Last summer, I visited Portugal to witness one of my closest friends get married. It was a short, whirlwind trip that I will never forget. I promised myself that I would return in 2018; here I am, just having returned from a two-week adventure in Portugal. I am thankful to have set aside enough time to give the country my undivided attention.
I did not fall in love with Lisbon on first impression. The city seemed to be overly congested, sterile, and unwelcoming. In hindsight, I attribute my indifference to jet lag and having only a few hours to form an opinion.
Careful planning of my return completely turned the tables; I fell in love everywhere I turned.
Where to stay (and eat)
Jetlag can be downright awful after sitting on a plane for half a day. My favorite hotel to catch some shuteye and wake up feeling refreshed is Shiadu. They offer boutique apartments, guesthouses, and rooms for all price points.
I urge travelers to get settled and head across the street to Time Out Market for some much-needed grub. Time Out Market is the perfect place for picky eaters like myself. The options are endless; there's something for everyone. Into Japanese? Have a plate of salmon tataki. Like Italian? They've got pizza and pasta. Want to try traditional Portuguese food? They have that too. Whatever you do, make sure to pick up a box of delicious macarons on your way out.
What to do (and eat)
Once sated, explore the many districts of Lisbon. My friend decided to show me around Belém. The Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; there's plenty of history to immerse yourself in. I also suggest a visit to the Monastery of Jeronimos where you can pay homage to Vasco da Gama.
The best way to recharge after walking around is to grab a pastry at Pasteis De Belem. The bakery is located around the corner from the monastery and has been making pasteis since 1837! There are two types of pasteis: "Pastéis de Belém" and "Pastéis de Nata." An interesting blog post by BBC Travel goes into the curious history of the variants. Personally, I prefer pasteis de Belem because it is creamier with a flaky crust.
In the afternoon, take a taxi or public transportation to LX Factory in central Lisbon. It's where you want to be for the latest in arts, music, and culinary experimentation. I have tried several restaurants in the area, and none of them disappoint. The local artists open their studios to the public; it's interesting to check out their eclectic work. To make a San Diego comparison, LX Factory seemed like an equivalent of North Park's hipster scene. There's always something new and exciting going on within the shops and in the lively streets.
Here is where it gets complicated: an evening excursion to have dinner at Ponto Final. Yes, your GPS is going to lead you to a dead-end street (instead of driving, take the ferry across the bay). Yes, be prepared to walk...a lot. Yes, the restaurant is in a gritty neighborhood. However, the trek is worth it; Ponto Final's tapas and seafood are out of this world!
I recommend spending a few hours at one of their quirky yellow tables. Buy a few plates with wine and take in the beautiful sunset. It was the perfect way to end my day in Lisbon.