It took me a really long time to figure out where I was going to stopover on my way to Sweden in October. I was getting stressed as the date crept up and I still hadn't booked any flights.
I could chase the Northern lights in Finland, I could go see a show in the West End in London - and then I found the one flight that connected through Portugal and I knew that was the spot.
Culture, history, cobblestone streets, seafood, wine and WARMTH - I was sold. And so was my mom. While I'd been trying to convince her to join me in Stockholm, the wet and rainy forecast (plus a travel companion who would be working 14 hours days) didn't appeal to her as much as the seaside city of Lisbon.
So we booked flights - and set off for our first mother/daughter trip, and my mom's first visit to Europe!
After picking my mom up in a cab from Penn Station, we arrived at Newark Airport for our flight to Lisbon.
We had a delay of an hour or so which naturally led to a glass of wine before we boarded the plane and settled in for the 6 and a half hour (ish) flight on TAP airlines.
Aside from someone being in my seat when I first tried to sit down and having to wait for a new seat assignment – all went well. TAP wasn’t overwhelmingly comfortable – but it wasn’t uncomfortable and I was able to sleep on and off and watch movies to pass the time.
Before I get into the details of this trip I would like to put out a disclaimer. I might claim something was my “favorite” part of the trip or my “favorite” meal but without a doubt my #1 favorite part of this entire trip was the opportunity to spend 4 days straight with my mom. The hardest part about leaving on the last morning was not knowing when I’ll have that chance again – just the two of us. It was the best thing – everyone go plan a trip with your mom!
When we landed in Lisbon it was very early in the morning. We went through customs and hopped in a cab to our Airbnb. As we drove, I marveled at the sunrise which was absolutely stunning – the kind of sunrise that hurts to look at because it’s so bright and blinding.
We tried orienting ourselves as we drove but by the time we approached our Airbnb, we had taken so many twisty, turny, hilly cobblestone streets that looked more like sidewalks that we had absolutely no idea where we were anymore.
Our host greeted us outside and offered to take our bags up the stairs – no elevator in this building! We were in the middle of a real neighborhood – old buildings and all. Plus, we would learn, most of Portugal is still very old. There aren’t many modern buildings and skyscrapers, and that’s all part of the charm.
I felt awful as Mario struggled to lug my 50+ pound suitcase up the narrow, steep staircase. He had to take a break at one point and I was afraid I was going to be responsible for our host pulling out his back.
Once we were inside, my mom and took some time peeking around, marveling at some of the clever ways the space was utilized. Since this was my mom’s first time in Europe, there were some things that she was a little surprised by! She was especially surprised when she went to open the cabinet for a glass and the entire door fell off! Thankfully it didn’t hit either of us.
I took a quick shower since traveling always makes me feel pretty gross. In true European fashion – the shower was itty bitty and only had a hand-held showerhead. Traveling a lot the past year has made me learn to appreciate that there are many different ways of doing things – and that there isn’t necessarily a “right” way. That being said, I will never understand showers without a hands-free showerhead. Never.
After settling in we set out to explore – of course I had a full itinerary of things to accomplish in the first day.
Our first stop was for some sustenance - and caffeine! There is just something about drinking a coffee in Europe that is so much better than anywhere else in the world.
We walked around the streets surrounding our apartment and strolled into one of the first bakeries we saw. It was complete chaos inside and we couldn’t understand one word. It was somewhat obvious that there was a “to stay” counter and a “to go” counter but it was beyond our comprehension which was which. We took a number, but then we had no idea what number was being called. We awkwardly stood and looked around with pleading “help me” looks on our faces until we somehow managed to communicate that we wanted some sort of caffeine and pointed at a pastry that looked delicious.
We sat outside enjoying our coffee, pastry and people watching, hoping that all our interactions in Lisbon wouldn’t be as much of a struggle. Luckily, I think we managed better from that point forward.
We followed my map somewhat – which was broken down into walking routes of each of Lisbon’s different neighborhoods.
Part store, part museum – Conserveira de Lisboa specializes in all types of canned fish. Yes, you read that correctly. Canned anchovies, cod, tuna and even octopus. We had to stop in to pick up a can for my dad as a souvenir – and I also enjoyed looking at all the different colorful containers.
2. Comercio Square (“Praca do Comercio”)
This is the big, wide open square in Lisbon that’s part of the “Baixa” downtown area. Not as charming as some of the other areas in the city, but certainly worth a walk through!
While we were over here, we wandered into “Lisbon Shop” – a very nice spot to pick up some souvenirs! We had only been there a few hours, so we didn’t want to commit to anything yet, but we did pick up a postcard to send home (and successfully navigated the letter sending process at the nearby post office!)
3. Rua Augusta Arch
If you walk through this arch, you’ll find yourself on Rua Augusta – a pedestrian street like you’ll find in many European cities – filled with tourists, shops, restaurants, bars, etc. Again, it’s touristy, but certainly wouldn’t be a complete trip without briefly checking it out.
