Outside The Loop

Europe's most underrated city: Inexpensive gourmet food just part of its San Francisco worthy charm

Europe's most underrated city: Inexpensive gourmet food part of charm

Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 You'll find magnificent views in many areas of Lisbon
You'll find magnificent views in many areas of Lisbon. Photo by Bill Van Rysdam
Bill Van Rysdam Lisbon March 2105 The delightfully quirky Pena National Palace provides a glimpse into how the monarchs of Portugal lived during the 18th-19th century
The delightfully quirky Pena National Palace provides a glimpse into how the monarchs of Portugal lived during the 18th-19th centuries. Photo by Bill Van Rysdam
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 The Elevador de Santa Justa may just be the most unusual means of public transportation anywhere in the world
The Elevador de Santa Justa may just be the most unusual means of public transportation anywhere in the world. Photo by Bill Van Rysdam
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 Tram 28 adds to the charm of Lisbon while carrying passengers through its winding streets
Tram 28 adds to the charm of Lisbon while carrying passengers through its winding streets. Photo by Bill Van Rysdam
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 The 25 de Abril Bridge with the Christo Reo statue at sunset
 The 25 de Abril Bridge with the Christo Reo statue at sunset. Photo by Bill Van Rysdam
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 You'll find magnificent views in many areas of Lisbon
Bill Van Rysdam Lisbon March 2105 The delightfully quirky Pena National Palace provides a glimpse into how the monarchs of Portugal lived during the 18th-19th century
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 The Elevador de Santa Justa may just be the most unusual means of public transportation anywhere in the world
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 Tram 28 adds to the charm of Lisbon while carrying passengers through its winding streets
Bill Van Rysdam  Lisbon March 2105 The 25 de Abril Bridge with the Christo Reo statue at sunset

Sitting on Europe’s western shore, the city of Lisbon blends panoramic views, a storied history and wonderful food with an unpretentious charm that welcomes even the most cantankerous traveler. You won’t find a Big Ben or Eiffel Tower, but you will discover a city that finds itself quite content with what it is.

It can be a little daunting to figure out where to start, but a good jumping off point would be jumping on the Number 28 Tram. The tram transports one back in time, traveling into a bygone era. You might expect to find the classic Remodelado trams in a museum, but instead it’s used to travel through many of Lisbon’s finest districts including Baixa, Graca, Alfama and Estrela.

Tickets can be purchased on board the tram, but smart travelers purchase a 24-hour metro pass which can be used on all the tram lines, the metro, buses, funiculars and a very funky street elevator. Tram 28 can get crowded during peak travel times, so it’s best to board near the beginning of the line.

 Portugal is a country steeped with a deep history and it is well worth checking out. 

Many visitors also use Tram 28 to climb the steep hill into the Alfama district, visit the Castelo de São Jorge and then take a leisurely stroll back down into the city center which allows one to duck into the shops and cafes which litter the area. One stop worth making on the way down is Gelato Therapy where one can enjoy a tasty treat of inventive flavors that are sure to revitalize and delight.

Another treat of walking back into the city center is that it allows you to enjoy the numerous beautiful tiles (called azulegos) which decorate everything from the walls of churches and monasteries to ordinary homes. The tiles can feature geometrical shapes on building facades or portray scenes from the history of the country. 

Once back down into the city center, make your way over to the Elevador de Santa Justa, a neo-Gothic elevator which may just be the most unusual means of public transportation anywhere in the world. The elevator was designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, and was built to help connect the Baixa with the Largo do Carmo neighborhood. You can use your metro pass on the lift and once at the top, be sure to plunk down the small fee to snake your way up a narrow staircase and experience a breathtaking 360 degree view of the city.

Portugal is a country steeped with a deep history and it is well worth checking out. A quick tram ride to Belém will lead you to the Tower of Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries and the spectacular Jerónimos Monastery which is a classic example of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. And, no trip to Belém would be complete without a quick stop at the famous pastry shop Fábrica de Pasteis de Belém, known for a special Portuguese confectionery treat called pastel de Belém, an egg tart made with flaky pastry.

Any trip to Lisbon has to include a day trip to Sintra. Here you can visit many intriguing architectural wonders including the wonderfully whimsical Pena National Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which served as a summer residence of the monarchs of Portugal during the 18th to 19th century. There is also a Castle of the Moors nestled into the top of the mountain, the Sintra national Palace which faces the central square of São Martinho and the Quinta da Regaleira palace where you can find the Initiation Wells that resemble underground towers lined with stairs.

Lisbon's Top Restaurants

Like most European cities, there is no shortage of good places to eat in Lisbon. You can find a wide variety of dishes, but its fish that is the main staple of Portuguese cuisine. You’ll find cod served in a variety of styles at many restaurants including shredded and sautéed in a pan with of onions and straw fried potatoes, or oven-cooked salted cod fillet with hot olive oil and baked potatoes.

 You might think it’s a lot like San Francisco, but don’t be fooled. Lisbon’s charm puts it in a class all its own. 

Mercado Da Ribeira, Lisbon's main food market filled with stalls offering the freshest fish and vegetables of the day is a great place to go if you’re looking for a quick bite to eat. Here you’ll find everything from seafood to steak sandwiches, burgers and of course, Vinho Verde, a light and fresh Portuguese wine that goes well with just about everything.

If you’re looking to step out of the ordinary for a different kind of culinary experience, check out Minibar, a restaurant from award winning chef Jose Avillez, where diners are offered an incredible gastronomic experience that merge flavors in with a whimsical attitude at very reasonable prices.

Visiting Lisbon with its hilly terrain, spectacular vistas, trams that whisk people around in Old World charm and the 25 de Abril Bridge that is a dead ringer for the Golden Gate Bridge, you might think it’s a lot like San Francisco, but don’t be fooled. Lisbon’s charm puts it in a class all its own.