Portugal: Where to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
When my girlfriends began tossing around our next travel destination, "Lisbon" came up more than once. It seemed intriguing enough based on what little we knew (Love Actually?) yet it seemed under-the-radar enough to surprise and delight us. Here is a peek inside my girls' getaway.*
But first--a video recap, thanks to my girlfriend Jayne. Music: Dia De Folga by Ana Moura.
Here's what to do in Lisbon.
Eat all the things at Cafe no Chiado
We were told by a local that this cozy spot was good for a non-expensive lunch and for taking breaks during walks in the Chiado (the neighborhood we stayed in). After dropping our bags at our AirBnB, we posted here for meats, cheeses, and rosé. I have been officially convinced that locally served Portuguese meat and cheese plates are some of the very best.
Breakfast/treats at Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata
We stumbled upon this spot by accident, as it was just down the street from our AirBnB. Pastéis de Nata is a traditional Portuguese pastry that looks like no-big-whoop, but in reality will blow your mind. It's essentially sugar, cream, and egg, whipped up and baked in a buttery, crunchy pastry shell. Then you sprinkle powdered sugar and cinnamon powder on it. And then your tastebuds implode. We ate one almost every morning for breakfast with an espresso and it was worth every damn calorie.
Drinks and snacks at Palacio Chiado
I'll be honest, I couldn't tell if this place was like the Meatpacking District's equivalent of a faux-bougie tourist trap or if it was actually the real deal. What I do know is that I had many delicious Aperol Spritzs there, as well as a damn fine meat and cheese plate.
Dinner at Casa de Pasto
I stumbled on this spot while scouring the internet for "best dinners in Lisbon." As it turned out, Casa de Pasto was spectacular. There's nothing too fancy about it, decor-wise, but the service was beautiful, and the food and local wines were delicious. It was dim, cozy, and quiet.
Dinner at Mini Bar
As far as I can tell, José Avillez is sort of like the Danny Meyer of Portugal. One of the country's most-established names, Avillez owns several restaurants. We weren't able to visit Belcanto, his twice-Michelin-starred spot, but Mini Bar was an experience for the books. Each dish was imaginative yet comforting. The cocktails were on point, and above all, the service was beautiful. Our waitress, Barbara, who often referred to us as "Madames," made our night one to remember. As did the veal risotto. Seriously. It was crazy good.
More pastéis de nata at Pastéis de Belém
In Belém, some sights to see are the Jeronimos Monastery, which is majestic, Belém Tower,which is mysterious, and Pastéis de Belém, which is sort of like Lisbon's version of the Dominique Ansel Bakery (home of the cronut). Or Serendipity. or Magnolia Bakery. As in, if you're in Belém, you kinda have to go and get a pastry from this place. It's beautiful. It's legendary. And it's touristy.
Stroll through the Praça do Comércio
Per the the New York Times: "In the last few years...the square’s icons — an ornate triumphal arch and a statue of King Dom José I — have been refurbished, and a host of new cafes, bars and boutiques has moved in.” For us, it wasn't really about the stuff around the plaza, but just the grand plaza itself. It's expansive, just by the water, and a beautiful spot for snapping pictures on a sunny day.
Lunch, rosé, and gelato at Mercado da Ribeira
This is TimeOut Portugal’s market featuring food stalls with everything including Portuguese wines, meats and cheeses, and traditional Portuguese foods like a meat sandwich. I grabbed a bite at O Prego da Peixaria, a noteworthy local sandwich shop, and paired it with a Super Bock.
Beers and a bite at Cervejaria Trindade
This is the oldest beer house in Lisbon and was recommended to us by a local (as well as Condé Nast Traveler). It's old and beautiful and smelled like seafood. Take it or leave it.
A visit to & tour from Lisbon Destination Hostel
We actually didn't make it to this spot, and I sorely regret it. Not only is the hostel apparently notoriously beautiful, but you can book tours here, including a street art tour, as well as a bike tour through Belém.
Dinner at Restaurant Labios de Mosto
We stumbled upon this cozy-looking restaurant our first night in Lisbon. A bunch of locals were spilling out onto the sidewalk in front of the place, all drinking and smoking, with seemingly no plans to be anywhere else, anytime soon. No other establishment on the block was open, and the inside of the restaurant was nearly empty save a handful of lingering diners. From the tomato rice to something resembling a creamy mushroom casserole, it was one of the best, most authentic meals we had in Portugal.
Impromptu dance party at PARK bar
Per the New York Times: "Directions to Park aren’t promising: Walk into a downbeat concrete parking garage, take the graffiti-stained elevator to the top floor, and trudge up the ramp to the roof. But the payoff is a surprising oasis of trees, bushes and exotic flora with lovely views over Lisbon’s hills."
Yes, we did get lost trying to find the damn place, but once we arrived, sure enough, we were having a dance party on the rooftop of a parking garage. After two Aperol Spritzs, my girlfriends and I found ourselves front and center at the DJ booth, sweating, twirling, and shaking our asses into the night. Definitely worth the detour to get there.
See what Portuguese pizza is made of at Pizzaria Lisboa
We weren't able to squeeze this one in, and I was very sad about it. This is another José Avillez spot that I am determined to visit on my next Lisboa adventure.
Beer and sammies at Portugalia
This restaurant/beer hall was recommended to us by locals, but we didn't find our way there. The steak is apparently the way to go, though the sandwiches seem popular too.
