Lisbon, Portugal is famous for many things: egg custard tarts, being the capital of Portugal, terrible earthquakes, fado music, a very unusual form of architecture, cherry booze, and Vasco de Gama. These are all lovely things, with maybe one or two exceptions, but my favorite thing about Lisbon is what a gorgeous city it is to explore on foot. My three favorite things to do while traveling are eat, visit museums, and wander around aimlessly looking for stray cats. Today we do all three and more. Come, let us pussyfoot!
Morning: Experience Lisbon Walk
Time: 10:30 AM
My favorite thing to do when I first arrive in a city is go on a walking tour, preferably a food-oriented walking tour. This way I get an expert’s first-hand knowledge on the important things to know about a city before I set off to explore on my own. I was lucky that the Experience Lisbon Walk was available because it combined a walking tour of lovely Lisbon with some yummy snacks. Our guide Margerida took us around so many places that it would take a day to list them all, so I will limit myself to…
Approximately Top Five best things to experience in lisbon
1) First, admire the architecture like the Eden Teatro. The most important year to remember when visiting Lisbon is the year 1755 because that is when the great earthquake occurred that destroyed so much of the city. The upside of the earthquake (if you can say there is an upside to a natural disaster that killed so many people) is that Lisbon is chock full of many interesting types of architectural styles since the whole city had to be rebuilt after the quake.
This Art Deco theater from the 1930s was my favorite of all the buildings we looked at. Sadly you can’t step out here for a retro night at the movies like Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie because it has been converted into a luxury hotel.
2) Start your day right with some really strong alcohol! In Lisbon, this means ginjinha, which is 23% alcohol and made with Morello cherries and cinnamon. We got ours at the most famous bar for the stuff, A Ginjinha. It felt kind of weird doing shots at 11 AM, but there was a piece of fruit inside mine, so probably it was healthy.
3) Visit the Igreja de Sao Domingos. Margerida said she didn’t want to spoil our next destination for us, so she led us up to a small church near A Ginjinha will little fanfare and said she would explain after we left. We were all surprised to enter and find that the interior of the church was mostly bare and that the walls were partially blackened.
After we left, Margerida explained that the church had been severely damaged in a fire that had also damaged a nearby theater, and that there had only been enough money to repair the church or the theater. Surprisingly for a Catholic country like Portugal, they chose to repair the theater instead of the church. Maybe they thought Portugal already had enough gold-plated churches? But I kind of wonder if that didn’t hurt God’s feelings. I mean, it would definitely hurt my feelings if people chose to rebuild a theater instead of my house, unless the theater was showing Hamilton or something.
4) Eat the national dish of Portugal. OK, so maybe I don’t know for a “fact” that the pastel de nata is the national dish of Portugal. Maybe it’s salted codfish or something. But if the nata is not the national dish, it really should be because you can get it all over and it is delicious. As I explained in my article about Portugal, it is a flaky tart filled with warm and gooey egg custard. If you get the small ones, about three should satisfy you.
We got ours at a small place called Pasteis de Mouraria alongside a tart that was actually filled with a white bean paste. This didn’t taste like beans at all; they were sweet with a light and slightly grainy texture. I liked it a lot, but the pastel de nata are better.
5) Eat Romeo and Juliet. “What?” you must be asking in horror, Internet Stranger. “Why would you want to eat Romeo and Juliet? Everybody loves Romeo and Juliet, from Baz Luhrmann to garden gnomes. Well, I’m not talking about William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. In Portugal, Romeo and Juliet refers to the delicious pairing of sweet guava jelly and tangy Portuguese Sao Jorge cheese.
I was definitely expecting the little snack to commit suicide by jumping dramatically into my mouth, but sadly this did not happen. It did taste amazing with the tawny port, so that might make up for my disappointment a little bit.
6) Take the ferry. Our final destination was over the Tejo River, so we got to take the scenic route. I love being on the water, though sadly I do not know how to sail, so I take any possible opportunity to float away on any body of water, with the possible exception of the Gowanus Canal. The ferry is a great value because for about 3 Euros, you can get the same amazing views you’d normally have to pay 19 bucks for on a river cruise.
