10 Reasons to Visit Lisbon, Portugal

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.

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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. 

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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…..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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How To Spend Three Days in Cinque Terre

File Under: Why Cinque Terre deserves more than a day trip.

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Don't miss the See and Stay Guide to Cinque Terre!

I remember exactly where I was when I first learned about the Cinque Terre and saw photos of the five seaside towns located on the Italian Riviera.  It was oddly enough in a French language class in high school while discussing the French Riviera, which led to the Italian Riveria….and photos of these five majestic towns. 

It was also the moment I realized love at first sight was a real thing.  And the moment I decided that someday, I had to explore this part of the world.

It took about 15 years, but finally, this past May, I made it to the Cinque Terre.  I had the same debate as most others do when planning an Italian adventure – Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast? The best advice I was given was you can’t go wrong with either. And while Amalfi Coast is definitely at the top of my list for next time, Cinque Terre was everything that 17-year old me had hoped and dreamed it would be.

We opted to end our 10-day Italian adventure (also included Rome, Florence, a day trip to Tuscany, and a pit stop in Pisa) relaxing in the Cinque Terre which was a fantastic way to end the trip --- but also made it that much harder to get on the plane home. I could’ve stayed in our apartment in Manarola forever.

Cinque Terre is advertised as a popular day trip destination whether staying in Florence, Lucca, or elsewhere on the Italian Riviera.  And while I’m usually a big fan of day trips as a way to maximize your time, not all towns are created equal. The “5 lands” are truly as magical as they’re hyped up to be.  They’re also as busy and crowded as they’re hyped up to be. The real magic of the gorgeous waterfront hill villages happens in the early morning and later evening when all the day-trippers have left. 

So, what’s so magical about Cinque Terre?  I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves…..

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A stop in the Cinque Terre could easily be shortened to 1-2 nights as much as it could be lengthened to 5-7 nights.  I spent 2 nights in Cinque Terre, but maximized train schedules to arrive early enough the first day; I essentially had 2 full days and 2 nights. I could’ve easily spent another 2 days to delve deeper into the five villages, more time on a boat, and see more of the Riviera Coast. But, if you’re crunched for time, 2 days is plenty to explore the 5 towns and spend the third venturing out along the Italian Riviera.


First things first….I’m a realist.  What the heck are these 5 lands?
The Cinque Terre is made up of 5 seaside villages. It’s also often referred to as 5terre. From East to West, you’ve got Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Each has its own charm.

If you’re completely lost about the 5 villages and where to stay – keep reading here!


DAY ONE

Arrival. Arrive by 9 am to maximize day one. See transportation guide. Check into Airbnb/VRBO.

Hit the trailheads. Head to Monterosso via train to start the hike. Walk along the coast from Monterosso al Mare through the tunnel to old town and follow signs for the hike. The hike to Vernazza takes about 2 hours give or take depending on heat, crowds, and your fitness level. Once you get to Vernazza go down through the village and cool off with some lunch al fresco at one of the restaurants right along the water.  Also, you’ve definitely earned a glass of vino.

Explore the towns. Soak up the sun, hang out by the water, explore the shops, and eat some gelato in Vernazza. Then either continue on the hike to Corniglia….or hop on the train. In Corniglia you can’t miss trying the local white wine – Vin Sante. You’ll see tons of vineyards on the hike to Vernazza and all over the hillsides of Corniglia.

Chill waterside: Take as long or as short as you want exploring the towns before heading back to get ready for dinner. If you wind up with extra time, go back and hit the beach in Monterosso, or lay out along the water in one of the other villages.

Dinner with a view: Get a reservation at Billy’s da Trattoria in Manarola (just minutes away from the Airbnb we stayed at), especially on the patio at sunset. The views are to di(n)e for.

Not feeling it?
Alternative options: arrive the night before if you’re coming from anywhere other than Florence, Pisa, or Genoa to have a full day. 

