Pursuing Pastéis: 3 Days in Lisbon
It was a little over a year ago when my little sister called and said, “I want to go here”. My sister, Vikki, is about 5 years younger and it’s been a long time since we’ve spent more than a few days together. We started daydreaming about walking through the Pena Palace together and I promised her that we could plan a trip when she graduates. Fast forward to Summer 2016, our trip is planned and Dan and Morgan agree to join us. While Sintra sparked our initial interest in Portugal, we decided to spend a few days in Lisbon and get in a bit of beach time in Cascais. We even had a surprise day trip to Azeitão. I immediately fell in love with the architecture, tiles, cobblestone streets and the adorable local cafes. I highly recommend Portugal for the perfect mix of culture, wine, beaches, nightlife and incredible seafood. - Amanda
When Amanda told me she and her sister were going to celebrate her sister’s graduation, of course I jumped on the invitation to join. They were planning a magic week filled with beaches, castles, and sightseeing. While I was excited at the idea to escape Dublin “summer” for the sunshine, I’ll be honest and tell you that I didn’t know what to expect from Portugal. The country didn’t hold the same allure and status as a must-see, like let’s say Spain, Italy, or France, but I think it’s one of the main reasons to go. In fact, I would say that Portugal is now one of my favorite countries and I can’t wait to return to explore both the northern wine regions (Porto) and the southern beaches (Algarve). - Morgan
Portugal is the most Western country on the European mainland continent sharing borders with Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. As we continuously kept telling our friends and family upon our return, Portugal is an AMAZING country filled with warm people, beautiful beaches, rich history, incredible food, and late nights. An underrated European destination, there are fewer crowds than Italy or Greece. In fact, it's safe to say that we only heard a little American English spoken during the week we visited, a huge bonus in our book! Cheaper prices are another great trait that makes Portugal an attractive destination. Run, don't walk, before this spot becomes the next Tulum!
Itinerary at a Glance
We spent all of our time in the Lisbon area with overnights in Sintra and Cascais, but these can easily be visited as day trips if you are strapped for time. However, we highly recommend spending the night in Sintra in order to maximize your time visiting multiple castles and beating the crowds. Trains run frequently from Lisbon to Sintra and Cascais. There are public buses that connect Cascais and Sintra, but we hired a taxi (30 euro), so we could take the coastal route and stop at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point on continental Europe.
Other areas worth visiting that remain on our bucket list include: Porto in the north and the Algarves region in the south. We've heard it's worth adding a few extra days to your trip to visit the towns of Silves, Faro, and Lagos. Don't forget to visit the world famous Marinha Beach. Let us know what you think!
Days 1-4: Lisbon - the capital city of Portugal
We Start in Lisbon
The capital city of Portugal, Lisbon lies in the Southwest where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic. This charming city is reminiscent of San Francisco with its many hills and Golden Gate Bridge copycat. If you're familiar with the Bay Area geography, you may even think the bridge connects Marin County (Lisbon) to San Francisco (Almada). It truly is astonishing to look up at the 25th of April Bridge in Lisbon and NOT think you're in San Francisco.
We fell in love with this charming city full of winding, cobblestone streets lined with colorful and tiled buildings.
We only spent 2 full days in the city. We felt it was enough time to explore the monuments and neighborhoods before heading out of town to the beach. If you're there during the summer, the city really shuts down on the weekends with locals escaping the city heat. We say, you might as well join them!
What to See by Day
Day 1: Belém Sightseeing and Pastéis de Nata
Spend a day walking to the west side of the city exploring Portugal's monuments dedicated to the Age of Discoveries. Take in the views of the Tagus River and over indulge on pastries.
+ Walk from your accommodation along the water to Belém (we stayed in Bairro Alto)
Bairro Alto is a central district with some of the best historical spots. The area is now known for its late nights and parties in the streets. Belém is one of the most Western points in the city with top attractions that bring you back to Portugal's Age of Discoveries such as the Mosteiro dos Jeronimós and the famous Pasteis de Belém. This walk will take you about 1.5 hours. You can also take the 714 bus or tram 15 from the main squares in town.
