London City Guide – Travel Blend

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72 hours in London is definitely not enough time to become an expert, but it was the perfect amount of time to fall in love with one of the world’s great cities through this can’t miss London City Guide.

London City Guide // Everyday Cuvée

Since this was my first time to London, I wanted to get an overall feel for the city without trying to cram too much into each day.

Even with the limited time, we managed to see most of the major sites, explore a few iconic neighborhoods and get a taste of the local dining and cocktail scene.

London City Guide

Hotel:

When we originally started planning our trip, we wanted to stay near Michael’s cousin and The Corus Hotel Hyde Park is just a few minute walk from his flat. Even without that connection, the location is ideal for exploring London’s great neighborhood scene.

It’s situated right across the street from Hyde Park (which means morning runs could lead you by Kensington Palace, Prince Albert Hall, or Buckingham Palace) and is close walking distance to Notting Hill, Chelsea, Kensington and Belgravia.

This is a mid-range option that you will be more than happy with. Looking to splurge? Check out The Kensington for some more upscale digs with more amenities.

Brunch:

Dotted with some really cute shops (some known, some not), homes with pastel fronts, and lots of cafés, Notting Hill is the perfect location to grab a coffee and some breakfast.

We chose Granger & Co., an Aussie take on comfort food, and were not disappointed. The warm space is bright, comfortable, and always packed (especially on weekends).

They are known for their ricotta hotcakes (and for good reason). Fluffy, slightly sweet, and the perfect indulgence. We paired these with an açai bowl for a healthier option but if I had to do it again I wouldn’t share!

Other standouts in the Notting Hill/Portobello Road area are Farm Girl Café and Biscuiteers for a sweet treat (and a photo op!)

Lunch:

There’s no shortage of places where you can grab a pint, some fish and chips or a steak and ale pie, but if you want to pretend you’re in Paris for the afternoon head over to the Mayfair neighborhood and grab an outside table at La Petite Maison.

Order a bottle of white burgundy, the burrata starter, and the lamb chop and let the afternoon melt away.

If you are on the hunt for healthier fare, head to Farmacy in Notting Hill which focuses on vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Cocktails:

The stretch of King Road from Chelsea to Sloane Square is some of the best in London. Reward yourself for showing restraint (or celebrate that new purchase) with a cocktail at The Botanist.

House made shrubs, smoked ice, and other modern riffs on classic cocktails are worth the trip, but the location bordering Sloane Square and the bustling scene around the fountain in the center of it all makes this an absolute must.

If you’re staying near Kensington and want to escape the hustle and bustle that is the area surrounding Harrod’s, I would pop into Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental.

Sit at the bar, enjoy the warm gougères placed in front of you, and enjoy a glass of wine or perfectly crafted martini. If you’re hungry, share one of Chef Daniel Boulud’s takes on the hamburger. They’re worth every calorie.

Dinner:

Normally, we would pick a special spot for a really nice dinner when we travel to a new city. This time, we skipped the higher end of the spectrum since we are on a travel budget and opted for longer, leisurely lunches or small plates during happy hour at night.

We liked The Marketplace Restaurant at Chelsea Farmer’s Market for 2-for-1 glasses of wine and the dukkah-spiced hummus or The Shed in Notting Hill for small plates on their seasonally-changing menu.

The best-part: wool tartan blankets at your seat for when the sun goes down and it starts to cool off.

Coffee:

We like to start every day with coffee and our favorite spot turned out to be Lido Café across from The Serpentine. You can watch the swans, swimmers, and paddle boats share the waterway or take it to-go and wander around the Queen’s Rose Garden on your way through the park.

If you’re interested in a proper afternoon tea, check out Sketch or The Orangery. For a touch of royal treatment, The Orangery is an open air patio facing Kensington Palace and Gardens. They serve a full afternoon tea.

For something a little more hip, try Sketch. Pink velvet chairs, artwork-adorned walls, and a full assortment of afternoon tea experiences abound, champagne optional.

Activity:

Sure it’s touristy, but booking one of the hop on/off bus tours is one of the most convenient ways of seeing the major sites, learning some interesting facts along the way, and gaining familiarity of where the neighborhoods are located and which you may want to explore later.

Ours included a short cruise down the River Thames from the Tower of London to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. You can book an English-only tour which gives you a live guide, but we found the multi-language bus (with headphones) gives much more info about what you’re seeing.

When you see an area or place you want to see more of, just hop off and explore. Buses come by every fifteen minutes.

Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit Tate Modern but I am definitely adding it to my list for my next trip to London.