If it’s hot you’ll want to save the hike for day 2 to get an early start. It gets hot on the trail! In that case, Explore the towns on day 1, then spend day 2 hitting the trails and closing off on the water.

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DAY TWO

Rise and Shine: If you booked the same accommodations, start your morning with some coffee on the gorgeous veranda. No better way to start the day and realize how lucky you are to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world!

Hit the towns – again: If you followed our day one suggestions, you only really saw 3 of the 5 villages. Hop the ferry or train to explore the other two (i.e. Manarola, Riomaggiore).

Rent a boat: Head to Riomaggiore boat dock and hire a boat and captain for the day. Those views of the 5 villages and dramatic hillsides are unbeatable from the water.

Aperitivo: I know, I know. We’re partial to Manarola.  But, you can’t hit the Cinque Terre without a visit to Nessun Dorma – a bar with the best views in the Riviera. The cocktail or rosé menu are the best, and don’t miss a cheese plate or bruschetta. Mmmmm.  We enjoyed it here at sunset.

Dinner and drinks: Venture to another town, or find a solid local restaurant for dinner in your village. If staying in Riomaggiore or Vernazza, hit the local watering hole.

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DAY THREE

Free Day! By now you’ve explored all 5 towns, you’ve hit the trailheads, and you’ve spent time out on the water. You can delve deeper into any of those areas (there are some serious hiking trails in the park) – or…take a day to go explore the rest of the Riviera.

I Found My Love…. in Portofino. Buy a train ticket to Rapallo and head toward the water. Buy a roundtrip ferry ticket that will take you to Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttoso. We booked a roundtrip ticket so we could go to Portofino first, then got off in Santa Margherita Ligure to explore and catch a train home from there. Oh, and when in Portofino, definitely sit and get a bottle of wine or bubbly and people watch the yacht parties and the lamborghinis driving down the tiny main road.  Note – if weather and wave conditions are not friendly, the ferry service to San Fruttoso won’t run.

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italian riviera ferry


Not feeling it?
Head east instead to Porto Venere.  Not as well-known as the rest of the towns, a total hidden (for now) gem that fits right in with its sister 5terre and has a few more sights to explore.

Fry Not?
Another gem in the area is Camogli. If you’re in the area the second weekend of May, don’t miss their annual Fish Fry festival. The main festivities run on the Sunday with a giant frying pan on the beach serving up some fresh fish. Events start the night before with giant bonfires on the beach and fireworks. 

3 day itinerary for cinque terre

8 Photos To Make You Fall In Love With Venice

File Under: Travel Inspo

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Do you remember the first time you fell in love with a foreign city, country, culture, or language?

I do.

I remember like it was yesterday. I arrived in Venice and had just absolutely fallen in love.

Love at first sight does exist.

Every nook and cranny of the city. The gondolas. The romance that just oozes out of the city. The food and wine - oh goodness, the food and wine.

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Maybe it was just circumstance - the first overnight stop on our Trip Around the World. The first city I'd ever explored outside of North America.

But I think we were meant to be.  

Venice is a city that grew to power after the fall of Rome.  The city floats, with it's canals as roadways, gondolas as taxis, and vaporettos as public buses or subway system. A city destined to be wandered and explored with no set plans or schedules. 

We arrived in the early evening with just 24 hours to explore.  And within 2 hours I decided I was never going to leave.

Unfortunately, I did leave, but only because Austria was calling my name.

With just 24 hours to soak everything in, we didn't waste a minute before getting lost in the alley ways and enjoying a little dinner with our wine.  

A picture is worth 1000 words, so here's about....10000 words:

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Have you been to Venice? Did you love it or have a different take?  What other city made you fall in love at first sight?

Pin Me!

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A Day in Tuscany With Viator...AKA The Day We Drank All The Wine

Ahhh Tuscany. Think rolling green hills, brilliant blue skies and adorable towns standing high on hilltops throughout southern Tuscany. The Val d’Orcia region is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is quintessential Tuscany -- gorgeous landscapes, vibrant hill towns, Renaissance architecture, charming (and steep) streets, and of course, some of the best wine in the world (but we might be biased).

