I heard someone describe Lisbon as “a Spanish Paris.” Sold. Upon arriving in Lisbon, I knew it was a city I was doomed to fall in love with. The people are pleasant and helpful even if you don’t speak a lick of Portuguese (but it’s always nice to learn a few words). The streets were hilly, quaint and lined with mosaics of cobblestone and brightly colored tile. The food was a mixture of fresh seafood and lovely meats. And the history is one of exploration (Does Vasco da Gama ring any bells from History class?) It’s also extremely budget friendly, especially for the quintessential European experience – good food, good wine and a peek at times past. Oh, and late nights. It’s Spanish-influenced after all.
Where to crash and get some R&R
Similar to a B&B, this cozy place is situated in the middle of the Baixa district (where you want to be) and comes highly recommended by locals – you won’t find it on the typical sites. The owners give great recommendations, but they really had me at “we deliver fresh breakfast to your door every morning.”
This unassuming apartment building is also in Baixa, with the added bonus of being flanked by a French bakery and a medieval wine bar. You will feel like a local setting up shop in these adorably decorated units (housing 1-6 people), complete with a balcony overlooking the streets. The price is a steal, but don’t make your showers too long.
Gotta have the hotel experience? The Hotel Do Chiado is located in the historic district and right in the middle of all the action. Rooms offer private terraces and skyline views. However, the best view is from the rooftop bar – head up there around sunset when the weather is nice for spectacular panoramic views.
Feeling frisky? This funky apartment building features eclectic décor that includes chandeliers, zebra rugs and modern art – it’s sure to put you in the party spirit. The staff is helpful in recommending some hot spots that don’t get going ‘til 1 in the morning. Plus, there’s a pizza place and cocktails downstairs to start out the evening right.
Where to chow down and then unbutton the top button
A culinary experience I hope to repeat, José Avillez’s fine dining restaurant features traditional décor such as a cozy fireplace juxtaposed with modern cuisine. Every entrée (I highly recommend the suckling pig) includes a series of inventive tastings such as Olives Three Ways. Go here – it’s the most expensive restaurant in the city but hey, you’re in Portugal and it’s worth it.
Don’t want to spring for Belcanto? That’s OK. Avillez’s Café Lisboa is a more casual option, both in atmosphere and budget. Here you will get the European café experience complete with patio seating over a light lunch or dinner. There’s even an “After Hours” menu with empadas (small pies), toasted sandwiches and pastries. I use the term “light” loosely.
This establishment is hip and the seafood is fresh. So fresh that you can actually pick out the very fish you want from the case, and in just a few minutes that fish is on your plate. The casual vibe is a fun atmosphere for adventurously feasting on sushi, clams, octopus and other seafood dishes, washing it all down with the classic Vinho Verde.
Gelato heaven. This dessert haven has been around since 1949 and the product is 100% natural goodness. The flavors change with the seasons, but here is a sampling of what you can expect: Caramel, Blood Orange and Sweet Egg & Pinenuts.
Where to drink up and get down
One-of-a-kind, this medieval bar serves wine and beer for about two Euros and makes a mean meat and cheese plate. You’re probably wondering what the medieval part means. Think Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. You can order beer in horns (that’s right) and wine in handcrafted clay chalices. Definitely hit this place up late night.
Ah, yes. European nightlife. On the playlist, 90’s American hits. This neighborhood is full of outdoor seating, clubs, and lounges (check out the bohemian Pensão Amor, a former brothel) when you’re ready to party. Be cool, though. Don’t show your American colors and arrive before midnight.
What I love best about Europe is the conversations you have at the end of the day…over a drink of course. A great place to unwind, this place is serious about cocktails – there are over 100 to choose from, with names such as The Best Hello Ever and Jonas the Cactus. Or, do as I did, let them choose for you.
I Just Bought These Pants
Where to nab the best threads
There are tons of street vendors offering everything from paintings to cool coffee mugs to t-shirts. You might think – I’ve seen this painting 10 times. But if you like it, bring it home and be like, “I got this in Portugal.”
My favorite thing to bring back from Europe is wine. Amazing bottles can be only 10 Euros. Some shops to check out: Mercearia Meio da Praça, Garrafeira Nacional and Lx Gourmet. If you go to Douro, buy straight from the vineyard!
Ants in Your Pants
What to do when you can’t sit still
Take a rail car up to this Moorish castle that overlooks the city. Amazing views. Wander around the fortress and picture what it must have been like to live in the olden days (way old), watching for invaders from the many towers. Once you’re done, take your time walking back down to Baixa.
There is a lot of historical stuff to say here but all I can spout out is that this monastery is a beast. HUGE. The monstrosity of the building is the real attraction – I did also peek in the main chapel (it was free) and saw Vasco da Gama’s tomb. For me, the fun was in walking around the grounds alongside the ocean on a sunny day.
Lined with shops and fountains, this square is at the heart of downtown Lisbon. Around sunset, this is a nice place to grab appetizers and wine at one of the outdoor cafés. When I was there, I happened upon the lighting of the Christmas tree and the city lit up the sky with fireworks. Why is it that you turn into a little kid at the sight and sound of fireworks?
If there is a wine region, I want to be there. Portugal’s Douro Valley is breathtaking and well worth 2-3 days in the land of Port. I would recommend the train – it’s only 2 hours to Porto and 3-4 hours to Régua depending on schedule. (My crew rented a car and we would have all been happier on the train.)
I stayed in Régua at the Aquapura Douro Valley and it’s probably the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. Prices in the off-season are a steal. Schedule a customized all-day wine tour with Portugal Deluxe, but beware of wine consumption. My group didn’t make it to the regions most talked about restaurant, D.O.C., due to the heavy pours.