When it comes to choosing travel destinations, my family has fairly good taste. My parents, riding high on the joys of retirement, have recently ventured to the likes of Alaska as well as Japan and, along with both my older sisters, they have enthused highly about their trips to one of my all-time dream destinations – New Zealand. So, when I booked a weekend to Lisbon last March and promptly discovered that my parents and sister had also arranged separate trips there for the month prior to mine, I knew there really must be something special to be found in the Portuguese capital.
Lisbon by all accounts is a city rejuvenated and thriving, gracing every cool destination list recently thanks to its glorious restoration after years of decline. It had been on my radar for some time but just missed the cut last year to Vienna for my last solo city break of 2016. Vienna was the perfect winter escape so I definitely had no qualms about that decision, but after staying put for January and February this year, I knew my first trip away could only be to one place: Lisbon.
To say I was excited about this weekend was an understatement. It wasn’t like I was jetting off to an incredibly exotic, far-flung location – it was in fact just three hours on a packed Ryanair flight from London. But these two days were reward for surviving the London winter and the chance to see if this European gem really would live up to the hype, especially when hype can sometimes be detrimental to actual experience.
I was also very happy to share this trip with a good friend of mine who has impeccable travel destination taste, plus works for a travel publisher so had the necessary guidebook sorted for us! Travelling solo has been a reality for me for some time but I was delighted to have company on this occasion. It was the first time I had travelled with someone else in a while but our similar interests in culture and art, as well as taste in food (and gin!) meant we were a great pairing for the weekend. My next trip will probably be solo, but it’s nice to know I have keen travel partners from my circle if the opportunity to venture together ever arises.
And so to Lisbon. Did it live up to the hype? Is it worthy of its placement on every travel wish list going? And are these pastéis de nata really so amazing?
Thankfully, the answer to each was yes!
What about you, have you visited Lisbon? What were your experiences and have you any other recommendations? All comments welcome!
Until next time. . .
Just around the corner from our rental apartment, we happened across this bustling indoor marketplace around lunchtime and after an early start from London it was the perfect location to replenish ourselves for the afternoon. There is quite the choice here with food stalls selling a beautiful array of fresh fruits and nuts, homemade desserts and freshly prepared meat and fish dishes, handmade pasta, sushi and burgers. The great thing about eating here is that everyone can order something different depending on preference, meeting at one of the communal tables in the centre of the market to tuck in together – we were like excited kids when the buzzer, handed out to alert you when your food was ready for collection, started to vibrate around our table!
After a tiring first day in Lisbon we returned in the evening for dinner as it was so nearby. Mercado de Campo de Ourique has a welcoming neighbourhood atmosphere because it is slightly off-centre, with few tourists and both visits were delightful insights into local dining culture.
What a treat to discover that one of the finest seafood restaurants in the city was only a few metres from the door of our apartment rental! This is a sister location to the acclaimed Cervejaria da Esquina in central Lisbon, the brainchild of Portuguese chef Grupo Vítor Sobral. At Peixaria da Esquina, tables sit within a beautifully modern yet cosy space with an open-plan kitchen setting, boosting the impression of modern Portuguese cookery and dining at its finest.
While the menu is hardly groundbreaking, there is a wonderful choice of fresh seafood dishes and our orders were cooked to perfection, making this one of the most enjoyable dining experiences of our trip. Highly recommended from the dessert list is the chocolate salami, perfect with a refreshing after-dinner mint tea!
My dream find for breakfast on our final morning in Lisbon, Dois Três Três is a gem where we sampled delicious coffee, fresh yogurt with fruit, followed by perfectly simple eggs on freshly made and toasted bread. This is the perfect morning, lunch and afternoon spot if you are in the area and you won’t fail to be charmed by the cute interiors, cosy tables and friendly staff.
On our final day in Lisbon we stopped here for a late lunch before our evening flight and the location is a wonderfully open space, buzzing with diners all day. There is a fanciful choice of Portuguese and international cuisines to choose from, making the decision difficult for the hungry mind!
Prominent names from the Portuguese dining scene are permanently camped here with their own kitchen. I opted for delicious squid ink and scallop risotto from the Alexandre Silva kitchen that was absolutely divine and a real highlight from our culinary tour of Lisbon. If you are in the mood for something sweet then a treat from the Nós é Mais Bolos stall is a must; their cakes are renowned as the best in Lisbon so it would seem only right to try one!
