It's a holiday in Lisboa!
June 18, 2007 6:15 AM   Subscribe

We're leaving for a week's vacation in Portugal on Thursday. What should we do?

My wife and I flying in and out of Lisbon, and I've booked a hotel there for the first few nights. We have no real agenda, generally on vacation we like to go to art museums, walk around towns, and sit on the beach.

We're in our 30s, generally vegetarian but plan to eat some fish, no kids, live in New York City. We're happy to get a car if it'll make things easier. Were should we go, what should we do?

posted by These Premises Are Alarmed to Travel & Transportation around Lisbon, Portugal (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well I was about to wade in with a myriad of food suggestions but I see you are vegetarian. Still, there is a wide variety of seafood so certainly try the fresh grilled sardines, squid and Bacalhau and ask for reccomendations. Of all the places I've visited the variety and quality of the food in Portugal is unrivalled.
posted by fire&wings at 7:02 AM on June 18, 2007

Day trip to Sintra is a must. It was my favorite part of Portugal, especially exploring the castles.

The pastries gave it a run for its money, though, when we're talking favorite things in Portugal. Really, you can't go wrong in any little pastry shop. But you must visit the massive Pasteleria de Belem. They only serve one kind of pastry, and you just tell them how many you want. And the answer is: lots.
posted by lampoil at 7:06 AM on June 18, 2007

I really enjoyed the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). The most famous exhibit there is the Panorama of Lisbon, a tile mural depicting the city as it stood before the catastrophic 1755 earthquake.
posted by initapplette at 7:13 AM on June 18, 2007

I was just there for a week. (link to my flickr stream)You just missed the grand yearly feast of Santo Antonio where all sorts of people cook food in their homes and then serve them on the streets, revelers stay up all night drinking and dancing in the narrow cobblestone streets. I've been there for the past two years and always look forward to the endless amounts of perfectly grilled sardines. That said, the city might be better to visit now, now that the craziness has subsided a bit.

I have tons of recommendations but will re-contribute later this afternoon (PDT) I've got to run right now but if I forget, feel free to email me at the address in the profile. I think I have the unique perspective of an oustider who nevertheless was led around by a city native.
posted by vacapinta at 7:48 AM on June 18, 2007

The Port Wine Institute in Lisbon is good fun...
posted by Mmothra at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2007

Whatever you do, listen to the fado after alfresco grilled sardines in Alfama. The shellfish is spectacular: Ramiro is reasonably priced and reliable. Don't miss the bars of Bairro Alto and the Lux nightclub after. Take the train to Cascais and then the bus to Sintra or Guincho. Or the ferry from Belém, full of those custard pies, to face a tasty fish stew ("caldeirada") in Trafaria, with a beautiful view of Lisbon.. Or just stay put somewhere like Santa Catarina, Príncipe Real or Castelo or Graça and slowly let it all soak in. Enjoy! And always trust vacapinta!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:49 AM on June 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, I forgot Fado! Enthusiastically seconded. Fado is awesome.
posted by lampoil at 10:18 AM on June 18, 2007

Well, I defer to you Miguel. This time I did stay put in an apartment in Principe Real. There's a great little cafe right in the Principe Real park which has Internet access and stays open until 11pm.

Principe Real is walking distance from the region of Bairro Alto which is your best bet as an area to walk around at night and find a great and lively restaurant serving authentic food. Offhand I really enjoyed Lisboa a Noite as well as this place on a corner that serves enormous and delicious portions of shellfish or jaquinzinhos (small fried fish) for lunch. There's lots of cute little bars as well where you can try a caipirinha or caipiroshka and, yes, walk around the streets with it. There's not many cars on these narrow cobblestone streets as access is restricted to people who live there. The neighborhood also has many little design shops and fado bars.

Since you have a week, get the touristy stuff out of the way, definitely. The Torre de Belem is gorgeous. The nearby Pasteleria has tasty stuff as mentioned above. Walk in the Central Square. Ride the yellow cable cars. Oh, and also don't miss the Oceanario, basically the aquarium but one of the best I have ever been to in my life. Seriously, I say this as someone who lives near the much touted Monterey Bay Aquarium and it plays second fiddle to Lisboa's.

Regarding transportation, you don't need a car if you plan to stay in Lisboa. The city has a good subway system. Also cabs are plentiful and cost about the same as one in Manhattan. If there is one day trip to make, I do recommend Sintra, also as others have noted. You have to go to the Quinta da Regaleira. Its a beautiful and crazy castle and gardens built by someone who was into the occult arts. Secret tunnels are everywhere. They give you a flashlight when you arrive and the grounds are self-guided.

I did go to some beaches while there: a harsh and beautiful red rocky one on the coast as well as a more packed smaller one in a touristy area but I can't recall how we got there.

For museums, the Gulbenkian and surrounding gardens is beautiful and worth a visit. I think they're having a retrospective at the moment. And please don't miss a quick visit to the Museum of Science at the Universidade de Portugal. Why? They have just finished restoring a 19th century laboratory. Its gorgeous, right out of a steampunk novel, with strange bottles and idiosyncratic contraptions.

You will find seafood everywhere. I don't have specific recommendations for you. My favorite restaurants there serve anything and everything. I usually ask for the chef's menu which means the food is a surprise. The tastiest and a favorite of mine is probably Olivier's. This time there I was enchanted with A Travessa, which is in a restored convent and Terreira do Paco was pretty good. There's also another place in a castle tower which I cannot remember the name of right now but extremely tasty as well.

Spend a lot of time walking and discovering. Lisboa is one of those cities where you can just stumble upon something and make it your own. The winding narrow streets are perfect for getting into a charmed state of misdirection.
posted by vacapinta at 12:14 PM on June 18, 2007 [5 favorites]

Also, you could easily consume a week in Lisboa but if you do head out, may I recommend a trip to Porto? You can take a train, walk around the city, stay there overnight and come back the next day. Its in the far north but well, well worth it.

There are of course many small picturesque towns but these will be less accesible without a car.

I'll save myself a write-up of Porto and just agree with everything in this recent New York Times Travel article. Do visit Lello, a beautiful bookstore there and visit the Miguel Cardoso section! :)
posted by vacapinta at 1:04 PM on June 18, 2007

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