Views from Pienza

Staying in Tuscany is always the best option, but if you’re a part-time traveler with limited time off like we are, day trips are the way the way to experience the best of both worlds. During our whirlwind Italy trip in May, we stayed in Florence 3 nights and booked a day trip to Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino through Viator.

Montepulciano and Church of St. Biagio

The more popular day trip from Florence includes stops in Siena, San Gimignano, lunch at a Chianti vineyard, and Pisa, but wine drove our decision to opt for the Val d’Orcia tour.  Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile Montepulciano wines are some of the best reds in the world.  Solid go-to Italian wines if you ever find yourself staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin.

THE TOUR

For our Day in Tuscany trip, our tour had pick-ups in both Florence (train station) and in Siena. While booking, we could select to meet at the train station, or have a free pick up at our Airbnb. We opted for the free pick up, but for drop off it will cost you extra.

You visit a winery for tastings, Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano, where you can tour a wine store and cave and get a second free tasting. Unlike the more popular Tuscan Day Trip from Florence, food is not included on this tour, except some crackers/cheese/meat and assorted appetizers at the two tastings, so beware of wine tasting on an empty stomach (unless you’re into that. You cheap date, you.)

WINE TASTING

The first stop was in Montalcino at the Abbadia Ardenga winery. The property spans over 1600 acres, and has a long history of winemaking. It was previously owned by the family of Pope Pius II, who was also key to the development of the town of Pienza (next stop on the tour). The vineyards on the property are solely dedicated to growing the Sangiovese grape varietal and produces 40,000 bottles of wine annually.

For the tour, we had a brief introduction and history lesson from the owner, an adorable older gentleman (who really has a thing for the ladies - you’ve been warned ;)) named Mario. Mario speaks no English, but was there for our entire tour, from learning about the property and family, to pouring wines during the tasting.

We tried four wines - a Rosso di Montalcino, two Brunello di Montalcinos (a D.O.C and D.O.C.G) and a white wine - Vinsanto.  We also opted to try the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - the best of the best - which Mario will open if you’re interested in purchasing.

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Enjoying Tuscan wine!

Four tastings may not sound like much, but when you skip breakfast, it does the job.  After the tastings, the buying of ALL the wine, and a few pictures with Mario, we were off to the town of Montalcino.

Helloooo Mario
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MONTALCINO

We had about an hour to spend wandering the hill town of Montalcino.  It was super charming with lots of shops and a fortress for a great viewpoint (Fortezza di Montalcino).  Fresh off the wine tasting, we grabbed a group of newfound friends from the tour and stepped into another wine store that offered a tasting. Our motto -- when in Tuscany….drink all the wine. After buying even more wine (we have a problem), we had just enough time to grab a quick cappuccino (what else goes better with copious amounts of wine) and head back to the bus.

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PIENZA

The next stop was Pienza  - the cutest little town and the home of Pecorino cheese. Wine, wine, coffee, more wine..and now cheese.  We. Were. In. Heaven.

It was the smallest town we visited, but had an adorable town square with a flower field and beautiful church. The views were amazing and not to be missed.  After a few photo ops, we once again found our new tour friends and went cheese hunting.  

All throughout town there are little storefronts with cheeses, meats, and more wine.  We hit about 4 different ones that offered cheese plates and all shared.  We also picked up some cheese, salami, and some truffle glaze with balsamic vinegar to go for our trek to Cinque Terre the next day at a storefront called La Taverna del Pecorino. The store employee (shop owner? Not sure) was the BEST. He let us try tons of different meats and cheeses and the various flavors of balsamic glaze, so definitely stop in there if you ever find yourself in Pienza!

