Lisbon is a fascinating city well worth exploring for many days on one of our cooking vacations to Portugal. Here are a few of our favorite things to do there while on a Portugal tour with The International Kitchen or on your own. You could easily break these activities up over the course of many days as well to save your tired feet, but these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fun things to see in Lisbon on a culinary tour with TIK!
Castel São Jorge in Lisbon
First stop: the Castel São Jorge, (Castle of Saint George) on a central hilltop of the capital city. Originally a Moorish castle, it later became a fortified center of the Porguese kingdom and held strong against 14th-century invasions. A royal palace was built nearby, which unfortunately was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755, but whose architectural foundation remains as part of the archeological site. What makes it so interesting today is first the views – expanding in all directions, but in particular out over the Tagus river. Second, it’s fun to explore, offering plenty of ramparts, towers, stone walkways, and even a moat (now filled with grass instead of water). If your feet (and knees!) get tired of climbing the stone steps, stop for an excellent coffee and pastry at the castle’s cafe, which is situated right by what we dubbed the “Peacock Tree” for the 8 peacocks and peahens lounging in it!
When you leave the castle grounds, skip the tram (or bus) ride back down the hill and walk through the old Alfama district, a labyrinth of narrow winding streets and stairways. It seems a maze, but as long as you keep going down you’ll get back to the shore, and from there it is easy to grab a bus or tram back to your hotel. We stopped at a small restaurant and had one of our best meals: grilled sardines for my husband, grilled bream for myself, and chicken “à Brás” for the kids – a regional dish of shredded chicken (or cod) with onions, potatoes, and egg. It was the perfect break in the day and chance to rest during our day touring Lisbon.
A cultural and culinary tour to Lisbon isn’t complete without a visit to the Belém Tower. Frankly, I find the tower itself less interesting (and more crowded) than the Castle of Saint George, but it’s position affords it some of the best views of the city and the coast, and it gives you a unique chance to go inside a turret! The turrets, which are of Moorish bartizan style, are only one of the interesting aspects of this surprisingly ornate defensive tower. Its architecture is predominantly Manueline, which was concisely summed up to me as “Renaissance meets the age of Discovery.”
After climbing the tower’s 93 steps to its top level via the narrow, one-way spiral staircase that leads up to it, you’re going to need refreshment. Make sure you stop at the shop that sells the famed Pasteîs de Belém for a pastry. There will likely be a line, but it goes quickly. Skip the temptation to try other pastries, and simply order a 6-pack of their pasteis de Belém, which will be still warm, and one of the best things you will ever eat, whether on a culinary vacation or not. (Order a 6 pack if there are one or two of you – otherwise order more!)
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By Peg Kern
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