Latest posts by Philip Santos Moreira (see all)
- Guide to Lisbon, Portugal - June 10, 2019
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: One of Europe’s Underrated Treasures - February 11, 2017
- Costa Rica: 5 Places Not to Miss - February 1, 2017
I have countless friends that have asked me over the years ‘what to see,’ ‘what to do’ and ‘what to eat’ in Portugal. I usually follow those questions with “how much time do you have?” That question applies to both the time they have there and at the very moment they asked. I could talk non-stop about Portugal.
At the time of writing this article, I have now been to 41 countries and probably well over 400 towns and cities. I would still rank Portugal as my favorite country and Lisbon as one of my favorite cities. I now share with you all of the travel details, including food, that I would recommend to you when you are visiting Lisbon. This list is a culmination of my experiences there over the last 15 years.
First, I want to mention safety. Like any city in the world, always be aware of your surroundings. The most common negative situation you may find yourself in is being the victim of a pickpocket, petty robbery, or being offered drugs to buy. I’ve never encountered the first two situations, but I have had friends and family experience them.
I have frequently been offered to buy drugs. You can easily walk away, say no, or ignore them. Portugal is a very drug liberal country, but it is never my recommendation to purchase from these individuals. With all that said, Portugal is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world and I have never encountered a dangerous or uncomfortable situation while traveling through the country.
If I were guiding someone, I would start by walking west of the city center along the coastline. The center, for my purposes, is from a point of interest standpoint and can be thought of as the Baixa District or Praça do Comércio, more specifically.
There is a nice boardwalk that extends well past the Ponte 25 de Abril. Here you will find beautiful views of the Tejo (Tagus) River, marinas, Almada (city seen opposite of Lisbon), and you may even find love.
As you continue to walk, you’ll eventually enter the Belém district. The Padrao dos Descobrimentos is a monument honoring important Portuguese figures during the golden age of exploration. If interested, you can read more here. The Compass Ross and Mappa Mundi will also be found here.
Walking further west you’ll arrive at the Torre de Belém, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You may enter if you wish but it is not my personal recommendation. Now that you are here, I would start to loop backwards towards the city center after first crossing the street to see the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.
Large gardens worth wandering through in from of the monastery are Jardim da Praca do Imperio, Jardim Vasco da Gama/Jardim de Belém, and Jardim Afonso de Albuquerque.
After your visit here it is a very short walk to eat at the world famous “Pasteis de Belem” and have a Pastel de Belem. This location is the only known location in the world with the original recipe because only 3 people in the world know the original recipe since it is kept secret.
A widely known variation of this recipe is the “Patel de Nata.” However, they are distinct and not exactly the same pastry though they look to be the same. En route back towards the center, you’ll pass the relatively newly created Lx Factory in the Alcântara district,t which is a renovated industrial park turned artsy retail and restaurants.
I would then walk to Praça do Comércio in the Baixa district which includes the Arco da Rua Augusta and Cais das Colunas. The “Cais das Colunas” used to give access to ferry boats and other vessels connecting Praça do Comércio to the Tejo’ south bank. I would recommend taking in this area for a little unless you are short on time.
I have spent many hours sitting here just relaxing and enjoying the scenery, people watching and random listening to the music usually played near this popular spot.
In the Praça do Comércio you can try “Bolinhos de Bacalhau” which is made from a mixture of potatoes, bacalhau (codfish), eggs, parsley, and onion. This can be found at the “Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau.” It is a touristy spot though, and honestly, you can find these treats many places, but the quality of these are great and they fill these with Serra da Estrela cheese; that cheese is fantastic, so for those reasons I recommend this location. You can eat the white wafer-like label on the outside of the Bolinho by the way; this does not appear to be common knowledge.
Next, I would walk all the avenues parallel to Rua Augusta Ave. Shops and restaurants are plentiful. I highly recommend you avoid eating at places that look like they are not run by the Portuguese. This is a tourist trap and the quality of the food is not authentic.
My general recommendation is to avoid this area for eating (unless they are genuinely Portuguese run). It is also my recommendation to avoid the Santa Justa Lift. You can admire it from the street, but don’t waste time and money for a ticket up. There are plenty of free areas for views over the city, including the area you would exit on the Santa Justa Lift.
Rossio Square is a great location to head to after exploration of these avenues. From this area ,you can either head to the relative east where the Alfama district is located or the relative west to the Chiado and Barrio Alto Districts.
