I recently had an opportunity to visit Portugal for a long weekend this past May. Portugal, over the years, has steadily become a travel destination for those that have visited other major parts of Europe and are open to explore smaller capitals. Lisbon is an easy destination to get to, especially with the increase in low cost carriers that service it. I had the weekend planned for good weather; unfortunately, I arrived into Lisbon on Saturday morning to torrential rain. I rearranged my schedule accordingly and had a good first visit to Lisbon despite the weather. These are the highlights of my 1.5 days in Lisbon.
Day 1 (Saturday): Arrived in Lisbon to pouring rain
Lisbon International Airport is a small international airport so it was not difficult to get out of the arrival terminal. My sister met me there and found a Starbucks right at Arrivals (outside of customs) with free Wi-Fi to wait for me. This is also a great spot if you need to meet up with other folks flying in from other destinations. We left the airport and easily got a taxi at the taxi stand. (*Taxis in Portugal do not take credit card so make sure you have enough cash.) Our experience with the taxi was not great. Our accommodation was situated on one of the many small side streets in the “Old City” part of Lisbon. Our taxi was old, and the driver did not speak English nor knew where he was going. I later found out that Uber was available in the city which made it much easier to get around.
Once we found our accommodation, which was located a few yards from the Castello de S. Jorge in the Alfama district, we settled in and waited out the pouring rain. We later made our way to the main street along the Tram 28 track and hailed a taxi to Cantinho Do Avillez located in Chiado. This is a casual bistro from the renowned Chef Jose Avillez of Belcanto that serves contemporary Portuguese food. Everything was delicious and the service was attentive. I highly recommend getting a reservation for this restaurant before you get to Lisbon. We also tried to make a reservation to Belcanto, arguably the most famous 2 Michelin rated restaurant in Portugal, but that required a reservation weeks/months in advance. A trick is to get a reservation to Becanto is to make one for lunch.
After the dinner, we walked along the Rua do Arsenal toward the Museu Do Design E Da Moda (“MUDE”) and along the Tram 28 path. We passed the Lisbon Cathedral which is a serene site at night.
Along the way, we stumbled onto bars and restaurants with live music and fado. Fado is a Portuguese version of folk singing. We ended the night with a gorgeous view from the Miradouro das Portas Do Sol in Alfama. This “balcony” has the view of Old Portugal from St. Vincent Monastery to the National Pantheon and the Church of St. Stephen. Lisbon is very safe to walk at night, especially along the Tram 28 line which runs along the main lively road in Lisbon.
Day 2 (Sunday): Windy
We got luckier with the weather on Day 2 when it was only windy. We started the day early and headed over to Castello de Sao Jorge. This castle has been a symbol of Lisbon for over a millennium and is situated on the tallest hill in the city. This allows for breathtaking views of Lisbon as we walked around the ramparts. We also purchased some coffee and egg tart, a specialty of Lisbon for breakfast. The most famous bakery for pasteis in Lisbon is Manteigaria and there is always a long line around the block.
We passed along this Casa do Seluco XVI which is the one of the oldest building in the city dated from the 1500s.
As we wandered around, we saw the outside of the Church of Sao Vicente of Fora and the adjoining monastery that are open to the public. The church houses the world’s largest collection of baroques tile art, but we did not get a chance to wander in due limited time. Instead, we then walked along the Tram 28 pathway toward Miradouro das Portas do Sol for a day time view of Lisbon and its harbor. Along the way to the Cathedra de Lisboa, we stopped by the picturesque Miradouro de Santa Luzia. This lookout point is considered one of the most romantic place in Lisbon due to its terrace, fountains and flowers draping over the area.
Along the way, we shopped at A Arte da Terra which had premium Portuguese crafts and souvenirs. We purchased some really lovely ceramic tiles and dishes to take home with us.
We then walked toward the Cathedral de Lisboa and explored its Romanesque-Gothic style. An interesting house façade called Casa do Bicos is located nearby the cathedral. The façade of this house built in 1523 is covered with 1000 diamond-shaped stones. We continued on our way to the Arco da Rua Augusta which is also the entrance to the Praca Do Comercio. Arco de Rua Augusta was designed to symbolize the gateway of Lisbon back in the late 1700’s. The Praca do Comercio has a monument of King Jose I in the center of the square and various cafes and shops in the surrounding buildings.
We also had a chance to explore the outside of the Museu do Design e da Moda (MUDE) which is Lisbon’s design and fashion museum. While we were visiting, the museum was closed for renovations. The architecture of the building and the surrounding area was still worth walking around and admiring. We made our way to check out the fame Elevador Santa Justa which links the Baixa / Downtown area with Chiado at the top of the elevator. It is an interesting and elegant landmark but we opted not to wait in line just to take the elevator up. The surrounding area has many clothing shops as well.
Our stomachs started growling and our feet demanded that we stop and rest for lunch so we headed over to Mercado da Ribeira for the Time Out food hall. The Mercado da Ribeira is Lisbon’s main food market since 1982 and was taken over by Time Out Lisboa magazine in 2014. The biggest attraction here is the food court which has stalls from top chefs with different brands, local food and drink stalls. We sampled a few food stalls including Chef Alexandre Silva, Chef Miguel Castro Silva and Miguel Laffan- Chicken All Around. You definitely needed to have a partner as the food court gets insanely busy. It took me half an hour to find a table while my sister went to wait in line for the food. You get these electronic beeping medallions that will ring when the food is ready to pick up. It is an interesting way to sample many different food at one time if you have time constraints.
After a lunch that took over 2 hours due to the long wait time for food and a table, we headed to Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. This 16th century monastery has impressive cloister showcasing the intricate stonework. It is easy to get lost along the hallways admiring the cloister and the walkways.
After wandering around for an hour, we made our way across the street and park to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a waterfront monument in the shape of a caravel heading into the sea. This area provided a sweeping view of Lisbon harbor and the 25 de Abril Bridge. The bridge is very similar to San Francisco’ Golden Gate Bridge as they shared the same building company.
We walked along the pier to get to the Torre de Belem. Unfortunately, we were derailed by the wind and the dropping temperature so we aborted our attempt. We only had 1 hour before the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (tile museum) closed so we hailed a cab and dashed to the museum. Portugal is renowned for its tile and the museum presents the history and evolution of the ceramic tile in a converted convent from the 1500s. We were caught off guard by a golden church and a small Mannerist cloister located in the middle of the museum. It was a unique experience and a great way to end a very tiring day.
At the end of our 2nd day in Lisbon, we treated ourselves to 100 Maneiras which is considered one of the top restaurants in Lisbon. The chef, Ljubomir Stanisic, created dishes from ingredients that are available that day. One of his standout creation was the dried cod hanging on a clothes pin. The meal was a gastronomic feast without the explosive budget. The tasting menu is 60 euro and is worth every penny. You can make reservation via email on their website. The wine list is also very good at a reasonable price. We really appreciated the creativity and playfulness of each dish on the tasting menu. The whole experience can be sum up as a gastronomic adventure.
We were able to see just enough of Lisbon to get excited for future trips back to this exciting city. The adventure became an unexpected surprise where the history, architecture, culture and food captivated us. We highly recommend Lisbon on your next trip to Europe.
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Author: Chau Hoang
Featured photo: Milica V at Flickr