Do you travel for food?
Culinary tourism, or simply food travel, is one of the biggest trends in tourism in recent years. This basically refers to trips that people organize with the goal of exploring the cuisine of a given place, that is, using food as one of the main mediums to connect with the culture of a destination.
Lisbon is an incredible food destination. Not only are Portuguese people quite food obsessed (we’re guilty as charged!), foreign travelers who make it to Lisbon are either very much looking forward to exploring the world of Portuguese food and drinks or, when they don't actually know a lot about our wonderful cuisine and wines, end up being impressed after just a couple of days in the country.
Lisbon has lots to offer to foodies! Our city has some unique food traditions of its own (pastel de nata probably being the biggest example of that), but also being a capital city, it is the ideal place to try regional foods from a little all over Portugal.
Lisbon’s restaurant scene is virtually never ending, including local and international eats, from taverns and tascas where you can eat for less than 10 euros, to Michelin starred restaurants. But what to do when your wanderlust wants to take you to other spots near the city, yet not overlook your foodie ambitions to keep trying some of our most typical recipes? If you want to keep exploring, both geographically and cuisine wise, we have compiled some suggestions of best food related day trips from Lisbon. These are great destinations with lots of things to see and do, but that also stand out because of their unique gastronomic identity.
If you'd like to take a food day-trip from Lisbon, we suggest traveling to:
Setúbal: fried cuttlefish galore!
Setúbal, in the southbank of Lisbon, is the Portuguese mecca of choco frito. This typical dish, whose name simply translates as fried cuttlefish, consists of thick strips of the cephalopode, which are breaded and deep-fried until golden. The flesh inside remains quite succulent, while the outside has an irresistible crunch. Choco frito is customarily served with a side of fries and a simple salad with lettuce, tomato and onions.
This may sound like a pretty straightforward dish, and it is so indeed. But sometimes the biggest pleasures are the simplest ones! If you tend to like fried calamari but you have never tried cuttlefish before, which is like the chunkier cousin of squid, we bet you are going to love choco frito.
Fried cuttlefish aside, Setúbal is one of the best day trip destinations from Lisbon. It is often overlooked in favor of other more popular places such as Cascais or Sintra, but we believe it has a lot going for it. Being by the ocean, Setúbal’s relationship with the sea as a way of life is undeniable. Not only does the city have great restaurants for choco frito and other fish and seafood specialities, it has one of the best (if not the best) fresh food markets in Portugal. Even if you're not shopping per se, visit Mercado do Livramento in Setúbal (Av. Luísa Todi 163 - closed on Mondays) to appreciate the hustle and bustle of seafood and produce vendors from up close. We bet you’ll learn about fish species which you may not have ever seen before. Food aside, Setúbal is also a great departure point from where to explore Arrábida Natural Park, namely its unspoiled beaches. During the summer, there's even a free shuttle bus which connects the city to some of these beaches, as driving there is limited because we're talking about a protected area.
If you’d rather eat grilled fish versus deep-fried cuttlefish, we recommend looking out for red mullet, known in Portuguese as salmonete. Every year the town puts together a gastronomic event known as Salmonete Week, which highlights the relevance of this species in the local cuisine.
🚗 About 55 Km or 34 miles separate Lisbon and Setúbal, so if you have your own car, you can get there in about 1 hour.
🚆 If you are using public transportation you can easily get from Lisbon to Setúbal via train. Take the Fertagus train departing from Lisbon (stations of Roma–Areeiro, Entrecampos, Sete Rios or Campolide). The trip lasts about 50 minutes - see the schedules here.
🍴 Eat choco frito, but also a variety of other fresh seafood specialties, such as simple charcoal-grilled fish, particularly red mullet, aka salmonete.
Setúbal Peninsula: fortified Moscatel and delectable table wines
The name Península de Setúbal refers to the demarcated wine region which geographically includes the peninsulas of Setúbal and Tróia. Wine has been produced in this region for many centuries and there are historical documents which prove that as far back as the 15th century, the wines from the Península de Setúbal were already celebrated and even exported to other parts of Portugal as well as internationally.
In more recent times, namely during the 20th century, the Península de Setúbal has become noteworthy, particularly because of the production of sweet Moscatel de Setúbal. This is a fortified wine made with muscat grapes. The oldest table wine company in Portugal, José Maria da Fonseca, or JMF, which was founded in 1834, was involved in developing this style of wine and we couldn’t be happier about it. Because Moscatel is fortified with extra alcohol, thus stopping the fermentation process, it is rather alcoholic, reaching up to 17% in volume. But it remains sweet as part of the naturally occurring sugar present in grapes, which would turn into alcohol during fermentation, is not allowed to ferment. The end result is a complex wine, sweet and strong, balanced and so unique, particularly as it ages past the initial period of about 5 years. As it ages, Moscatel will become darker in color, and nuttier and more caramel-like in flavor - treasure every sip!