In the Alfama district ,you have the Castelo de São Jorge at the top. It’s a cool castle that represents a wealth of history and has fantastic views, but not so incredible I would recommend paying to enter. This is just my opinion. An almost equally rewarding view can be found northward of the castle is the Miradouro da Graça/Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.
If you venture in that direction (something I recommend) you will have a great time exploring the streets in that surrounding area. If you go southward of the castle (towards the river) you’ll find beautiful narrow streets that are a treasure to wander. The Miradouro das Portas do Sol is a highlight of this area as it offers a spectacular view over the Alfama district.
The Miradouro de Santa Luzia is just south along Rua Limoeiro and is also a very beautiful area to see. People may tell you that you have to ride the famous ‘Tram 28’ through the picturesque streets of Alfama; I’m telling you that it is not a ‘must do.’ Tram 28 will take you through the same streets you can walk. Ultimately, it is your choice if you want this exact experience or not. I have always found it more rewarding on foot.
Other notable points of interest in the Alfama district are the following churches in order of importance: Igreja de São Miguel, Sé de Lisboa, Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa, Igreja da Madalena, and the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição Velha.
To wrap up the Alfama district I very strongly recommend you find a traditional “Fado” music event which will usually be held at night in a coffee shop or restaurant; it’s traditional Portuguese music which often sings about love, but can really be about anything.
The music is very beautiful to listen to live, either while you eat or after. Three versions of Fado can be found throughout the country in: Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto; each city has a unique style. Lisbon is argued to be the birthplace of this style of Portuguese music. The Barrio Alto District of Lisbon is a popular and authentic location for the music as well.
Next up are the Barrio Alto and Chiado districts. I group them together because they are roughly in the same section and it is easy to seamlessly pass between the two without realizing. Chiado is relatively south of Barrio Alto and includes attractions such as the famous A Brasileira café/restaurant, Convento do Carmo (open air convent destroyed by the 1755 earthquake), Miradouro de Santa Catarina/Adamastor (grab a bottle and relax with the many locals), and the Igreja de São Roque.
Remember when I mentioned earlier there was a free view from Santa Justa Lift? Well, turn the corner at the Convento do Carmo and there you have it. Need a place to stay? Like hostels? I once stayed at Oasis Backpackers Hostel just down the street from the Miradouro de Santa Catarina and it was a pretty awesome place. A place to avoid in this area is the marketplace called Mercado da Ribeira.
I visited in 2017 with a local friend and while the food may seem impressive, it consists of very tiny portions for a ridiculously overcharged price by Portuguese standards. You can find equally as amazing food, and better food, elsewhere. Avoid these tourist traps unless money is of no concern to you.
The Barrio Alto district’s most notable attraction is the walk through itself. The streets are narrow like Alfama and offer much in terms of urban viewing pleasure. Elevador da Bica is an attraction similar to Tram 28 of Alfama; it’s a tram that functions to take passengers from the bottom of the hill (Rua de São Paulo) and the top (Calçada do Combro).
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara is another great viewpoint over the city which can be found on the northeastern edge of the Barrio Alto district. If you’re looking for a cool rooftop bar and are into those sorts of things, one I really liked is called PARK; it can be found at the top of a parking garage and is a little sketchy to access but nonetheless cool. The discovery is part of the fun so I’ll leave that for you.
All areas and attractions mentioned up until this point could satisfy you for 2-3 days depending on how quickly you like to travel and move. I will continue further in my guide by now covering the less ventured to areas which include the area north of the city center (Parque/ Marquês de Pombal & Panorâmico de Monsanto) and northeast of the city center (Parque das Nações). Other highly notable areas to mention, but which will be covered in later articles include Estoril/Cascais, Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, Almada, and Parque Natural da Arrábida.
In order to get to Parque Eduardo VII you can either walk north of the center and follow the avenues, which is my recommendation as it is a beautiful walk, or you can take the metro. If you decide to walk, you can enjoy more of the city outside the historic downtown. The park itself is nothing you must absolutely see while you are in Lisbon. I have ventured to it several times though because it does have a different perspective over the historic downtown and is nice to see if you have the time.
Additionally, the largest flag of Portugal in the world is usually at mast here. Further away to the north of the city is an abandoned hotel I had the chance to explore last time I was in Portugal. Panorâmico de Monsanto was once a luxurious restaurant that had a rotating upper deck in order to sit down for a meal while being treated to a 360-degree view of Lisbon. Today, it sits abandoned; graffiti covers its’ walls and urbanites eager for photos explore the property. The property does become ‘officially’ closed at sunset though. A security guard is now stationed at the entrance due to its growing popularity.
