For me, one of the greatest joys of living overseas is all of the opportunities we have to visit new places. Even when we were living in Kazakhstan (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, Siberia is not exactly conveniently located for quick trips) we got to visit Turkey, Georgia, India, France, and Mongolia. But in Croatia, all of Europe is just a quick train/plane/car/bus ride away! Not wanting to get too comfortable with this convenience, we obviously picked one of the furthest places we could possibly go and still be in Europe for our vacation this year. Portugal.
We started our trip in Lisbon, and were utterly charmed. (The rest of the country left us charmed too, so you can fully expect me to drag this trip out into at least half a dozen posts.) The food. The wine. The tiles. We started of in Alfama, where we stayed at a lovely apartment we found on airbnb. (All recommendations for food, lodging, shopping, etc. can be found at the bottom of the post–feel free to post your own suggestions in the comments!)
We were tired from the trip, or maybe from the glass of wine we enjoyed on the plane, and once we arrived at the apartment the only way I could be coaxed back outside was with the promise that I wouldn’t have to lug myself any farther than Restaurante O Carvoeiro next door. The atmosphere was cozy and the food was more than delicious. It’s actually a small miracle that Aleks convinced me to leave our neighborhood at all for the rest of the trip.
I had the grilled squid (always a favorite), which came smothered in olive oil and topped with fresh cilantro. It was late, and the iPhone photo doesn’t really do it justice, but yum!
The next day, Aleks navigated us around the city while I mostly gawked at all of the beautiful tiles. I was basically a walking cliche of a tourist, but I just couldn’t tear my eyes (or my camera) away.
I mean seriously, can we just take a minute to look at these?
Ahhh. Ok. I’m ready. On our first day in Lisbon, we meandered along the waterfront all the way from Alfama to Belem. The whole area still has a very industrial feel. One of the highlights was the Mercado da Ribeira, an enormous building that is half produce market and half high-end food court. On the food court side, over 35 vendors (some branches of Michelin starred restaurants) sell both Portuguese and international food. I was so impressed, that I went back three times just to admire the layout and design!
It was too early for lunch, so we continued walking, but when we passed through around dinner time, the place was packed!
Once we got to Belem, we stopped at Pasteis de Belem along with about 60 of our closest friends. Apparently, Pasties de Belem is the place to go for Lisbon’s signature custard tart, the pastel de nata, and we weren’t the only ones who got the memo. We sampled several of these sweets during our two weeks in Portugal, and I have to admit that these were among the best we tried. We opted to get ours to go, and then ate them in the park. The pastry was crisp and buttery and they came with a little packet of cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle over the warm custard. Unfortunately for me, the park was apparently some type of pigeon magnet. Right as I was trying to take this photo, one came right for me and in my panic my tart fell on the ground. (Luckily, we had a spare!)
After my obligatory bird-related travel incident we popped into the Jeronimos Monastery, where we enjoyed a few minutes of relative peace and quiet.
We spent the rest of our time in Lisbon wandering around various neighborhoods, soaking in the architecture, strolling through the beautiful parks, taking pictures of trams…
We happened upon the shop A Vida Portuguese, a chain of stores that sell ceramic dishes, specialty foods, a lovely selection of soaps, candles, and a few reproductions of Portuguese tiles. I was limited by the space in my suitcase (and my intention of trying to shove at least 10 bottles of wine in it) so I limited myself to two gorgeous platters and one tile, but I easily could have loaded up in there.
