3 Days in Lisbon, San Francisco's Buzzy European Twin
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3 Days in Lisbon, San Francisco's Buzzy European Twin

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It’s easy to see why Lisbon is often referred to as the San Francisco of Europe.

Cloaked in decorative tiles, this colorful and vibrant city on the water has steep hills, its own version of a cable car known as the Bica Funicular, and a near replica of the Golden Gate Bridge.


But while Lisbon may feel familiar— maybe even like home—it offers much to discover (and is much more affordable!). In fact, Portugal was one of the hottest destinations when post-pandemic travel erupted this past summer; the country reported a record number of U.S. tourists (more than 180,000) in July alone.

Take our three-day itinerary packed with food, history, culture, and more sun than fog in Lisbon.

Day 1 in Lisbon: Check in, and get a crash course in Portuguese cuisine.

The Ivens Hotel.

(Francisco Nogueira )

Jump right into Lisbon’s culinary scene.

For the quickest introduction to Portuguese cuisine, visit TimeOut's Mercado da Ribeira (Av. 24 de Julho 49), essentially a bigger and busier version of SF’s Ferry Building where the city’s top restaurants mingle under one roof. Come hungry so that you can try multiple vendors.

Start at Manteigaria, widely known as the best producer of Portugal’s famous custard tart, pastéis de nada; sample incredible charcuterie from Manteigaria Silva, which has been curing meats for more than 100 years; and then grab some traditional Portuguese food from Marlene Vieira. You can’t go wrong with their daily special for 10 euros or the small tasting menu. Salted cod, while not for everyone, is Lisbon’s signature dish, so try that everywhere you can.

The marketplace gets really busy and the sheer amount of options can be overwhelming, so when in doubt, just join the longest line—it’s bound to be good. Pro tip: Grab a drink first to sip while you wait. There’s an Aperol spritz bar, but when in Portugal you must stop by Taylor’s, one of the oldest port brands, to try a Porto tonica (white port and tonic water), the country’s go-to refresher.

Walk it off, then and eat some more.

Take the train down to the Lx Factory (R. Rodrigues de Faria 103), similar in concept to New York’s Chelsea Market. This former textile factory dates back to the mid-1800s and is now an extremely hip marketplace home to a large collection of restaurants, bars and cafes, shops and art.

While you're there...

While you’re in this part of Lisbon, check out the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a stunning gothic monastery, and the nearby Belém Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site on a tiny river island. Both of these are points from which Portuguese explorers would embark on their journeys. Buy tickets ahead of time to skip the lines.

Check into the Ivens Hotel.

Set in a posh central neighborhood, this boutique hotel(R. Capelo 5) is best described as a luxurious jungle oasis—think tropical plants, eclectic patterns, and posh Gatsby-era furnishings. Blank space is hard to come by as books, art, antiques, and artifacts cover every inch of the place. The hotel’s Italian restaurant has a spectacular bar. The rooms are another story. Brightly lit, neutral-hued, and sophisticated with cathedral windows they exude a sense of calm. Small, but impactful details like a jungle mural accent wall or fauna painted on the ceiling carry the adventurous theme through. Some premium rooms have stunning river views.

Snag a table at a thriving newcomer.

A neighborhood restaurant known as a tasca, O Velho Eurico(Largo São Cristóvão nº3 Lisbon) looks like a tiny tavern but it's home to some the hottest tables in Lisbon, serving delicious and authentic Portuguese fare on the cheap side. Make a reservation, otherwise you’ll be joining dozens of others vying for one of just 10 tables. Seats are so close to the open kitchen you can feel the heat; the ambiance is youthful and slightly chaotic with a local-heavy crowd. It’s an environment meant for forgetting your problems and over-imbibing, so order a carafe of the house wine and as many dishes from the blackboard menu as you can handle: lamb croquettes, duck rice, octopus, and chicken gizzards if you’re feeling brave.

Day 2 in Lisbon: City Exploration, Cocktails + a Seafood Feast

Spider crab at Cervejaria Ramiro.

(Courtesy of Cervejaria Ramiro)

Take a self-guided tour of Lisbon.

Lisbon is distinctly European in the way that you easily stumble upon historical buildings and architecture while walking around. But, because it's also a lot like San Francisco, it’s very, very hilly. You’ll want good walking shoes, though there are tuk-tuks everywhere if you ever need a break and want to hitch a ride. Public transportation is easy to use here, too.

