Travel Guide: Portugal

I was lucky enough to travel to Portugal this past October with a few of my family members, and came away utterly enamored with the wine, cuisine, architecture, and culture (did I mention the wine??). We made the vibrant city of Lisbon our home base for a few days, staying at an AirBnB on a cobblestone street in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. A day trip to Sintra and a weekend away in Porto rounded out our time there, and I left promising myself that I would return someday soon. Read on for some of my favorite experiences from my trip (trust me, this list was difficult to narrow down).

Check out my Instagram photo journey through Portugal via my hashtag #caro_in_portugal!

 

Where to Eat

Cervejaria Ramiro – The holy grail for fresh seafood in Lisbon. Be prepared to wait on line outside and to have a decidedly unfussy experience. This spot is all about the food, so ambiance and even beverage selection fall by the wayside. Oh, but is it worth it. Ask for whatever is freshest that day – we had clams, shrimp, langoustines, and a delightful concoction of crab meat, innards, and brains that sounds revolting but knocked our socks off.

Tartine Padaria – My absolute favorite breakfast spot in this fair city. The front area is a small bakery, but if you walk up a few stairs, a lovely seating area awaits. I recommend taking a seat and ordering a foamy galao (Portuguese coffee) with one of their fresh tartines (my favorites were the aubergine and the pumpkin). Don’t forget to get one each of their apple tarts and caramel-stuffed pastries  to go – they are insanely delicious.

Mini Bar – Jose Avillez’s playful take on Portuguese cuisine. Mini Bar features a tasting menu that is quite reasonable and just so much fun. We had foie gras disguised as chocolate truffles, salt cod beignets that were almost too pretty to eat, and crispy piri piri chicken skin that I still dream about.

Pasteis de Belem – The quintessential Lisbon pastry experience. The pastel de nata is the flagship baked good of lovely Lisboa, and is a small egg tart that is buttery and decadent. Go early to avoid a wait, and I would skip the other food options and go straight pastry.

Taberna de Flores – One of my absolute favorite meals of the trip, this small, dark neighborhood gem was lovely in every sense of the word. Pop in when they open to make a reservation, go have a glass (or bottle) of wine elsewhere, and come back a few hours later for an incredible feast. My favorites were the carbonara squid “pasta”, freshly grilled fish, and veal ribs.

Nanarella – Hands-down the best gelato in a city with a surprising multitude of gelato options. It is tiny and off the beaten path, but worth the trip (maybe even two trips). They make fresh crema to top your cone, don’t pass this over.

Claudio Corallo Cioccolato e Caffè – One of the best brownies I have ever eaten was from this tiny chocolate shop. It also doesn’t hurt to sample their delicious and eclectic mix of dark chocolate flavors. This is a great spot for picking up a few sweet treats as gifts as well.

 

Where To Drink

By The Wine – We loved this wine bar so much that we went back three times during the course of our trip. They have a great selection of local wines, and it is just the ticket for adult beverages, oysters, and cheese early in the evening before dinner.

Pharmacia – This swanky, hospital-themed spot is perfect for when you need a break from the wine scene. Go for after dinner drinks and sample the local Amarguinha (an almond liqueur) in test tubes, and I also had an unexpectedly good cachaca cocktail here.

Copenhagen Coffee Lab – In a city known mostly for it’s classic galao, we stumbled upon this little coffee shop and were delighted with their breadth and quality of other styles. It’s a great place to take a beat, caffeinate, and recharge your batteries (and if you’re craving an iced coffee, you can find them here).

BA Wine Bar – Through a small doorway on a tiny cobbled street, this was the site of our most authentic wine tasting in Lisbon. We popped in the day before to make a reservation (it books up quickly). The staff is incredible and gave each of us an individualized tasting based on our personal preferences, all accompanied by traditional tinned fishes and local cheeses and jams.

Park Bar – For rooftop cocktails at sunset, look no farther than Park Bar. On the upper level of a parking garage, this hard-to-find spot was a bit of a younger, cooler scene, and was just right for a casual pre-dinner drink with a beautiful view of the city.