Everyone on my tour group agreed with me! Proof!
See! We all look really happy and like we’re about to fall over because the ferry was definitely moving. Also, no matter what it looks like, my hand is not on that blonde girl’s knee. Sorry, Internet Creeps!
7) Sample vinho verde and Portuguese seafood. Once we reached the opposite side of the river, we were at a neighborhood called Cacilhas, which is famous for its seafood restaurants. We stopped at a charming blue and white tiled place called Vale do Rio, where we snacked on scrumptious giant prawns, codcakes, and pickled lupine beans. The lupine beans were my favorite because I’d never eaten anything like it before. You munch on them by biting a hole in the top and sucking out the interior. The salty taste was quite addictive.
For booze, we had vinho verde, which is a slightly sour and refreshing wine from the north of Portugal. It went really well with sucking the heads out of giant prawns.
Travelerette Tip: While the tour is entertaining and delicious, the snacks offered aren’t meant to be a full lunch. You can stay at Vale de Rio and eat lunch if you want, but my group opted to head back to the main part of Lisbon, once again via the ferry. I ended up grabbing a snack at the famous Time Out Market on Av. 24 de Julho 49 with an Irish couple from the tour. I shall call them Sean and Seana because I definitely don’t remember their actual names.
There were about a thousand food stalls in the market to choose from, but Seana was craving pizza, so I joined her at the Pizza a Pezzi stand. I felt a little touristy choosing pizza in Portugal because I eat it all the time back home, so I got this cheeseless beauty with rich and salty sardines on top. Nothing says “Authentic Portuguese Experience” like cured fish!
Afternoon: Convento do Carmo
Address: Largo do Carmo
Hours: 10-7 Monday through Saturday
Price: 3.5 Euros
Now that we are back on the mainland, it’s time for more Portuguese history! And that means traveling once again back to the year 1755 when the earthquake made Lisbon’s buildings dive. These arches once belonged to the Convento do Carmo, but because of that earthquake, they now belong to the ruins of the Convento. However sad the devastation caused by the quake might have been, the ruins are a captivating place to spend an afternoon exploring.
4 out of 5 cats agree!
Travelerette Tip: Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum located in the ruins of the Convento. It contains everything from lovely Portuguese blue and white tiles…
To unbearably fugly mummies in glass cases. So, you know, something for everyone!
Travelerette Treasure: My favorite thing about the Convento do Carmo, other than the cats, mummies, and maybe cat mummies, was the elements of Manueline architecture. This sadly has nothing to do with Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Manueline architecture is named after the 15th-16th century Portuguese king Manuel I. The style is a highly ornamental style that incorporates from basically everywhere a Portuguese explorer might have gone: India, Morocco, Swansea…That is why there are so many not typically Western elements present in Portuguese buildings.
It’s also why that arch above has about eleventy million curlicues when just one would probably be sufficient. If you ever see a building that is over-the-top ornate in style, just mutter to yourself, “Looks Manueline to me” You’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about, even though you almost assuredly don’t!
Late Afternoon: Sao Roque Church
Address: Largo Trindade Coelho
Sao Roque is the mullet of churches: business in the front, party in the back. No, that’s wrong. It’s the Tim Gunn of churches, business on the outside, party on the inside. The exterior of the church is extremely plain, but once you get inside, it is gilded like something out of Rumpelstiltskin’s wildest dreams.
Fun Fact: In the year 1755, the earthquake left this church alive. Sao Roque is one of the few buildings in Lisbon not to be destroyed by the quake.
Travelerette Tip: Once your eyes have been blinded by all that gold, wake them up with the views from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. A miradouro is just a scenic viewpoint, and since Lisbon is set in the hills, there are many lovely miradouros all over the city. But I like this one because it has a pretty garden and also because it’s easy to buy a cheap beer at one of the kiosks here.
Travelerette Treasure: As a bookworm/solo traveler, I am always looking for charming spots to sit and read. Aside from the miradouros, I also like to soak up some knowledge in the well-tended Jardim do Principe Real. It is the perfect place to go to find pretty lavender blooms and also the mystery of AFB.
