I visited Lisbon for a long weekend last summer, and although it may be super cliche to say, I fell in love with absolutely everything about this stunning city by the sea. Portugal’s capital has a really genuine and relaxed vibe, and in the evenings the vibrant energy of the city can be heard through the sounds of the deep and beautiful melancholic sounds of Fado in the old town’s narrow streets, balanced perfectly with locals laughing from rooftops.
So, without further ado, here are my top eight tips for enjoying yourself to the max in Lisbon, Portugal.
1. Stay in an Airbnb
Experience the city like a real Lisbonite, and set yourself up with a cozy Airbnb somewhere near the city center. This will let you live like a local or a tourist, depending on what most tickles your fancy. We took advantage of the local restaurants, supermarkets and bars in our area, and felt lucky to see a side of Lisbon that we wouldn’t have visited otherwise. We managed to score ourselves a stay in an architect’s house, which was complete with a back garden where we enjoyed our breakfast in the morning sun and cocktails in the evenings.
2. Eat seafood until you burst – and then have some more
Lisbon is chock full of amazing seafood, and our daily dose of fresh fish, prawns, crab and other delicacies freshly caught from the sea was definitely the highlight of our trip. When visiting Lisbon, a must-do is going to a Cervejaria, a traditional Portuguese restaurant specialising in either meat or seafood. Be prepared for frantic service and to sit shoulder to shoulder with locals gulping down kilos of fresh fish, cockles, and crab, and get ready to have a lot fun! The seafood is consumed with your hands, and you wear a plastic bib to protect your clothes from the shellfish mania. I had seen an episode of Anthony Bourdain where he visited a Cervejaria before our trip, and as I dipped my sixth salty shrimp into the fresh garlic aioli, and gulped down my ice cold Sagres, I whole heartedly agreed with Bourdain’s Cervejaria recommendation.
We visited O Palacio Restaurante Cervejaria, which was to die for, and I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves seafood, beer, and friendly, down-to-earth Portuguese service.
3. Head to Cascais for a day
Although we only had a few days in Lisbon, we had heard so many wonderful things about Cascais that we decided to jump on a train after breakfast one day to explore the Portuguese seaside town. It took us less than an hour to get to Cascais from Lisbon, and as we started wandering around the quaint little town, we were met with bursts of flora crawling across beautifully designed houses, and the smell of freshly grilled seafood wafted in the air.
This naturally meant that our attention soon turned to lunch, and after taking a dip in the sea we wandered into town to have a light bite. This quickly turned into a three course meal complete with a cheeky bottle of Portuguese rose wine (obvs) to wash down the beautiful seafood. We finished the meal and wandered back to the beach, where we spent the afternoon reading books, dipping in the warm ocean, and sipping margaritas at at beach side bar.
4. Enjoy the sounds of Fado at dusk
Fado is a traditional Portuguese music genre dating back to the 1820s (according to this Wikipedia post), and the melancholic songs are sung in a somewhat opera like manner. Lisbon is full of ‘Fado’ restaurants where you can go and enjoy a traditional dinner whilst listening to these hauntingly deep songs sung with a moving passion. We didn’t make it to a restaurant with Fado music, but were privy to several performances on our wanderings around the city.
5. Explore the city by foot and check out the amazing tiles!
Lisbon, and Portugal, is known for its tiles. And what would the country be without them? Lisbon is a brilliant blend of old and new, and I adored wandering around the city noticing all the different pieces of meticulous art that decorated many (if not most) of the buildings. I hadn’t been aware of the history of these artistic masterpieces before visiting Portugal, and unsurprisingly they are an Arab influence, dating back to the 13th century. ‘Azulejo’ (meaning colored stones) were used not only as aesthetically pleasing decorations for buildings, but also as a way to control the temperature of houses, keeping them cool in the blistering Mediterranean sun.
6. Talk to the locals
Portuguese people are not only friendly, they are really, really hospitable and open to tourists, in a way that I haven’t felt very often in other European cities. Most of the locals we met spoke fluent English, and everyone had a story to tell and pieces of advice on which restaurants, bars and sights to see.
Posting to my social channels (especially Instagram and Twitter) was also the perfect way to get insider tips, and I quickly met fellow Instagrammers residing in Lisbon who were keen to tell me about their favourite city haunts. They say there are over 365 different types of Bacalhau (cod) dishes in Portugal, and that you could literally eat a different traditional Portuguese version of this fish every day for a year without running out of choices. Upon hearing this (through Instagram), I decided to take on the challenge of trying as many types of Bacalhau as I could on our long weekend, kind of like the Forrest Gump of Cod, if you will. I bought my first tinned Bacalhau as soon as I landed in Lisbon, and managed to try at least five different types on our three day tour. From tinned and salted cod, to cheesy fritters, the best Bacalhau of them all was had at the Museu da Cerveja in downtown Lisbon.
7. Relax and enjoy being next to the ocean
I am inclined to say that Lisbon is one of my favorite cities in the world to wander around aimlessly in. The seafront is a romantic haven which will keep your ears occupied listening to live tunes blending with the gentle splash of waves while your hands nurse your fourth cocktail. The salty breeze speckled our nights with warm balminess which was the perfect respite after a day spent in the warm sun, and we truly enjoyed just sitting by the water, watching the world go by.
8. Check out Time Out Mercado da Ribeira Lisbon
A few years ago the city’s old main market hall was transformed into the foodie haven that is Time Out Mercado da Ribeira Lisbon, which is a HUGE indoor space made up of everything a hungry traveller could dream of: small restaurant stalls serving modern Portuguese food with a twist, innovative cocktail bars to gulp down fresh and fruity concoctions, specialist shops devoted to tinned Portuguese delicacies, a stall dedicated to edible plants and herbs, the list goes on.
We kicked off our snackventures with a traditional duck croquette with an orange compote finish from Cozinha Da Felicidade, which was a glorious mixture of sweet and savoury, with the duck fat marrying nicely with the tart orange dressing. Next up on the list was a steak tip dish with jalapeños and pickled vegetables from the same place, which wasn’t nearly as good as the croquette, and had a bland finish to it. We rounded off our late afternoon snack session by ordering glazed pork belly with sweet potato mash from Marlene Vieira, which was bursting with flavour, but the crackling wasn’t crispy, so that was a bit of a letdown. We may or may not also have had several other croquettes during our foodscapades, but these were not documented.
And finally, no trip to Portugal would be complete without trying the Pastel de Nata, a traditional Portuguese egg custard tart topped with cinnamon. We didn’t make it to Belem, home of the original Pastel de Nata, but we had one really good flaky goodness alternative at Pastelaria Orion in Lisbon.
Our trip was short, but oh so very, very sweet. Until next time, you beautiful lady by the sea.
Obrigado Lisbon! Stay tuned for more adventures from #thetastytraveller!