Portugal: Friends Explore Lisbon and Beyond
Two women from Texas are heading to Lisbon for a Portuguese-style birthday celebration with fado music, dancing, and a surprise dessert.
Interested in getting coached? E-mail us your questions—seriously, the more the better—to Letters@BudgetTravel.com.
DEAR TRIP COACH...
To celebrate my 35th birthday, my friend Donna and I will be jetting to Paris and then on to Lisbon. While I've found an amazing amount of information about Paris, I could use some advice on Portugal. Can you help us plan our trip? Jennifer Moretti, Plano, Tex.
We'd like to take a walking tour of Lisbon to get a feel for the city, but we don't want to be with a huge group. Do you have any suggestions? Go with the tour operator Live Local Spirit. You describe what sort of experience you want—the top sightseeing spots, markets and shopping, or hopping nightlife—and it will tailor an itinerary to your needs. You can opt for either a "Friend for the Day" (a guide who accompanies you) or a personalized booklet with a list of places to visit, a calendar of Lisbon's cultural events, and a small dictionary of key Portuguese words and phrases (011-351/926-611-661, rentalocalfriend.com, half-day tours from $48, booklet $27).
Is there anything we should make sure is included on our tour? The Gulbenkian Museum houses one of Europe's most impressive art collections, with objects ranging from ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs to modern paintings (Av. de Berna 45A, 011-351/217-823-000, museu.gulbenkian.pt, $9.50).
The 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery, in the Belém neighborhood, is on the Tagus River, about four miles from the city center. Built over the course of 50 years at the height of Portugal's imperial clout, it's a stellar example of Portuguese architecture at its most Gothic and most ornate (Praça do Império, 011-351/213-620-034, mosteirojeronimos.pt, $8.25).
Not far from the monastery, be sure to stop at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém for a bica, or strong espresso, and a pastel de Belém, a scrumptious little custard-cream tart that was invented in Lisbon (Rua de Belém 84-92, 011-351/213-637-423, www.pasteisdebelem.pt).
For my birthday night, I'm thinking Donna and I will put on our little black dresses and go out for a nice dinner. Restaurante Flores in the Bairro Alto Hotel mixes Portuguese and Mediterranean flavors. The black grouper stuffed with peppers and chorizo is one of the standouts, especially accompanied by a crisp Alentejo white wine, such as Pêra-Manca. The passion-fruit bavaroise, a chilled custard drizzled with caramelized milk, would make a memorable birthday cake (Praça Luís de Camões 2, 011-351/213-408-252, bairroaltohotel.com, entrées from $8).
I love to dance, so that would be a fun way to end the evening. What would you recommend? Lisbon has a large Portuguese-African community with roots in Cape Verde, Mozambique, and Angola, and its music is a gorgeous blend of up-tempo and wistful. The best place to catch a show is at Cabaret Maxime's B.Leza nights, named for a famous Cape Verdean singer (Praça da Alegria 58, 011-351/213-467-090, cabaret-maxime.com, from $6.50). After hours, the in crowd dances to DJ music at LuxFrágil, a club co-owned by actor John Malkovich. When you're ready for a breather, the terrace has great views of the Tagus River (Av. Infante Dom Henrique, Armazém A, Cais da Pedra a Sta. Apolónia, 011-351/218-820-890, luxfragil.com, cover from $16.50).
Where should we go to hear fado music? Clube de Fado regularly showcases the famous passionately sung laments. The club is run by Mário Pacheco, a master of the Portuguese guitar, and it has a restaurant that serves crowd-pleasing Portuguese dishes like salted bacalhau, or cod (Rua S. João da Praça 94, 011-351/218-852-704, clube-de-fado.com, entrées from $25).
Donna and I hope to visit Sintra, Évora, and Coimbra. Should we buy bus tickets online or wait until we get to Portugal? You can buy your tickets at the station, but why go by bus? Trains here are far more comfortable and don't cost much more than buses. You can check schedules and prices at cp.pt, but you'll have to wait until you get to Lisbon to buy the regional tickets.