Lisbon, warts and all

We met with a bunch of friends in Lisbon to celebrate the New Year. Here are some of my impressions on this city.

Pastéis de Belêm and galões da máquina at Pastelaria Belêm

What I absolutely adored:

Pastéis de nata! These custard tarts are the most delicious pastries I’ve eaten in a long time. They can be found in pastelarias (pastry shops), cafes and restaurants. I read that the best of the best were the custard tarts sold by the Pastelaria de Belêm, called pastéis de Belêm. At the time I thought it was a gimmick to attract tourists but no, they really are the best of the best!

Food in general. We did not have a bad meal. Ever. Period.

Coffee. Nothing beats a galão da maquina first thing in the morning. A galão is espresso with milk served in a tall glass.

The tiles. Portugal is famous for its colourful tiles, a legacy of the Arabs that invaded the land many centuries ago. Many buildings are tiled from top to bottom. I read somewhere that it helped waterproof them. I was obsessed by the many patterns and colours, I had to buy some!

The locals. In general, people were very friendly and very polite, always with a smile on their face.

Waiting for the tram

 What I liked:

Most people had at least some English, even taxi drivers. Although I speak a smattering of Portuguese, it was nice to be able to communicate in English (and even Spanish) when I drew a blank.

Taxis were reasonable. The bus from our hotel to the centrally located Rossio Station cost € 3.50 for both of us and the taxi fare was € 4.70. We cabbed it everywhere.

Walking. Lisbon sits on seven hills so walking can be a bit tough but it is such good exercise! Besides which, you feel you’ve earned a delicious dinner washed down with vinho verde after a day of walking.

Good public transport network. Buses, trams, trains and the metro take you anywhere.

What I disliked:

Cigarette smoke. You see people of all ages huddled up smoking outside buildings and in the street. Although taxis had a non-smoking sign, most reeked of cigarette smoke.

The state of disrepair of many otherwise gorgeous buildings. It’s such a shame. I noticed it had nothing to do with the current economic crisis but they’d been gently decaying for years.

You had to constantly watch out for pickpockets and were reminded of this by notices places in various locations. We had no bad experiences, probably because we were watchful.

Don’t miss

A shot of ginjinha, sweet liquor made with local tart cherries. It is sold in hole-in-the-wall type of shops and you’re supposed to down it in one. Some serve it in even smaller chocolate shot glasses, which you’re meant to eat with the cherry. I didn’t care for it myself but everyone else was obsessed with it

A tram ride, especially the number 28. The rickety wooden trams take you everywhere and are a lot of fun.

Have I mentioned the Pastéis de nata?

A shot of ginjinha to get the party started

24 thoughts on “Lisbon, warts and all

  1. Ana, Lisbon’s been on the list for a while, but now… what a lovely post! And cherry liquor in edible chocolate shot glasses? I’m obsessed before I even try it.


  2. We LOVED Lisbon – it was the last stop on our honeymoon last June. I am dying to get back and spend more time in the city and all around Portugal. Everyone was so friendly, the food was out of this world delicious, and I loved that it didn’t feel like Disneyland .. Still has that untouched old European feeling.


  3. I told you you will eat very well in Lisbon ;-))
    I agree with you about the situation of the buildings. I hope with the new renting law the situation will change a bit.
    Let’s see…
    I like Ginginha very much too. 🙂 Saudade!
    My mother likes galao very much too ;-))
    Thank you for the compliments to my people! We try our best to receive properly all the tourists. Sometimes, we walk with him/her to the place he/she wishes to go to, if we see they can get lost. Portuguese people are very helpful.
    I remember once we have just arrived to a small town in Alentejo and we didn’t have a place to sleep.The owner of a tasca (small restaurant) asked his neighbours to give us accomodation. We stayed that night for free in a private house. They were fantastic with us! They didn’t know us! We could be burglars or something like that.
    I know that I can count on my mother’s neighbours to give some assistance to her in case of necessity. If she has the flu, one goes for the bread, the other brings the soup, the other takes the garbage outside, etc. The same goes with her. Once, in a month, my mom, my godmother, myself, other neighbours, we get all the furniture we managed to the new rented house of an Ucranian poor couple. They were so happy! I gave my former bed, my godmother gave velvet courtains, etc! It was fantastic! Now we are helping a couple from Georgia! They deserved it! They are very hard workers!
    I’m very pleased to hear you have enjoyed the city and the people! Very nice!
    Tram 28 very good choice!
    The tiles…love them!
    Thank you for the pictures! E bom matar saudades!


  4. I have also been to this place in Lisbon as my wife is Portuguese and loved it there. Lisbon is still has a traditional old world feel that is so romantic.
    Also try visiting Palacio de Pena in Sintra, it was featured in an episode of The Bachelor once.


  5. I would go to Portugal for the food alone. I’ve heard so many positive things about the cuisine there.

    “The state of disrepair of many otherwise gorgeous buildings. It’s such a shame. I noticed it had nothing to do with the current economic crisis but they’d been gently decaying for years.”

    This statement reminded me of the current state of affairs in Buenos Aires. It’s a real pity to lose beautiful architecture to a lack of preservation.


  6. I completely agree with all of your likes and dislikes of Lisbon. I was just dreaming of those custard tarts the other day. And that cherry liquor is awful! I don’t know why people like it.


  7. Those tarts look delicious! I just had one that looked every similar in China. Sumer yummy! I hear you on the cigarette smoke… I’m from Europe and should be more used to it, but after living in the US for so long, it sticks out to me how much more prevalent it is on my home continent. So glad I finalluy quit 3-4 years ago 🙂


  8. I am glad you liked Lisbon. Tram 28 was one of my favourite experiences, but I’m yet to go to Belem for a pastel da nata. I also like Cascais an up marke resort just a short trainride a way. There is so much to see in Lisbon I would like to go again espeically for the tile museum and the aqarium. You are right about the state of the buildings. When we wet to sintra castle I was shocked by how “tattty” it was. Howver, this seems pretty common as even where we live there are abonded bulidngs everywhere.


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