We flew to Portugal over Thanksgiving weekend, trading turkey and pumpkin pie for bacalhau and pastéis de nata. Our short trip began in Lisbon, which really is as pretty as everyone says, filled with mosaic sidewalks and colorful buildings, yellow trolleys rattling up and down the hills, and jaw-dropping views scattered throughout the city.
We stayed at B&B Zuzabed, an adorable bed & breakfast owned by Luis Zuzarte, who also owns a handful of other properties around Lisbon. From the moment we booked our room, I knew he’d be an unbelievable host. He spent half an hour with us going over every single detail — from how to properly close our sliding balcony door, to which route to take for the most picturesque walk to Alfama. He even let us borrow a cell phone during our stay and called it while we were still with him so we’d be able to recognize the ringtone when we got a phone call. Portuguese hospitality is next level.
Since our time was short, we woke up early each day, packed in a lot, and returned home late each night. However, if we had wanted to narrow it down to just the very best activities, here’s what we would have done:
Watch the sunrise from Miradouro das Portas do Sol. We were pleasantly surprised by how empty it was when we got there; we were worried it would be like Santorini at sunset.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a huge, white limestone monastery that was financed with “pepper money” (a 5% tax on spices brought back from India). It’s classic Manueline architecture — intricate, lacy, and influenced by Gothic and Moorish architecture. Go toward the end of the day for smaller crowds and romantic lighting.
Listen to a fado performance. Fado is intense, mournful, traditional Portuguese music, often focusing on heartbreak and lost sailors. It’s mainly for tourists now but is still a unique thing to do in Lisbon and a nice way to spend dinner.
Compare the pastéis de nata at Manteigaria and Pastéis de Belem. There’s a fierce rivalry between the two, and everyone seems to have an opinion on which one is better. The truth is that they’re both fantastic. Manteigaria is more conveniently located, slightly cheaper, and has a smoother pastry crust. Pastéis de Belem is the birthplace of pastel de nata and only serves them fresh out of the oven, which means the egg custard is the best. There’s usually a long line outside, but it moves quickly.
Our favorite meal on the entire trip was at O Nobre, run by female chef (!) Justa Nobre and her husband. We had a fantastic ten-course tasting menu for under €90 — a perk of eating in the cheapest country in Western Europe.
Uber is incredibly cheap in Portugal. A ride all the way from the airport to the center of town was only $14. Public transportation is also really easy to use. Their subway system is similar to Boston’s (small and efficient), and their iconic yellow trolleys are filled with little old ladies. Take the #28 trolley to Alfama or the #15 to Belém. On one of the days, we bought a 24-hour Via Viagem card because we were taking multiple rides on public transportation (a train to Sintra, bus to Belém, and subway to Campo Pequeno). If you’re only going to take a few rides over time, you can just buy a refillable card and put in the appropriate amount of money.