Archive for February, 2013

The 10 Most Famous Foods in Lisbon

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

There are certain foods that people go out of their way to enjoy. Those kinds of specialities that turn ordinary restaurants into legends and often into symbols of a city. Here are ten things to eat in Lisbon that people rave about.

Piri Piri Chicken

PIRI-PIRI CHICKEN
It’s perhaps even more famous outside Lisbon thanks to the Nando’s chain. But there are no Nando’s in Lisbon and Lisbon’s chicken is nothing like Nando’s. First of all, it’s far from being fast food, it’s meant to be enjoyed slowly and ideally on the terrace of the Bonjardim restaurant. Also known as “Rei dos Frangos” (“The King of Chickens”), it’s very much a local place but also a tourist magnet, with many claiming this is the best chicken they’ve ever had.

Pastel de Nata

CUSTARD TARTS
Lisbon’s most famous pastry is often imitated but never duplicated around Portugal and now even the world. The original place to try them is Antiga Confeitaria de Belem (known to most simply as “Pastéis de Belém”) but there is also a couple of “Nata Lisboa,” small spots specializing in the delicacy, in the Chiado and Principe Real neighborhoods.

Chocolate Cake

“THE BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE IN THE WORLD”
“O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo” is really the world’s best marketing name. Although quite good, truth be told, it’s not even the best chocolate cake in Lisbon… But given the name, you feel compelled to try it. It’s now served at several cafes and restaurants around the city but a good place to find it is at the Santini ice cream shop in Chiado.

Pão de Deus

“PÃO DE DEUS”
It literally means “God’s Bread” and will taste divine if you love coconut. It’s more a pastry than bread, and ever since the chain of “A Padaria Portuguesa” bakeries presented its own square-shaped version it’s become a fad that will surely become a long-lasting favorite.

Açorda

“AÇORDA”
It doesn’t look that appetizing at first sight, but you’ll be sold at first bite. This soupy dish of bread and shellfish (or cod) is traditional in southern Portugal but served all over the country. No one does it better than the Pap’Açorda restaurant which uses lobster and prawns in its “Açorda Real” and gives the bread the aroma of coriander.

Sardines

GRILLED SARDINES
There are those who’d stay away at any cost, those who eat them regularly, and then there are those in Lisbon who actually have them only once a year during the big “Festas de Lisboa” street feasts. You’ll see (and smell) them grilling in almost every corner in June, and that’s enough to make them one of the city’s icons.

Clams

CLAMS
The Pinóquio restaurant could present nothing else on its menu and still make big business thanks to its clams arriving from Algarve. People come from miles away just to enjoy this garlicky dish which helps explain why its serves between 15 to 20 kilos of clams daily, from noon to midnight. This dish is available at many traditional restaurants in the city but there’s something special about Pinóquio’s.

Croissant

CHOCOLATE CROISSANT FROM “BENARD”
So what if the croissant is not native to Lisbon? Forget the rushed not-so-welcoming service and enjoy a chocolate croissant at the Benard cafe. It’s incomparably better when straight out of the oven, but it’s always a treat getting chocolate all over your fingers and lips as it drips from the flaky pastry.

Chouriço Assado

“CHOURIÇO ASSADO”
This is one of the best-loved traditions in the country, served at many bars to accompany glasses of wine. It’s become a popular experience at the Artis and Tasca do Chico bars in Bairro Alto, with tourists especially fascinated by the fact that it arrives in flames at the table.

Estendal do Bairro

“ESTENDAL DO BAIRRO”
Alluding to the laundry seen hanging from so many windows in the older districts of Lisbon, chef Ljubomir Stanisic came up with the idea of presenting fried pieces of cod held by clothespins. Looking like something of a contemporary art project, it’s become so famous that it can never leave the menu of his restaurant 100 Maneiras and we like the ingenious way it pays tribute to Lisbon.

The Best Sunrises and Sunsets in Lisbon

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Lisbon is known as a sunny city and one of the things that most make it unique is not just being the European capital with the most sunshine hours per year but also the fact that’s it’s the only one where the sun sets in the ocean.
So more than a place where you can get a tan in an urban or cultural capital environment, Lisbon is also a place for romantic moments watching the sun rise and set.

Sunrise, Lisbon

The best spot to see the first glimpse of the Earth’s closest star in Lisbon is the Portas do Sol (“Gateway of the Sun”) terrace. Depending on the time of the year, you’ll either see it rise from behind the dome of the National Pantheon or further to the right reflecting on the water. You’ll obviously have to wake up early for that and although this part of the city only has a couple of hotels, there are plenty of apartments. This terrace is right outside the castle, so you may also consider staying at Solar do Castelo which is within its walls.

Lisbon Sunset

For the sunset you have more options. You may either choose the ramparts of the castle for the sight of the last rays flooding the city, or you may sit at the wharf Cais das Colunas which is the river side of Comercio Square. There you’ll see the sun set behind the 25 de Abril Bridge, but to see it plunge onto the horizon you have to head to the district of Belem. The perfect sunset spot is the river’s edge behind the Tower of Belem, which is seen in silhouette (pictured below) on the eastern side, and with a golden hue on the other side during the last minutes of sunlight. Although you won’t get city views on this spot, this is as close as you get to seeing the sun hide on the Atlantic.
Those who want to see it from their bedroom should consider a stay at the Altis Belem Hotel just a few feet from the tower.
A spot for a drink as the sun goes down in this part of town is the “À Margem” café, found between the tower and the Discoveries Monument.