Even though Moscatel de Setúbal is often considered to be the quintessential wine from the region, that certainly doesn't mean that it is the only wine worth trying around here, as there are a variety of other table wines which also deserve our attention!
Because of the incredible scenery all around, which includes the mountains of Arrábida Natural Park, and vineyards which go as far as the eye can see, the Setúbal peninsula is a great destination on a day trip from Lisbon. You can do sightseeing, immerse yourself in nature as much as you want (do not overlook the beaches of Arrábida!) and, of course, go for all sorts of wine tastings. You will find several good wine bars in the region where you can sample the region’s wines, or go could go straight to the source, at one of the vineyards near Lisbon where you can learn more about the wine making process, stroll around the vineyards (particularly beautiful in the mid-late summer just before the wine harvest) and, to top the experience, do a guided wine tasting to help you deepen your appreciation for the nectars of this region. We have a bunch of suggestions of the best places to do this near Lisbon right here!
🚗 Because the Setúbal Peninsula is not one given place but a wider geographical area, we recommend having a car to make the most of it.
ℹ️ Alternatively, book an organized tour departing from Lisbon, which may include a visit to one or several vineyards, as well as themed wine tastings - if you are not driving, at least you can relax and sample all the local wines you’d like to, without having to worry about getting behind the wheel.
🍇🍷 Taste Moscatel de Setúbal, but do not overlook other table wines from the Peninsula of Setúbal wine region, which includes the denominations of origin of Palmela and Setúbal.
Azeitão: sheep milk cheese and egg jam cakes
In Azeitão you don’t have to choose between sweet or savory, because you’ll get to indulge in both! Azeitão is the home town of two of our favorite regional products near Lisbon, namely deliciously sweet tortas de Azeitão, and the intense buttery cheese known in Portuguese as queijo de Azeitão.
Azeitão cheese is prepared with raw sheep milk, curdled into a buttery spreadable consistency. Just like it happens with queijo da Serra, you can’t really cut Azeitão cheese into slices. Instead, you’d normally open a small lid on top of the cheese wheel, and use a spoon or knife to scoop out the fairly runny cheese, which tastes great spread on bread, toast or on a crunchy cracker. The similarities Azeitão cheese has with Serra cheese are no coincidence. They are both prepared with sheep milk, in fact, we are talking about the exact same breed of sheep from the mountains of central inland Portugal, which were brought over by a former resident of central Portugal who moved down here in the past century. Missing this distinctive cheese from back home, he decided to try and reproduce it near Azeitão. Curiously, the sheep were the same, but the terroir was different, and as the animals got to feed in different pastures, they ended up producing a differently flavored cheese. Borth are great, if you ask us, and we love cooking with them too, both on savory dishes or a mix of sweet and savory, such as when we do cheese with fruit jams or compotes, for example. When you visit Azeitão, you'll have the opportunity to sample this cheese in local eateries and, of course, buy it to take back home too. If you want to go even deeper into the world of Azeitão cheese, we recommend booking a guided tour of a cheese factory, such as those organized by Queijaria Simões.
Torta de Azeitão refers to the local speciality prepared with light and fluffy sponge cake, rolled with a filling of luscious doce de ovos or egg jam. Doce de ovos is a Portuguese confection prepared with only egg yolks and sugar, but skilfully cooked until they achieve a smooth velvety consistency, somewhere between a mousse and a syrup. There's nothing quite like it! Doce de ovos is deeply rooted into Portuguese pastry making tradition, namely as part of the national repertoire of doces conventuais, which is the line of old time sweet recipes from around the country, which were invented inside convents and other religious institutions, where monks and nuns back in the day had access to the best ingredients and also had time, which arguably is the most important ingredient of them all when developing new recipes! With a subtle touch of lemon and cinnamon, tortas de Azeitão are an iconic pastry of Azeitão and the district of Setúbal, so when you travel here you shouldn't certainly overlook them, if not for desert, as a mid afternoon treat with a cup of coffee. Most local pastry shops and even restaurants will sell tortas de Azeitão, but if you’re coming here to try the real deal, we recommend heading straight to Casa das Tortas de Azeitão (Praça da República 37, Vila Nogueira de Azeitão), proprietors of the original recipe.
It’s worth noting that, even though Azeitão has given its name to both the cheese and the cakes, the truth is that these specialities can be found all over this general region, and not just in the town of Azeitão itself. But we still think that it is very worth it to pass by Azeitão itself, namely on road-trip mode such as we suggest below, covering different places and, while at it, trying several of the most highlighted regional products.
🚗 Azeitão is just 40 Km (25 miles) from Lisbon. Having a car to get there and around would be useful but not strictly necessarily.
🚌 The bus service operated by Carris Metropolitana can also get you there. Hop on bus 4730 from Alcântara - Av. 24 Julho, which goes all the way to Setúbal, but make sure you exist on the stop Vila Nogueira Azeitão, which is by the main national road, but that connects to the center of town after just a couple of minutes walking. Plan your trip and get the most affordable option for tickets before you head to the bus stop, where there are no tickets on sale.
🐑 Going to Azeitão and not tasting Azeitão cheese would be a sin. Don't be a sinner!
🍰 Once you are ready to switch from savory to sweet flavors, we’re positive tortas de Azeitão will make you happy. They even have modern ones these days with chocolate filling, and even though those are not the traditional ones, they taste really good too!
Road-trip idea: Setúbal -> Palmela -> Azeitão -> Sesimbra
If you have a car, we would highly recommend making the most of the region around Setúbal and Palmela. You can easily combine a trip to the city of Setúbal itself, passing by Livramento market and enjoying a meal of choco frito, followed by a visit to a vineyard somewhere between Setúbal, Palmela and the protected natural park of Arrabida.
There are tons of cellars in the region which are open to the public, not only for you to visit their stores and do a quick wine tasting, but also to do guided visits and learn more about the wine making process in the region. If this is not enough to feed your foodie dreams, you can still hop to Azeitão for dessert, eat a soft torta de Azeitão, and if you want to circle back to savories all over again, why not sit a a nice wine bar and order a cheese platter including local queijo de Azeitão?
Alternatively, end the day in Sesimbra, where you can go see the sun go down as you eat some lovely fish with views towards the ocean, or go be in awe of nature at cape Espichel.
If you go for it, make sure you have a designated driver or hire a professional - indulge, enjoy and stay safe!
🚗 As you embark on this foodie road-trip of the Setúbal region, we would highly recommend doing some non-food related detours, namely to:
🏰 Castle of Almourol, a medieval castle on top of the hill overlooking Palmela.
🎣 Cais Palafítico da Carrasqueira officially belongs to Alcácer do Sal, but is close enough that we think it’s a great idea going there to soak up the incredible scenery, particularly at dawn or dusk. This is a fishing town entirely built on stilts, something you don't get to see around here often, if at all.
⛵ Take advantage of the ferry boat service which connects Setúbal and the peninsula of Tróia, where you'll find stunning landscapes and beaches, such as Comporta.
Sesimbra: where fresh fish is a part of the local lifestyle
The town's slogan is Sesimbra é Peixe, which literally translates as Sesimbra is Fish. With such an announcement, there’s no doubt that the fishing town of Sesimbra is all about the sea and its bounty. Every year, somewhere between May and June, Sesimbra hosts a food festival which goes by the same name, and which aims to promote the fish specialities of the region. During this event, participant restaurants will serve particular dishes at special prices, something that makes folks from nearby areas, such as Lisbon, travel to Sesimbra for the sake of indulging in the freshest fish. But you can certainly do that any other time of the year too!
Sesimbra’s cuisine and, up to a certain extent, even its identity, is highly linked to the ocean and to fish. There is no one fish or dish which we could associate with Sesimbra the most, as it’s precisely about the variety of ultra fresh fish you can get around here. The recipes vary according to the species, running from simply grilled fish over charcoal, customarily served in Portugal with boiled or roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, to one pot wonders such as the fishermen stew in a tomato rich broth, known in Portuguese as caldeirada. Just like in nearby Setúbal, and also because Sesimbra is within the district of Setúbal, you’ll be able to find fried cuttlefish. But, if you ask us, Sesimbra is the place to indulge in the fresh catch of the day, for example, grilled scabbardfish (peixe espada preto), which we can’t say is aesthetically the most alluring creature, but has an extremely soft, flaky and somewhat almost gelatinous texture that certainly makes it an experience to try. Don’t know where to go? Allow your sense of smell to guide you and many of Sesimbra’s best (yet down-to-earth) restaurants set up their grills outdoors, filling the air with irresistible smells. When we want to eat peixe espada preto, for example, we like going to Tasca do Isaías (Rua Cel. Barreto 2), but there are many other eateries in town, including those by the beach.
Speaking about the beach, Sesimbra is a great spot to spend some time leisurely laying in the sand, sunbathing and swimming in the Atlantic ocean. Right in town, you’ll easily have access to Praia da California, only divided from town by a large walkway which is ideal to stretch your legs after a big meal in Sesimbra. If your sense of adventure wants to take you even further, we recommend hopping to Cabo Espichel, a cape about 15 Km (9 miles) from Sesimbra, where there’s impressive scenery all around and, if you go down certain trails, you can even see dinosaur footprints!
🚗 Get to Sesimbra from Lisbon by car - it’s less than 40 Km (25 miles) and the drive takes about 50 minutes.
🚌 Lisbon is also connected to Sesimbra by bus, but the trip lasts around 1h30. Take the TST bus departing from Sete Rios - more info and schedules here.
🐟 Indulge in a variety of fresh fish. Ask about the catch of the day!
Ericeira: where seafood dreams come true
When you live in Lisbon and you crave fresh seafood, you can either go south to Sesimba, or north to Ericeira. Both towns excel at procuring and serving the freshest seafood, but we like Sesimbra particularly for fish, and Ericeira for assorted seafood, served in mix platters known in Portuguese as mariscadas.
Similarly to Sesimbra, Ericeira is also a fishing town by the ocean. Even if you are more likely to come across surf shops rather than fish markets in town these days, as the place is undergoing heavy and fast gentrification, the truth is that, just below the surface, the former essence of Ericeira still remains. This is the vibe you can still feel when you visit less touristy beaches, such as, for example, Praia dos Pescadores, or head to the local market, Mercado Municipal da Ericeira (Rua do Mercado 22).
Ericeira’s restaurant scene these days is an eclectic mix of all-day brunch spots, catering to the young crowd which now flocks to Ericeira for the aim of catching some waves, and classic seafood restaurants, some of which have been open for decades and still welcome regular and demanding local customers, as well as the many tourists who just can't resist Ericeira’s great seafood. So what should you order when you are visiting one of these restaurants? If your budget allows, we would always recommend a mixed seafood platter, a mariscada, which will grant you the opportunity to try “a little bit of everything”: local prawns, spider crab (with the legs steamed and the core stuffed with a creamy mix which involves the shredded crab meat with mayonnaise, mustard, whisky and other condiments, known in Portuguese as sapateira recheada or recheio de sapateira), clams, mussels, and more. These are normally served steamed and chilled, just like percebes are - these are a peculiar looking species, known in english as gooseneck barnacles, which you should definitely try while in Portugal! If you prefer hot specialities, order small plates to share, such as those featuring garlic prawns (gambas à guilho) or tangy clams (ameijoas à Bulhão Pato), or heartier meals such as assorted seafood rice (arroz de marisco). Note that Portuguese seafood rice has little to do with Spanish paella, as ours is loose, brothy, and packed with the flavors not only of the sea, but also of tomatoes and fresh herbs. If you are into spicy food, ask for a little piri-piri sauce, which can elevate the dish if this is the kind of flavor profile you normally enjoy.
If the above specialities are based on species you can find most of the year, when the right time comes, Ericeira celebrates sea urchin in a dedicated food festival which goes by the name Festival do Ouriço do Mar, and that usually takes place around March or April. During this festival not only would you get to try straightforward and inventive sea urchin based recipes, they also host cooking demonstrations and other lively food and entertainment events.
Food aside, thankfully, there's plenty to keep you entertained in and around Ericeira. Go to a local beach - there are several beautiful spots to choose from all around, including those with nearby facilities or others with a wilder vibe, even including nude zones. Not in Ericeira itself but nearby, closer to Mafra, you could go explore Tapada Nacional de Mafra, a natural park with a variety of natural habitats where different species live, namely the Iberian wolf, as this park houses the Iberian Wolf Recovery Center to help protect this endangered species.
🚗 The quickest way to get from Lisbon to Ericeira is to drive. Take the A8 highway followed by the A21 national road, and you’ll be there in less than 50 minutes.
🚌 You can also use public transportation, namely the bus by Carris Metropolitana which departs from Campo Grande (green line on the metro). The trip takes from 45 minutes to almost an hour and a half. To get there faster, look for the direct buses which make good use of the A8 highway and won’t stop in every town on the way there.
🍤 Sample a variety of seafood. If possible, simply order a mariscada and note that most restaurants will usually have different options for this kind of mixed platter, with a variety of treats and different price ranges.
Sintra: where historical pastries queijadas & travesseiros will satisfy your sweet tooth
If you are coming to Lisbon and have done a little bit of research, including day trip ideas from the Portuguese capital, chances are Sintra doesn't need an introduction by now. This is, very possibly, the most popular day trip from Lisbon and for good reason!
