Since I first took an interest in international news, Portugal, like Greece, was always one of the corners of Europe stricken by financial crisis. Other than a dusting of history I came across in school, it was a place rife with unemployment and a deeply unsatisfied populace. It was a troubled place, so I let other destinations on my travel bucket list overshadow it for years. It wasn’t until I saw an episode of Somebody Feed Phil, a foodie travel series hosted by Everybody Loves Raymond creator Philip Rosenthal, that my interest in the country, especially its capital of Lisbon, was rekindled. The footage of the lovable, goofy host bouncing around in a motorcycle sidecar made me laugh, but the cuisine put on display was more than enough to convince me to revisit this destination. Those who know me know that I will travel for food, but I figured including some other activities in the mix would be a good idea to escape the risk of complete gastronomic coma. Here’s my dream day in Lisbon.
Enjoy Pastéis de Nata at Pastelaria Aloma
The pastry that headlines the Portuguese foodscape is definitely the pastel de nata. These egg custard tarts were created by Catholic monks prior to the 18th century, and are also popular in the country’s former colonies. They’re creamy and sugary, fitting in well with the Portuguese affinity for everything sweet. The bakery on my radar is Pastelaria Aloma, who claims to sell the best rendition of the pastry in the city. Since opening in 1943, Aloma’s specialized in the egg tarts, as well as a number of other traditional sweets. This local’s spot is situated outside the main tourist neighborhoods of Alfama and Belém, but is no less worth a visit. It looks like the perfect (and delicious) start to a long day of exploring.
Visit Basílica da Estrela and Hop on Tram 28
A quick ten-minute walk from Aloma, Lisbon’s Basílica da Estrela was built in the second half of the 19th century after then Queen Maria I gave birth to a son. In addition to the intricate facade, highlights of a visit include the queen’s elaborate tomb, as well as beautiful views from the basilica’s dome. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., entrance to the building is free of charge. Afterwards, I would make my way towards the water for lunch. Like the cable cars of San Francisco, Lisbon is known for its tram system. The most iconic ride has to be on the route of tram 28, which weaves its way along impossibly narrow streets. Starting at the Estrela stop, enjoy a glimpse of the unique journey into Lisbon’s city center before hopping off at Calhariz. From there, it’s less than ten minutes to the Time Out Market.
Grab Lunch at the Time Out Market
Located in the Mercado da Ribeira, the Time Out Market is a ten thousand square foot food hall dedicated to the culinarily curious. Since its opening in 2014, the market’s offered visitors a large roster of dishes by award-winning chefs. As a newbie to Portuguese cuisine, I plan on sticking with the classics, although you can find a range of international options available. My first stop would be the roast pork sandwich at Balcão da Esquina. After slow cooking on a spit, the pork is piled on crusty bread with tomato, arugula, red onions, and a mustard-based sauce. Stop two is the fried soft shell crab at Marisquiera Azul. I won’t lie and say that eating a crab in its entirety makes me a bit wary, but at a market located right on the water, I’m excited to give it a shot. Finally, I’d round out the sampling session at Manteigaria Silva. I love few things more than well-executed charcuterie, and the mixed board seems like the way to go.
Wander the Alfama District
Located just a 30-minute walk from the Time Out Market, the Alfama District is Lisbon’s version of the old town centers many European cities are famous for. This corner of Lisbon dates back to the age when African Moors first settled in the area. Characterized by twisting streets, tile-fronted chapels, and the Lisbon Cathedral, it’s the perfect place to wander, and maybe even get a little lost. Around every corner is an unpredictable site, from al fresco cafés, to unique artisan shops. I’d approach this district without much of a plan in mind, except to take a ton of pictures. Panoramic shots of the Lisbon waterfront are at the top of my photo-op list.
Explore the Castelo de São Jorge
Set in the hills above the Alfama District, the Castelo de São Jorge is easily one of Lisbon’s most iconic landmarks. The first foundations of the fortress were laid over 2,000 years ago by the Romans, with developments to the structure continuing over the centuries. The castle was a seat of power for over 400 years, and was largely restored to its “original” grandeur during the 1920s. The fortress also offers great views over the Alfama district, plus an archaeologically based permanent collection that sheds light on the deep historical roots of the area. It’s advised to visit early or late in the day, as the castle is one of Lisbon’s most visited sites. Like the city center it towers over, Castelo de São Jorge is another great place for scenic photos.
Take in Views from the Santa Justa Lift
The Santa Justa Lift is another excellent way to take in views of Lisbon’s city center. Historically, the elevator provided easy access up the steep Carmo Hill for local residents. Today, the intricately decorated wrought iron tower is largely a tourist attraction, famous for its panoramic views to be taken in from the viewing platform at the top. The elevator is open from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. in the high season. An important insider tip to consider: the Santa Justa Lift is considered part of the Lisbon public transportation system. A 24-hour public transport ticket, costing €6,40, covers admission. This would also cover the costs for the earlier ride on tram 28.
Dine at Os Gazeteiros
After a full day of exploring, I plan to end my evening with a dinner at Os Gazeteiros. Situated in Alfama, this 20-seat eatery is owned by chef David Eyguesier, a former musician and native of France. He designs the lunch and dinner menus daily, meaning every visit to this tiny restaurant is a fresh experience. What ingredients Eyguesier finds at the local market each day dictate the menu’s direction. A selection of largely French and Portuguese natural wines are also offered as accompaniments to the freestyle nature of Os Gazeteiros’ cuisine.