Lisbon reminds me of the cute girl in high school who everyone had a crush on but no one dated because they worried that if she became too popular she’d lose the essence of what made her so desirable. I’m not even sure I should post this because she might realize how popular she could be and start prettying herself up for richer suitors as did her friends, Paris and London. She’s unpretentious, she exudes a balanced aura of underground edginess and refined beauty, she likes niche music played in cool bars, and she bakes the tastiest desserts.
A warning: you will be tempted to eat pastries every time your stomach starts to rumble. The famous pastéis de natas are everywhere and you’ll rationalize it by saying, “this will just tide me over until I find a real restaurant.” It’s a dangerous lie. What’s worse, you’ll want to wash it down with ginja, a sour cherry liqueur served in a chocolate cup that you can then eat. You’ll be enticed by every listing in The Purple Foodie’s dessert-heavy “Eating In Lisbon” list. Your taste buds will be happy but your stomach will hate you.
Your blood sugar levels will look like a rollercoaster unless you save room for some of the more protein-rich savoury treats like grilled pork sandwiches (bifanas), cured ham (jamón), salt cod friters (croquete de bacalhau), or the must-try seafood rice (arroz de marisco).
If eating-in is a viable option, you’ll find plenty of fresh produce to at the markets and you’ll also be able to get acquainted to one of my new favourite Portuguese delicacies: preserved fish. I always considered canned fish to be a utilitarian source of protein until I chanced-upon a tin of canned tuna with chickpeas on sale at a local market. What was originally part of a budget-conscious hostel dinner led to a spending-spree at Loja De Conservas, a store dedicated entirely to tinned fish from Portugal. This place will change the way you feel about canned sardines, I promise.
The good news is that you’ll be able to work-off these calories trudging up Lisbon’s steep cobblestone roads. It’s called the city of seven hills for a reason! Bring a good pair of walking shoes because what looks like a short jaunt between neighborhoods on a map may end up being closer to the hike you did last summer. Sure there are some funiculars but they’re expensive and frankly I’d rather spend the money on a tasty treat that I just bought myself for all the calories I burned walking up the hill. The hills and stairs also force you to slow down and appreciate the little details like the intricate tile facades that cover most buildings.
You’ll probably end up climbing up to the castle at some point and the entrance fee does pay-off with some stellar panoramic views of the city, but unlike other cities whose birds-eye-views come with a price tag, Lisbon provides plenty of free lookouts that allow you to admire this shy beauty from afar (and hopefully on a full stomach).