 

What To Do

Time Out Mercado da Ribeira – This incredible food hall is a sight to behold. We went during lunchtime and sampled the wares from a few different vendors. You can get coffee, wine, and gifting items here as well.

Rua Nova do Carvalho (the pink street) – Warning: this pedestrian street, whose pavement is painted neon hot pink, is not something to “do” per se, but it certainly is something to see. I loved wandering down by the water in Lisbon and stumbling across this eye-catching corner of the city.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – This beautiful monastery in the neighborhood of Belem is truly a sight to behold. Make a morning of visiting Belem, picking up some pastel de nata at Pasteis de Belem, and working off your sugar high wandering through this beautiful monastery and church.

Miradouro Sao Pedro – This little terraced park near the Bairro Alto neighborhood was a lovely spot to sit on a bench, relax for a moment, and take in beautiful views of the city.

Castelo de Sao Jorge – Lisbon is a city that is built on a hill, and the apex is this magnificent old castle overlooking it all. Be prepared to strap on your sneakers and take a hike to get there, but the route up old winding roads is filled with unexpected street art and small shops that make the journey worthwhile.

Praca do Comercio – Also known as the yellow square, this waterfront plaza is a beautiful and quite colorful. Take a stroll through the square after lunch at Mercado da Ribeira to walk off some of those local indulgences.

Igreja de Sao Roque – My favorite church in Lisbon (and all of the churches are stunning, mind you), this also happens to be the oldest Jesuit church in Portugal. It’s gilded interior was absolutely grand to take in, and it is centrally located in the Bairro Alto neighborhood.

 

Side Trips

Sintra

Do not under any circumstances miss out on a day trip to this incredible city of palaces. Set on a mountain, quite literally, you take a bus up the single winding road to each palace, all built at different times and in completely different styles. Getting to Sintra is a simple 30 minute train ride from Lisbon, and you can book your train tickets the morning of. Don’t forget to wear sneakers! My three favorite palaces are below with details:

Castelo dos Mouros  – Straight out of Game of Thrones, this castle is mostly old stone ruins that you can hike amongst, and is what comes to mind when you picture an old medieval castle.

Pena Palacio – At the very top of the mountain, this palace is painted in the brightest shades of red, yellow, blue, and every hue in between. The artistry inside is unreal as well, and it is truly a feast for the eyes.

Quinta da Regaleira – Unquestionably my favorite place in Sintra, it was the grounds here more than the palace itself that we found to be most captivating. There is a mystical, almost otherworldly quality to this place, and elements like the haunting Initiation Well and hidden grottos and underground caves were just so much fun to explore.

 

Porto

Welcome to wine country, and the epicenter of port creation in Portugal. Right on the banks of the Douro River, we stayed here for 2 days and 1 night and absolutely fell in love with this city. Book your train ticket in advance of your trip; it’s about 3 hours from Lisbon and is a really nice, scenic ride. See below for the don’t-miss spots in this scenic city:

Graham’s Port House – One cannot venture to Porto without learning about the history of port (and sampling it too). Set up a tour and tasting in advance (via email) at this storied port house and spend an afternoon getting steeped in its rich history.

The Yeatman – This insanely gorgeous hotel on Gaia side of the river (where all of the port houses are) is perfect for lunch and wine on the terrace prior to your port tasting. The views of the city from here are simply breathtaking.

Church of Saint Ildefonso – This utterly stunning church is covered with classic Portuguese blue and white tiles and is photo-worthy in every sense of the word.

Cervejaria Gazela – The “hot dog” place. And they are deep fried. It’s a tiny little lunch counter, but it is a can’t-miss.

The Wine Box – Our favorite wine bar of the entire Portugal trip. This tiny spot also had incredible food, and we literally had to tear ourselves away to make our dinner reservation.

Taberna Mercadores – Stop by this little local spot early in evening to put your name in for a truly fantastic dinner. Don’t miss the octopus rice and the whole fish encrusted with salt (they light it on fire at your table).

 

Article originally published on the Six Degrees Society blog here

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