Do it: Portugal

Nicholas and I went to Lisbon for 6 days and stayed in Bairro Alto (at this airbnb, which was perfect for just the two of us). It was situated just outside of the touristy Baixa and Chiado district and full of restaurants and bars! On Saturday night, we looked out of our balcony and the streets were filled with partiers! People would get a drink in a bar where they would give them their drinks in plastic cups and then they would wander out onto the street to hang out. We loved the atmosphere! Most of the locals can speak English and we were able to get around with just these phrases, Obrigato (thank you), ola (hello), contra (bill), fala Ingles? (do you speak English?) Other things we noticed were that locals didn’t eat dinner till about 8pm which was fine with us because we got hungry usually at 7pm and we were able to snatch the first seating at restaurants. The food in Lisbon was amazing, we didn’t have one bad meal and everything we ate was so delicious whether it be from a takeout kebab place or a fancy dinner.

Alfama is the oldest part of Lisbon and is by far the most picturesque neighbourhood we visited. I love a good thrill of the possibility of getting lost in steep winding alleyways (only in daylight though!) We did a pay what you can walking tour of Alfama and had Andre as our guide. He was very lovely and I highly recommend this. The tour is meant to be a guide to the neighbourhood through the eyes of a local. Not only did he give us a historical account of Alfama but also brought us to the home of a lady who sells Ginjia (local cherry liquor) by her window, sang fado for us by a fountain and told us interesting tidbits of everyday life (like how some shops have birds singing in their cages at the front to attract customers).

We also took a walking tour from the same company in Belem, this time it was more historic because of the area and not as personal as the Alfama one. But I still recommend it because it’s a pay what you can kind of tour and our guide was very thorough in telling us about the different monuments in the area.

The main attraction was the Jerónimos Monastery where monks back in the day invented the famous Portuguese custard tart and started selling them next door. It was crazy touristy here but head over to the Pasteis de Belem for lunch. Before this, I had tried a traditional custard tart in Lisbon but still preferred the Macau’s version but the custard tart at this particular place changed my mind! It was not too sweet and the pastry was perfection. The delicious pastry even translated to the crust of the pizzas and the pie crust of the duck pie (not pictured).

The tour guide ended the tour at the Monument to the Discoveries which I had seen in pictures and wasn’t wowed by it. But in person, it was incredible and I was blown away by the sheer size of it, this monument was definitely something you have to see in person.

Nearby was the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which holds art by Picasso, Jeff Koons, Dali and Warhol, the best of all was that it was free!

Cervejaria Ramiro was a seafood restaurant featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. If you spoke English, they gave you an ipad with the English menu on it but you were not suppose to order from it, we were thoroughly confused. But the waiters there were very fast and really good at making recommendations. A lot of the items (including our crab) was priced by it’s weight. We ordered clams on garlic, oysters, conch and crab and we were happily stuffed.

O Trevo was another place recommended by Anthony Bourdain and he had the bifana which was a pork steak in a roll. We also ordered the duck with rice which totally stole the show! It reminded me of Chinese clay pot rice because the flavour from the duck meat was infused into the rice.  

A Tasca do Chico was recommended by Andre as a place locals go to to listen to Fado (a genre of music dated back to the 1820s where the songs are melancholic, think: a woman singing about missing her husband who was at war and usually accompanied by guitars.) We went twice at night time and both times we had to wait a bit outside before they would let us in. It was packed in there and we had to wait at the bar before some people cleared out of tables so we could get a seat. We ordered gin and tonics and they were huge and delicious. We found that the gin and tonics we were ordering at bars were much bigger than what we would get back home. There were different singers throughout the night and they usually sang about 3 songs each. This was one of our favourite things to do on our trip!

We stopped by Artis Wine Bar at 10pm for a second dinner and was so glad we found this gem! They did tapas style food and it had a great atmosphere. We shared the octopus (Nicholas’ favourite), fish soup (my favourite) and beef skewers.

Sintra was a 30min train ride away from Lisbon where we visited Quinta da Regaleira and the Pena Palace. Websites usually recommended you visit the three palaces and if you had a second day, visit the Quinta da Rageleira but through research, I knew I wanted to cross off the latter one first. When we got off the train, I couldn’t figure out where the bus was to take us there so armed with google maps, we hiked there. It was a bit of a walk, so I only recommend walking in Sintra if you’re physically fit. The Quinta da Rageleira was a very magical place, it has a mansion you could walk through and a garden with lots of passageways, caves, or random stairs that led to towers. You never knew where you would end up and the gem of the garden was hopping on stones in a brook, going down a very dark tunnel in a cave and arriving at the bottom of a well. This would be a great place to play hide and seek. Like I said before, we didn’t have one bad meal in Lisbon and even in this tourist attraction, we had the savoury crepes and chocolate cake for a snack and they were delicious! I highly recommend eating lunch in the courtyard outside of the mansion.

Next we hiked to the Pena Palace, this was a serious trek and we hiked up mountains in search for a short cut, seriously not for the faint hearted. The Pena Palace was opposite of what the Quinta da Regaleira looked like, it was painted yellow, pink and orange. I almost thought we were in Disney. The inside was also worth touring, it was well decorated and very majestic.

Cervejaira Trinidade was another restaurant recommended by Andre, it was a former monastery so all the waiters are dressed in monk's clothing, the tables are pews and altars and the food was served in metal bows. We had the steak in three sauces and a steak in Portuguese sauce which came with a side of fries and chips. They don’t ask you how well done you want the steak, it just comes as is. The sauce on the steak in three sauce was unreal!

We had passed by Antigo Primeiro de Maio numerous times on the way back to our airbnb and it was always packed! We decided to go on our last night and we were happy to have found this gem! Our waiter was very friendly and made great recommendations for us. We had calamari to start off with, our mains were black hog and pork shoulder and a traditional Portuguese cake for dessert. The black hog was amazing and highly recommended!