Lisbon, Portugal by Rob Howe writer at The Zanzibar Chest, is the final installment of our guest travel contributor series this month. I wanted to include Lisbon on this travel wish list for 2016 because it made such an impression on me during my first visit many years ago. Portugal is mistakenly overlooked by many tourists when traveling through Europe. It is a slow growing country both in population and modernization, though it is rich in history and culture. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating London, Paris, and Rome. The hilly capital city of Portugal reminds me of San Francisco with it’s street cars, waterfront locale and look-alike suspension bridge, the 25th of April Bridge. Below are Rob’s favorites while visiting Lisbon, the city of seven hills.
Take any list of European must-visit destinations and you can bet that Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, will be somewhere near the top. And rightly so; after all, what’s not to like? A continental climate – hot in the summer, cool in the winter – and an abundance of history, culture, great food, art, architecture and music. Lisbon has beaches, world-renowned for surfing; it has lush green mountains within an hour’s ride. It has magnificent castles, vineyards, and rolling fields of olive groves and cork oaks. Combine this with an extremely relaxed city-wide vibe and a significant English-speaking population, and it’s easy to see how Lisbon is on every European traveller’s bucket list. Let’s take a quick look at the must-sees of the must-see city!
What to do
- Take the tram! – 28 is the number, the famous tram that will take you all through the city, until you arrive at Lisbon’s castle, the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
- Fado – From the Latin fadum (from which English takes ‘fate’), Fado music is soulful, melancholy, yet passionate and emotive.
- Going Up! – The neo-Gothic 45m elevator Santa Justa gives you great view of the city and the castle.
- Go Gothic – The Jerónimos Monastery is the final resting place of great explorer, Vasco de Gama, among others. It’s also the best example of Gothic architecture in the city.
- Get lost! – Lisbon is a steep city, so prepare yourself for ‘leg day!’ Cobbled streets, backstreet shops, restaurants and Fado clubs are well worth the time to seek out. Tired? simply jump on one of the nearest passing trams.
What to eat
- Bacalhau – The Portuguese have managed to find nearly 400 ways of cooking the humble cod. The most common is Bacalhau a bras – kind of an omelette/paella with eggs, onions, potatoes and rice. Simple yet sublime.
- Pasteis de Belem – Custard tarts that the Portuguese take with coffee at all times of the day. Best found in the western barrio of Belem. THE guilty pleasure to be taken in Lisbon.
- Port – Take a ride up to the Port Institute in the Barrio Alto and sample any one of a number of vintage ports in a classic setting. Saúde!
- Caracois – Snails! Caracois are cooked in a herb-rich soup. Sucked out of the shell like oysters, if you want to eat like a local. Cocktail sticks recommended if not!
- Caldeirada – seafood stew. Lots of fresh fish, vegetables and seafood, cooked in white wine, olive oil and spiced up with ginger, garlic, etc. Served with fresh warm bread. Delicious.
Where to stay – the barrios.
- Baixa – the ‘low’ barrio down by the waterfront. Great for shopping around the Placa do Comercio, but a little touristy.
- Chiado – west of the Baixa, moving uphill, Chiado has a more relaxed vibe. Café bars, small bookshops, chic boutiques. More local charm.
- Barrio alto – the top of the hill. Hip, trendy, lots of good boutiques and night life. Can be noisy throughout the night.
- Alfama/Castelo/Graca – east of the Baixa, these three barrios are in the older part of Lisbon. Overlooked by the castle, they are very quiet areas, yet have lots of restaurants and narrow streets to explore.
- São Sebastião and Saldanha – north of Lisbon, but with good connection on the metro, these are more oriented toward the buinsess traveller. neverthless, a decent cheap option if you don’t mind a metro ride.
- Sintra – an hour outside Lisbon, Sintra is a wonderland of castles and parklands and mountains. A true-life Portuguese Disneyland.
- Cascais – take the train 45 mins west to this relaxed port town. It boasts great seafood restaurants and secluded beaches, as well as a bohemian chilled-out vibe.
- Azeitão – an hour Southeast, this is one of Portugal’s famous wine-producing regions. Why not take a slow drive through the rolling vineyards then stop and take a tour of the numerous wine cellars? Who’s the designated driver?
- Mosteiro Palacio Nacional de Mafra – 40km northwest of Lisbon. A monumental example of Baroque architecture, the Mosteiro really is a monster of a palace! Combine with a visit to Ericeira, an elegant seaside town nearby.
- Costa da Caparica – on the opposite bank of the River Tagus from Lisbon, the Costa da Caparica is Lisbon’s go-to beach. Crowded in summer, but it’s a long stretch of beautiful golden sand.
Thank you Rob for sharing a bit of Lisbon with us. I’m glad you included day trips outside of the city as well. Sintra is a worth a day trip at the very least to explore the Castle of the Moors which dates back to the 8th century when the Iberian Peninsula was a Muslim territory. Medieval history has always been an fascination of mine, our lovely guide for a walking tour in Florence, Italy did a beautiful job at painting the landscape of life in the 8th and 9th centuries for us and our kids. I’d love to do the same here!
You can read more about Rob’s travels at The Zanzibar Chest or follow along on his adventures on Facebook.