This post is super late…but better late than never, I guess?!
Have you ever spent NYE on a plane? I can now officially say I rang in 2019 while hurtling through the sky, over the Atlantic Ocean, en route to Lisbon. It was pretty surreal crossing through time zones while friends and family celebrated back home. The Aer Lingus flight attendants were adorable with their jovial party hats, and the Captain came over the loudspeaker at midnight to wish us all a happy new year. The atmosphere on the flight was festive, and our excitement was only amplified by the fact that we were hours away from exploring a new country.
I feel like I describe every place I visit as being “a dream”, but it’s often the first thing that comes to mind. Portugal truly was a romantic, charming, picturesque, sunny dream. Lisbon was built on seven hills, and my legs definitely started to feel the burn after a few hours of walking around. But that’s exactly what Lisbon is: an alluring, walkable city with steep staircases, narrow alleyways, and twists and turns that take you to unexpected places. And those are my favorite kinds of cities. It also didn’t hurt that the sunsets were gorgeous, the food was delicious, and the locals were friendly and welcoming. If you have the chance to visit Portugal, do it. And after you book your flights (or if you already have!), check out my travel guide below.
Organi Chiado: This vegan restaurant impressed us so much that we returned for a second meal a few days later. Their menu changes daily, but they always use fresh ingredients, and their unique dishes are packed with flavor. My first meal was the most memorable, complete with carrot pistachio soup, an incredible chickpea burger, and arroz doce (rice pudding). Give this place a shot, even if you’re an omnivore.
AO26 Vegan Project: Service was admittedly slow here, but the food was great. We started off with a roasted vegetable salad and split the mushroom asparagus risotto entree. It was so rich and creamy…you’d never know it was vegan.
Flower Power: I had no idea how delicious sardines in tomato sauce were until we had lunch at Flower Power. I still can’t look at sardines when I’m eating them, because the tiny bones gross me out, but they taste divine! We also devoured a plate of olives, tuna salad, and gazpacho with crusty bread.
Juicy Lisboa: Yet another restaurant we visited more than once! Juicy Lisboa advertises healthy, sustainable, plant-based dishes, and they definitely deliver. Their hummus was amazing, served with homemade flatbread crisps (so freakin’ tasty!). We also loved their green juice and carrot ginger apple juice.
The Food For Real: This cozy little cafe was a true gem. They serve smoothies, juices, salads, crepes, and Brazilian food, and they have a large variety of vegan and gluten-free options. The employees were really sweet, and they helped us navigate the menu. We split a tapioca crepe (pictured to the right) loaded with eggplant, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and tomato sauce, as well as a gluten-free flour crepe filled with creamy guacamole. Both were served with hearty salads, overflowing with nuts and seeds. I think this was the most unique meal we had in Lisbon.
Time Out Market: Have you ever explored a new city and stumbled upon an unexpected treasure? That’s how we discovered Time Out Market. We were originally trying to locate A Vida Portugesa. I wanted to buy a few souvenirs for friends and family, so we followed the GPS…and wandered into a magical food court. Time Out Market has almost everything you can imagine. Sushi, pizza, burgers, seafood, dry-cured meats, charcuterie boards, ice cream, pastries, chocolates, wine, beer, and more. We decided on sushi and splurged on a cone of salty prosciutto afterwards. Don’t forget to check out the art vendors before you leave!
Fábrica da Nata: If you‘re a fan of sugary sweets, you’ll love pasteis de nata. These custard cream tarts are sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and they basically melt in your mouth. Our hotel was just a few steps away from Fabrica de Nata, so we visited on a daily basis to grab an espresso and indulge our sweet tooth. I also had my first codfish cake here, and oh. my. god. Imagine a fried, savory pastry filled with salted cod, potatoes, onion, parsley, and other spices. That was definitely my favorite Portuguese staple.
Piriquita II: We explored Sintra on our last day in Portugal, and our pit stop at Piriquita II was a glowing highlight of our time there. We tried a handful of different pastries (in fact, we left with an overflowing box of them), but my absolute favorite was the traversseiro. These puff pastries are served warm and filled with almond cream. They’re like sweet, delectable clouds from heaven. Seriously drool-worthy.