Pastéis de nata at
Considered by many visitors to be one of the crucial Lisbon experiences, the tasting of a traditional pastéis de nata (a beautifully delicate pastry tart filled with smooth custard) was definitely on our to-do list and I had read that Manteigaria was one of the best places in town to try one. I have to admit I wouldn’t typically go for something like this but I couldn’t complain about the satisfaction of tasting one fresh from their oven (critical in my view to a good pastéis de nata) with the joyous crisp layers of pastry giving way to succulent custard!
A beautifully presented store with three other locations in the city, this is the ideal place to pick up authentic Portuguese souvenirs. There are charming household items, postcards and an array of traditionally packaged soaps and toothpastes, along with the brightly wrapped tins of food that have become symbolic of the early gastronomic traditions unique to the city’s local grocery stores.
There are an abundance of places hawking replica Portuguese tiles but I’d recommend seeking out this jewel for something a little more unique. What is fantastic about the project here at Cortiço & Netos is that the proceeds from their sales contribute towards preserving the beauty of the Portuguese tile, a wonderful aesthetically-pleasing element of Lisbon’s architectural integrity.
If you are going to pick up one souvenir from Lisbon then a tile is a fantastic choice, my travel companion chose one that now occupies a proud place in the décor of a newly purchased home.
I was desperate to try and find myself a pair of Cubanas after my sister returned from her trip to Lisbon with a gorgeous pair from the Portuguese brand. Cubanas’ designs are my perfect style of shoe and after locating the store in central Lisbon I did indeed fall in love with one pair in particular. Alas they didn’t have my size on the day (common story for my apparently abnormal size 8 female feet) but their website has seen plenty of traffic from my laptop since as I have been checking back for new stock and styles!
I’d highly recommend taking a tram ride to this beautiful district just west of Lisbon. The sense of history is palpable and the incredible architecture of the Jerónimos Monastery is simply astounding, as is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries, dedicated to prominent explorers) and the stunning Tower of Belém, both of which are located along a beautiful stretch of the city’s vast Tagus River.
We visited on a beautifully sunny morning and took the opportunity to have our coffee at one of the numerous riverside bars where the heat from the spring sunshine was quite the treat! Before returning back, we couldn’t resist trying out the infamous Pastéis de Belém for a second custard tart sampling. It’s hard to say if they were better than the offering from Manteigaria (to be honest they are a variation of the same concept) but again the key was that they arrived ready to eat fresh from the oven!
We happily discovered that on the Sunday we were visiting all museums in the city were free after 2.30pm and we were keen to try the modern Calouste Gulbenkian Museum Originally established by Portuguese-based petrol tycoon Calouste Gulbenkian who was of Armenian origin, the building encapsulates late 1960s’ architectural design and atmosphere and we were pleased with the sense of openness and space we found wandering between rooms and exhibitions.
The collections are mainly from an international selection given the origins of its collector, but nonetheless there is some Portuguese work to be found, alongside contemporary displays, Impressionist works and a fantastic array of ancient Egyptian and Persian pieces. There are beautiful gardens in the centre of the grounds, perfect for a few moments to recharge.
Stepping inside Basilica Estrela simply took my breath away. It is a wonder of neoclassical architecture and the central dome is a dizzying display of ornate detail. One key attraction here is the impressive 500-figure cork-sculpted nativity scene by the artist Joaquim Machado de Castro.
Across the road is the lovely Jardim da Estrela, a lush green and tranquil garden frequented by locals and ideal for a stroll or sit down for some respite from navigating Lisbon’s hilly streets.
Take in the view at
We decided to make the climb up to Castelo de Sao Jorge to catch the early evening sunset and it was a great time of day to visit as there were few people around and the city glistened as the daylight faded to a vibrant early-evening glow from the bustling streets below.
On city breaks I love finding the opportunity to gain some height and vantage so I can place where I am and put landmarks and sights of interest in the context of where I have been and where I will be going. Lisbon is great for this with many charming viewpoints to be found the further up the streets from the river you venture and Castelo de Sao Jorge was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. If you don’t fancy walking the steep roads to get there, catch a tram to whisk you to the top!