A weekend in Lisbon
After a couple of days in Porto, we took the Alfa Pendular, a comfortable and fast train, to spend a few days in Lisbon. While the first couple of days were disappointingly grey and even slightly rainy, the last two days gave us the amount of sun we were hoping to get to enjoy walking around and sitting by our hotel's pool.
Where to stay
We booked 4 nights in Palacio Ramalhete, an old bourgeois house turned into a gorgeous boutique hotel about 5 years ago. Each room is different and the whole house is very charming and authentic. To top it all up, it includes a lovely swimming pool with comfy sunbeds to read and relax. Our room was probably the smallest in the establishment as a stay didn't come cheap (can you put a price on hours of happiness by the pool though?), but we still enjoyed the beautiful bathroom and the extremely comfortable bed.
Our only bad surprise came at checkout; Damien had a great idea to give a big bag of clothes to the hotel laundry service. While I expected it to be a bit pricey, we ended up being charged a cool 65 euros. For a bag of laundry. That was painful.
I would still recommend the Palacio for a trip to Lisbon, just don't get your laundry done there.
Where to eat
We didn't have one bad meal during our stay in Portugal. Whether we went for street food or high-end restaurants, we thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic produce available here, from seafood to vegetables, cheese and wine. We had some recommendations on places to try but even the ones we bumped into randomly never disappointed. Portugal, and especially Lisbon, is a true foodie destination.
One of the most popular eateries in Lisbon is called Taberna da Rua das Flores. You can easily understand the fame: the place looks truly authentic, the food is a great mix of traditional and creative dishes, and everything is very affordable. The only issue resides in what it takes to end up sitting in the restaurant. They don't take bookings so you have to put your name on a list at the beginning of the service and then come back in time for when they call your name. Long story short, in spite of the fact that our name was on the list from early on, we ended up waiting for a very, very long time. As I mentioned, the food was really good, but I'm not sure the overall experience was worth the pain of waiting for what felt like forever.
If you don't feel like queuing, By the Wine José Maria da Fonseca is located just a few doors down from Taberna and they take bookings. Without having one, we got a table quite quickly. We ordered a fantastic cheese and charcuterie board, served with delicious warm bread and some otherworldly olive oil, all washed down with a few glasses of Portuguese red wine. The whole dinner cost about 40 euros and was utterly satisfying. I mean, great cheese + wine + bread, is there anything more to life?
On our first night, we went to The Decadente, which offers traditional Portuguese cuisine with a modern twist. We got a seabass ceviche and pork strips with semolina and lime, both quite nice. For the dessert we ordered a cheesecake with serra da estrela cheese, cherry tomato preserve and basil cream, which tasted much "cheesier" than a normal cheesecake. The flavours were nice but we both found it a bit too strong. The caramelized apple and spices served on a crispy filo pastry, with salted caramel, pistachios and cardamom ice cream felt like a spicy deconstructed tart and was a lovely way to finish our meal.
If there is one place you need to visit while in Lisbon (and that you have the slightest interest in food), it is the Timeout Market. Located on the seafront, it gathers counters held by some famous Portuguese chefs and food producers, and also offers workshops and masterclasses.
The lineup is so appealing that we struggled to pick our lunch. After a bit of presunto ham from Manteigaria Silva, we ended up at the Sea Me counter, which is also a restaurant in town. We got some fabulous oysters from the Algarve, a crab and salmon salad and some tasty squid ink cuttlefish tempuras.
To top it all off, we got a couple of pastéis de nata from Manteigaria, which has several shops around the city. The market has actually so much to offer that you could go every day for breakfast and lunch without running out of things to try.
Our dessert brings me to my next point, the pastéis de nata. They are to Portugal what croissants are to France; a national treasure. These addictive sweet treats are mini custard pies, made of a perfectly crispy puff pastry base and a creamy custard. We just couldn't get enough of them.
While the worldwide famous Pastéis de Belém were indeed my favourite, the pastéis from Manteigaria were almost as fabulous and much easier to get inside the city. I still absolutely recommend a trip to Belém to try them. We arrived early in the morning, around 9.30 am, before the buses of tourists. We got a few pastéis to take away and ate them, still warm, with a delicious espresso, sitting in the sun in the park across the street from the bakery. What a moment.
In the Alfama district, we got two lovely lunches, both very fresh and affordable. One was in Cruzes Credo, right by the Sé, and the other in Flor dos Arcos, near the Museum of Fado. Fresh fish and good salads (and a deliciously rich chocolate cake in Cruzes) felt like the perfect food on a hot summer day, especially with a glass of vinho verde.
On the Praça Luís de Camões, the Bairro Alto Hotel offers a wonderful rooftop bar. The place is usually quite busy but we got a table quite quickly both times we went. We tried to go to the PARK bar, another rooftop bar located on top of a parking lot, but the place was so busy and looked so much like any other international hipster joint that we literally went up and then straight back down.
We also tried Pharmacia, a nice spot in a small garden at the back of the Museum of Pharmacy which offers a lovely view. If you like jazz, have a drink in Hot Club, a jazz bar created in 1948, and maybe you will be lucky enough to listen to a concert or just a casual jam session.
What to do
For us, what to do when visiting a new place is thoroughly controlled by where we want to eat. We tried a few places from Eater "One perfect day of eating around Lisbon" guide, all great recommendations, which led us to do a good bit of walking around the place.
All the guides would recommend you to hop on the tram, especially line 28, which goes through the most touristic areas of the city. My advice would be to absolutely not queue at the Martim Moniz stop, as it is often recommended, but to go one or two stops after that, where you won't have to queue to get in.
Walking around the place is definitely the best way to see the city, especially in Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon. Go up the São Jorge Castle to get a stunning view and walk up and down the narrow cobblestone streets. It will be exhausting as Lisbon is so hilly, but that could only be used as an excuse to eat more of the impressive food the place has to offer.