+ Stop at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the Torre de Belém
These iconic monuments symbolize Portugal's great accomplishments during the Age of Discoveries in the the 15th and 16th centuries when European explorers set out overseas to discover new lands including the New World and first circumnavigation of the world. The Portuguese were the first successful explorers. The Padrão dos Descobrimentos juts out of the Tagus River with Henry the Navigator leading the way. The square also features a compass rose gifted by South Africa. Next, you'll come to the Torre de Belém, a beautiful tower fortress surrounded by the river completed in 1519. You can pay to go in or take amazing pictures from the outside. You can purchase a ticket for 12 euro that gets you access to the Tower and Monestary (see below).
+ Visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Talk about made for Insta pictures...this is it. A not to miss spot, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery) is worth the 10 euro entrance fee. The cloister is absolutely stunning. Take turns with your traveling partners taking pictures from above and below.
+ Taste fresh figs on the street
Lisbon has amazing fruit stands. Take advantage of the freshness at amazing prices. Don't forget to bring cash.
+ Pick up some Pastéis de Belém and enjoy it in the nearby park, Jardim de Belém
When you exit the Monestary from the main entrance/exit point, turn left and walk back towards the center of Lisbon. Down the street, you'll hit Pastéis de Belém, home of the OG pastéis de nata. Since 1837, they're still using the same secret recipe for the unbelievably flaky pastry dough filled with an egg custard. Make sure you get one straight from the oven, and don't forget to sprinkle on powdered sugar and cinnamon. You can take them to go and sit outside in the park across the street.
+ Jump on the 714 bus (€1,80) back to walk around the main square, Praça do Comércio
Give your feet a break and hop on the bus back to the main square, Praça do Comércio. Admire the beautiful municipal buildings as you enter the square. You can walk around and admire the beautiful buildings and statue. We think this is a great spot to end your day. You can ramble up the main road under the Arco du Rua Augusta for some shopping or head back to rest before dinner.
+ Eat dinner at isco da bica followed by wandering the streets of Bairro Alto
Our first night in Lisbon, our Airbnb host suggested dinner under our apartment at isco da bica and it did not disappoint. For more details, see our food recommendations. After dinner, wander the winding cobblestone streets of Bairro Alto. Get lost in the music and overall boisterous vibe in the streets. There are NO open container laws in Portugal, so drinking in the streets is OK and in fact encouraged.
Day 2: Alfalma and Views
Spend a day wandering the streets of Baixa and Alfama to take in the oldest part of the city with incredible architecture and overlook points with breathtaking views.
+ Ride the #28 tram (we walked, but this is a great way to get around if you're tired from yesterday's "hike")
The #28 tram is the longest route in Lisbon that runs east of Baixa, Graça and Alfama before heading west to Estrela and Campo de Ourique. It is the famed yellow tram you've probably seen featured in pictures of Lisbon.
+ Wander the streets of Alfama and visit the Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral), Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa (St. Anthony's Cathedral), and Castelo de São Jorge
Alfama is the oldest district of the city. Get lost in its narrow and winding streets to admire the old architecture and views of the River below. Located next door in the Baixa neighborhood, the sites are icons of the city and not to be missed. The Sé was build in 1150 on the same site as a former mosque after Christians reclaimed the city from the Moors. In fromt of the Sé is the Igreja. The Castelo sits on a hill overlooking the city and has some of the best views. Make sure to climb up and walk the castle walls. There are signs to the stairs from the tram stop on Rua de Santa Justa that take you up to the Castelo. It is quite a steep climb, so take the elevator if you're unable to walk.
+ Hike up the hills to the Miradouro da Senhora Monte for sweeping views of the city
Lisbon is spread across seven steep hills, which allows its visitors amazing sweeping views of the city from above. We recommend walking up to the Miradouro da Senhora Monte after exploring the Castelo.
+ Take an uber to Pastelaria Versailles for afternoon pastries and cappuccinos
We recommend taking an uber to Pastelaria Versailles for an afternoon pick-me-up after all of the hiking around the city. Order one of everything from the counter inside and make sure not to miss the chocolate pasteis de nata. Then head outside to sit and order drinks. They will come out with your selection of sweets. Enjoy while taking in the hustle and bustle.
