36 Hours in Lisbon

Tiles, port, and picture-worthy art. Lisbon is laden with historical eye candy as well as good eats. Hear about them from Maya Mortiz's visit to the city.

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Photo: Maya Moritz

Surprisingly, you won’t find Portugal to be anything like your week in Spain. First, you’ll hear a language that sounds more like Russian than Spanish (to the untrained ear, anyway). Then you’ll try some vastly different food. Finally, you’ll realise you’ve just been somewhere without compare, culturally far from anywhere you’ve been before.

Breakfast: Time Out Market Lisboa

Make sure you don’t miss any of the city’s culinary delights with a trip to this daunting food market. Sure, it’s touristy, but this is the place to get a feel for what you may want to try during your trip, or to chat with some fellow travelers. If you want to check out the nightlife, maybe put together a group for some safety in numbers. The vendors mostly speak English, and it’s a great place for budget-conscious travelers to compare prices before they choose a meal. You’ll get another chance tonight, but you may want to try a shot of ginjinha, or sour cherry liqueur. It’s strong, so buy some water to wash it down. Outside, you’ll be able to easily walk or take the street trolley to the Museo. The street trolley is touristy and crammed, but worth a ride if you have the time if only for the history.

Morning: Museo Nacional do Azulejo

In any other city, a tile museum would seem an odd choice. But one could argue that Lisbon can be summed up by its varied, eye-catching tiles. All over the city, you’ll see houses covered in tiles of all colours and patterns. In this former convent, some of the most gorgeous among them are on display, from 15th century masterpieces of restoration to modern, pearlescent pieces. The building also offers an idyllic courtyard (complete with a fountain) so that you can take in the scenery between rooms of ornate tile work. Make sure to see the stunning chapels, especially if a lecture or concert is going on while you’re there. You’ll be awed by the golden figures and majesty of the place.

Brunch: Bica do Sapato

Right by the Museo is Bica do Sapato, a moderately expensive restaurant directly on the water. It’s partly owned by American actor John Malkovich, whose investment in the city includes restaurants and nightclubs. Gaze out from the balcony upon Lisbon’s breathtaking coast as you savour Portuguese and world delicacies. The dessert menu is four pages long, so this is the place to experiment (with a green tea brownie, perhaps?) before you sample a Pastel de Nata, the famous eggtart pastry. Spring for the three-course meal and make sure to sip on port, the fortified wine the country is known for. This restaurant may not be for budget travelers, but this splurge is one you won’t regret, if only for the opportunity to dine with such a view.

Afternoon: Lx Factory

The wrought-iron entrance to this artist village makes you feel as though you’ve exited Lisbon and entered an adult playground. You can spend hours exploring the shops and galleries of local artists and musicians. The restaurants in this area are unique, so make sure to samplesome of their beers and local fare. You’ll feel as if you’re in Brooklyn or Berlin rather than Portugal. It’s also a great place to pick up gifts. There’s no touristy vibe, and you’ll have the chance to purchase something truly local. Odd tip: go to the bathroom here. The latrines are, like most other surfaces here, covered in picture-worthy art. Charge your camera for this one.

photo: Maya Moritz

Dinner: Martim Moniz

Your lunch was fancy, so your dinner will be a lot sketchier. Martim Moniz is home to at least three illegal Chinese restaurants. This just means that you’ll have to enter a dark alley, find an unmarked door, be buzzed in, and climb some spooky steps to find yourself in a personalflat. While the four chefs smoke in the kitchen, you’ll be among the locals in a large dining room with an authentic menu. Go wild but bring your Portuguese book — off the beaten path means no English. The result of this food journey will be Chinese food as you’ve never had it (egg rolls tied with seaweed, egg soup of surprising texture, never-before-seen animal parts) at some wonderfully low prices. If offered fire water, say yes and be ready to take a shot that leaves your organs burning.

Drinks: Hotel Mundial Rooftop Bar

You may think dinner was an unusual dream, but the drinks at this beautiful rooftop bar less than five minutes away will revive you. If this morning’s liqueur experience was less than satisfactory, or once you’ve realized ginjinha will put hair on your chest, you can switch to one of the delicious cocktails on offer. Wait your turn to grab one of the couches or spend your evening looking over the lights into the quiet, dark city and take in the old architecture. While there, take some time to find out which nearby restaurant is offering Fado music. Even if you can only spare time for one song, the opportunity to hear the country’s traditional music is worth it. Performances are simple- a singer and a few musicians on classical instruments- but exceedingly emotional.

Morning: Wander

You’ve seen the museum tiles, so now it’s time to see the city’s tiles. Walk along the water or spend some time at one of the sandy beaches. Watch the white sailboats against the horizon, savor a Pastel de Nata from a local bakery (all of them offer this treat), and shop at the stalls on the beach. Pay extra attention to the tiles on houses. The tiles aren’t produced anymore, so many houses with broken tiles will be unable to replace them. You may want to take a walking tour that explains the rise and fall of Portugal’s tile industry, a sad story which makes you appreciate the houses that do continue the beautiful tradition.

Lunch: Café Fabulas

Make the final meal of your trip authentic. Café Fabulas offers Portuguese favourites (and vegetarian options), an array of reasonably priced alcohol, and a rare opportunity to eat in what looks like a medieval home. The candelabras, arches, and furniture all complement the traditional food and comfortable décor. Take some time to explore the restaurant before you choose your seat. Lanterns, exposed brick, and antiquated mirrors are the touches that will make your authentic meal so memorable.

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