Winter is the best time to spend 4 days in Lisbon. The weather is mild, at least by East Coast standards. The crowds are non-existent. You can get into almost any restaurant. None of the attractions are crowded. Walking all the hills (and trust me, there are plenty of hills in this city) will be far less painful at 58 degrees compared to the 90+ degrees days of summer – not to mention with all the tourists.
Lisbon temperatures in the winter usually average between 55 and 60 degrees. On average, it only rains approximately 10 days per month. And it has far more sunshine in the winter months than Paris and London combined. Just another reason to visit this beautiful city.
Lisbon city center is about a 20-minute ride (Uber or taxi) from the airport that only costs between 15 and 20 euros. You can also take the Metro and purchase a ticket for 1.90 euros.
There are so many great viewpoints from which to see the city so just make sure you find at least one of them.
One regret is that we ran out of time and didn’t make it to the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon. Alfama is the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon and has charming, winding, cobblestone and fruit tree-lined streets. Originally sitting outside the castle gates it was home to the poorest of Lisbon. Today, it’s very fashionable and full of trendy cafes, artisan shops, and independent stores.
If you tire of walking up the hills of Lisbon, you can always catch one of the many funiculars that let you enjoy the sights and views as you effortlessly make your way up the hills.
Pastéis de Natas (custard tarts)
I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but the pastel de natas were maybe the highlight of our trip. Before we left, I’d heard about them but really didn’t put much thought into it. I mean, a pastry is a pastry after all. Delicious for sure, but every country has great pastries.
But honestly, I think a pastel de nata quickly became my all-time favorite pastry (even surpassing the chocolate croissant) and I couldn’t get enough of them. They were so good, I had them for breakfast, a snack in the afternoon, and one for dessert in the evening when we got back to our hotel. I even managed to snag a few to bring home with me so I had them for the next morning. They are that good.
You can find these yummy custard tarts on almost every corner and some bakeries only make pasties de natas. We sampled many from all different locations but two bakeries really stood out for us.
Another highlight of the trip was all the artisan shops and bookstores we found wandering through the different streets and neighborhoods. There was so much handmade pottery and tile it was difficult to decide what to buy. The different colors, shapes, and textures were so beautiful and many were created by local artists. But I did manage to settle on a few favorites to bring home
Here are some of my favorite shops
One afternoon while wandering, we discovered a fabulous little candle shop. The woman who helped us told us the shop (and factory behind the shop in the same building) had been there for 234 years – owned by the same family (that’s seven generations) and still in the same building.
Soma Ideas works with a lot of different Portuguese artisans, brings their creations into the store, and then packages them in a unique and artful way. From soaps, pottery, prints, candles, and many other things, it’s a great way to see products that were created locally and pick out a few treasures to bring home.
This primarily ceramic shop had a little bit of everything. From coffee cups, tile, creamers, plates, bowls, dishes, and so much more. I think I spent an hour here deciding what treasures I wanted to bring home with me. I ended up with a few plates and some small bowls. So if you find yourself in Lisbon with a little time to spare, you should pop into this cute shop.
A Few Attractions Definitely Worth Seeing
The are so many things to see in Lisbon that you could spend weeks there and never get to everything. So do a little research before you go and pick the things you want to see.
Here are a few things that made it on my list:
Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio is the largest plaza in Portugal and it faces the Tagus river/estuary. The buildings that line the plaza are now primarily government buildings. But also there is Lisbon’s oldest cafe, Martinho da Arcada, which dates back to 1782. We didn’t eat there but it did look quite charming.
At one end of the plaza is a tower, which we did take the opportunity to visit. From the top, you have spectacular views of the city and harbor. It’s well worth a quick stop and a great way to view the layout of Lisbon and catch a sunset if you time it right.
Santa Justa Lift
In addition to being a great place for viewing Lisbon from above, the Santa Justa elevator is the fastest way to get from the Baixa neighborhood to the Bairro Alto district.
The lift has become one of the most popular viewpoints in Lisbon. At the top, there is an observation deck with an incredible view over the Baixa neighborhood.
The ticket to ride up and down the elevator is 5.30 euros and it’s an additional 1.50 euros to ride up to the observation deck.
By now you know how much I love plants so the Lisbon Botanical Garden was a must-see for me. It’s known as one of the best botanical gardens in Europe and it sits on 10 acres and has over 10,000 different plants.
On top of being beautiful, it was a lovely place for a nice long walk.