For killer views, climb to the top of the triumphal Arco Rua Augusta, and also check out the Praça do Comércio plaza. From here, you can find Lisbon’s version of SF’s Embarcadero, where you can take a leisurely stroll and catch a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, er, the Ponte 25 de Abril.

Head back in the direction of the Ivens and enjoy getting lost in Lisbon’s trendiest neighborhoods: the boho Bairro Alto and the posh Principe Real.

Have happy hour at a speakeasy.

Before dinner, get a buzz going at the Red Frog Speakeasy(Praça da Alegria 66b, reservations required). There’s no obvious signage so when you see the Monkey Mash, a very different bar in the same building, ask the staff to show you the door. Red Frog nails the 1920s experience with a selection of classics and intriguing original cocktails like the Terracotta (a smoky black garlic concoction served in a terracotta cup) or the Popcorn ‘n Oil (made with popcorn syrup and coconut butter). Red Frog also serves some delicious-looking small plates, but exercise self-control. You’ll want to head to dinner hungry.

Gorge on seafood.

Ask anyone who has visited Lisbon where to eat and they’ll most likely point you to Cervejaria Ramiro(Av. Alm. Reis 1 H). Although it’s a tourist hot spot, you’ll still see plenty of locals in the crowded, upstairs dining room where white tablecloths bely the convivial experience—you may end up sharing a table with others. Order a little bit of everything: garlic shrimp and garlic clams, scarlet shrimp, the spider crab, and barnacles (ask your server how to eat them). Save room for "dessert": It sounds weird, but the steak sandwich is a Ramiro tradition.

An Encore

Lisbon stays up late, so if you have the endurance, hit up some bars. Bairro Alto has the goods: two hot spots are Pavilhão Chinês, an eclectic bar set up inside an old grocery that doubles as a war museum and Park Rooftop, offering incredible city views from the top of a parking garage.

Day 3 in Lisbon: A Few Sites + Tasty Tapas

Castelo de S. Jorge.

(Courtesy of Castelo de S. Jorge)

Final Exploration

Visit the National Tile Museum and the Pantheon before making your way to the Almafa neighborhood. Soak in far-reaching city views from the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, where you can also grab a coffee or beer to recharge. (There are tons of viewpoints, known as miradouros, in this hood and throughout the city. Just look for them on Google Maps.)

By booking online ahead of time, you can time your visit to Castelo de São Jorge about an hour before sunset to catch the spectacle over 360-degree view. If you don’t book online, be forewarned that this is typically one of the longest tourist lines in the city.

A Last Meal

Taberna Sal Grosso(Calcada do Forte 22) is another modern tasca and a literal hole-in-the-wall set mid-hill on a narrow cobblestone street. Just look for the crowd waiting outside ahead of their reservations (which you will definitely need). Sal Grosso offers two seatings a night (and two at lunch) and has less than 10 tables, which are set mere steps from the kitchen. Treat this like a tapas restaurant and share as many plates from the chalkboard menu as you can stomach. The pork belly and pork cheek are must-orders. The evening culminates in a range of complimentary digestifs passed casually around the tables.

Day Trips From Lisbon

A beach in Caiscais.

(Courtesy of Visit Lisboa)

Caiscais

Located about a half-hour from Lisbon, Californians call Caiscais the Newport Beach of Portugal. You can take a train, but having a car will give you more flexibility for beach hopping, as each has its own vibe. The Praia de Conceição and Praia da Duquesa are two of the most popular and accessible. Locals love jumping off the seawall at Praia do Tamariz; walking distance from the railway, its backdrop is a 17th century fort. From there, you can hop on a promenade and walk to several other small beaches. Praia do Guincho is the perfect spot for a picnic while you watch kite surfers show off at sunset. From there, take a drive to Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe.

Sintra

A 30-minute drive from Lisbon and accessible via railway, Sintra is a town of castles, palaces, and lots of tourists. This means you’ll benefit from getting tickets to the sites online ahead of time to avoid long lines. Note that getting to some of these landmarks without a car is difficult. Many people take tuk-tuks; bring cash.

The brightly colored Palácio Nacional da Pena is arguably Sintra’s top destination, but one could also spend an entire day wandering through the gorgeous Quinta da Regaleira, a 19th century estate with a palace, gardens, grottos, and an 88-foot well you can climb down. Book lunch or dinner at Incomum, where you can get a Michelin-worthy five-course meal for about 50 euros.

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