I realised something in Lisbon. I am a nightmare to travel with. Not because I’m dozy, or lazy, or tight, or uninterested. But because I like food. Hell, I love food. I love it so much that when I go away I create endless lists of places I want to eat and drink, and then I start doing things like making grid charts of where I need to be and when. And timetables. And maps, with stars and scribbles all over them. And stickers.
Then the lucky person I’m travelling with gets dragged from meal to meal, like a bad school trip. And then I make them eat waaaay more than they are comfortable with, and we leave feeling full and lethargic, before I check my watch and realise we need to hot foot it across town for our next meal.
And so it continues.
The good thing about this is, if you read this blog, and you aren’t a long suffering, stuffed full friend, then I have basically eaten all the shit so you don’t have to. This blog post is one epic list of what to see/do/eat in Lisbon, and without it… well… you’re buggered.
Because Lisbon is one hell of a city. I’ve renamed it: “Lisbon: the city that just keeps giving.” It has it all. The food, the nightlife, the beaches. It’s cheap, close to the airport, breezy, there are no mosquitoes. Lisbon is a generous city. It just wants you to enjoy it.
And so do I.
This is how:
One of the best things about Lisbon is that they stick two fingers up at the dry bread basket. You know, the stale bread you fill up on before a meal as you wait for your food to arrive.
Instead, many of Lisbon’s restaurants give you baskets of toasted bread dripping with garlic butter. That’s also what they do at Ramiro. An institution in the city, this big and bustling “seafood temple” is packed with locals tucking into seafood including percebes (barnacles), crab and king prawns. OK, I admit I went too far with the ordering. As my friend slipped into a food coma, I got involved in the final dish – a deliciously salty prego, a garlic smothered steak sandwich that the locals eat instead of dessert. Arrive here early because queues are BIG, otherwise expect to wait an hour or so (they keep you topped up with beer outside while you wait). Av. Almirante Reis, No 1 – H.
F*ck me this place is good. They have one food item on their menu: chocolate cake. And it really is the best I’ve eaten. Rich, gooey with a hint of salt (the food in the city is notoriously salty – even the cake). The whole concept of this place is about sharing, sharing tables, sharing cake. But don’t be a puss – have a slice each. If you really
like it, you can buy whole cakes to cake away. Rua da Flores, No 70.
A cute little bakery in the Chiado district, Tartine combines Portuguese traditions with French techniques. This box of pastries and two coffees came in at under ten euro. My favourite was the shortbread tart filled with apple compote, topped with a condensed milk foam and cinnamon. Rua Serpa Pinto, 15A.
Expect old biddies and tourists at this custard tart institution in Belem. It’s in all the guide books but for good reason; I ate my body weight in custard tarts over five days, and this was undoubtedly the best (others must agree – they sell around 20,000 of the things a day). You can order them to take away (I saw grannies with boxes piled higher than their heads), but I’d say take a seat in the warren of blue and white tiled rooms, and enjoy with a coffee. Rua de Belem, No 84 -92.
My favourite part of town is definitely Bairro Alto (or Bally Ally when you’ve had a few). It’s a maze of narrow and hilly cobbled streets lined with small bars (go to any of them, they’re all good). Locals spill out onto the streets guzzling beers and litres of caiprinhas (yes, litres – be wary of the hangover). Expect impromptu concerts from buskers in the street and an electric carnival atmosphere.
Over in Alfama, slow down with a more sophisticated kind of nightlife. Here you can hear the sorrowful sounds of “fado” – Lisbon’s signature music – floating over the rooftops. It’s slightly more relaxed, but less fun, I think.
Formerly a brothel, this trendy bar is one of Lisbon’s hottest night spots. Frescoed ceilings, mirrored walls, eclectic furniture and intriguing X-rated ornaments in the loo are all part of the experience. Queues get big so go early – it’s worth seeing. Rua do Alecrim, 1200 – 292.
I’ve made this pic small as it’s a bit…rude. You get the idea.
All around Lisbon you’ll spot little kiosks in squares, great places to stop for a breather and a Sagres beer/white port and tonic (TRY IT).
For some reason, too many caipirinhas perhaps, we decided to go to a club called Urban Beach. Avoid it at all costs. This guy hated it so much he was sick! I hated it so much that I was sick too!
Over in Belem the intricately beautiful Jeronimos monastery is fascinating. When the industrial revolution ousted the monks in 1920, one escaped to the nearby Pesties de Belem (mentioned above) and exchanged his safety in return for the now famous pastel de nata recipe.
Detour to the Belem Tower for a beautiful example of Manueline architecture (the tower’s silhouette resembles a ship, with an aim to ward off pirates back in the day).
Set in one of the most famous squares in Lisbon, the roof of Convento do Carmo collapsed during the 1755 earthquake, sadly killing all of the occupants. As a mark of respect, the roof has not been replaced, and the gothic arches now rise into the sky.
Bruce Springsteen fans, we’re like homing pigeons. Can you imagine my joy when I found a lady who loves food as much as me, and she’s also a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN FAN. Yep, Celia is a food journalist who runs the brilliant Eat Drink Walk tour of Lisbon, and if you like your food, you’ve got to do it. Hair of the dog style, Celia started our day with a local cherry brandy, which we shot back (well no one told me to sip it) before we moved on to Mercardo da Rebeira, a gathering of food kiosks in Cais de Sodre. Here we tried tempura beans, cheese and ham, before we followed her to one of the most famous shops in town for a fishy feast. www.eatdrinkwalk.com
Did I mention that Lisbon is a city of seven hills? Yep, and they are all bloody steep. We hiked up and down a few and then realised the best way to get around the city was blatantly on a motorbike with a side car. So for half a day Daniel whizzed us around the city, while we pissed ourselves laughing. Travelling by sidecar means you can access the hilly parts of town that trams/cars/buses can’t reach (and the bits you can’t be arsed to climb).
As his sidecar isn’t branded you don’t look like a tit either, you just look like three cool people cruising around on their bike. Yeah!
Daniel strikes the right balance of informative but fun. He does half day tours, full day tours and day trips to places like Sintra (doing that next time). If you’re up for a laugh, this is it. www.bikemyside.com
If all the excitement of the city becomes too much to handle, hop on the train for 30 mins and you’ll find yourself in the pretty little beach town of Cascais. There’s several beaches to choose from (stroll around to find the one you prefer), then settle down for an afternoon of tanning, dipping (it’s chilly!) people watching and beer drinking.
We kept being told to ride the canary yellow No. 28 tram, so we did. Built in England in the early 20th century, the trams rattle the steep slopes through town. It gets busy, but it’s still worth doing the whole journey. To get the best views grab a seat at the side and stick your head out the window. Like a dog.
Ride this funicular up the hill (not down the hill, like we did – amateurs) and look out for graffiti as you go – Lisbon is one of the most graffiti cities in the world, but it’s more street art and less scrawls.
Lisbon is crammed with vintage shops, and along with a joyful 80s batwing shirt I found vinyls including Billy Idol and The Waterboys. Oh and a catapult. And a back pack.
Dreamy option in Cais do Sodre. My thoughts here.
Sleek, minimalist, with a rooftop pool. My thoughts here.
I could keep going. Churches. Bars. Restaurants. But if you’re stuck for time, stick to the above and you are guaranteed good times. It’s the city that just keeps giving, remember?