Lisbon had been on my radar for quite some time, but more from a place of intrigue about Portugal as a whole --- the lesser popular country on the Iberian Peninsula. I didn’t know much about Portugal, other than many Portuguese settlers had once immigrated to San Diego, and drove much of America’s Finest City’s major fishing trade.
Then, one day, a $200 RT error fare popped up from New York to Lisbon, with a 13 hour layover in Amsterdam. It was only for 5 days total, and in early August when many warn not to travel to Europe, but $200! To Portugal! I had to jump on the deal. It took some convincing (ok, begging) of the Mister, but he finally agreed.
And then the error fare got cancelled. That’s always one of the stipulations of booking travel plans around error fares, but I felt like my dreams were shattered. It was that moment that Lisbon shot to the top of my travel list and I was determined to get to Portugal.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. Another crazy open jaw deal popped up – this time from Boston to Lisbon, then Lisbon on to Argentina. This time it took a little less convincing of the Mister, and then we officially booked.
We ended up spending 5 days in Lisbon and the Algarve and absolutely fell in love. I was ready to send for my things - and pets - and stay forever. Not kidding. It took about one day into the trip until we were dreaming - and then scheming - to buy a flat in Lisbon, rent it out most of the year, and use it as our vacation home. By the end, we were considering straight up selling our house and moving to the Algarve for a few years.
Those dreams have stayed with me to this day…as well as an urge to return to Lisbon and explore more of this beautiful country (namely, Porto, and the Azores). Portugal has been gaining in popularity lately, and I completely understand why. The weather is just about San Diego perfect, the food is to die for, it’s full of history, culture, and amazing views – so something for everyone, and, it’s a pretty cheap destination for still being on the Euro. Although I would love to keep this place all to myself, it deserves attention from travelers far and wide, so I’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons why Lisbon should be your next trip.
1. Enjoy Sundowners From Castelo de São Jorge –
Head up the hills of Alfama to check out amazing 360 degree views of Lisbon at this 11th Century Moorish Castle. Stroll along the Castle ruins, walk around the entire property, or hit one of the beverage stands and score a cheap bottle of Vinho Verde (Portuguese white wine) and enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
2. Eat All The Food At The Timeout Market/Mercado de Ribeira
Food markets are having a moment right now with many popping up around the world’s largest cities, and a trend that I love as a way to get to know a new city. Lisbon’s Timeout Market features stalls from some of the hottest restaurateurs around the city.
3. Stand Watch At An Old Defense Tower
Make the trip to see Tower of Belém - an old fortified tower that used to be a critical part of Lisbon’s defense system during the Age of Discoveries. Changes in the Tagus River now put the tower right by the edge of the river, so you can cross a foot bridge and go inside. Dolce Does Travel (DDT) Tip: speaking from experience here – if you sit on the steps along the water beware that you may be in the splash zone.
Bonus: Also stop at the Discoveries Monument and Jerónimo’s Monastery and DEFINITELY don’t miss…..
4. Gorge Out On The Best Egg Tart In The World
If heaven was packaged up in the form of little pockets of egg tart, it would be called Pastéis de Belém. These egg custard tarts – called Pastéis de Nata – can be found throughout Portugal, as well as other countries with past Portuguese influence – but the best in the world is found in Belém and not to be missed. DDT Tip: don’t wait in the neverending to go line. Wait in the much shorter line for a table, enjoy a few along with a coffee, and pick up a few (dozen) to go from your table. You won’t regret it.
5. Take A Walk On The Wild Side…of Lisbon’s Pink Street
On Wednesdays we may wear pink, but in Lisbon, the street wears it everyday. Head to Rua Nova do Carvalho during the day (not far from Time Out Market) and snag that insta-worthy shot of you following the bright pink-paved street that was once the Red Light District. Come nightfall, the streets are filled with people looking to have a good time.
6. Party In The Streets
While planning our trip, I kept receiving recommendations to definitely go out in the neighborhood of Bairro Alto – but I didn’t get much more than that. Where in Bairro Alto? Which bar? Ha ha ha. Silly, rookie, me. Enter any of the narrow streets or alleys of Bairro Alto, and you will find a place to imbibe. The bars are small, and the drinks are cheap – real cheap – and the patrons end up spilling out into the street to enjoy their bevvies. Get your drink to go, and cruise from bar to bar, and take in some of the street performers along the way. DDT Tip: When I say cheap, I mean it. Like €1.50 draft beers. Or 40 shots for €9.
7. Awaken Your Soul By Soaking Up The Sun
I am not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. But something I started doing on trips, is waking up early one morning to catch a sunrise at some epic locale. And hands down, most soul-awakening experience was at the Miradouro Portas do Sol, in the Alfama district, is a popular spot, but by some miracle, it was completely dead the morning I went and I had the viewpoint – and the city – to myself.
Bonus: Check out any of the Miradouros – or viewpoints – around Lisbon for an awe-inspiring sunset or sunrise. Portas do Sol is located right off the infamous Tram #28, or was just a short walk up from the Airbnb we stayed at – which I definitely recommend. First timer with Airbnb? Don’t miss $40 off your first stay.
8. Do As Lisboans Do
The two alcohols you must try are 1: Ginjinha or Ginja (Jeen-jah) liqueur and 2: Vinho Verde wine. Ginja is made with infused Ginja berries – or sour cherries – and you must try a shot, especially in a chocolate cup. You can find different stores that sell the liqueur, or do a tasting at the Time Out Market. Vinho verde translates to green wine to describe its more youthful grapes – and is a native wine to northern Portugal. The wine is a bit fizzy and effervescent, reminiscent of a light bubbly. It is refreshing, especially in the summer, and very cheap.
9. Take In A Live Fado Show Over Dinner
Fado is a form of Portuguese singing that dates back to the 1820s, typically performed in a restaurant, pub, or café during dinner. It's known for its sad and melancholy tone. An evening at a Fado restaurant in Alfama is a must - but definitely make a reservation. We lucked out in snagging a table the first night, but had to share with another couple from Turkey. There are a number of places that come highly recommended, but we ate at Clube de Fado. The singing was fantastic, as was the food.
10. Experience A Day In A Real Life Fairy Tale
You have likely seen the pictures, but Sintra, a Unesco World Heritage sight, is a must for a day trip from Lisbon. Typically people will add a stop to Cascais, a beach town nearby that comes highly recommended, but with our limited time plus planned stay in the Algarve, we skipped. Sintra's main sights are the Pena Palace, a Moorish Castle, and an unreal mansion with gorgeous gardens, the Quinta da Regaleira. You'll feel like you're living a real life fairytale, from the bright colors and unique architecture of Pena Palace, to the inverted tower at Quinta da Regaleira. It's easy to lose track of time finding all the hidden treasures within Sintra and its various castles and palaces.