+ Walk back along the Avenida da Liberdade to admire the gorgeous tree-lined street flanked by mansions and luxury boutiques
The Avenida da Liberdade is one of the most beautiful streets in Lisbon that connects the newer part of the city to the historical center. With its wide pedestrian sidewalks, it's worth a leisurely stroll after your sweet treats to admire the old mansions and windows of the luxury boutiques...unless you happen to stumble in and make an investment purchase.
+ Find a small local tapas restaurant and wander around Alfama in search of traditional Fado
Grab some dinner and if you're up for it, head back to Alfama to find a real Fado club. There are numerous places in Lisbon offering live Fado performances, but the Clube de Fado is supposed to be the best. Fado is the traditional Portuguese music that dates back to the early 1800's. It is poetic and quite sad. Give it a listen before you commit for the night.
Day Trip Ideas
When we travel to cities, even if only for three nights, we always like to get out and experience a different side of the area. The main day trips from Lisbon are Cascais and Sintra, which we will explore in our next posts. Instead, we take you to a less touristy destination for our third day. Azeitão (pronounced azaytowng) is a great option for a day of beach, cheese, and wine tasting. In fact, Azeitão is also the name for the local soft and very pungent goat's cheese.
+ Schedule a car to drive you south to Azeitão for a day of wine, cheese, and beach. Have breakfast in Lisbon and get supplies to have a picnic on the beach and perhaps even mimosas for your hour drive.
We say it's worth the splurge to hire a car to drive you down, so you have the freedom to move at your own speed. You can also use Viator to find a tour. Azeitão is a small village on the edge of a national park worth the visit for its wine and cheese alone, but you can also head further south to experience the beach as a local.
+ Wine taste at Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal, Jose Maria de Fonseca and/or Quinta do Alcube
We made the unfortunate mistake of not planning our wine tasting and tours ahead of time and missed out on visiting Jose Maria de Fonseca. We recommend that you contact the wineries in advance to make sure they will be open and offering tours during your desired times. They often have different opening hours on the weekends than what are listed on the websites. Make sure to try the local cheese with your wine tasting at Bacalhôa. We say spring for the premium tastings. They're still much lower than what you can expect from Napa and Sonoma. Links for additional info: Jose Maria de Fonseca and Quinta do Alcube
+ Bring a bottle with you to Praia da Figueirinha for a lazy afternoon at the beach. The water is cold, but sun is warm. You can rent chairs with umbrellas. Make sure you bring a towel!
Praia da Figueirinha is south of Azeitão on the Atlantic, so the water is pretty cold, but the sand is soft and sun hot. There are amazing views of the luxurious Tróia Peninsula across the water. There's a great restaurant if you're still hungry or need an ice cream to cool off. You may even spot a pod of jumping dolphins off the coast...we did!
+ Head back to Lisbon and walk to Estrelo da Bica for dinner
If you're not too drained, we recommend Estrelo da Bica for tapas. The good news is you can get there at 10pm if you need a cat nap before heading out in Bairro Alto. Everywhere serves late in Lisbon!
Where and What to Eat
If you couldn't tell by now, we equally love the walking exploration component of traveling as well as tasting local delicacies. We believe it's a pretty personal decision when it comes to great food, so instead of listing all the best restaurants in the city, we're going to focus on WHAT you should try and a few recommendations based on Morgan's "card taking" policy, where she takes business cards from her favorite restaurants around the world. It has to be really good. If it fits the bill, then it can go on the blog. Since our short list is by no means extensive, we welcome your comments! Have you been to a must-try place in Lisbon? Please tell us below and share the wealth.
+ As we've said numerous times throughout the post, YOU MUST TRY pastéis de nata. That's plural for 1 pastel. Non-negotiable.
+ Portugal is known for its dishes featuring Bacalhau, salted cod fish.
We say try it two different ways: Bacalhau à Brás and simply grilled served with onions, spinach, potatoes, and olives. The first preparation is shredded with potatoes, onions and scrambled with eggs. YUM.
