As a proud SF citizen, I often tout the city by saying how unique it is. We have hills! We have cable cars! We have a Golden Gate Bridge!
And then I went to Lisbon and saw that they have ALL these things, and they’re even better than what we got here. So sorry SF, Lisbon has become one of my favorite cities on earth.
Why Lisbon is cool:
Lisbon has super diverse roots, having been ruled by Iberians, Celts, Greeks, Romans, Moors, and probably some others that I don’t know about. It’s a port city, but until 2011 it was forgotten and falling apart from the European debt crisis. A bailout rebuilt the city and put it on the map.
Know before you go:
- Foreign investment, tourism, and a successful export industry have created a housing crisis in Lisbon. Locals can barely afford to live in the city center due to everyone else moving in (sounds familiar, *cough cough* SF?). People talk about this openly when asked, to the point that it’s even called out on walking and biking tours.
- The city has cobblestones EVERYWHERE. That means wear comfy shoes at all times or your feet will be dead.
- Tuk tuks are super popular but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them due to said cobblestones. Uber and the train works just fine, and of course, walking.
- The weather is—no surprise—just like SF! Foggy with a chance of wind; dress in layers.
- Fado is the traditional music of Portugal. There’s a whole neighborhood devoted to it (Alfama), where you can have dinner and listen to haunting melodies. The food at these places aren’t great, but you aren’t there for that anyways.
Pastelaria Alcoa: A newcomer patisserie with very modern pastries to match. They serve pasteis de nata, but try the other concoctions, like the cornucopia—a sugar cone filled with egg yolk.
Time Out Market: The Ferry Building of Lisbon. It’s got tons of stalls, so you can sample croquetas, cod cakes, and a Sintra classic, queijadas de Sinta (I wrote about them here).
Sol e Pesca: A Bourdain rec! Located on Pink Street where all the bars are, it seems unassuming, but of course, Bourdain knows best. It specializes in tinned fish, an old-school food of Portugal. Order as many as you can with some white wine. My favorite is mackerel.
A Cevicheria: A modern ceviche spot that has beautifully plated food in a compact white-walled space. Look up for a giant octopus hanging from the ceiling and look down to eat all the types of ceviche offered.
Maria Catita: A local Portuguese restaurant specializing in Azorean food. Think stews and lots of seafood.
Sintra: Everyone says this and I’m saying it too—go here and spend the day. You can take the train from Rossio, but come early because buying tickets is NOT intuitive (read: the machines are not in English), and every tourist has the same idea as you so there are lines. We came an hour early and made our train just in time. Once you’re there, you have many Moorish castles to roam. I loved Pena Palace for obvious reasons—it’s like a color factory IRL!
Miradouro de Santa Luzia: All the hills in Lisbon make for some good vista points, and there are lots to choose from. I like this one because you have to walk through a neighborhood to get there, so you can witness the local scene before taking in a gorgeous landscape of red-roofed houses and sea.
LX Factory: A food and goods market from local vendors. Here is the home of the coolest bookstore I’ve ever seen, Ler Devagar; it’s considered one of the top 20 bookstores in the world! You can also try farinheira, a special Portuguese sausage that’s made of smoked flour instead of meat. It was created in the 1500s by Portuguese Jews trying to protect themselves from the Inquisition. The Christians ate pork, and since Jews don’t, they made this version to fool the Christians into thinking that they had converted to Christianity and were also eating pork. And it’s delicious.