I could talk about the beautiful sunsets. Or maybe the terracotta roofs. Or, perhaps, I could talk about the incredible azulejos throughout the city. But no, I’m going to talk about the sidewalks. Don’t get me wrong, all of the other aspects of Lisbon are great, but every time I reminisce about my trip to Lisbon, I can’t help but think about the sidewalks.
After a trip across the Atlantic and a layover in Brussels, I get to Lisbon around 2:00 P.M. Getting to the city is pretty straightforward and roughly 30 minutes by train. I check into my hostel, the Living Lounge Hostel, located right at the edge of the Barrio Alto. I had read this neighborhood is the place to go, full of nightlife, food, and charm. So I drop off my bags, and it’s time to explore. Often, my first half-day or so in a new city is just time to meander. Follow the crowds, get lost, and see where your feet take you.
I don’t know about you, but my feet often take me to eat or drink. And after a long day of travel, I’m famished. I find myself at Tapisco, a trendy, modern pestisco (think Portuguese tapas) spot in Barrio Alto. The grub included a smattering of bacalhau, tuna tartar, squid ink paella, and some vermouth to wash it all down.
It’s probably about 7:00 P.M., so the night is young. No, really. Most restaurants and bars don’t open until at least 7:00 P.M., so I’m in for a long night. Though the jet lag is setting in, I’m not one to let the Portuguese best my ability to have a night of debauchery, so time for more drinks.
Some people recommended Foxtrot, so time to see what it’s about. A super kitschy, Art Nouveau themed bar. But the cocktails were inventive, and they had an outside garden! Perfect for a spring evening. I think I have one more place in me, and I’m going to stick with the cocktail theme for the night. I took a pleasant stroll down to Pensão Amor. Another eclectic, Art Nouveau, themed joint! The cocktails were also tasty, but at this point, I’m not too sure if it’s the cocktails or legitimate deja vu. Questioning my sanity a bit, time to call it a night.
Though the hostel serves breakfast, I can’t be bothered when there are pasteis de nata at Manteigaria few blocks away. These little bastards are like crack, or might contain crack, or are some type of crack derivative. Whatever the case, I load up on about 5 and hit the road. More wandering today, since it’s my first full day in the city. After a trip to the botanical gardens just north of the Barrio Alto, I head back down to the city center.
Generally speaking, sidewalks are mundane. But not in Lisbon. Every now and then in Lisbon, you’ll come across these stretches adorned with beautiful patterns and designs. The stone is smooth, weathered by time and history. It’s the kind of detail that makes you wish all cities are built with the type of intention they used to be.
Anyway, lunch today is at Taberna Portuguesa, which is fantastic. It’s what I imagine home-cooked Portuguese meals would be like. They have blood sausage on the menu, so of course, I have to indulge. After a few rounds of pestiscos and wine, the food coma is setting in.
A quick snooze and I’m feeling refreshed. Time to visit the old town of Lisbon. On my way to Alfama, I come across a little shop, A Ginjinha, which is basically a booze window where you show up, pay a 1.50, and sip a delightfully tart liquor (more on ginja in another post). The old town of Alfama takes the Lisbon charm to the next level. While walking through the winding cobblestone streets that you would expect from an old European city, I came across Miradouro de Santa Luzia. It’s a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the city and ocean. Many people were there, taking in the sunset with a beer in hand. So I found a little convenience store, grabbed a beer, and joined them.
The neighborhood of Alfama is full of small restaurants and pestisco joints. And I mean small, most of them could maybe hold 20 people. I tried a couple places out, Le Petit Cafe and Ginja de Alfama, both of which I’d recommend for a snack and a drink. Third-dinner was at Casa de Tia Helena, a delightfully charming neighborhood restaurant. I go for the octopus, which is always a solid choice when you’re in Portugal.
With a stomach full of wine and food, I waddled my way back to the Barrio Alto for more drinks. Tonight, the theme is wine and fado. If you aren’t familiar with fado, it’s a type of Portuguese music born from the working class in the 1820s (or maybe earlier) and has deep traditions. Perhaps best captured by the Portuguese word saudade, fado is melancholy and nostalgic. To hear it, I went to O Faia, a restaurant right in the heart of Barrio Alto. No rhyme or reason for why I chose this place, there are a few all over Lisbon that do dinner and fado, just try to make reservations since they are often booked.
After some wine, music, and definitely no tears, time for one more spot. I check out Carinho do Vinho, a wine bar not too far away. It’s a pretty cozy wine bar with a great selection from all over Portugal. The staff was helpful and more than happy to make recommendations, which is always appreciated. I wasn’t sure it was possible to eat more after the day I’d had, but even I can still surprise myself.
Today, the agenda includes a day trip to Sintra, a town outside of Lisbon filled with palaces and parks. So, as it’s going to be a long day full of hiking and train rides, I must do the only reasonable thing and have a few more pasteis de nata and espresso.
The train to Sintra is simple enough and also a beautiful way to see the Portuguese countryside. One thing to note, though you’re dropped off in the town of Sintra, you still have a good deal of walking to do before you get to the palaces. You can rent a little scooter, but I’d stick to walking if you’re up for it.
In hindsight, I wish I had planned my trip there a little more carefully. Since it’s so expansive, it’s easy to spend an entire day there, hiking and taking in all the fairytale scenery. I think I underestimated the expanse of the area. If you have time, I’d say renting a car and exploring the Sintra-Cascais national park, as well as the town of Cascais itself, would be the right call. I still got some good views out of it though.
I get back to Lisbon after a long ass day. It’s my last night in the city, though, so no rest for the weary. Well, ok, I shut my eyes for about 30-45 minutes, but who’s counting. I’m excited about dinner tonight at A Cevicheria. I had read fantastic things about this place, and though it’s technically Peruvian, I figured it would still showcase the Portuguese seafood well. Right away, I felt like the target market for this restaurant. Trendy, minimalist interior with a giant hanging octopus sculpture clearly marketing toward yuppies. But hey, if the food is good, I don’t really care. It was pretty busy, but luckily I managed to grab a seat at the bar (a benefit of solo travel).
I spare no expense at this meal, but hey after a long day of hiking, I deserve it. I had two different types of ceviche, one with beetroot and tuna, which was incredible. The BBQ octopus was also amazing. Basically, you can’t go wrong. Being Peruvian, they also served a very crushable Pisco sour. Very crushable.
Near the end of my meal, some raucous Australians were seated next to me. Turns out, they were in Lisbon for some conference. Who knew. But work travel equals per diems, and since I was making friends, I got to benefit. I was about to wrap up for the night, but who can say no to free Pisco sours? After about four or five, they invited me to O Bom O Mau e O Vilão. If you want to get lit, this is the place to go. A big ass bar with live music, dancing, and cheap rail drinks. It was a long night.
Hangovers aren’t fun, especially when you’re trying to catch an early morning flight. But alas, my time in Lisbon is over. This city met and exceeded all expectations. The food was great, the city was beautiful, and the people were welcoming. But paradise awaits, so onto the next leg of my trip, the Azores.