Lisbon isn’t really the kind of place you just pass through. This was one of the first lessons I learned upon arriving to Portugal’s capital and largest city. There is something endearing about the raw beauty found here, but a lot of it requires exploration at a slow pace.
Slow exploration is also best due to that fact that Lisbon is a very hilly city. It’s so hilly, in fact, that it reminded me of San Francisco, only with fewer hipsters. Luckily, like San Francisco, the Portuguese capital has trams that help you get around and provide easy access to some of the city’s best areas and attractions.
If you only have two days it’s best to hire a guide who can show you what not to miss. Chances are, you will be inspired to come back for more.
The Dom Pedro Palace is a luxury hotel centrally located near the city’s busiest and most posh shopping areas (all of which are accessible by foot or public transportation). Getting to the main attractions and sights also is hassle-free. Rooms in the hotel are spacious and comfortable; the place also has a wonderful lobby bar open late into the night. Ask for a room with a view of the city and the Tejo river.
Artichokes are a big deal here. I mean, a big deal. You will find them in almost every dish at almost every restaurant in town. Sardines also are all the rage. Grilled, sauteed, even as pate. Sardine pate was never on my list of things to try, but it wasn’t too bad. (Not that I’d have it again, but still…)
Shellfish in general is pretty great here, too, and it isn’t as expensive as it can be in other European destinations. Try Anthony Bourdain’s favorite spot, Cervejaria da Esquina, for beer and shellfish, and Frade dos Mares, which serves authentic Portuguese dishes with a modern twist. Have the octopus in garlic sauce here. It will blow your mind!
I had another favorite meal in a little hole-in-the-wall eatery that my girlfriends and I found while wandering around. I can’t remember the name of the place, but I knew it’d be good when I saw the crowd of locals sitting outside. I went all ethnic with an order of sardines, rice, bean, and beer. It cost me less than the equivalent of about $15.
You don’t have to break the bank for good eats
Since wer’re talking about food, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to head over to Pasteis de Belem, a bakery that has been a part of the Lisbon culinary culture since 1837. Yes, this is kind of a touristy spot (think Mike’s Pastry in Boston’s North End), so we did as tourists do and indulged in several of the bakery’s warm cream pastries and coffee. I was loving life after the first bite. Every week, the bakery serves about 20,000 pastries during the weekdays and 50,000 on the weekend, I think we might have eaten half of their supply in one sitting.
Cool neighborhoods and attractions
Lisbon is a diverse city. Each neighborhood has its own vibe and unique scenery. Alfama is the oldest district. It is the less affluent part of town, but also is the neighborhood with the most character. The architectural influences of the Moors are everywhere; what remain today are these beautiful contrasts of colorful tiles against hanging laundry, everyday life and history side-by-side.
This where Miradouro de Santa Luzia, the city’s most famous lookout point, is located. As its name suggests, the Miradouro is a great spot from which you can take in some of the best views Lisbon has to offer.
Viewfinder tip: Getting around Lisbon is easy to do without a car. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for help as many of them speak English.
Because Belem is where most of the city’s largest monuments are located, it also is one of the most visited parts of the city. You can’t miss the Torre (tower) de Belem or the Mosteiro (monastery) dos Jeronimos, which, in my opinion, are pretty spectacular. Pay for the tour of the monastery, as the guides will share a lot of cool history. The pastry shop for pasteis also is located nearby, and is a great place to stop after your tour.
Bairro Alto, or the upper quarter, is the known for its nightlife. If you long for the local hipster scene, this is where you’ll find it. The neighborhood also is popular for its gay-friendly culture and creative vibe. When I visited, this was the neighborhood where I was enchanted by red wine and Fado singers at Cafe Luso. In all, Bairro Alto is a super-fun area to spend a night or two and grab some drinks with friends.
In all, 48 hours is barely enough time to do all there is to do in Lisbon, but it should enable you to scratch the surface. Beside, you always can add to your list of must-dos for next time.
What would you do with 48 hours in your favorite city?