West Coast, Best Coast: Funky Lisbon

IMG_4307The tour continues across the border in the Iberian Peninsula to Portugal! I just spent two days in Lisbon, and I found some very uncanny resemblances to a couple of US cities, but with a European flare. Maybe I’ve thought that to be the case because of some reading I’d done beforehand. Like San Francisco, Lisbon has cable cars, seven hills, and a suspension bridge (the Bridge of the 25th of April) that was designed by the same architect who did the Golden Gate Bridge. In my opinion, the city exudes this eclectic vibe (like what I expect of Portland) unlike other cities I’ve visited so far in Europe: its street art conveys this well. So, before I continue rambling, here’s a quick rundown of some of the things to do in Lisbon.

Belém—The city’s western quarter, Belém houses a number of monuments and is also home to a famous pastry. The tour group visited San Jerónimo’s Monastery which was completely overrun with other tour groups in the afternoon, and the massive line of tour buses parked outside was just as impressive as the architecture and ornamentation of the building. In all seriousness, the church is impressive, but I recommend going at a time (probably early morning or late, late afternoon) when it would be less crowded. We then hopped over to the Torre de Belém, a beautiful and old tower on the water. There are great views of the Bridge of the 25th of April, which causes you to do a double take the first time you see it because you swear you’re in California for a second. The famous Pasteis de Belém is nearby. The lines are always long, but get a pastel de nata, a custard tart with cinnamon on top, and walk around. You can find these at bakeries throughout the city, but you can try the original here.

IMG_4355Alfama—A cool, historic neighborhood which is great in the early evening. Because of Lisbon’s many hills, there are tons of great vantage points where you can take in the city’s red roofs and the Tagus River. The Miradouro do Santa Luzia and do Senhora do Monte are both really good places to check out for that. You can also get good views from the Castelo de São Jorge, which is a good sight as far as old, ruined castles are concerned, but sort of terrifying if you’re afraid of heights as there are steep, slippery stone steps with low railings.

In Alfama, it’s fun to just walk around the little alleys and streets in this neighborhood and get lost. You’ll find little bird baths, beautiful murals, and apartments where people blast music onto the street. For food, head to Pois, Café, a little restaurant which is great for a light bite and is furnished with mismatched chairs and worn couches. I went there for lunch after walking from the Bairro Alto, through Rossio (the city’s main plaza) and back into Alfama. I bumped into two Americans there who were just beginning their vacation, so we talked for a couple of minutes, and it was nice to see another American, from Boston no less. I also tried Chapito a Mesa, a bar in an old circus school, which sounded cool in concept, but it wasn’t anything special while overpriced.

Pois, Cafe
Pois, Cafe

Bairro Alto—Take one of Lisbon’s trams (or elevadors as they call them) up to this bar district and shopping neighborhood. A tram ride is free with your metro ticket within fifteen minutes, I believe. There are some great bookstores here like Livraria Sá da Costa and Bertrand’s. A Brasiliera is an old school coffee shop, but overpriced for a coffee. Don’t go to this neighborhood too early in the morning like I did, though, especially on a Sunday because everything will be closed until around lunch time. Although, I used this as an excuse to duck inside Starbucks, which was one of the few places open, and drink an iced coffee, but I must say even at Starbucks their iced coffee is just an iced americano and not a true American iced coffee.

Livraria Sá da Costa
Livraria Sá da Costa

While you’re in Portugal, try a pastel de nata, which I mentioned above, the vinho verde (green wine) and ginjinha (cherry brandy with or without berries). I personally preferred the green wine, but ginjinha is refreshing on a hot day.

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