Where: Lisbon, Portugal
When: December (pre-Christmas through New Year’s Eve)
With: Family (parents, brother, brother’s girlfriend and husband)
How long: 7 days
Eat: Portuguese pastries, plenty of red meat, and home-cooked meals during holidays
Drink: Portuguese wine from Douro Valley (and maybe do a port tasting, although the servers here really seem to hate tourists)
Do: Visit the Feira da Ladra flea market and Principe Real neighborhood for shopping, Sintra for a day-getaway, wander extensively in Alfama, and suss out a good place for Fado (we went to A Tasca do Chico and loved it–but make a reservation!)
It probably won’t come as a surprise to most of you that my favorite way to explore a city is often through… shopping. That can sound bad, I know. I don’t mean heading to the outlets or the mall, or even the 5th avenue equivalent, and spending away an afternoon. I like going to the weekend flea markets and strolling through quaint neighborhoods to check out the local shops. It’s a way to check out the locals, understand some of the city’s history and, oftentimes, get a better idea of the youth culture. I never truly feel like I’ve discovered a city until I find the neighborhood that speaks to me–which just happens to generally mean the one with the cutest front doors, vintage shops, local boutiques filled with jewelry and clothing made by local designers, etc… (I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise why I’m so obsessed with Etsy, then.)
Luckily, the Saturday we were in Lisbon did not fall on a holiday, and we were able to check out the big Feira da Ladra flea market in the Alfama neighborhood. It was overwhelming at first, as many flea markets can be. The wares were really variable; from 90s cassette tapes and plastic knickknacks to used shoes to ornate picture frames and fine china, all laid out on blankets in what seems like a big parking lot. But the more you walk up and down the lines, the more you’re able to suss out the deals. Like the vintage brass mirror I scored for $20 or two traditional hand-painted ceramic wall hangings for the same price.
We also came across a few different artisan stands. One, where a woman made jewelry from different textile scraps or from used K-cup type coffee filters. She had a stand next to a guy who made jewelry with tiny little human figurines doing a variety of comical things like skinny-dipping, and another woman who painted plump cat figurines on vintage book pages. I love interacting with these local artists.
(I should mention that this market is right next to the Pantheon, which gave my dad and husband a nice way to entertain themselves when they’d had enough of the browsing!)
On another day, while the boys “rested,” my mom and I went on a girly exploration of the Bairro Alto neighborhood. I’d read that a certain area had a ton of vintage shops (I never get my fill). Instead, we ended up wandering around a neighborhood called Principe Real, filled with beautiful old buildings that were converted into multi-level collection of shops.
Instead of being occupied by major brands, they were filled with local artisans and small boutiques. The first one we went to was Embaixada, a Moorish building that once was the Ribeiro da Cunha Palace, but is now a shopping area with a cute cafe. We stopped here for lunch, before going on to several similar buildings nearby, and ran into another small market at a park opposite the Embaixada.
Our time in Lisbon was coming to a close, so we spent the remainder of the day checking some final to-do’s off our list, like… having more Portuguese pastries and finding an awesome place to listen to Fado music on our last night.
So the verdict? Go to Lisbon. It’s a wonderful place, filled with character, quite attainable in terms of cost once you’re there, and very accessible. Unlike many cities, tourists seem to be left alone (in a good way)–meaning, no one was running after us at the flea market (well, aside from one guy selling street jewelry at the Castelo but that’s another story). I’d love to go back in the summertime, when the beaches near the town are supposed to be beautiful, relaxing, and a great escape.