Sunday, August 7, 2011


Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, full of culture, architecture, food and a vast coast. Yet it’s often passed over by tourists in lieu of more famous locales.

After a short six hour flight, our plane neared the coast of Lisbon on a strikingly clear day; I gasped at the beauty. Even from above, the winding coast, the jewel blue sea, and the white and yellow homes covered with tile roofs were breathtaking.

Lisbon is comprised of two parts: young and old. Built on seven hills, each neighborhood rests on either a hill or in a valley. This makes for an easily navigated city by map, but a difficult one by foot (excellent exercise routine: move to Lisbon). A violent earthquake in 1755 destroyed much of the city, which they rebuilt in a more nineteenth century fashion. This newer “valley” neighborhood is now known as Baixa, reminiscent of most other European cities, with large boulevards and expansive city squares. Alfama and Castelo are some of the oldest areas of Lisbon; winding, steep cobblestone roads that survived the earthquake because of their bedrock foundation. It’s magical weaving under arches and down stone steps, descending and ascending (and sliding — wear shoes with traction!) past buildings of yellows, blues, and greens, decorated by intricately painted tiles called azalejos. Decidedly older inhabitants make it even more charming, a step back in time.

Chiado, up the hill from Baixa, is by far the trendiest neighborhood, full of local art galleries, cafes, and bookstores. Lisbon’s culture is incredibly rich, with a beautiful local art scene and a love of literature — nearly every block of the city had a bookstore — not to mention home to the oldest bookstore ever, Bertrand, built in 1732. New restaurants are sandwiched between historical cafes, all still retaining the colorful architecture that makes Lisbon unique.

The way they take their coffee is unique as well. Not too big, not too small — “the Portuguese way,” as they call it. They prefer an espresso, always. Ask for um caffe, a coffee, etc., and you shall receive espresso. Unlike the Italian single shot, the Portuguese espresso is served in a larger cup, giving you a little more to savor.

Portuguese people drink coffee all the time. I mean — All. The. Time. It is part of their daily routine to have a coffee every few hours, up to ten cups a day. Every meal ends with um bica — the Lisbon name for an espresso, an acronym for the typical espresso machine.












  1. Lisbon Aug 08, 2011

    It’s probably blasphemous to mention tea in a blog by an obvious coffee lover, but Portugal also produces the only tea made in Europe :-)
    As for the coffee, the reason why it’s so good, dark and strong is that the Portuguese were the ones responsible for all the coffee plantations in Brazil, so they know a thing or two about real coffee :-)

  2. Chaucee Aug 08, 2011

    What a gorgeous place! I haven’t heard of many people visiting Portugal as well but it looks so charming. Adding it to the list : ) I find it so nice when a culture places so much emphasis on coffee.

    • tce — Aug 20, 2011

      thanks chaucee! it is such a lovely place.

  3. alon kedma Jan 11, 2012

    nice photos…

  4. Maria Sep 18, 2012

    I am a Portuguese living in California and reading about my city Lisbon made me miss it so much. You are right, Lisbon breeds of old and new and it has a life on it’s own, so many traditions and so much history on that city and it’s modern but preserves everything that the portuguese can’t go without: their seafood, their Bicas (Coffee), their pastries and their Fado (portuguese blues). Thank you for appreciating it because you only understand it when you visit. I worked and lived in Lisbon for 24 years and my American husband also lived there for 2 years. We visit often and like to think we have the best of booth worlds

  5. Ricardo — Jan 27, 2013

    Perhaps I might just add that there are a lot of ways to serve the “bica”. Some like short (curta), some prefer it full (cheio), others ask for a drop of milk (pingada), etc…
    Finally, oddly enough, I’m Portuguese but I don’t like coffee. I love its smell, but dislike its taste. Which, sometimes, saddens me when I share a table with my father and brothers and, after a full meal, I watch them enjoying their coffee without grasping the full extent of their pleasure.
    Thanks for describing my city so beautifully. I’m really glad that your experience over here was that good.

  6. John Huerta Jan 28, 2013

    Great photos! I’m moving to Lisbon tomorrow, and it would be great to know where you found the best coffee.

  7. Oliver Mar 13, 2014

    I adore Lisbon and I’m passionate about coffee. Now guess how I stumbled across your site… ;) I love the idea of finding the “perfect pour” while circling the globe and soaking up culture as well. Some serious coffee culture indeed… :)
    Looking forward to reading more about your discoveries!
    Best wishes, Oliver