Belém and Belem Tower
A short metro or tram ride away from the center of Lisbon is the Belem District in the western part of Lisbon. It has some of Lisbon’s most iconic attractions; the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jerónimos monastery), Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), and the Prado dos Descroprimentos. The district is also filled with tree-lined plazas, riverside walks, and parks.
A Few Recommendations for Dining
We had some of the most flavorful foods imaginable. Here are a few of the restaurants we were lucky enough to find and a great place to have lunch and try the famous Portuguese bifana.
On our first night in Lisbon, we had dinner at Discreto. It is some of the most flavorful food I’ve ever had. The menu changes regularly and they pride themselves on that. The owner is charming, the atmosphere quaint, and the food is delicious.
We shared everything and had octopus stew, rabbit rice (by far the winner), local cod, octopus carpaccio, and hearts of tomato salad. A truly memorable dining experience. We didn’t save room for dessert but we did stop on our way home and pick up a few pasties de natas for later that night.
Magnolia Bistrot and Winebar
This charming little restaurant is tucked away on a quiet street in one of Lisbon’s trendiest neighborhoods. It’s across from a tree-line plaza and has some truly outstanding food. This small restaurant is actually an extension of the owner’s living room which makes it all the more quaint.
We shared a little bit of everything and the food was simply delicious. We had mushroom polenta, Bacalhau à Brás (codfish cakes and its so famous in Portugal that it has nickname, fiel amigo or faithful friend), and pan-fried chicken with a delicious sauce. Once again, we didn’t save room for dessert but on our way back we did grab a few pastéis de nata for back at the hotel.
It was so good we went back for brunch the next day!
On our last night, we were a bit tired from 3 days of walking (and climbing the many, many hills) and decided on some takeout for dinner. But not just any takeout. We still wanted to have an experience. And we found the perfect place – Bonjardim.
Bonjardim is located just around the corner from Rossio Square which is right next to the Rossio train station.
Bonjardim’s specialty is grilled chicken. In fact, the nickname for the restaurant is rei dos frangos which, when translated, means king of chickens. The chicken is mildly spiced and then they offer you more piri-piri sauce if you’d like to heat it up a bit. It’s served with crispy French fries. The flavor was spectacular and the chicken was tender and moist. It was a great choice for our last evening in Lisbon.
One of the must-do items on our list was to try an authentic Portuguese bifana. And we found an ideal place to try one. It was nothing fancy, just a walk-up window to order from. We got our bifanas and found a bench in the plaza. It was a wonderful lunch.
If you’re not familiar with a bifana, it’s pretty simple. Very thin slices of pork are braised in a mix of white wine, garlic, bay leaf, and lard. It’s packed on a Portuguese-style chewy roll and finished with either a squirt of sweet, cheap mustard or some of the house-made chili oil. We opted for the mustard and a beer and it was simply delicious on a semi-warm day in the plaza.
Time Out Market
I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to visit the Time Out Market, given that it’s an American brand and concept created by an American publishing company. After all, we were in Lisbon. However, once I walked through the doors of the old historic market, that concern was quickly gone.
There are 26 restaurants, 8 bars, and about a dozen shops. While the various restaurants don’t serve Portuguese-only food, we decided to try just Portuguese varieties and it was great. We stopped for little bites at several places and experienced the food preferred by locals. It was really fun to sample a lot of different things and get a taste of the local cuisine and flavors.
You can’t visit Portugal without realizing how much tinned fish is part of the Portuguese culture. They have entire shops of tinned fish only. It’s only been catching on in the U.S. for the last few years, but in Portugal, it’s been around forever. It’s definitely worth sampling some of what they have to offer. The challenge is, what to try. Although sardines and cod are the two most popular varieties. Cod, after all, is the national dish of Portugal.
Day trip to Nazaré
Nazare is a coastal town that is home to some of the largest waves in the world. So we decided to get a rental car (amazingly it was 21 euros for the day) and make the 1 1/2 hour drive to check it out. And while there wasn’t a big swell and the waves were quite small, it was still fun to see and imagine the legendary almost 100 ft. waves. Along the way, we stopped in another coastal town for some tender clams cooked in a white wine butter.
Originally known for its religious festivals, Nazaré is now known for the largest waves in the world and is a stop on the World Surf League tour. It’s also known for having some of the best beaches in all of Portugal.
It was worth a drive up the coast to spend a little time walking the beaches of Nazaré and wondering what it looked like when the giant waves were breaking.