You will not find many tourists at my last recommended location in Lisbon either. Venturing to the northeast of the city center, Parque das Nações, you will find the Oceanario de Lisboa, Teleférico de Lisboa, and the Jardim Garcia d’ Orta. The aquarium is one the supposed best in the world and is only one of a handful around the world which house the enormous Sunfish.
The Teleférico de Lisboa is a relatively short cable-car ride with views over this area of Lisbon. Jardim Garcia d’ Orta is an added little bonus while you are wondering this part of Lisbon; it’s a long waterfront boardwalk speckled with art, revitalized public spaces and plenty of restaurants alongside it. If shopping is your thing, the Centro Vasco de Gama can be found here as well.
Lisbon: Foods to Try
In Portugal, food is generally very cheap so be aware of inflation and tourist prices. Food prices should be between €5-15 at the most. If you are spending more than that, you are probably getting ripped off. Be aware, bread or olives and even the butter is extra, though they put it on the table before the meal. They will charge you for what you eat and use; it is generally not much, but just something to be aware of. Pastries should be about €1 or less; rare exceptions exist. Espressos should be 50 cents to €1.
A local may order a “Bica,” which is similar to an espresso but the roasting process is slightly different. The term “Bica” also refers to the way in which the coffee is made and ultimately flows into the cup. Alcohol is stupid cheap. Expect to pay less than €10 for a bottle of wine with dinner or around €1-2 for a beer. National beer companies are “Sagres” and “Super Bock.” The Pastel de Nata and only acquired locally Pastel de Belem are quickly becoming world phenomenon’s, so try them at the source.
Bolinhos de Bacalhau as I mentioned earlier are a nice appetizer to try as well and go great with a beer.
Caldo Verde (Kale Soup) is a traditional soup the Portuguese having been eating long before the kale revolution. The soup is a staple to our diet.
Bacalhau à brás is an iconic entrée from Portugal that I would highly recommend. The dish consists of salted cod, potatoes, eggs, and typically garnished with parsley and olives.
Alheira is a unique type of Portuguese sausage. Meats stuffed into an alheira may include veal, chicken, duck and rabbit, compacted together with bread. This sausage was created by the Jews in Portugal when they were forced to convert to Christianity. Due to the prosecutions during that time, they were either forced to convert or leave Portugal. The Jewish religion does not allow for them to eat pork, however, so by preparing this sausage-like looking dish, they were able to trick others that might question their religion.
Sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines) are an iconic staple to Portugal as well. Enjoy these if you are truly to immerse yourself in the foods of Portugal! Cozido à portuguesa is a dish of slowly boiled meats, various sausages and vegetables. It is personally not my favorite, but it is a traditional meal nonetheless.
Bifanas are the unofficial national Portuguese sandwich. They are frequently sought-after post futebol matches, late night at the bars or early morning after partying until daylight.
Frango Assado com Piri-Piri is a dish that derives its spice, flavor and style from the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. When prepared well, this is arguably one of the best dishes of chicken you can eat.
Lisbon: Places to Eat
Martinho da Arcada has been a restaurant since 1782 and Café A Brasileira is very touristy but both include an authentic history. Pasteis de Belém in the district of Belém are to die for and I would be highly disappointed for you if you managed to miss out on these treats. I usually order five to eat in one sitting. Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau is definitely touristy but is authentically Portuguese. I have a long time Portuguese friend living there who swears by his love for this place.
Armazens do Chiado, or like most malls in Portugal, actually, offer something 99% of tourists do not know about. Mall food is a Portuguese secret. They offer very cheap food at around 5 Euros and the quality is amazing! Here you can find authentic Portuguese (or Brazilian) food at super cheap prices and with restaurant quality. It sounds ridiculous but I’m 100% serious.
My ex-girlfriend and traveler-extraordinaire was so doubtful of me when I told her this was something I wanted to show her. In the end, she conceded, and agreed I was right. In all the countries I have visited I can say with certainty that Portugal’s malls are the best; the options for food in terms of quality and price are a large driver in this review for me. Honestly, even malls in the United States do not compare.
I hope you have enjoyed my review of Lisbon, Portugal and find some use during your trip or if you have been there and decide to return! Obrigado e faz me um favor, tem um bom dia! Chau
Special Thanks to Francisco Brandao and Maria Lobato. Os meus amigos sempre.