Shopping:

Saying Harrod’s is a department store is like saying that a cruise ship is a boat. While technically true, it doesn’t really do it justice.

Floor after floor, and room after room, is filled with every designer you can think of and more. Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, and Hermès are just the start.

You’ll find seemingly whole collections divided into their respective categories across multiple floors. It’s amazing and bewildering at the same time.

Knowing my backpack was at its limits kept me in check, but I can’t guarantee the same for you. Even if you’re not looking for clothing, Harrod’s delivers when it comes to gourmet food options too.

Their “food court” puts all others to shame as you’ll just as easily find Ladurée macarons next to a champagne and caviar bar as you are to find a steakhouse next to high end chocolates. Explore at your own risk!

Even if you don’t make it to one of the iconic department stores (Selfridge’s and Harvey Nichols are other options similar to Harrod’s) you won’t be lacking in high-end shopping options.

We came across Chanel, Dior, and Hermès in multiple neighborhoods but there are lower-priced recognizable brand stores in almost every neighborhood you walk through.

Our favorite was Sloane Square, but don’t take my word for it. Check them all out!

Since I know this is a city I will visit again, please let me know if you have any suggestions to add to my London City Guide!

And make sure to follow our entire Round the World trip on the blog and Instagram!

Lisbon City Guide – What to do in Portugal

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I would bet that a Lisbon City Guide, or Portugal in general, is not on your list of must-visit European destinations. It doesn’t have the romantic allure that thoughts of visits to France or Italy evoke, but that is only because so few of us really know about this magical place where castles still rise above the walled cities below, narrow cobblestone streets lead you toward the sounds of ancient music, and an afternoon can totally be centered around a good espresso and a simple pastry with a secret recipe.

Lisbon City Guide // Everyday Cuvée

There’s way more to Lisbon than meets the eye, but if you start with this Lisbon City Guide you are guaranteed to come away with the perfect mix of culture, food, and relaxation.

Lisbon City Guide

Hotel:

There are many different areas of Lisbon where you can rest your head at night, but we chose the Alfama district. Known as the oldest part of Lisbon, birthplace to Portugal’s famous Fado music, and a central location to most of the sights, Alfama proved to be the perfect mix between old and new.

We stayed at an Airbnb nearby, but if you are interested in a hotel in the area look no further than Memmo Alfama. Tucked away on one of the many narrow, cobblestoned side streets that make up Lisbon, the Memmo Alfama is the perfect base from which to explore the city.

With a minimal, modern design aesthetic of tans and crisp whites, you can’t help but to relax. If you need any further boost, head to the second floor terrace overlooking the Tagus River and surrounding Lisbon below.

Here, you will find a small swimming pool, lounge chairs and tables for lunch, dinner or cocktails. Catching the sunset with a glass of port or champagne in hand will reinforce your good decision to stay here.

Brunch:

The idea of brunch isn’t really one that has taken root here. We found most restaurants didn’t open until 10am and the offering was much more geared to a quick espresso and pastry (like the ubiquitous pastel de nata-a sweet, egg custard tart with a caramelized top) than a mimosa and eggs benedict.

No bother, though, because after a late night drinking local Portuguese wines (more on that later) and listening to the haunting melancholic sounds of Fado you will probably sleep in.

If you’re a coffee and full breakfast type of person, you might want to gravitate to a Western hotel chain or one of the central plazas that have adapted to tourist requests, but what fun is that?

Take a walk around your neighborhood until you find a café bustling with locals and find a seat. Our favorite spot was Pois Cafe in Alfama, where the eclectic mix of artwork and furniture mirrored the multi-national clientele we shared a communal table with.

Order your coffee of choice (be aware that the Portuguese like their espresso STRONG-it’s too bitter for me so I opt for a cappuccino or latte) and a tosta mista (basically local ham and cheese on toasted bread-add egg if you want).

More the type to grab a venti latte and banana on the go? Good luck to you. The Portuguese frown upon drinking or eating while walking. I’m not sure I ever saw a to-go cup.

If you’re in a hurry, tell them you want to take your coffee there at the counter and they’ll serve it to you where you stand, but you might as well take a seat and enjoy your coffee while you try to give your legs a pep talk for the steep streets you will be climbing all day.

Lunch:

If you live or have spent any time in a major city, you have probably come across TimeOut magazine. Best known for their curated “best of” lists, the editors of TimeOut Lisbon turned their digital opinions into a real-life experience via their TimeOut Market.

