Just Back: Lisbon

Traveler editorial assistant and California native Kevin Kunitake recently made his first hop across the pond. Where did he land? Portugal.

In addition to the trip being his first to Europe, it also marked his debut as a solo traveler. And compact, friendly Lisbon ended up being the perfect introduction to both.

Here are some of the high points of Kevin’s trip, in his own words:

Biggest selling point: Lisbon lives up to its nickname, Cidade das Sete Colinas, or City of Seven Hills. Exploring the narrow cobblestone streets almost assures a breathtaking view.

A portrait of Kevin Kunitake  taken in front of Lisbon's ubiquitous azulejo tiles  (Photograph by Erica Wynn)
A portrait of Kevin Kunitake taken in front of Lisbon’s ubiquitous azulejo tiles (Photograph by Erica Wynn)

On a clear day, trek to Castelo de São Jorge and spend the afternoon overlooking the city’s classic terra-cotta rooftops from a garden full of peacocks. Or simply get lost among the lovely murals and street art on display nearly everywhere you look.

Memorable moment: On my first day, I went to the Cinemateca Portuguesa, a classic movie theater that’s been converted into a museum dedicated to film history, to see a screening of one of my favorite animated films, Hayao Miyzaki’s Ponyo for 3.50€. It’s a kid’s movie, so the dialogue is simple. For someone who knew no Portuguese, it was the perfect way to get familiar with the language.

Authentic souvenir: Lisbon’s hand-painted azulejo tile is stunning, and everywhere. All the tourist shops sell it, so don’t jump at the first opportunity you see. For the most unique patterns and quite possibly the best prices, visit the city’s flea market, Feira da Ladra, on a Tuesday or Saturday.

Standout culinary experience: O Pratinho Feio in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Filled with generations of locals all quick to share their stories over glasses of wine, a visit here is a living lesson in how traditional and contemporary Portuguese cuisine and culture blend in the Portuguese capital.

And the food! I’m still thinking about those fried sweet potato skins and sun-dried tomato pesto.

Side note: Did you know that tempura has its roots in Portugal, not Japan? Try the peixinhos da horta and see why the Japanese put their own spin on the dish.

Lingo to learn: If there’s one word to know, it’s obrigado (obrigada if you’re female). It’s pleasant to the ears, rolls off the tongue, and the Portuguese say it all the time. Once you start picking up on it, you’ll like Lisbon that much more because you’ll see how inviting and warm a culture can be when every conversation ends with “thank you.”

Doable day trip: Take a short tram ride from the city center to Belém, in Lisbon’s southwest corner, to take in the beautiful architecture, including Belém Tower and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). Pack a lunch, walk along the Tagus River, and have a picnic in the gardens.

I also highly recommend Sintra, 25 minutes northwest of Lisbon. But plan to spend more than a day there. It feels like a fairy tale.

Practical tip: The Metro is clean and easy to use, but walking is the best way to see Lisbon. Be okay with getting lost a couple of times; people are very friendly with directions. Also, order the orange juice. This city has the most delicious orange juice I’ve ever had.

Should have brought: Running shoes. I would have loved to explore this city on the go.

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  1. Alexandra vargas
    May 17, 2015, 1:08 pm

    what about Sardines? Fresh fish? Seafood? Old villages in Lisbon like Alfama, Bairro Alto, Castelo, passeio marítimo Cais Sodre, Praça do Comércio, between other places. there os a lot to see in Lisbon, I thank you have to come once again and discover the rest of it. One things you are writh, our orange juice is the best

  2. Mario
    February 12, 2015, 4:43 am

    Please don’t buy azulejos from feira da ladra. The ones sold there are often stolen from buildings.

    Sweet potato skins and sun-dried tomato pesto is not Portuguese food, and you have thousands of incredible Portuguese typical dishes to try in Lisbon.

    Also, Belém is part of the city of Lisbon, covered by tram and metro, it is a must-see in Lisbon and not a day trip. Sintra is a great recommendation for a day-trip.

  3. Lilly
    February 11, 2015, 5:26 am

    Next time I suggest to live the cinematographic experience to discover Lisbon with The Lisbon Movie Tour ;) (www.lisbonmovietour.com)
    They show the famous movie scene by tablet at the place where was shot.

  4. Geeky Explorer
    Barcelona, Spain
    February 11, 2015, 4:21 am

    Lisbon is one of the best getaways in Europe and for me the best value-for-money destination. Still, one of the most unique experieces you can have in Lisbon is try the custard tarts (pasteis de nata) which is not portrayed here.
    Also, I never heard someone praise the orange juice (?) of Lisbon, but hey, as long as you had fun!

  5. Claudio Valdetaro
    February 11, 2015, 3:37 am

    Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is also a nice place to see.

  6. Tara
    February 9, 2015, 7:24 pm

    I travelled to Lisbon (and Europe) for the first time this past September and this article brought back some wonderful memories of the trip! Now I’m itching to go back!