Portugal urgently needs to update its reputation.
First of all, Portugal is not a Mediterranean country but an Atlantic country. More precisely, it is not Spain speaking a different dialect. Secondly, Portugal has a rich Celtic heritage like Wales, Ireland and Scotland in its north and central regions. This can be seen in remote areas like Trás-os-Montes where bagpipes are being played and sheep are being kept in the Portuguese highlands. Thirdly, Portugal has an incredibly global outlook. Despite its current poor economic state, Portugal spearheaded European colonisation and brought trade and wealth back to Europe. For these reasons, you urgently need to visit Lisbon to correct your view of Portugal.
Lisbon is a world city
Lisbon is a huge city. Covering 100 square kilometres, it’s not walkable. Fortunately they have a metro network, an abundance of trams and buses, so getting around isn’t a problem. Apart from the size, Lisbon’s architecture shows its world class status: huge squares, huge and grand facades, huge boulevards, huge churches – all these point to Lisbon’s monumental past as the world capital of a great nation.
Lisbon’s greatness can likewise be appreciated in its population: the Portuguese you come across in the streets are soft-spoken and polite, and they tend not to block the way and are considerate, unlike their neighbours. They also tend to speak foreign languages including English, so tourists always feel confident to approach locals for help.
Lisbon has amazing food
Portuguese cuisine is varied and down-to-earth. Lisbon is a good place to try out the Seven Culinary Wonders of Portugal:
- Alheira de Mirandela, a sausage from Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro
- Serra da Estrela, an intense creamy cheese made exclusively with milk from Bordaleira breed sheep
- Caldo verde, a traditional sausage and kale soup from Douro and Minho
- Arroz de Marisco, a wet seafood rice dish from Estremadura and Ribatejo
- Grilled sardines, a favourite in Lisbon and Setúbal
- Leitão assado à Bairrada, the world-famous barbecued suckling pig from Beira Litoral
- Pastel de Belém, the culinary emblem of Portugal from Belém in Lisbon
My favourite restaurant is this really noisy local place called Cervejaria Paço Real. Served in metal plates, the food here is not at all upper class but whether it is meat or fish or vegetables, everything is so tasty you would think the noise goes really well with the great taste of the food.
But don’t fret if you are too delicate for a local eatery. Lisbon is filled with classy places. With the rich world view, the Portuguese are able to re-imagine their cuisine and present impressive new recipes that will blow your mind.
One thing to note though: Lisbon is incredibly hilly. Your feet will not survive if you walk around in leather shoes or flipflops, so bring a good pair of walking shoes.