I have a new explanation for the meaning, A Diamond in the Rough.
Lisbon, Portugal, it’s a city not as “on the radar” in the USA, but seems to be well-known and explored by travelers around the world, especially fellow Europeans. It is a booming destination for tourism making an imprint on anyone who has the opportunity to explore this beautiful country. People from all over the world come to this magical place to experience the historic architecture, culture, cuisines and desserts, and very friendly Portuguese people.
I call this city a diamond in the rough because I did not have a big desire to visit Lisbon until picked a last minute place to go on vacation. I had little knowledge of this country, nor did I expect to be blown away by its Portuguese affect.
I wouldn’t exactly call Lisbon rough because it is bursting with colors and so much character. But, it does have weathered streets and buildings making it charming and rich in culture. Lisbon is truly a gem, and is going to continue to age/grow gracefully like a fine wine. And might I add Portugal has some of the best wine I have ever tried so you’re in for a real taste.
I find it enticing when you go to a country and have little knowledge about the history, and does it have a lot of history. Portugal is one of the primary players in the European Age of Discovery and Exploration. Portugal discovered the route to Asia by sailing around South Africa. Having little knowledge going into a country makes it more serendipitous when you get to discover history, new people, places, and things.
My expectations were exceeded when I arrived in Lisbon. I was greeted by an excellent Uber driver, who I did not know was going to make such a huge impact on my trip. I quickly realized I was going to have the best time spent in Lisbon because of this great first impression.
I loved Lisbon so much, I decided to go back a week later for a second time because I did not get enough. This allowed me to explore more touristic spots, eat more food, and take away everything Portugal has to offer.
Where to stay:
- Bairro Alto is booming with nightlife, restaurants, and close to all major tourist spots. You will also find street graffiti and uphill streets comprised of social life and an urban feel.
- The Alfama district is a historic part of Lisbon with small cobbled alleyways. It also has the São Jorge castle. You will also find Fado (Portuguese genre music) in this area. Get lost in the wondrous streets of Alfama!
- Baixo is a prime location close to historic shops, square of Rossio, Figueira and the grand riverfront Praça do Comércio.
- Chiado is a great shopping district for the latest European brands.
- Belém is best for culture exploration including Jéronimos Monastery, Torre de Belém, Maritime Museum, and all modern galleries.
Airbnb has an abundance of places to stay. Lisbon is a walking city so make sure you bring comfortable/shoes with traction because the streets are very slick with ceramic tiles. This city is also very hilly like San Fransisco, so you may or may not lose 5 lbs walking everywhere.
What to eat:
Oh man. The food I had in Portugal was some of the best food I have ever had. It was freshly cooked to order and divine in taste. They are known for cod fish shipped in from Norway. The fish has a freshness to it unlike any other fish I’ve had. Minus the croissants, the food was relatively healthy! I suggest you try:
🍤 Garlic shrimp with olive oil as appetizer
🍞 Bread basket because it is freshly made, and who doesn’t love bread?Croissants from Croissant Gigante located in Bairro Alto. The biggest croissants I’ve ever seen, but you may also get it sliced in half for a ham and cheese sandwich!
éis De Nata, which is an egg custard. They last for three days and you can buy them to bring back in your luggage. Get them from Manteigaria or Pastéis De Belém. It is a must to try these in Lisbon. Sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, these desserts are only 90 calories!
🐟Bacalhau à Bràs – white fish, scrambled eggs, scalloped potatoes all blended together like a hash brown, and then topped with olives. I had this everyday because I loved it that much!
🍷 Ginjinha, a typical Portuguese liquor infused with ginja berries (sour cherries).
Time Out Market for a large variety of different foods from around the world. This is great for the indecisive eaters who want a little bit of everything.
🍴I honestly did not find any food I did not like. It was all yummy so you are in for a real treat!
What to do:
- MAAT Museum (art, architecture, and technology). It has a unique structure built almost like a space ship.
- Times museum – The stars of the present and future. It is located in Sintra.
- National Azulejo Museum (Tile museum ) an entire museum of ceramic tiles. This is located about 15 minutes outside of Lisbon, but well worth the drive.
- São Jorge Castle – moorish castle located at the top overlooking Lisbon
- Rossi Square – liveliest square in Lisbon where you can relax at a café or simple just people watch
- Belém Tower – THE symbol for the Portuguese Age of Discovery
- Padráo dos Descobrimentos – where ships departed to explore and trade with Asia and Orient, and also a celebration to the Age of Discovery
- Jerónimo’s Monastery – a former monastery to the Order of Saints of Jerome
- Carmo Convent – A Roman Catholic church destroyed by an earthquake and left in ruins with an open roof.
- Visit Christ the King located in Almada. This is a short hop across the bridge
- Chiado is a District in Lisbon giving you all the best shopping. Avenida da Liberdade has high-end luxury shopping.
- Sky Bar is a rooftop bar booming in the summertime. Be sure to ask for Acmella oleracea (spilanthes), which is an Asian numbing flower you can have with your drink. It numbs your tongue and leaves you with a cooling sensation!
- Take a walk down the The Rio Tejo River and you will notice a red gate bridge similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. The bridges were not built by the same architects.
This is only a limited list of things to do because there is so much to see and do in Lisbon. You should just wander around the streets and see where you end up. There are a lot of museums targeted towards a variety of interests suitable for a rainy day as well.
Weather and Dress:
I went the last week of November and the second week of December. I was also told this was the best time to come to Lisbon because it was not as touristic. Lisbon weather fluctuated between 50-64 degrees during my stay. It rained at least once when I was there. The fashion in Lisbon was a lot like New York, if not better. The Portuguese know how to dress very fashionable, maybe because they have such excellent shopping.
During their winter months they wear a lot of black and neutral colors along with fur. I found it so funny because they think 50-63 degrees is cold. The air is dry, so it was perfect weather to roam around the streets.
Quick day trip:
- Sintra – Home to one of the most beautiful palaces from the 1800’s century. The Pena Palace is eclectically decorated in Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic, and Neo-Renaissance style. Sintra is absolutely beautiful and is only a 30 minute drive from Lisbon. You can drive or take a train (40 minutes).
- Cabo da Roca – the westernmost point in mainland Europe has a panoramic view that will take your breath away. Poet Luís de Camoes described Cabo da Roca as the place “where the land ends and the sea begins”.
- Algarve – a small town hinged between ocean and mountains located just 30 km outside of Sintra. This town has cliff side bars and beautiful beaches.
Portugal is a country I cannot put into words because it truly is one of my favorite countries I have been to thus far. There is honestly so much to see and do I encourage you to go see for yourself. The people are extremely friendly and will make your stay very welcoming. You will not be disappointed of Lisbon, so GO!!