I’m calling this adventure, “when you can’t get enough of a good thing”, as it was actually our second trip to Portugal in just 5 months! (we visited for a 2-day Lisbon layover in June of 2018 and immediately decided that we needed to return as soon as possible–and we made it back in October!).
Lisboa is more than I ever could have imagined; the cozy streets with stunning b&w mosaic cobblestones and each building with its unique and colorful tiles, thrusted us back in time. And believing that you are the first to discover the exquisite food (fresh SARDINES!) and bright wine (hello, Vinho Verde) is rare feeling. With delicate pastries and a cafe/bar culture to rival Paris–plus centuries of cultural influence from around the world–it’s a place unlike any other we’ve been in Europe. There are also a ton of lovely day trips to easily be had via train (ahem, Belém).
We stayed in the central area of the city, the Cais do Sodre district, and lucked out with this amazing Airbnb apartment. It certainly helped that our place was at the bottom of the hill (let’s just say that Lisboa and its stair system is not for the faint of heart… keep in mind that it’s much easier to walk down the hill at the end of a long day!).
The Lisboa Time Out Market is a great place to start. It’s a gorgeously designed interior market space that houses local produce and fish vendors, as well as miniature versions of some of the best restaurants in the city. Begin here and familiarize yourself with a few treats, meats and local flavor.
Speaking of food, we also booked one of our very first Airbnb “experiences”, Eat and Drink as the Portuguese, with Chef Luis Castelo (@oficinaoito). It was a delicious 4-course seafood dinner with wine pairings and it turned out to be a great way to get our barrings on the culture and food from a local host. *In general, we think that any opportunity do something with a local (a dinner, town tour, learn a craft, etc.) should be snapped-up!
With that, here’s a bit more of what we did (please keep in mind that it rained the entirety of our trip, so we mostly just ate and drank!).
Itinerary + Recos:
Manteigaria: our very favorite place to eat the traditional pasteis de nata (trust me… we indulged at every single bakery we could find!). And this particular bakery won every time.
Café Janis: tiny restaurant with a great sidewalk cafe and excellent breakfast options (but more in the French style).
SEA ME Peixaria Moderna: This small chain acts a fishmonger/restaurant; it was a fun experience and I had my first-ever fresh/grilled sardine (spoiler alert: it was glorious).
LX Factory: for boutique shopping and eats… a super cool, fully restored thread and fabric factory, full of quirky stores and restaurants (a quick, 10-minute train ride from city center).
Restaurante A Praça (at LX Factory): our fav for eats in this area–we had a delicious octopus lunch in their funky, antique warehouse space.
A Cevicheria: stop here for fresh/fancy/yummy ceviche! (and to see the giant octopus hanging from the ceiling).
The Wine Cellar: a great spot to grab a quick glass of wine and chat with your friendly host (ours was the very entertaining, Jezza!).
Boutique Tarberna: in the Alfama area and the very best hidden gem in the city, this tiny bar has lovely live music and the patrons spill out onto the steps to enjoy the ambiance. A MUST DO.
By the Wine: a cool interior worth checking out; sit at the bar and enjoy a glass of their own wine and snack on one of their cheese/meat plates.
Carmo Archaeological Museum: worth taking an hour or so of your day to check out this interesting museum (a super old church without a roof!), giving you historical context and providing a fun photo spot.
Castelo de S. Jorge: it’s quite the uphill hike to make it to this castle, but you’ll be happy you did. It boasts stunning views of the entire city and is an important piece of the history.
The Bertrand Bookstore: the oldest bookstore in the world (1732) and originally the hub of the intellectual scene, it now has a nice cafe and it’s quite a fun experience to dive into each consecutive, arched room of books.
PARK Bar: get here early and park yourself (pun intended) for sunset at this roof-top/garden terrace bar, literally located above a parking garage (it’s tricky to find the elevator for entrance, but totally worth it when you do!). Order a bottle of wine and plan to stay for a couple of hours.
The Fancy Eats:
I’m also calling this trip “the gluttonous period never to be forgotten” because we may have gone slightly overboard with more than a few Michelin-Star restaurant visits (but hey, we didn’t know if we’d be back!).
Loco: if you get a chance to book a table at this restaurant (loco meaning “local”), you will be delighted by every distinct taste and texture of Portugal. Their dance of rich ingredients, lovely wine pairings, the very kindest service, ingenuity with subtle flavors and a few surprise elements, was out-of-this-world. The horse mackerel, to die for (FYI, you must book online months in advance).
ALMA: meaning “soul” and fully living up to its name. We lunched here and got our faces blown off by the presentation and complex tastes (I can only imagine what a dinner holds!). Foie gras perfection, seaweed and cockles, vegetables fried in squid ink batter, and the very best meat (beef tenderloin) that I had in the entire country, plus marvelous wine suggestions from the award-winning Sommelier, Nelson (FYI, you must book online months in advance).
Mini Bar by José Avillez: a fun, almost theatrical experience, it’s worth stopping in to have a drink at the bar and enjoy one of their yummy appetizers (nothing is quite what it seems!).
Tips + Tricks:
Wear smart shoes. No, seriously. Those cobblestones are very slippery and you’re definitely going to get a leg workout.
Eat fresh sardines!!!!
Simply enjoy wandering the small (but steep!) streets of the colorful Bairro Alto and similar neighborhoods, without any agenda.
If you visit Belém, or the Pena Palace in Sintra, do be sure to start your journey VERY early in the morning (otherwise, prepare yourself for multiple hours of waiting in line!).
Watch out for pick-pockets in the super touristy areas (but, duh).
Embrace the tricky language! We found the Portuguese people to be very open and happy to help us learn a few new phrases.
P.S. I can’t end this post without talking about something truly strange and magical that we accidentally stepped into… Chapito e Mesa. Believe it or not, it is a full-fledged CIRCUS boarding school! You’re not necessarily going to visit here for the food (although the view from the restaurant is stunning and the service is great), but rather for the overall experience of it AND to support their artistic way of life–from the general ambiance to the table-side magic show, you won’t be disappointed. And to top it all off, at the end of our meal we wandered down to the very basement level to find a wild, impromptu live music show in progress!
Click the link below to open our google map (with all of our fav spots noted!):
Enjoy some fun images here by me, Bernadette (bernadettephoto.com/ @dettesnaps).