Lisbon is a vibrant and warm city by the Atlantic, that all of us Remotes keep comparing to San Francisco.
Filled with steep hills, colorful buildings and a bridge that was built by the same architect as SF’s Golden Gate, its easy to see why! Besides the Cristo de Rei, the delicious pastries, and oh, hearing the Portugese being spoken all around you, sometimes you might think you’re in the same place. The golden light, the cobblestone streets, and the scenic lookout points add to the magic of this bustling, creative city.
Yet, Portugal makes it pretty easy to be a traveler or a tourist: Most Portugese people speak English extremely well, and are open and friendly, always ready and willing to share their favorite spots. The city is easy to get around, with cheap Ubers available (typically you can expect to pay around $5 euro for a 25 minute ride), and plentiful Taxis and tuk-tuks. But, my favorite is the metro system: It reminds me of DC, with a red, yellow, green and blue line, and you use your card (photo below) to get in and out. I mistakenly put $20 euro on a reusable card, and haven’t run out yet! Each trip is around $1.25.
Another cool thing about the green metro card: You can use it to take local trains to Sintra (a must see picturesque fairytale town filled with castles and labyrinths, about 40 minute train from downtown Lisbon), ferries across the water, trams (even the historic Tram 28 line!) and buses around the city. Even though locals say buses are “unreliable”, I’ve found this isn’t the case: they usually show up within 5 minutes of original scheduled time.
Be warned: With so many one-way streets, Uber will take awhile to find you in the middle of the city! I suggest walking, taking in the beautiful architecture, and jumping on a metro to get a taste of the locals instead.
Currency + Debit/Credit Cards:
Portugal itself is part of the EU, which means euros are accepted everywhere! (Also its helpful that they belong to the EU too, if you accidentally forget your passport on a side trip…and need to cross back and forth between Spain and Portugal an infinite number of times when in tiny switchback-filled towns in the northern national park of Peneda-Geres…not that I’m speaking from experience).
Also money related: You can use chip-enabled debit and credit cards at pretty much every retailer. If you’re getting money out of an ATM, don’t worry about the fact they ask for a 6-digit pin: Just enter your normal American 4, and hit “Enter” afterwards. It will work!
A few highlights from Lisbon:
This month, I did a lot less restaurant and cafe hopping, but I still found some quality spots:
Pharmacia: Near an overlook of the aforementioned bridge, you can sit out front on the lawn of this historic medicine and pharmacy museum, sip cocktails named after drugs, and eat innovative food made by an awesome local chef. Her creations can range from the so-weird-but-delicious (cold melon soup with almonds, figs and tuna?) to the divine: sweet potato croquettes topped with fresh salmon and cream cheese. The desserts and drinks are all served in medical-themed containers, from jars to urine sample cups. Just enjoy the ambiance.
The interior, should you want to eat inside instead (but be warned, there will probably be a wait!) is a chic pharmacy-style decor, with syringe-and-bottle wallpaper, and little first aid “kits” to hold drinks by your table. All around a good place to relax in the evening air, with some great food!
Illegal Chinese food is an experience you can (probably?) only have in Lisbon: A huge part of Lisbon dinner culture, apparently, is the ‘chino clandestino’, or “illegal chinese” restaurants. You could google ‘Illegal Chinese’ to find the most well-known establishment, but I liked the adventure of the lesser known: Located in the Martim Moniz area (but I won’t tell you where, exactly) we walked until we smelled Chinese food, rang random doorbells, walked into apartment buildings and knocked on doors in the Chinese neighborhood (also filled with celebratory post-Ramadan crowd), and finally asked a tiny old Portuguese lady who didn’t speak any English to point us in the right direction. Sitting in what looks like someone’s living room, waiting on the delicious smells coming from the kitchen was a great experience, and the food was cheap and plentiful. They also had really delicious fried ice cream.
Here’s a hint: Go to Rua do Benformoso, and follow your nose!
A more traditional favorite restaurant is O Trigueirinho, near Alfama/Martim Moniz. Opening out onto a square with a gorgeous fountain, you’ll probably need a reservation. Run by an older couple, I scoped the food out while I was volunteering (more on that below). They serve soups, fish and other delicious morsels. Don’t forget to walk up the romantic cobblestone streets, and find a lookout for the castle nearby.