4. Praca da Figuiera
Another main square in the downtown area of Lisbon, this one was filled with a market that we enjoyed strolling through one afternoon. Everything from bags, wallets, scarves and jewelry to meats, cheese, breads and fresh vegetables.
5. Praca Rossio (Pedro IV Square)
We really liked the wavy tile work in this square. It’s been one of the city’s main squares since the Middle Ages. No big deal.
6. Ascensor da Gloria
After passing Praca Rossio, we found ourselves walking up, and up & up. A common occurrence in Lisbon. Unknowingly, we had started our way up the Ascensor da Gloria funicular line – on foot, instead of on-board a funicular. Despite the screaming calves, it was great getting to take some pictures of the cars and to view some of the graffiti/street art along the way!
7. Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara
If you’re in Lisbon and you see a sign for “Miradouro” – follow it. This was advice I read many times while researching my Portugal trip and it served me well! A miradouro is a lookout in Portugese – and the city is filled with incredible views since it’s so incredibly hilly! This was our first glimpse of the city form above – and it felt very well deserved after our trek up Calcada da Gloria!
8. Lunch at The Decadente
Part of a hostel, The Decadente was a gorgeous spot for our first meal - after all, the building used to be the Swiss ambassador's residence!
We were seated outside in a pretty garden area and couldn't have been happier with the warm air! The ambiance was great - and I was glad I had done my research to know that often, you have to turn down the bread basket that comes to your table unless you want to be charged for it!
We passed on the bread and instead ordered an appetizer of camaroes - sautéed prawns with homemade hot sauce and garlic.
I highly suggest a side of paprika potato wedges to soak up the extra sauce! A wonderful move on my part if I do say so myself.
For a main dish, my mom ordered the cod (a dish you can't really go wrong with in Portugal!) and I went with the seabass ceviche which was fresh and light. There was a sweet potato and pumpkin puree with crispy pieces of corn that I really loved!
With full stomachs, we walked the short distance to Solar do Vinho do Porto - a tasting room for port wine that's overseen by the government's port wine agency. We walked in and were a little taken aback by the silence in the space - it felt like we were in a library!
While my mom enjoyed the port wine - I was less than thrilled by it. Luckily, we had some great wine on the trip (in fact, ever since, I've been drinking 10X more wine than ever before) but wine of the port variety was not for me!
I wouldn't suggest a trip here unless you're really into wine. It wasn't a very fun vibe!
10. Church of Sao Roque
We stopped in this church and although nothing very memorable stands out- all of the churches in Portugal obviously have a ton of history and beautiful architectural details.
It was a very pretty square, with the typical Portuguese tiled buildings all around!
11. Lottery Ticket Seller Statue
In the square of Sao Roque church, there's a statue I had read about of a lottery ticket seller. On the corner, you can buy your own scratch off lottery ticket and the statue is supposed to give you good luck!
Despite my mom's eye rolls, I made her take the photo opportunity of us scratching tickets. We won $2! So I bought another ticket. And then we lost.
12. Cervejaria trindade
"The oldest beer hall in Lisbon" was our next stop - and it was really awesome to sip a brewski in a place whose story begins in 1294 (when it was the site of a monastery). The current building has been around since Manuel Moreira Garcia built the Trindade Brewery in 1836.
While I didn't love my beer, it was cool to look around!
13. convento do carmo
The Carmo Convent was just up the hill from our Airbnb and we enjoyed most nights in the square (Praca Largo Do Carmo). Though we never paid the entry fee to go into the convent, we did follow the advice I had read to find a lane with trolley tracks just past the convent - which lead to a great lookout from the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa.
This view was one of my absolute favorites from the trip - both in the daylight and at night. We took note of the restaurant/bar at the top and filed it away for later.
14. dinner at bairro do avillez
On our walk to dinner we came to a sidewalk dining area that made us stop in our tracks. For me, this was the moment when Lisbon's charm really won me over. I think it was a similar moment for my mom as well - when we realized that steps from our apartment was this picture-perfect cobblestone street with dinner tables overlooking the city and tourists and locals alike mingling in the streets. It was a total, "Oh, right, we are in Europe and it's magical" moment.
After some pictures, we continued on to dinner at Bairro do Avillez. I chose this for our dinner because José Avillez is kind of a big-deal chef in Portugal. He has many restaurants, but we ate at the casual Taberna within Bairro do Avillez - a building that houses many different Avillez restaurants.
The octopus was incredibly well done, as were the next-level Pasteis de Bacalhau. Pasteis de bacalhau is a traditional dish in Portugal hat it essentially a deep fried cod fritter. While we eventually tried a more traditional one at the Time Out Market, these were by far the better version.
15. wine in the square
This was the way we ended every night in Lisbon -
A half bottle of wine (shared - they had these really cute 1/2 bottles for like $4)
A piece of dark chocolate
Live music or fire juggling or people watching
In Carmo Square
They have cute little bars that are just a small kiosk with cheap drinks and it seems like the whole neighborhood is out!
Stay tuned for days 2, 3 and 4!
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