Look at all the tiles
That's it. There is so much beautiful tile in Portugal.
Conceptual shopping at Embaixada
Per NYT: “...the disused 19th-century mansion across from Praça do Principe Real was reborn in 2013 as a neo-sultanic “Conceptual Shopping Gallery” called Embaixada. The stately rooms are occupied by local Portuguese boutiques and brands such as Urze, which sells elegant Portuguese wool goods, and Temporary Brand, a concept store stocking everything from canned sardines to silver hightops by iShoes."
Dinner at Kais
This restaurant was recommended to us by a local--his favorite place, he told us--but we weren't able to make it. It's on my "next time" to-do list.
Brunch at Tartine
I'd made a special note to eat brunch here, but alas, we had too much to do! Nonetheless, the food looks good and the atmosphere seems cozy.
If you're up for a challenge, take the Tram 28 to Alfama
The Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest district, and yeah, it's neat. It's old. It's got winding, sinewy streets that circle up to Castle of St. George like a spiral staircase. But to get a spot on the tram is a real big pain in the butt. And for me--someone who takes a crowded subway from Brooklyn to World Trade Center five days a week--ain't nobody got time to be crammed on a tiny tram during vacation. We found a way to take it later in the day, but if you ask me, just get around on foot or via the subway.
Stroll through the Feira da Ladra in Alfama
This is THE flea market of Lisbon, only open Saturday and Tuesday, between 8am–6pm. It's your average European flea market. Go ready to dig and bargain.
The wine tasting at Lisbon Winery
They tell on you the Lisbon Winery website that they do not serve dinner--that one should expect to dine elsewhere for a full meal. But for 65 Euro/per person, we were served our weight in Portuguese cheeses, charcuteries, dessert, wines, and ports. We wiled away hours learning about Portuguese wines and regions, laughing, and gorging ourselves as if we'd never seen cheese before. Totally worth it.
Dinner at Taberna Rua das Flores
This damn place. I'd read via the Internet that this was a must-do, which was clear by the fact that we couldn't get a table. The way it works: if you arrive and there is no waitlist, you sit. Once they fill up (between 6pm and 7pm), you can be put on the waitlist. It's undetermined how quickly the waitlist closes, but we arrived at 7:30, and we were out of luck. Twice we tried, and twice we failed. Next time.
Take a Tuk Tuk
More than once we chalked up a few extra bucks to ride in the go-cart like taxis. It was definitely the way to get around if you weren't going too far.
After 4 days in Lisbon, we drove to Porto. While we only stopped in two spots, Cascais and Sintra, I'd read up on a few spots, including:
Obidos: There is a big castle and a cherry liqueur made here called Ginja de Obidos.
Peniche: This place just looks REALLY beautiful, but we were told by a local that some of the beaches can be a bit dirty.
Coimbra: About halfway between Lisbon and Porto. Looks like there is some fun stuff to explore like a park with tiny houses and lots of beautiful cathedrals and a university and more beautiful architecture.
Praia de Vierira: Small beach town with what looks to be a boardwalk and giant slide/water park/pool at one of the only resorts in town.
Aveiro: This is about an hour away from Porto, and has been called “the Venice of Portugal.” I’m kind of into this town. Seems like one of the main things to do is take a boat on the canal, but seems like the city is also big enough to have some cute shops, restaurants, etc.
Here's what to do in Porto.
We arrived by dinner time in Porto and holed up in a local restaurant for wine relief and sautéed fish. But first, a glass of wine at Café Majestic. While this spot is beautiful--one of those "must see" spots on every Portugal guide--the food is mediocre. If you're close by, pop in for coffee, but don't kill yourself to eat there (IMHO).
Shop at The Feeting Room
It's a trendy boutique--the Portuguese equivalent to one of New York's many coffee bar-shops. We bought some really cute shoes and the staff was very helpful.
Find homewares, souvenirs, and other goodies at A Vida Portuguesa
Probably my favorite shop in Porto, this cozy locale sells everything from sardines (naturally) to locally made wares to rugs. We stocked up on gifts.
Sandwiches at Stash
Closed for vacation, we weren't able to eat at this sandwich shop by Michelin-starred chef Pedro Lemos. Only my dreams will know.
Port at Vinologia
Another spot we didn't make it to, but per NYT: "For those who are more interested in sampling than shopping, Vinologia offers a choice of port flights (35 euros) that come with a short introduction to the many varieties."
Dinner at ODE Porto Wine House
Our best meal in Porto--a truly wonderful memory. Not only was every dish amazing, the wine was top notch, and the service was impeccable. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time!
Shop at La Paz
Situated in an old pharmacy that used to be the go-to for sailors back in the day, this marine-inspired shop sells fresh button-downs, many a striped tee, and the kind of sweaters and trousers New Englanders covet. The owner was incredibly kind, too.
Port tasting at The Yeatman & Graham's Port Lodge
We didn't make it across the river to The Yeatman, a fancy hotel that does wine tastings at Dick’s, or Graham’s Port Lodge, but both seemed to reputable spots for trying lots of ports.
While Porto proved to be a beautiful, interesting city in its own right, if I were to do it again, I'd had south to the beaches of Algarve. One of these days...
*Thanks to my girlfriends who let me use both their likeness and some of their photos.