but no, this is THE place for the pastel de nata as it’s become super famous for their secret recipe. Honestly, the line went on for ages and was not moving quickly so we took a lap around the inside to see if there was a to-go option (there isn’t) and decided to move on. You can grab one of these pastries at just about any coffee shop throughout the city so there are plenty to try and while they’re good, they aren’t worth waiting in line for hours IMO. I’ll take another slide of pavlova please and thanks!
After passing on the line, we walked over to visit the Belém Tower, a 16th century monument that served as the gateway to Lisbon and as a defense against possible invasions. The tower is surprisingly small and narrow for such a large purpose though it’s a very interesting visit. There are several ideal vantage points for spotting incoming conflict making it easy to imagine what it might have been like to be stationed here. The tower stands tall at the bank of the Tagus River which opens up to the Atlantic Ocean.
As you walk along the shoreline back from the tower, take the time to stop and admire the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument. This incredible monument stands at 170 feet (52 meters) tall and has the sculptures of the famous explorers and figures who played a significant role during Portugal’s age of discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument is so large that it will take you a few minutes just to walk around it with figures flanking both sides of the structure. There were several whom I recognized and many more I had to research; all of which was impressive either way.
Our final stop for the day required us to board the tram again and begin to make our way back to the main part of Lisbon. When we were about halfway between the district of Belém and downtown Lisbon, we hopped of the tram to visit the LX Factory, a large industrial complex with shops and restaurants. Sundays are their flea market days so the cobblestone paths were buzzing with people and vendors when we arrived. The complex is massive and has a lot going on without the flea market already so we were a little overwhelmed with navigating the place. After eventually finding a map, we picked out a few restaurants and bars we wanted to try and browsed the vendors along the paths on our way inside. Within the complex are multiple levels filled with shops, restaurants, and bars, some of which do not open until the early evening, as we learned.
We selected Rio Maravilha as the location of our final dinner in Portugal and it did not disappoint. While waiting for dinner service to begin, we began chatting with American doctors in town for a conference. Enjoying the conversation, we opted to dine together and selected several different dishes for everyone to try. We ate everything from vegetable curry, octopus and bone marrow to steak and several desserts, all of which were equally amazing. I did not take any pictures during this meal which I think is evidence of how perfect the evening was. I could not have asked for a better dining experience to end our weekend in Lisbon and our weeklong adventure in Portugal.