Sunset, Lisbon

10 Monuments and Attractions in Lisbon That Tourists Never See

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Fonte Luminosa, Lisbon

THE LUMINOUS FOUNTAIN
Everyone passes underneath it on the metro (it’s where two lines meet, one of them connecting the city center to the airport), but no one imagines what’s above ground. This is Alameda, one of the main open spaces of the Avenidas Novas district and its main attraction is this monumental fountain. Built in 1940 during WWII when Lisbon was a neutral safe haven, it was named “fonte luminosa” (luminous fountain) because of its light displays at night. Recently the water disappeared for some time as the monument was cleaned up, but the beloved waterfall was back and running by late 2012. The water shows take place in early-afternoon at lunchtime and again after the sun goes down. In daylight or lit up in the darkness of the night, the effect is quite impressive.

Parque de Santana, Lisbon

SANTANA WINDMILLS
Ask most people in Lisbon where you can see these charming windmills, and they won’t be able to tell you. If locals don’t know about them, it’s only natural that tourists never see them either. They’re found in a neighborhood park in the Ajuda district above Belém, and date from the 18th century. At that time this was farmland and while others were destroyed in order to build the apartment buildings that now surround them, these two survived at the top of the park. The entrance is through Rua Tristão Vaz and you can enter until 6PM in winter and 8PM in spring and summer.

Mãe D'Água, Lisbon

MÃE D’ÁGUA RESERVOIR
Lisbon’s huge 18th-century aqueduct had several reservoirs around the city and this is one of them. Found by the Rato metro station, it’s part of the Water Museum and includes a beautiful underground waterfall, but the best part is perhaps going up on the terrace for city views that very few get to see.

Capela de São Jeronimo, Lisbon

ST. JEROME CHAPEL
It was completed in 1514 by the same architect as the Jeronimos Monastery found down the hill, but this is one of the most overlooked monuments in the city. The reason is that the interior can only be visited by appointment, but the main attraction is not really what’s inside. The real reason to head up here from Belém (directly up the avenue across from Belém Tower) is the view of the river and of the city’s most monumental district.

Monsanto, Lisbon

MONSANTO FOREST PARK
It’s the largest urban forest in Europe but you won’t find any tourists there. It’s mostly frequented by picnicking families on weekends but you’ll also see groups playing soccer, basketball, skating or jogging in the several special sports areas. Best of all is the natural amphitheater overlooking the 25 de Abril Bridge. There is no metro station nearby but you may reach it on bus 711 from downtown.

Igreja da Pena, Lisbon

PENA CHURCH
Lisbon’s least-known funicular (the “Elevador do Lavra”) leads to the small garden viewpoint of Torel up the hill which locals head to for a relaxing break at the kiosk café. What few know about it that a small church nearby hides one of the first golden baroque interiors in Portugal. Dating from 1705, this was the first monument in Lisbon covered in gilt which came to be one of the city’s main architectural features.

Capela Bemposta, Lisbon

BEMPOSTA PALACE CHAPEL
When the former queen of England (Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza) returned to Portugal in 1693, she needed a new home fit for the queen that she was. She had a palace built at the top of one of Lisbon’s hills (on a street now called “Paço da Rainha” or “Queen’s Palace”) which is now occupied by the Military Academy and therefore not open to visitors, but the chapel at the center of the building is open to all for church services. You may see it on Sunday mornings, past marble statues at the entrance, with a baroque interior that includes a beautifully-painted ceiling and portraits of members of the royal family by Irish artist Thomas Hickey.

Monte Agudo, Lisbon

MONTE AGUDO VIEWPOINT
Lisbon is known for its beautifully scenic hilltop terrace viewpoints and there are so many of them that the less central ones are completely forgotten. This one is found close to but outside the tourist center (Rua Heliodoro Salgado) and was renovated in 2009, now attracting many locals, especially for its more recent café terrace. Here you can overlook the rooftops of Lisbon’s older and more modern districts all the way to the river, always with the scent of the pine trees behind you.

Igreja de São Sebastião, Lisbon

ST. SEBASTIAN CHURCH
A short walk from the Spanish El Corte Ingles department store uptown (on Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira) is this small church that’s completely unremarkable outside, but quite impressive inside. Mixing gold leaf and blue ceramic tiles, it creates an unexpected show of Baroque architecture from floor to ceiling. It’s one of the rare survivors of the 1755 earthquake and is dedicated to St. Sebastian whose life is illustrated on the ceiling.

Mouraria, Lisbon

MOURARIA’S MEDIEVAL HOUSE
Known as Lisbon’s most rundown neighborhood, Mouraria has been renovated over the last couple of years and locals are discovering the charm of one of the city’s oldest districts that’s now its most multiethnic. It’s a curious mix of Chinese and Indian businesses with authentic Lisbon soul, as this is the recognized birthplace of the city’s Fado music. There are many picturesque alleys, little squares, and architectural details, with the most noteworthy being a gothic home behind the church of São Cristovão, one of the oldest buildings still standing in Lisbon and such a rare survivor in a European capital.