CAFES & BARS
Delirium Cafe: We stopped here for a brew after dinner one evening, and it was awesome. It was reminiscent of an eclectic dive bar, complete with pool tables in the back and a huge selection of drinks. Very casual, and the staff was really friendly.
THINGS TO DO
Watch the sunset from a miradouro. Imagine a scenic viewpoint over a hill with benches to relax on, stunning panoramas to admire, and colorful tiles for days. Mirodouros are really popular around Lisbon, and there are several of them. We stumbled upon many by accident while wandering the narrow streets and steep staircases of the city. On one particularly lovely evening, we indulged in Portugese wine and watched the sun descend over the city. You can find a list of mirodouros here.
Walk around LXFactory. LXFactory is a redeveloped industrial site that houses art studios, design offices, local shops, and delicious restaurants. We browsed a massive bookstore, a retro barber shop, and several different market stalls with eccentric items and fashionable clothing. My favorite stop was Landeau Chocolate, where I had the most heavenly slice of chocolate cake and a warm mug of earl grey tea.
Ride in a tuk tuk. I didn’t expect to encounter tuk tuks in Portugal, but the three-wheeled motorcycle taxis were all over Lisbon! They’re expensive, so I don’t suggest using them for frequent transportation, but they’re really fun for a ride or two. We used one to venture up to a mirodouro one night, and it was a (very bumpy) blast.
Take the train to Sintra. This was probably my favorite experience in Portugal. Sintra was absolutely magical, filled with huge palaces, ancient castles, and breathtaking scenery. It only took an hour to get there from Lisbon on the train, but the vibe of Sintra was completely different. It’s much smaller, super quaint, and entrenched in mountains. While there, we toured Pena Palace, walked around Castelo dos Mouros, and ate delicious pastries at Casa Piriquita. There are several different places in Portugal you can easily reach on the train, but I highly recommend Sintra for a day trip.
Check out Torre de Belém. Considered “an architectural jewel of the region” and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, Belém Tower was built as part of the Tagus River’s defense system in the late 15th century. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We didn’t tour the inside of the tower because the line was long and it was windy and freezing outside, but it was truly a sight to behold.
And Padrão dos Descobrimentos. I absolutely adored this monument, which is just a short walk from Belém Tower. It was originally constructed for the 1940 World Fair in celebration of Portuguese explorers and visionaries that established Portugal as an omnipotent seafaring nation. In 1960, it was rebuilt to mark 500 years since the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, who initiated the Age of Discovery. Just look at the detail in this masterpiece!
Explore São Jorge Castle. We saw the most gorgeous sunset from this castle, which towers majestically over Lisbon. Walking around Castelo de São Jorge was a surreal experience, as the impenetrable walls, fortresses, watchtowers and courtyards mentally transported me to a completely different time. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love this experience.
View the city from Tram 28. We didn’t actually ride the infamous yellow tram, but we took several photos while we were in the Alfama District. This unique mode of transportation dates back to the 1930s and is still in use today. (Fun fact: Modern trams can’t actually fit through the narrow streets and tight turns of this route.) If you want a thorough tour of the capital, take a full ride on the tram and admire the Graca, Alfama, Baixa, and Estrela districts.
Wander around the Alfama District. If cobblestone streets, historic buildings, stunning views, and eccentric crafts are your thing, you’ll love the Alfama District. This is one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, and its streets are lined with local shops and cafes. Check out Miradouro das Portas do Sol for an incredible sunset, Lisbon Cathedral (which is the oldest church in the city), Thieves Fair (Lisbon’s most famous flea market), and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte for a breathtaking view of the city. This is also where you can find Castelo de São Jorge and Tram 28.
Shop around A Vida Portuguesa. The local goods in this shop had me drooling. I wanted to buy everything. If you’re looking for souvenirs for friends and family (or yourself, I won’t judge), check this place out. They have snacks, journals, lotions, soaps, books, ceramics, jewelry, and more. Speaking of souvenirs…if you’re a seafood fan, pick up a few tin cans of sardines before you fly home. They’re way better in Portugal than they are in the United States, I’ve since discovered. I never thought I’d be a woman who ate canned sardines, but Portugal apparently changed me.
Have you been to Lisbon? Comment below with your recommendations!