For many Americans, Portugal seems like a far off, if not somewhat exotic, place. The country is steeped in history given its critical role during the Age of Discovery. In contrast, most Europeans view Portugal as a quick getaway that's great for its friendly beaches, moderate weather and dirt cheap prices. Thankfully, neither perception is far off from the truth.
We spent 5 days in Portugal earlier last month. Lisbon was our primary hub for the first 3 days before we ventured off to the nearby Alentejo region for the last 2 days. Below is a brief recap of our first day in Lisbon. Day 2 and 3, as well as a recap of our time in Alentejo will follow shortly. Read on for more information. If you're short on time, just toggle the Google map below via the left-hand drop-down navigation to see the spots we hit up each day.
We arrived mid morning and headed straight to the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa where we would be staying for the next few days. While not within walking distance to most of the historic sites, the hotel was extremely convenient to get to and from. What you will notice immediately about the city is how compact it is. Everything (including the airport) is fairly central and easy to navigate in a short period of time.
After checking-in, we headed down to the Mercado da Ribeira for some lunch. Situated right off the Tagus River, the market was recently renovated by Time Out into a beautiful food hall featuring numerous renowned Portuguese chefs. Local cuisine is all about fresh seafood and hearty plates of meat. You don't come here for the salad.
Following lunch, we walked east along the river towards the heart of Lisbon: Praça do Comércio. All roads seem to lead to this massive square. While not that striking on its own, the plaza helps you find your bearings in the city. Many of the most vibrant neighborhoods such as Baixa, Bairro Alto and Alfama are a short walk away. If you're in a shopping mood, walk up the pedestrian-only Rua Augusta into the hilly neighborhood of Baixa - home to department stores, global brands and local boutiques alike.
Because we apparently hadn't walked enough, we headed further east into Alfama - the oldest district in Lisbon. You can spend hours simply wandering the winding cobblestone alleys and catching a glimpse of local life. Within a single block, it wasn't surprising to see open apartment windows, tiny Fado bars, eccentric street art and clothes hanging out to dry.
Like I said, if you're in the mood for fresh seafood, Lisbon is the place to be. After a day of endless walking, we took a well deserved break and headed to Cervejaria Ramiro to stuff our faces. Thankfully, we weren't scared off by the long line stretching out the door, because the food was well worth the wait. The king crab and lobster were both great, but the jumbo prawns were the highlight - delicious, smokey and grilled to perfection.
To cap off the night, we walked down to Bairro Alto, arguably the heart of nightlife in Lisbon. I'll leave out the details for the rest of the night. You know how it goes...