Time Out Market. Okay, foodies, get ready…GO! Its a huge hall filled with restaurant vendors, bars, pastry shops and juiceries. Reminiscent of Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, (with more cohesive branding ) or comparable to DC’s Union Market or Berlin’s Markthalle Neun…its delicious. You could get anything from pad thai, to cod fritters (serious yums), to a hand-crafted cocktail, or fresh watermelon juice. Go hungry, (but not too hungry), because you’ll just be ultimately overwhelmed by all of the delicious stuff. Also, don’t save this to the last day – chances are you’ll want to go back and try more stalls!
If you stay in the northern part of the city, like we are, there’s bound to be food everywhere. But something unique, especially for Vegetarians in the Saldanha area of the city, is going to eat at the Hare Krishna Temple: For $7 Euro pp, you can eat in the temple cafe! It serves mostly vegetarian food, and is delicious. Today, we got iced tea, coconut flan, and a huge plate of rice, beans, veggies, chutney and bread. Surrounded by great music and incense, its calming, filling, and pretty unique.
Lastly, I would have to recommend Aqui Ha Gato, the local Lisbon Cat Cafe! They have great internet, amazing service, tasty food (yes, you can eat lunch there!) and awesome cats! My favorite was Beyonce, a sassy tabby who has learned how to open the door for herself. If you, like us, are traveling for awhile and miss your pets at home, this is a must-see. Also, if you want a quieter place to get work done, in the company of felines, this is a must-see! You can either take Tram 28, an Uber (probably easiest) or walk from the Rato station (if you do this, don’t forget to wander through the Jardim Da Estrela garden).
A few other Lisbon-centered highlights:
LX Factory + Village Underground
Located a little way away from the regular metro, I’d suggest taking a local bus to both of these places. LX Factory is filled with all sorts of cool shops, cafes, clothing, art and bookstores. Around the corner, (about a 7 minute walk away) is a neat structure made out of old buses and shipping containers called Village Underground. Go, have a beer or a snack and enjoy all of the neat graffiti.
This neighborhood is home to one of the biggest bits of graffiti around! Walk down the Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, and you’ll see some grand art….Like this one below:
There’s a lot of Lisbon you can find when poking around on-foot. I personally love one of the steepest hills, the Ascensor da Gloria, which showcases beautiful work by local graffiti artists. Don’t worry, you can pay to take a tram up and down it!
GO TO: All of the overlooks!
Lisbon has a lot of hills. Thankfully, you can walk, tram, or tuk-tuk up them, and grab a beer, Vinho Verde (seriously delicious, refreshing and effervescent young-grape wine) or a port at the top, while you watch the sun slip golden rays onto the pastel-colored buildings of Lisbon. Here are a few of my favorite places to do so.
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte (Beautiful and vibrant, looks towards the water)
Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (Has a lovely cafe next to a church, looks west across the city)
Miradouro de Santa Catarina (Across from Pharmacia, great view of Cristo Rei statue and bridge…you can see all the locals and tourists relaxing in the glow!)
To wrap up my stay in Lisbon, I volunteered with ReFood: a non-profit that picks up excess food from restaurants, and redistributes it from their location to those in need. Anyone can come by ReFood and pick up goods: With a constantly changing menu, ranging from sandwiches, tasty restaurant specials like fresh fish, stew, bread, cakes, soup, salad and anything else that restaurants have too much of the night before!
With over 800 local restaurants participating in their pick-up-program to eliminate excess food waste, when I talked to one ReFood organizer, they lamented the only thing they needed more of was volunteers to help them pick it all up! If you happen to be in Lisbon, please reach out to them.
They’re a great group of people, and I learned a lot about my fellow locals who volunteer, and got great food recommendations (O Trigueirinho above was a participant). I also got to meet local servers and chefs while wandering the beautiful Lisbon streets! (Note: The 6pm volunteer time slot helps serve food to locals, while the 9:30pm time slot gathers food from local restaurants to bring back to ReFood’s refrigerators).
Vamos estar de volta. Boa noite Lisboa!
+ Is there anything I missed? Have any other questions or recommendations for Lisbon? Leave a comment below!