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10 days in Portugal: Part One – Lisbon

by Anne Assassi | 1 year ago

Ola! This Portuguese greeting sounds so similar to Hola in Spanish that when you first arrive in Portugal and pick up other words and phrases, you might just wonder if you’re in Spain!

My husband Adrian and I decided to visit Portugal last Fall because we love its food, are interested in its history, and neither of us had visited before. We quickly found that while the country shares similarities to Spain in language, architecture, and culture, it is uniquely different and exceedingly beautiful.

From Portugal’s stunning beaches to its friendly people and fascinating history as the first global power, its cities and sites are a must see. Fortunately, the country isn’t overpopulated with tourists and the tourist industry will welcome you with open arms.

We chose to tour Portugal without any specific plans and didn’t overly research the main tourist attractions beforehand. Our goal was to make the trip as relaxed as possible and to allow for fun surprises.

To get a sense of the country’s main regions in 10 days, we settled on three locations: Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve.

Below you will find the highlights of our Lisbon journey!

São Jorge Castle

With only 3 nights in Lisbon and experiencing serious jet lag, Adrian and I were still able to fit in a fair amount of the city’s sites.

On our first day, we visited São Jorge Castle, which is located on a hill overlooking Lisbon. While many tourists take a trolley, we opted for an urban hike from where we were staying in the Chiado district. The steep winding roads and endless stairs mixed with charming homes and hip street art made for quite an adventure.

We arrived at the castle by late afternoon, which turned out to be perfect timing. After touring the grounds and older archaeological sites from the Moorish era for a couple hours, the sun was just about to set! We grabbed a glass of port wine from the wine booth, sat on a bench, and enjoyed the endless views – in the presence of the resident peacocks, no less.

Pro Tip to those Visiting: If you opt for an urban hike to the castle– or even plan to walk more than a few blocks at a time in historic Lisbon, do wear tennis shoes or slip-resistant shoes. I took a few slippery slides across Lisbon’s mosaic pavement, and even fell down a few steps without injury. Although beautiful, the pavement is dangerous! I know others less clumsy than me who have taken spills there as well.

Restaurante Cantinho do Aziz

By far one of our favorite restaurants in Portugal, we found this gem, Restaurante Cantinho do Aziz, on our way to São Jorge Castle. The server told us that we were lucky to find it because of its alleyway location makes it almost impossible to find with GPS. Even better, we had actually seen this restaurant featured on a YouTube channel before we left the US, and were excited to try the food out. Such a great surprise.

Our favorite eats: The samosas! Crispy, spicy, and juicy all at the same time, they’re a dream. Adrian also had a Lamb stew that was incredible.

Praça do Commércio

If you know anything about Lisbon, Praça do Commércio is the image that probably comes to mind. It is as beautiful in person as it photographs!

Destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the square was reconstructed about 20 years later. Boasting an impressive arch and a Statue of King Jose I, you get a sense of the town’s history after the earthquake, and how a city came together to rebuild what was lost.

I recommend going during the early morning hours to avoid the crowds, and/or at night because the square is equally beautiful then.

The Tagus River

Framing the square of Praça do Commércio is the Tagus River, which is reminiscent of the San Francisco Bay, in part because the nearby bridge, 25 de Abril, looks a lot like the Golden Gate.

Fun fact: the 25 de Abril Bridge was built by the same company that built the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate! I recommend visiting at sunset to enjoy the sunset views.

Alfama

I can honestly say that I left my heart in Alfama. Adrian and I visited this lovely romantic district of Lisbon after stopping by Praça do Commércio. Alfama is most known for its charming architecture and fado music, a mournful folk music genre that instantly provides a deeper connection to the culture and history of the Portuguese people the first time you hear it.

On our way to Alfama, we stumbled upon Lisbon Cathedral. Although it was closed, we found an amazing restaurant and bar, Caso Sério, in its former basement from the 13th century.

At Casa Sério we tried the Portuguese version of moonshine, bagaço, which was surprisingly tasty and enjoyed great conversation with the owner. We were also struck by the beauty of the restaurant’s vaulted ceilings – so much history in one little restaurant!

After visiting Caso Sério, we were off to the narrow streets of Alfama, which we were told are lovely to get lost in. We couldn’t have been more well informed!

Between high-end gift shops, tapas bars, tasty restaurants, and infectious fado music within earshot of every street corner, you feel like it’s a place that offers different experiences each night. No itinerary needed. Just show up, and enjoy!

Highlights from our Alfama visit ranged from watching cars squeeze through the narrowest of alleyways, to listening to two local men jokingly argue about fado music in a tapas bar, to the tastiest Caldo Verde, and some very good Portuguese wine.

Our goal is to go back to Lisbon in the next few years and to spend a few days in Alfama at the minimum!

Moral of the Story: Lisbon Needs More Time

I inevitably fall into the trap of not spending enough time in big cities because I am always eager for my next adventure. If I could stress the most important travel tip I have for Lisbon, it would be to be patient and to stay at least 4-5 days.

Staying longer ensures that you can enjoy each major district fully, take in all the views, eat all the good eats, and do a little shopping while you’re at it!

Stay tuned for my future articles on Porto and the Algarve! I can’t wait to share my travels there with you. In the meantime, you can check out my travel hacks article: Anne’s Travel Tips for a Flawless Flight.