When we weren’t walking (or shopping) we were busy tasting all the goodies Portugal has to offer, starting with bifanas! A bifana is a magical sandwich consisting of a thin slice of pork marinated with garlic, fried, and stuffed in a bun. Usually eaten with mustard and sometimes with spicy pepper oil, and enjoyed with a beer, they are cheap and very delicious. We tried our first sandwich at O Trevo in Lisbon, upon the recommendation of Anthony Bordain. We were not disappointed. One of us ordered three…
We also tried the restaurant the Decadente. We had heard that the Decadente is known for its affordable and delicious set lunch, but unfortunately the set lunch is not available on Saturdays. We decided to go anyway, and ordered off the menu. The restaurant is located in the Independente hostel, and boasts an elegant dining room with a sort of hipster/old world smoking room sort of feel. We didn’t have any problems with the food, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, and it wasn’t exactly a steal. We weren’t disappointed with our meal, but given that there are so many yummy restaurants to try in Lisbon, I don’t think we’ll be going back.
One place I’ll definitely be going back to (and would gladly move in to) is BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto. This is a charming little wine bar in a lively neighborhood of Lisbon. The space is small, the service was incredible, the wine selection is huge, and the snacks were well thought out and paired perfectly with the wine. When we sat down, we were greeted by the waitress, who asked us about our wine preferences. She then brought three wines for us to taste and let us choose which one we wanted. We ordered a tasting plate, which came with several types of Portuguese cheese and charcuterie, a little dish of fried Portuguese sausages, three types of Portuguese olive oils, and a selection of jams. Each item was delicious on its own and paired beautifully with everything else on the platter.
Another place we tried, on the recommendation of David Lebovitz, was Cafe Versailles. It was a bit of a trek from where we were staying in the center, although it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if we had taken public transportation. (Not walking is not really an option for us when the destination includes pastries…) We tried the obligatory pastel de nata (good, but not quite as good as the ones in Belem or at Casa Brasileira), a chocolate tart (amazing), and some kind of little cake made with rice flour (not Aleks’ favorite, but I really liked it).
One of the places that served the best pastel de natas in my (very humble and uninformed) opinion was Casa Brasileira in the center of Lisbon. They were very fresh and flavorful.
They also served a million other kinds of sweet and savory pastries, fresh fruit, a variety of freshly made fruit juices, and of course espressos. The Portuguese appear to really enjoy their little espressos or bicas, usually standing at the bar of their favorite coffee shop/bakery, but since they use mostly bitter Robusta beans it was hard for me to get on board.
Overall, we loved Lisbon. We loved the food, the windy streets, (do I need to mention the tiles again?), the wine, the fado music. Even though it’s not exactly next door to Zagreb, I hope that we find an opportunity to visit again while we’re here!
Perfectly located in Alfama. Nestled among the windy streets of an old Lisbon neighborhood, between Fado places and an easy walk from everything important.
A Vida Portuguesa
Beautiful dishes, tiles, soaps, candles, and a selection of gourmet Portuguese foods.
R. Anchieta 11, Lisboa | +351 21 346 5073
Mercado da Ribeira
Old market turned high end food court. Lively place to grab lunch or dinner.
Av. 24 de Julho 50, Lisboa
Yummy bifana sandwiches in the heart of Lisbon.
Praça Luís de Camões 48, Lisboa
Gorgeous cafe with a wide selection of pastries. Also serves food.
Avenida da Republica 15a | +351 21 354 6340
Pasteis de Belem
Arguably Lisbon’s most famous spot for pastel de natas. Always a line, but worth the wait.
R. Belém 84-92, Lisboa | +351 21 363 7423
My favorite spot for pastel de natas. Conveniently located in the center and absolutely delicious.
R. Augusta 267, Lisboa
Restaurante O Carvoeiro
A delicious and reasonably priced little restaurant in Alfama. Try the grilled squid with cilantro.
Calcada Sao Vicente 70, Lisboa | +351 21 886 4275
A restaurante connected to the Independente hostel, that apparently has a good set menu for lunch, but only on week days.
R. São Pedro de Alcântara 81, Lisboa | +351 21 346 1381
BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto
A fantastic wine bar in a lively neighborhood of Lisbon, amazing service, huge wine list, and great snacks.
Rua Rosa 107, Lisboa | +351 21 346 1182