48 Hours in Lisbon
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to return to Portugal. My first trip here was to the Algave with a college friend. I instantly fell for the golden beaches, the vanilla and cork tress and, of course, the fiery peri peri chicken. I vowed to return soon but never did. Fast forward a few years, and a birthday celebration brings me back to Portugal but this time Lisbon.
Aside from moorish tiled building, vintage yellow trams and mosaic tiled walkways and plazas, the hilly city of Lisbon feels as if it’s opening its arms to welcome you. It feels so comfortable here, like a favourite pair of shoes. The locals are warm and friendly, and you really get the impression that they want you to be here, to immerse yourself in their history and savour their cuisine — from Iberico pork to seafood to baked goods, all every bit as good as the cuisine of their neighbouring Spain. The food is fresh, simple, unpretentious. And although they are proud and passionate about their food, they don’t shout about it nearly enough.
The Portuguese, historically intrepid explorers and world cuisine pioneers, introduced, among other things, chillies to India and tempura to Japan, a dish native to Portugal. But more recently, though, Lisbon has been enjoying a cultural resurgence, with some of its most celebrated chefs doing their part to place Lisbon firmly on the foodie map. With the re-imaging of the historic Mercado de Ribieria into an upscale food court, to the multiple offerings by celebrated local chef Jose Avillez, and wines at Jose Maria da Fonseca’s flagship restaurant By the Wine, Lisbon is worth adding to your must-see list.
So grab your camera, a good pair of walking shoes and explore one of Europe’s most understated capitals. You won’t be disappointed.
Where to stay
Casa do Principe – Praca do Principe Real, 1250-184
During my visit I stayed at this charming bed and breakfast located atop the Barrio Alto neighbourhood. The guest rooms are spacious and beautiful and the breakfast room gorgeous, with a breakfast selection that’s worth getting up for.
Where to eat
Cervejaria Ramiro – Av. Almirante Reis, 1150-007
This restaurant is a seafood paradise — affordable, plentiful and frequented by locals and tourists alike. You’ll find incredibly fresh local sardines, tiger prawns, scarlet shrimp, crabs and clams on the menu, simply prepared with coriander and garlic. Once you’ve had your fill of the seafood, it’s time for dessert. The Prego steak sandwich will complete your meal, washed down with a glass or two of local beer. No reservations are taken, so prepared to queue for a table, but I promise you it’s worth the wait!
Cantinho do Avillez – R. Duques de Bragança, 7, 1200-162
Portuguese cuisines with a world view is how this restaurant likes to present itself. The contemporary cantina style decor is cozy, the food a fusion of traditional and modern. This is one of the five restaurants created by chef Jose Avillez who, along with other young chefs in Lisbon, are leading the charge to put their city on the world food map.
Mercado de Ribieria – Av. 24 de Julho, 481-1200
This large open market has communal tables at the centre with a mix of food, drink and produce stalls on its perimeter. Originally opened in 1892, this market was taken over in 2014 by Timout magazine Lisbon, which created this upscale food court. Food stalls are run by some of Lisbon’s top chefs and offer everything from Portuguese steaks, Maderian breads, hamburgers, sushi, Port, cocktails, you name it. Cooking classes are also on offer.
Where to drink
By the Wine – Rua das Flores, 41
I just happen to pass this wine bar on my way to a dinner reservation. Not only does it offer a vast selection of Portuguese wines by the glass or bottle, but you can also sample local fish dished, steaks and, of course Iberico hams. Wine tastings, wine courses and wine tourism is also available. A must for food and wine lovers.
Ginjinha – Largo Sao Domingos, 8
Just off of the Rossio square is the oldest and most famous Ginjinha bar in Lisbon. Ginjinha, a local wine is made from Morelo cherries and served in small glasses with or without the cherry. Very sweet, utterly delicious!
Quiosquo – Placa Luis de Camoes
There are many Quiosques in Lisbon (small refreshment booths) but, this is one of my favourites. I stopped here several times: in the morning for coffee and mini natas, and in the evening for a pre-dinner appetitive –a glass of Ginjinha, Port or local wine, and a perfect spot for a little people watching.
Where to Explore
Belem was the first neighbourhood on my list. From my hotel, I took a scenic walk passing the Sao Pedro de Alcantara Convent (definitely worth a peak), stopping at the Miradouro do Sao Pedro de Alcantara (Miradouro – look out points) to take in the amazing views of the city and the Castelo de Sao Jorge. From here, I headed to the tram stop at Av. 24 de Julho, which luckily is all down hill. Then I took the number 15 tram to Belem. Tickets can be purchased at the booth next to Cais do Sodre station.
Monteiro dos Jeronimos, Belem tower and the monument Padrao dos Descobrimentos are must-sees in Belem.
Gluten sensitive or not, there is no way I could visit Belem without sampling the local pasties de natas at the famous Pasteis de Belem. Said to be the best in Lisbon, this charming blue and white tiled maze of a pastry shop and cafe is an experience not to be missed.
The Barrio Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon. Take tram 28 or if you’re feeling energetic, walk around the narrow winding streets. There are Miradores dotted all over, and most have at least one Quiosque where you can rest your feet and sample a glass or two of Ginjinha while taking in the stunning views of the city. Keep walking, and you’ll come across more historic buildings and monuments and eventually arrive at the Castelo de Sao Jorge. Walking around the castle grounds, you not only soak up the history but get great panoramic views across Lisbon. The resident peacocks living in the grounds will also provide extra photo opportunities.
Read: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel