20 Jan,2018 By Jagabond
“By day Lisbon has a naive theatrical quality that enchants and captivates, but by night it is a fairy tale city, descending over lighted terraces to the sea, like a woman in festive garments going down to meet her dark lover.” – Erich Maria Remarque
Is January the worst month to travel in Europe? Maybe. Christmas markets shut down, locals recover from the New Year festivities, and diet plans emerge to shed holiday weight. February sees the carnival celebration throughout Europe, and as Easter approaches so does the start of improving weather. That leaves January with…not much.
I recently recommended Sevilla for a January trip, citing the remarkably warm weather in that region. However, direct flights here can be tricky depending on where you are. Most other travel sites have recommendations geared towards snow lovers. For guaranteed non-freezing temperatures in January, I propose Lisbon, which happens to be my favorite city in Europe. I recently visited in January, and found the following positives:
*The city was alive but not overcrowded. I was surprised at how many tourists still visit Lisbon in January.
*Lisbon is already one of the cheapest cities in Western Europe, and during the off-season hotel prices drop even more.
*I admit the weather can be rainy, but it can also get to just under 20 degrees Celsius during the day.
It’s still not warm enough for beaches, however. So…why would sea lovers bother with Lisbon this time of year? I found there are still many ways to admire the ocean here without having physical contact. I present some options below.
Fill up on seafood
If you can’t swim in the ocean, you can at least feast on its tasty residents. Lisbon has some of the best seafood in Europe. I first tried Cevicheria, which put a creative twist on traditional ceviche. Being from San Diego, I’m used to the Mexican version which typically includes fish, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Here one of the highlights was the shrimp and whitefish served with cous cous and topped with almond foam.
Not to be outdone was Mini Bar Teatro, a Michelin star restaurant located in the Bairro Alto district. The first course was another ceviche, a prawn from the coastal Algarve region presented beautifully on a lime wedge.
Michelin restaurants serve other funky things as well, including the dish below. The one on the right is a cone filled with raw tuna…tasted nothing like ice cream!
Finally there was Mar ao Carmo, a more traditional seafood restaurant where you could feel guilty by greeting your seafood as you walked in.
Instead of taking any risks, I kept it simple here. I opted for the mussels and lobster, which were both outstanding.
Visit the Oceanarium
Lisbon has one of the highest rated aquariums in Europe. Not surprisingly I found it to be a much better experience than my previous one in Spain. Too often aquariums are geared toward kids with that ridiculous and unsanitary ‘pet the sealife’ exhibit…I’m sure the fish love that. Conversely this one had more class. I love the sea otters because they’re crazy playful like a hyper dog, and the lion fish due to their majestic beauty.
On the other hand, I freak out with the manta rays and jellyfish. If we ever found water on one of the Jupiter moons, this is what I’d expect to find there.
Walk the Oriente seaside
This is where the Oceanarium is located. The local government has done a great job cleaning this area up in recent years. You can find numerous restaurants and cafes by the water, a large and classy shopping mall, and cable cars to get you a better view.
Celebrate Portuguese explorers
Portugal is home to many maritime adventurers, who traversed the oceans with courage and curiosity. Most notably are Ferdinand Magellan, who first circumvented the globe, and Vasco de Gama, the first European to venture into India, which greatly influenced trade routes. The Belem area honors this age of discovery with the Torre de Belem and monument des découvertes. Belem is only a ten minute train ride from Lisbon city centre and is a great place to just walk around for a few hours.
Look into the mouth of hell
Do lunch in the cool beach town of Cascais, and while there visit the Boca do Inferno, or hell’s mouth. This is a natural rock formation in the water which locals gave an overly dramatic name.
Gaze out at the westernmost point in Europe
Azores has a legitimate gripe unless I specify ‘mainland’ Europe. Cabo da Roca is located an hour west of Lisbon. The cape is a mix of sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, a lonely lighthouse, and a long view into the vastness of the ocean. Be careful around the edges, as tourists have fallen from the cliffs before.