I fell in love fast and hard. In an all-encompassing and overwhelming swell of pure happiness and awe. Lisbon is more than the city I’ve dreamed of visiting. So much more. Its beauty extends beyond the striking light cast by colorful rooftops and gleaming sea water. This beauty is in the food, its in the people, in the music, the architecture, in the winding cobblestone streets and definitely in the wine, the oh-so-cheap yet delicious Portuguese wine. My heart was totally captured the second I stepped out of the train station into the bustling yet quaint plaza.
Alongside my husband and two dear friends, this past July we spent five days exploring the city, finding new ways to proclaim our love for Lisbon. We commonly used phrases like “holy shit” and “no fucking way” but even those fell insufficiently flat in describing our growing admiration and affection. One source of many-a "holy shit" and "for real?!" moments was the apartment we stayed in. Located near the lively Chiado neighborhood, Apartment Chagas was a vacation in and of itself. Our days began with home cooked breakfast, strong coffee and fresh fruit and ended with glasses of wine enjoyed on the sun soaked patio overlooking the Tagus River.
I prefer traveling with a loose agenda, always highlighting the must-sees and gotta-eats but leaving plenty of room for spontaneity. Some of my favorite moments are the ones stumbled into accidentally. Of course, when not reveling in the perfectly unplanned moments, the Internet is a wonderful resource to lead the way. We also went old school a few times with a tried and true guidebook.
The following is my official Top Five Gotta Dos for Lisbon.
A coastal town about 20 miles from Lisbon, Cascais (pronounced cash-caish) is a former fishing village perfect for soaking up the sun on sandy beaches and eating some killer food. Thanks to a Facebook friend, we landed at Jardim dos Frangos for piri piri chicken. Unassuming from the looks of it, this restaurant simply kills this traditional Portuguese dish.
2. Atria-te ao Rio in Cacilhas
On our last day in Portugal we wanted one simple thing; seafood. A successful Google search led us to the south bank town of Cacilhas, best known for spectacular panoramic views of Lisbon and one riverside restaurant. We took a commuter ferry across the river and wandered along the shore where old men fished off docks along abandoned, graffiti-laden warehouses. Atria-te ao Rio seeps charm; with turquoise tables, umbrellas, and bright tropical flowers this all-outdoor restaurant was the perfect place to post-out for a couple hours with a glass of wine and enjoy a plateful of fresh prawns. Seriously, the meal was so good we ordered it twice. We went during the heart of the day but I can only imagine the views as the sun sets and stars come out.
3. Fado Music
Never have I seen so much passion in a performance. Seriously, never. I sadly cannot remember the name of the place we went to though I know it was in Barrio Alto. I heard that the Alfama neighborhood is the best place to see authentic Fado without hoards of tourists but I have no complaints about where we ended up; a tiny little placed packed to the brim where the performers walked causally in from the street, sang three songs and walked right out. The first performer brought me to tears and each following singer tugged at my heart strings, and clearly their own. It was intense but so damn enjoyable. I didn't take a single photo and couldn't be happier. Introduce yourself to the music with Amalia Rodrigues, known as the "Queen of Fado."
4. Day of Wandering
We were given some priceless advice by a Portuguese native to wander with intention; there are gems to be found around each corner and with too much purpose, those gems are easily missed. We took wrong turns, climbed and descended stairs, popped into little restaurants for vinho verde tinto and mussels, found some amazing street art and caught more of those amazing views.
5. Ginginha do Carmo + Entrentanto Bar (tie)
Tucked into a corner beneath a stairwell is a little ginginha bar perfect for a sweet shot of cherry liquor, they even serve them in chocolate cups!
Have I mentioned the amazing views in Lisbon? Yeah, they're everywhere and they're breathtaking. One place we caught a unique point of view was Entrentanto Bar. It was much more posh than anything we did in Lisbon and it was totally worth it. The music was silly, so we drank wine and got even sillier. Plus bean bag chairs at a bar are the best.
I dare you not to fall in love with this magical place. I did, so did my husband, and my friends did, too.