+ Head to Bairro Alto for dinner once or even twice, we did. You will find small local restaurants where the party flows out into the streets.
Talk about not to miss. You must try the fish tacos and ceviche with rosé from isco da bica. They are out of this world. A tapas style restaurant, the menu is written on a chalk board and constantly changing. The staff could not have been friendlier explaining the dishes. Don’t forget their homemade version of a Snickers bar. Try to get a reservation. If not, go late. Estrela da Bica is another great tapas option in that area. Amazing sangria with a warm atmosphere.
+ Head to Princesa Do Castelo for lunch if you're in Alfama.
It was quite hot when we were in Lisbon in June, so we wanted a light, fresh, and healthy meal for lunch after walking the hills. Princesa Do Castelo hit the spot with fruit smoothies and delicious vegan options.
+ In terms of drinking, make sure to try port, moscatel, amendoa amarga, and ginjinha.
We weren't huge fans of Port, the sweet dessert wine from the Douro Valley in the north of the country. Instead, we LOVED the sweet moscatel wine from the Moscatel de Setúbal grape. You can taste this delcious wine in Azeitão where the grapes are grown. Even better than the moscatel was the amendoa amarga (Amarguinha is the main brand). Do you like almonds? How about almond-based desserts such as marzipan? Well this almond liquer tastes like marzipan in a glass. Seriously sensational. Don't go home without picking up a bottle from duty free at the airport. Finally, ginjinha is a sour cherry liquer. Almost as delicious as the almond liquer, but not quite. Make sure you try the ginjinha in a chocolate shot glass. Yes, there's such a thing as a shot glass made out of chocolate.
Where to Stay
We love using Airbnb (and no, we’re not just saying that because Amanda works there) because it allows you the opportunity to stay in the most centrally located areas without paying the steep hotel prices. Plus, the apartments are typically cleaner than budget hotels. They’re also great for groups because you can find houses or apartments with more bedrooms. You can also save money by cooking a few meals, maybe breakfast, if you choose.
We recommend staying in the heart of the city in the Bairro Alto, Baixa, or Alfama neighborhoods, so you can conveniently walk to the old parts of the city. We stayed in Bairro Alto in this 2 bedroom Airbnb: Bairro Alto Guest House - Adamastor. It was perfect for us, but was located above a loud restaurant/bar so it's not as ideal for light sleepers. Some other incredible looking Airbnb listings can be found in Amanda's wishlist.
TBP Insider Tips
> Say “thank you” in Portuguese: a woman says obrigada and a man says obrigado
> You can use uber in the area!
> Getting to and from the airport: You can hop in a taxi that should cost you 15-20 euro. Make sure you ask if there will be any additional charges. We got slapped with an extra 10 euro for 4 bags. The Aerobus (LINK) is another great option for only 1.35 euro. And yes, they give change on the bus. It connects the airport to Cais do Sodre train station and stops at convenient locations on its way downtown. Morgan took the bus back to the airport from the train station and it was very easy. Just make sure to give yourself extra time as always with public transportation.
> Portugal is on the euro and you should always have cash. You must have a chip on your ATM and credit card when traveling in Europe. Even so, some places may not accept your card because it is chip and signature whereas European cards are chip and pin. Unfortunately, US companies do not offer chip and pin cards. Make sure your credit card does not charge for foreign transaction fees and always choose the local currency if given the option in order to avoid a higher exchange rate. Also, we recommend using a bank, such as Fidelity or Charles Schwab, that does not charge ATM fees.
> If you know you can’t live without going to a particular restaurant for dinner, you should call ahead and make a reservation. The restaurants are small and parties often hold a table for the whole night.
> You can get great wine and beer at the grocery store on the cheap. We found a bottle of beer for 7 cents!
> For the best fruit, head to the local convenience markets.
> If planning a trip, try to go in June for the Festas de Lisbon, a series of festivals throughout the first half of the month. Just make sure you're not there for the Portuguese National Day when the city shuts down. We've heard it's the best time to be in the city with decorations and music in the streets. We were lucky enough to see some of the streamers that still hung from the balconies.