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MONTEPULCIANO

Chris here -- This was by far the stop I was looking forward to most of all. For many years, wine from Montepulciano has been my go to when staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin (note -- Vino Nobile is different from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo). Generally affordable, but solid, easy to drink, and goes along with most meals - well, at leasts to my unpolished palate.  I had also heard great things about the town itself, so this tour through Val d'Orcia shot the top of my list.

Unlike many wineries throughout Tuscany that require transportation in between tastings, the town of Montepulciano offers walkable unique cantina tastings among its historic streets. On the tour, you had an option to wander on your own for about an hour and a half, or get a cellar tour in the former dungeons turned wine cellars of Azienda Agricola Ercolani, which ended with some light appetizers and free tasting.  Because, well, dungeons and free wine, we opted for the tour.

They offer the tour and free tasting whether or not you're on a larger tour, so if you find yourself in the area, make sure to stop in. Some other popular spots in town include the caves of Cantina Fattoria della Talosa or Contucci Cellars, or the modern Cantina Salcheto with an incredible view of Tuscany’s rolling hills.

After the tour we had about 45 minutes to wander. We stopped in some shops, then made one last quick stop for more wine and to soak up those Tuscan countryside views at Caffe Poliziano. Do stop in and snag a coveted terrace seat and enjoy some wine - or coffee - and GORGEOUS views!

Enjoying Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and espresso on the terrace at Caffe Poliziano
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VIATOR TOURS TAKEAWAY

We booked a few tours through Viator for this trip and found it to be a pretty easy process.  They contract with smaller tour groups, so you’re still supporting local tour guides, but we found the many tour company options to be somewhat overwhelming.  We had great experiences on all of the Viator-booked tours, with fantastic tour guides. Cin Cin!

Tour information is here, and our cost was about $72 per person.

If you're new to Viator, use this link to get $10 off a tour.

Full Disclosure -- if you book and complete a trip, we'll also get $10 towards a future tour. Also note -- this is not a sponsored post. We paid for this tour and views are completely our own.

Dolce Does….A Hunt for Street Art in Nolita, NYC

This post was featured in Pages of Travel.

Fun Fact: Audrey Hepburn is my all-time favorite actress.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s has long been my go to flick whether I am happy, sad, can’t sleep, (ahem…nursing a hangover), or bored on a rainy afternoon. 

In early March I had a planned trip to NYC to visit family and friends while on the east coast for work. I’ve frequented New York in the last several years since my full time job takes me to the east coast a decent amount, so for this trip I had only one thing to see at the top of my list….

Hit Nolita (North of Little Italy) to find the Audrey on Mulberry street art by Tristan Eaton.

It ended up being the coldest weekend of the winter – this SoCal girl was FREEZING! – but my dear friends indulged me, so after a few brunch cocktails to warm us up, off to Nolita we went.

We got dropped off by a cab at the corner of Broome and Mulberry, and right around the corner from Cafe Roma, there she was.

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In the warmer months, there's a little table and chairs set up so you can join Audrey for a meal.

After taking some pictures, we took advantage of the street art, great shopping (tons of boutiques, plus SoHo is nearby!), and the awesome food and drink spots.  We needed some cocktails to keep us warm in that freezing March weather!

There's also some art of John Lennon, Homer Simpson, and Where's Waldo in the neighborhood.

If you’re into street art, shopping, and great food/drinks, or even just getting lost in the city, plan to spend an afternoon next time you’re hunting down street art.  Once you've worked up an appetite, grab a bite at fast-casual Italian spot, Sosta (Mott) or old school Italian restaurant Emilio’s Ballato (Houston), where celebs like Billy Joel are known to frequent. Don’t miss cocktails on the patio at Sweet & Vicious (Spring), or at the Hemingway-meets-tiki RinTinTin cocktail bar. And...you can't go without some Dolci (desserts!) when you're in Little Italy!

I'm always adding to my list of round-the-world street art to catch on future trips.  Drop a note in the comments to let me know where your favorite street art is!

Audrey on Mulberry was featured on Pages of Travel post on 33 coolest street murals around the world -- go check out the other 32 awesome pieces!