Today, Jemma Porter tells us about her hometown Lisbon in Portugal! Jemma keeps a blog www.portugalist.com which is specifically about travelling or living in Portugal. She writes about all areas of Portugal from The Algarve to The Azores Islands and you’ll find blog articles about where to find the best portuguese cakes and which are the best free resources to learn portugese and more besides! Here she tells us what makes Lisbon so good that it keeps drawing her back and she recommends what you should be doing and where you should be eating when you are there!
Where are you living?
Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Edinburgh, and left when I was 25 to pursue a life of adventure as a digital nomad (*cough* freelance copywriter). I moved to Lisbon in October 2013, after working on an alpaca farm in the French countryside and living in a small town near Seville. Since then I’ve tried to move on, but Lisbon keeps drawing me back.
My hobbies revolve around being a massive glutton, so Portugal’s food-soaked culture suits me down to a tee. Sourdough bread, custardy cakes, and the fullest bodied wines you’ve ever sipped… naturally I spend a lot of time trying to burn calories by jogging along Lisbon’s waterfront.
What is your favourite thing about Lisbon?
My favourite thing about Lisbon is its shabby chic aesthetic: the ramshackle yellow trams jiggling through narrow streets, stunning buildings that are half falling down and half covered in intricate ceramic tiles, and café bars that look like they’ve not been redecorated since Salazar was in his prime. I also love the fact that new life is being breathed into the city by awe-inspiring street artists, up-and-coming chefs and young entrepreneurs.
What is your favourite thing to do in Lisbon with a day off?
I would start my day with a jog along the waterfront, from Alcantara to Belem. The cool Atlantic breeze and the flat promenade are ideal conditions for running. I always feel so lucky to live here when my daily exercise routine involves passing iconic sites like the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Jeronimos Monastery and the MAAT.
After that, I’d grab a bica (espresso) in an Alcantara café and treat myself to Portuguese cake. Everyone knows pasteis de nata (custard tarts) but there are so many other amazing treats to try, even I’ve not worked my way through them all. I’m a big fan of guardanapas: light spongecake filled with creamy custard, folded into a triangle and sprinkled with icing sugar.
I often spend my weekends just strolling around the city as there’s always something going on. I’d pop into the Palavra de Viajante book shop in Santos: it’s a great little boutique, selling fiction and non-fiction books themed around travel. No lazy afternoon is complete without a stop at Praça Martim Moniz. This square is lined with cute little food and cocktail stands, and there’s often live entertainment too.
What in your opinion is the one thing you can’t miss when you visit Lisbon?
The LX Factory is definitely worth a visit. When I first moved to Lisbon there were only a handful of shops and bars in this revamped factory complex. Now it’s a bustling hub of creativity, and it’s wonderful to see it finally reaching its full potential. There are lots of quirky spaces to discover, including the incredible Ler Devagar book shop set inside an old printing press. A new addition is the Rio Maravilha rooftop bar with breathtaking views across the Tagus River. Unfortunately, food and drink in the LX Factory can be hit and miss: I’ve tried most places there and can heartily recommend Café Na Fabrica, Mesa and Tacho Petiscaria.
Any top tips where to go/ what to do on a rainy day?
You know the saying “it never rains but it pours”? Well Lisbon gets 300 days of sunshine each year, but when it rains it REALLY rains! Thankfully the city has some incredible museums like the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the MAAT, the Berardo Collection and the Maritime Museum. The Time Out Market is indoors so it’s a good place to take shelter while sampling some of the city’s best bites.
I’d recommend finding a good restaurant and settling in for a leisurely lunch or dinner.Taking your time over a meal isn’t frowned upon in Portugal, in fact it’s encouraged, so order an extra bottle of wine. When it starts to pour, locals stay home, so it’s a great opportunity to snag a table at in-demand restaurants like Taberna da Rua das Flores. Some people say that Lisboetas are made of sugar, as they melt in the rain.
Where is your go-to restaurant?
Whenever we have friends, family or clients visiting us, we make a beeline for 5 Oceanos at the Docas de Santo Amaro. This harbourside restaurant has a lovely buzz, and feels fancy without being stuffy. Somehow this prime waterside location has escaped the notice of tourist trail, too. The restaurant is right underneath the 25th of April Bridge, and has a covered terrace right beside the river. Order some of the gooey cheese to go with your other couverts – the olives and bread that are set down for you to nibble on. The seafood platter is great value, and the grilled fish is simple but delightful.
And where do you suggest going for a drink in the evening?
You’ll find Lisbon’s best caipirinhas in Tabernáculo by Hernâni Miguel, a quirky little jazz bar in Cais do Sodre. If you prefer your cocktails to be craft, head over the road to A Tabacaria – a hole-in-the-wall bar set inside an old tobacco shop (with the antique fixtures still in place).
Is there one thing not many people know about Lisbon?
In 1755, Lisbon was nearly destroyed by a massive earthquake – the French philosopher Voltaire even wrote a poem about it. The city was completely rebuilt by a guy called the Marquês de Pombal. He wanted to make sure that the city’s new buildings could withstand the force of another earthquake, so he asked the Portuguese army to march up and down the streets as hard as they could. Fun fact: if you spot a building with a big iron nail stuck to the side, it means that it pre-dates the disaster.
Anything else you think we should know?
The ‘dinner and a show’ fado packages are overpriced and inauthentic (not to mention, the food sucks). If you want to see fado, have dinner elsewhere and go to any bar in Alfama. Most of the fadistas head along to these bars once they’re finished performing in the tourist traps. For the price of a glass of wine (or two) you can enjoy a real fado show with the locals.
Follow Jemma and her adventures in Portugal at www.portugalist.com