We’re thinking of spending a week (based in Lisbon) at the end of the year – probably in December.
That said, we don’t know a whole lot about visiting the country at this point and are collecting info on what might be good to do/see, and where in Lisbon would be best to stay.
My husband likes historical stuff, so museums, castles, old architecture, etc. are his thing.
I am into nature/wildlife kinds of things, so zoos, aquariums, gardens, and boat trips are what I like, plus I love to cook and am a foodie – I figure the latter will take care of itself there, though. The food looks like it’s awesome everywhere. I also like oddball types of museums, so if there’s any fun or funky museums that are any good, I am all ears.
I figure one thing we need to do while we are there is visit Alfama – I think that might hit both our interests.
Anyone been to Portugal? Got any tips? How difficult will it be for us to get around not knowing Portuguese? We are thinking of booking with a private tour company for a day or two while we are there just to make sure we get to see the things most important to us in the most efficient way.
My wife and I were there last year and stayed at the BessaHotel Liberdade on Avenida Liberdade, which worked out really well. It’s a nice place and close to both a metro stop and the train station. If you’re walkers there is a lot within walking distance, and if not the metro and trolleys will take you just about anywhere else.
We took a day trip to Belem, and went to the National Coach Museum (main museum plus an annex). Very nicely presented. We also went on a day trip to Sintra to see palaces and the Pena Palace, a castle from the 1800s designed to look older.
We had some good food but my impression from Lisbon is that there is not a national haute cuisine. Your best bet is to go for fresh local seafood. They do have a popular stew served in the pan which is quite good if done right.
Learn please and thank you and the rest will take care of itself, if you are in areas frequented by tourists.
Bom dia: Hello (lit. good day)
Obrigado: Thank you (Obrigada if the speaker is female)
Por favor: Please
casdave: It’s the Douro, not Doura, and you would have to go to Porto in order to do that.
Lisbon is going to be chilly in December, so bring something warm. The Bairro Alto district is interesting and has Fado bars where you can listen to traditional music (example, by the famous fado singer, Amalia Rodrigues). In the Chiado district (next to the Bairro Alto) is a famous coffee shop, Cafe A Brasileira, where the poet Fernando Pessoa and other intellectuals hung out. There’s a statue of him there. Also in Bairro Alto is the Port Wine Institute, where they have hundreds of wines from the Douro region, along with port tastings.
The Alfama is certainly worth seeing, along with the Sao Jorge castle up on the hill. The local trams will take you wherever you want to go, including out to Belem and Jeronimos monastery. Very near there is a famous bakery where they make a local pastry favorite called pasteis do Belem, basically a small browned custard in a pie crust. Lisbon also has an old Roman aqueduct near the American embassy, and the town of Conimbriga has nice Roman ruins, as well.
Lisbon is full of azulejos, or painted tiles covering many walls, so watch for those.
If you can get out of the city, try to see the hilltop town of Obidos and the old town of Sintra. Sintra has the ruins of an 8th century Moorish castle along with Castle Pena, mentioned above.
I was never able to get into the local dishes in the two years we lived there. They go heavy on salted cod (bacalhao), it being the national dish. I had it many different ways and always found it unpalatable, but your taste may vary. Another well-known dish is caldo verde, which is a soup with sausage and kale. It can be good, but is often very bland. The best things they do are bread, cheese and red wine. Enjoy!
As for language, you may find younger people who can speak some English, but older folks may not.
Good additions. We did the things quoted above. I am a jazz guitarist so was especially interested in the local traditional music; we heard a local group in a bar in Bairro Alto but never heard anyone famous.
We wanted to go to the Port Institute but arrived to find it closed even though it was during hours that it was supposed to be open, so triple check. Alternatively, there is a wine-tasting room off Praca do Comercio (large square) near the waterfront.
Also worthwhile is the market in Praca da Figueira.
For being a relatively small city, Lisbon has a lot to see.
Thanks so much for the additional intel - I’ve been to Newfoundland, Chefuy, so I am well prepared for the cod (I even ate at a restaurant there called Bacalao - you can guess what a lot of their dishes were based on), and I’ve got a Portuguese cookbook that I am going to break out too, to get some idea of what else to expect. Sounds like we should put Sintra on the list too.
You take the train to Sintra, then you can take a bus to the Moorish Castle and palaces/castles. I recommend going early in the day; we were in a very long line for the bus. I suppose you could also take a taxi, and there are tuk-tuks running around there too.
August is vacation time in Europe and a lot of businesses just close their doors for the entire month. Doesn’t make sense, I know. Make sure you check on this.
I lived there from 1993-1995, so maybe things have changed, but public toilets at most tourist sites were non-existent, as were any sort of tourist chachki stands. It was almost as if the Portuguese really didn’t understand tourism economics.
I know it’s a long way out of the way for a brief trip, but the Algarve is a dramatic place to visit. The high cliffs with fisherman casting their lines off is something to see, and there are still vestiges of Moorish architecture there.
I find the comments about the food being so so quite remarkable, as it was the food that was the real surprise for me in my first visit just last Easter. I do get the impression that Lisbon as gone through a bit if a foodie revolution.
Help! I don’t understand this-apparently my brief introduction to Spanish cooking back in the 80s wasn’t enough-or I did get on the neighbor’s bad side without knowing it!
Can someone explain Nava’s excellent post to a newbie?