Lisbon & Surroundings

Highly Recommended:

  • In Lisbon: Food & Drink – Tasca do Esquina, SukhoThai, Red Frog; Visit – Oceanorium
  • Outside Lisbon: Visits – Sintras, Cascais, Obidos, Foz de Arelho

The Story:

When we landed in Lisbon, our first instinct was to head out of the city to explore surroundings.

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One of the beaches in Cascais

We stopped in Cascais for lunch, a small town a 30min drive from Lisbon, as quaint and picturesque as I remembered it from back in 2013. The Cascais Citadel houses a high end boutique hotel and a great restaurant Taberna da Praca (they claim to make the best chocolate mousse in the world so if you go and try it, let us know what you think). The beaches in Cascais are nice, but be warned – the water is freezing!

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Foz de Arelho

Then we drove on, enjoying the view and eventually stopping at a random campsite. For dinner we drove into town, not expecting much. Surprise! Foz de Arelho, where it turns out we were, has an absolutely gorgeous beach which was as good as empty (this probably does not old true during the high season, June-August). We had a 1.20 Euro beer – SuperBock, our national favorite so far – and ate at a little shack that was open. Nothing revolutionary, but given the view, it was just perfect.

The next day we went to Caldas da Rainha to check out the market, where we found tons of fruit, dried nuts, and local specialties. Like squirrels satisfied with their stash, we contently went on to Obidos, a medieval town our campsite receptionist had highly recommended. Perched on top of a hill, it boasts stunning views, a very well conserved castle, and a gorgeous village within the fortified walls. They have a medieval fair every year, so we’ll hopefully be back!

Finally, we headed back to Lisbon – the city of seven hills – to meet with friends who were in town for a few days. Dinner was at Cervejaria Ramiro’s, a seemingly touristy spot where we gorged ourselves on fresh seafood: garlic shrimp, tiger prawns, oysters, “percebes” (aka goose barnacles), and giant crab – all accompanied by vinho verde, of course. We paid 40 euros per person. Quite the splurge on a backpackers budget, but every bite was delicious.

During our time in Lisbon, we stayed at the Hostel Elevator, on one of the steepest hills in town! You feel the burn, but on the bright side, the whole city is very walkable and a great workout for your behind to become JLo-esque. Look out for the diverse cobblestone patterns and holes-in-the-wall serving Ginja, a surprisingly good cherry liqueur.

Two other worthwhile excursions we did were Sintras and the Oceanorium.

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A “summer home”

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Natural grotto

Sintras is absolutely breathtaking. Half an hour drive outside of Lisbon, it is hidden up in a lush valley where every hill is dotted with castles and mansions from another era. We visited the Quinta da Regaleira, previously the summer home of the wealthy Carvalho Monteiro family. Every inch was mesmerizing. The main house was so intricately carved and decorated – with hunting scenes, lion heads, and very often the family initials CM (old school branding at its best!) – that you never knew where to look, but everywhere you did look was worth it. That was nothing compared to the gardens, full of paths, grottos, tunnels, natural pools, and more. Perfect for medieval romance and intrigues, perhaps even the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia.

The other spot to visit is the Oceanorium. Contrary to an aquarium, which often has big fish such as dolphins and makes me mildly uncomfortable (if you have no idea why, check out the incredible documentary “Blackfish”), this Oceanorium is designed to mimic natural habitats and is built around the concept of giving animals space to swim around much more freely than if they were just in a designated tank. I discovered new species I had never heard of – my favorite being the weedy sea dragon – and saw familiar ones… Manta rays never get old, and neither do the funny looking soles, majestic octopuses, and the list goes on.
(Note: Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon is a fun visit but nothing exceptional in my opinion, though we took a tuktuk there and that alone made it epic.)

Last but not least, food & drink. Other than Cervejaria Ramiro’s for pricey but fresh and delicious seafood, on another friend’s recommendation we discovered Sukhothai in Barrio Alto which is tiny yet serves incredibly tasty Thai food, and we thoroughly enjoyed Tasca de Esquina which serves traditional Portuguese food in a slightly more refined, nuanced, tapas-style way (this one we discovered thanks to the Salt of Portugal blog). One evening we went to the Beer Museum for a nightcap – cool spot where food looked decent but drinks are so-so at best, and another night we ended up at Red Frog, a trendy yet quiet speakeasy with an exemplary drinks menu.

All in all, Lisbon came across as a vibrant and fun city, worth exploring further. If you have been to Lisbon and have other suggestions to add to the above, feel free to share in the comments below!