Who is AFB? Is he a Portuguese prince? A proponent of Manueline architecture? A desiccated mummy? If you know, please don’t keep me in suspense any longer.
Evening: Fado Tour
It’s not typical for me to go on two tours in one day, but I was dying to hear some fado music when I was in Lisbon, and this tour seemed like the easiest and most sociable way to hear it. Fado, for those not in the fa-know, is Portuguese five-hankie music. You don’t need to speak Portuguese to want to slit your wrists after you listen to it, and believe me, I mean that as a compliment. I’m not a musician, so I’m not qualified to comment on more technical elements, but you can recognize a fado song by the presence of Portuguese guitar and the sad, sad singing of a sad, sad Portuguese person.
Our tour guide Tiago took us to two different parts of Lisbon that played an important role in the development of fado music before taking us to the show. We started in the Mouraria neighborhood where, legend has it, is where fado music began.
Three Fun Facts about some sad, sad music
1) People say that the first fado singer was a prostitute named Maria Severa, pictured above. She performed in the early 1800s, so obviously this was painted from imagination, as they weren’t very good at taking photos back then. She performed in the Mouraria neighborhood, which, as you can probably tell from the name, is the neighborhood where the Moors were allowed to live in medieval Lisbon.
Maria Severa is still honored in this neighborhood, not just with street art, but also with alcohol. We stopped at a tiny local bar called Os Amigos de Severa, which translates to Friends of Severa, to get a shot of that sweet ginjinha. I use that term literally, as this was sweeter than the ginjinha we had consumed that morning.
2) Maria Severa might have been the first fado singer, but the most famous fado singer was Amalia Rodrigues (pictured on the above mural). Rodrigues was so popular that people usually refer to her as the Queen of Fado. Even though she died in the nineties, she is still beloved in Portugal, as evidenced by her omnipresence in street art.
I think she’s a classy lady with cool hair and an amazing tearjerking singing voice. I warn you, once you start listening to her stuff on Youtube, you won’t be able to stop. Don’t click on that link unless you want to listen to sad music and cry all day. I speak from bitter experience.
3. Most fado clubs in Lisbon are in the Alfama neighborhood, which is the oldest neighborhood in the city. The Alfama is famous for the kind of skinny winding alleyways you see pictured above, so it’s a great area to get lost in whether on purpose or, if you’re like me, both constantly and completely by accident.
The name Alfama comes from Arabic because the neighborhood dates to the time when Lisbon was occupied by the Moors. Our guide Tiago was very complimentary about the contributions that Muslims had made to world culture, from mathematics to architecture. Way to be inclusive, Tiago! Now let’s eat.
Travelerette Tip: Take your time at the last stop of the tour, which is an actual Fado house called Fado em Si. Dinner was included with the tour, so we got to dine on soup, petiscos (Portuguese tapas), crema catalana, which is kind of like flan, and copious amounts of wine while we listened to fado.
I loved the leisurely pace of the dinner/concert. We had our soup and then we listened to the fado performer. We ate our petiscos, which were a tasty combination of cheese, ham, potato croquettes, mushroom salad, and every Portuguese person’s best friend, the codfish. Then we listened to another fado performer. We had our crema catalana for dessert, and then there was even more flan.
Our group started with twelve people, but there were a couple of people who got sleepy and lame and left early. No fun! Don’t you do the same! How often do you get to listen to fado music in the Alfama? I ended up closing the joint down with Tiago and this old couple from the UK, and I think if British senior citizens can handle the late night, you can too.
Travelerette Treasure: One of the coolest things about this tour is that you get to take the famous yellow Tram 28 from near the Mouraria neighborhood to the Alfama. Ordinarily the line is super long, but we were taking it late enough that we did not have to wait on line. Tiago was very good about making sure we all got on the tram, so much so that a woman taking the tram started yelling after him to know how to book his tour. I have proof because she’s the lady giving the thumbs up in my photo above.
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Lisbon!
What would you do with one day in Lisbon? Would you rather eat pickled lupine nuts or drink some more ginjinha? And what is your favorite poem to help remember the date of that famous earthquake? (In the year 1755, Lisbon was down to its very last chive?) Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.