I never fail to be shocked and awed by the affordability and ease of travel within Europe. I mean, don't get me wrong... a boozy weekend in Philly is great and all, but for the same time commitment and nearly same cost, a weekend can be had in Portugal, for example. My family came to visit Paris a few weeks back, and my sister and I just couldn't resist jetting to another location for a quick weekender. Lisbon was the perfect choice.
The city itself has a casual, understated vibe with a touch of beachy cool, and the fabulous seafood that comes with this location. And it's damn cheap to boot (taxi from Paris apartment to airport: 60eur, taxi from Lisbon apartment to airport: 11eur.) We were lucky enough to meet some locals on our first night, giving us an authentic little look into the city. The only thing I would have changed? I should have given myself a high school World History refresher and some background on the language (kept trying to recall if Portugal had any early imperial efforts in Japan. Obrigado sounds a whole lot like arigato...)
Lisbon is located on the Tagus River, which empties into the Atlantic nearby, making the cuisine seafood-heavy. Sardines, crab, pastel de bacalhau... it's all readily available, fresh, and affordable. And when you've had your fish fix, just eat tons of pastel de nata.
- Garrafeira Alfaia: had dinner here our first night, and the food and wine were fabulous.
- Ramiro: the seafood joint locals love to love.
- Pois Café: hang for a coffee or grab brunch when you're in Alfama.
- Pastéis de Belém/Confeitaria Nacional: for pastel de nata, custardy goodness, whatever you want to call it. If you don't make it to Belém, at least be sure to get one of these somewhere. Confeitaria Nacional is quite central.
- Queijaria Nacional: I mean, cheese.
To get a taste of Lisbon's late, street-hang-heavy nightlife, head to Bairro Alto.
- Maria Caxuxa: a former bakery that now offers funky retro decor and solid drinks.
- Tasco do Chico: an intimate, dark space with wonderful fado.
- Pavilhão Chinês: a cabinet of antique curiosities that decided it should probably serve drinks too. We're so glad they did. Their sister bar/speakeasy Procópio is also worth checking out.
- Indie Rock Café: enjoy a drink outside or head in for the solid selection of rock jams.
- The Old Pharmacy: to discover the wines of Portugal. They also have a nice selection of small plates.
While major cities that are filled with must-visit sites are wonderful, Lisbon was perfectly aligned with my preferred travel style: see some important stuff, focus on passing time like a local and getting a feel for the lifestyle. While there are some big-name monuments and neighborhoods that fill the guidebooks, Lisbon is super conducive to simply meandering, eating, and taking in the relaxed ambiance.
- Walk around Alfama. The oldest district in Lisbon, spend an afternoon strolling. As mentioned, start out with brunch at Pois Café then wander, visiting the Castelo de São Jorge, the Lisbon Cathedral, and Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen for views.
- Spend an afternoon in Belém. Set further afield from city-center. Start with a coffee and pasteis de Belém then walk just a few blocks away to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a gorgeous old monastery and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make your way to the water to see the Belém Tower, another UNESCO WHS and Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a monument celebrating Portugal's 15th- and 16th-century explorations. End the day with a bite at the Mercado da Ribeira, a food hall with traditional faves.
- Get souvenirs. I fell hard for the vintage-looking canned goods at Conserveira de Lisboa, and the homegoods at A Vida Portuguesa are adorable.
- Listen to Fado. Getting a taste of this powerful, emotional traditional music of Portugal is a must when in Lisbon. We loved Tasco do Chico above, but also recommend Mesa de Frades in Alfama.
- This adorable Airbnb that my sister and I rented. The owner is a gem, it's quite central, and it's just $81/night for three bedrooms...!
- This Airbnb, just around the corner from the above, that can sleep up to seven and is just $69/night.
- Or if you prefer something besides an apartment, check out the hip The Independente.
Have a reliable recommendation or sweet spot to share? Go crazy in the comments section.