Sintra came up as a resort town back in the day, when royals and the elite would seek its cooler weather when the time to escape Lisbon's summer heat would come around. Before the days of AC or even fans, spending a few months in the forest, enjoying Sintras (in)famous microclimate, was a much welcome respite. Now-a-days, when you visit Sintra, you can enjoy incredible architecture, namely palaces and other buildings from centuries gone by, from the fairly recent National Pena Palace, to the much more ancient moorish walls from the 8th century, when the Arabs from northern Africa who occupied the Iberian Peninsula back then found in the hilly topography of Sintra a strategic point of defense.
Now-a-days, a trip to Sintra may not be complete without seeing these architectural marvels, but it is certainly also not fulfilled if you don’t also take the opportunity to recharge your batteries tasting the local sweet specialities. There are two pastries which call Sintra home and which are a must around here: travesseiros and queijadas.
Travesseiros, which translates as pillows in Portuguese, consists of crispy puff pastry, filled with a smooth concoction of egg yolks, ground almonds and a hint of cinnamon. The outside of these ultra flaky pastries is dusted with abundant sugar, so they are overall rather sweet, just like most pastries are in Portugal. As such, we think they taste better with a cup of coffee, which helps balance out the flavors and make you crave another bite. Do keep sipping that coffee, because you will also have to try at least one queijada, which even though translates as cheesecake, has nothing to do with the idea of American cheesecake many tourists may be more used to. Portuguese queijadas consist of a thin case of pastry filled with rich and sweet cottage cheese. Queijadas are petite, delicate and a true delicacy of Sintra. You can try both these pastries at the very well known Casa Piriquita bakery in downtown Sintra (Rua Padarias 1), but for queijadas we would recommend heading to Queijadas da Sapa (Volta do Duche 12), which have been true to their recipe since 1756!
🚆 Get to Sintra on the direct train from Lisbon’s Rossio station. This train on the linha de Sintra is operated by CP and you can see the timings here.
🍯 Burn calories exploring the forest and the marvelous architecture of Sintra, and replenish that energy munching on travesseiros and queijadas.
Óbidos: the birthplace of ginjinha sour cherry liqueur
Last but not least, we ought to mention the picturesque town of Óbidos. This is a popular day-trip from Lisbon because of the quaint vibes and striking medieval architecture. But we would like to make a point for how Óbidos is also a worthy culinary destination, more specifically because of drinks rather than because of food. Anyone visiting Lisbon will easily come across sour cherry liqueur, locally known as ginja or ginjinha. This alcoholic beverage is very much associated with Lisbon, but it has actually originated in Óbidos, so we feel that it is right to give credit where credit is due.
Ginjinha is prepared infusing sour cherries, also known as Morello cherries (or ginjas, in Portuguese), in strong grape-derived alcohol. The infusion is further flavored with the addition of species which vary according to the producer, with the most common ones being cinnamon stick and clove. The result is a deeply aromatic liqueur, which is fruity and quite sweet, thus going down very smoothly, but that is actually quite alcoholic, easily going beyond 20% in volume.
In Lisbon, you will find gingjinha dedicated establishments, such as the legendary A Ginjinha (Largo São Domingos 8), or Ginjinha Sem Rival (Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 7) - these have been open for many decades and sell nothing but shots of sour cherry liqueur, either with or without a cherry inside your little cup. In some other more modern establishments these days, you will also find ginjinha being served inside edible chocolate cups, something which increased the allure of downing a ginjinha at any given time of the day even more.
In Óbidos, not only can you drink ginjinha, you can also get up close to the production process, and see how this beverage is prepared. The company Frutóbidos organizes guided experiences during which they share more about the history of this beverage, as well the steps which are involved in preparing it before being bottled. As one would expect, the experience culminates in a tasting of ginjinha which, at least to us, always ends up tasting better in Obidos as compared to anywhere else!
ℹ️ There are many tourism companies which organize guided trips to Óbidos departing from Lisbon.
🚌 If you rather travel independently, the easiest and fastest way is to get there by bus, using the company Rodoviária do Oeste, departing from Campo Grande or Oriente station - browse the timings here.
🍒🍷 Sip ginjinha as you go. Seriously, it will be all around you in Óbidos!
When you travel to Lisbon, we look forward to welcoming you at Cooking Lisbon for a fun and delicious cooking class, but we also hope you get to explore our city and beyond. Follow these suggestions and feel free to hit us up on Instagram to ask us for more foodie tips! #cookinglisbon