Located just off of the Tagus River and in a converted bus terminal, the market reminds one of San Francisco’s Ferry Building or an old-school beer hall.

They have taken the best purveyors of Portuguese products (paper, books, clothing, soaps, etc.), food (seafood, ham, cheese, meats, etc.) and drinks (port, still wines, beer, and spirits) and given them a space to showcase what they do best.

Grab a beer or glass of wine on the way in, do a loop to see which place or places pique your interest, and away you go. A lot of the menus at the local restaurants are the same so being able to try some of the most innovative takes on Portuguese cuisine under one roof was time well spent. You’re close to the sea so now is the time to load up on seafood.

Tip: there are three restaurants facing the river that have terrace seating. Snack your way over there and then order a bottle of wine and soak up the sun while you plot your next move.

Cocktails:

Like most big cities, Lisbon has been influenced by the craft cocktail resurgence but it’s not their specialty. You’ll find caipirinhas, mojitos, and the like on offer for happy hour, but I would suggest enjoying the local wine and ports as much as possible.

My favorite white wine was the simple Vinho Verde-crisp, light, and with a touch of effervescence. It is a perfect pairing for all the seafood you will be eating. At under €10 per bottle at most restaurants, it’s a steal.

The reds are just as good and you can easily find a Vin Tinto from the Douro Valley a couple hours north of Lisbon for €12 or less.

For me, cocktail hour is all about location and being on or near the water is just about perfect. If you’re in the central plaza of Lisbon, you might like to people watch over a mojito at one of the many restaurants circling the plaza or take a cue from the mobile cocktail cart (pictured above) and take your cocktail to the steps overlooking the Tagus River and watch the day go by.

Looking for something a little more polished? Try the Decadente Restaurant & Bar in the hip Bairro Alta district. They serve great local cuisine here as well, but if you can grab a seat on one of the communal tables outside you can enjoy your cocktail, live music, and maybe meet some fellow travelers too!

Dinner:

If you’ve been out walking Lisbon all day, chances are your body is pretty tired by the time dinner rolls along. Indulge in a short nap if you’re able to as the Portuguese (like the Spanish) don’t start thinking about dinner until around 9pm.

We went to a few fun dinners, but the most memorable was one we stumbled upon after deciding we didn’t want to venture too far from our flat.

Ao Pe de Sé was located just a short walk away on a slope facing the walls of the Cattderale di Lisbona all the tuk tuks stopped at. As the light lit up the stone walls across the way and the faint sounds of Fado music rose up from the streets below, we knew we had to stop.

Focusing on seafood (much of it raw), we dined on an excellent mixed-fish ceviche, tuna tartar, and salmon carpaccio. It was the best food we had in Lisbon by far.

Coffee:

I consider myself a coffee person, but the Portuguese take this label to a whole other level. First of all, keep in mind that the term coffee refers more generally to a shot of espresso. Despite the culture that has developed around coffee, it isn’t very common to see standalone coffee shops.

Most restaurants, cafés, and bars make espresso. It is not unusual to see the locals popping into a local café throughout the day for a little boost (3-5 per day seems to be the norm).

So, if you are looking for something a little less high octane, make note of how to order what you are looking for. The closest approximation of a latte is either the “meia de leite” (half coffee, half milk, foam on top) or “um galão” (one-quarter coffee, three-quarters milk, foam on top).

If that fails, you can always go with a standard cappuccino. That term seems to be universal.

Activity:

After you’ve walked the streets of Lisbon, take a ride on the famous Tram 28. This cable car will give you a ride up and down the streets of Lisbon taking you through historic neighborhoods.

The ride lasts about about 45 minutes and has about 30 stops throughout the city where you can jump on. The ticket cost under €5 and you can pay the driver on board, in cash.

Have an additional half-day to explore? Buy a ticket and board a boat to travel west on the Tagus River to visit the town of Bélem.

Not only will you receive a beautiful panoramic view of the city, you will get a wonderful view of the 25 de Abril bridge, a canny resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Cristo Rei Statue inspired by the Christ the King statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Bélem is home to many historic sites including the Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Tower of Belém, a military outpost built to protect the Tagus Estuary from pirates and enemy attacks. You can buy tickets to explore each destination more in depth with a tour of each monument.

Whatever you do, don’t leave Bélem without trying the pastel de nata from Pastéis de Bélem. You can’t beat the original.

Have an additional full day to explore? Buy a train ticket to the town of Sintra which will take about 45 minutes and is home to the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, a Disney-like, real-life palace.

If you don’t have a CP pass already, then you need to stand in line at the ticket office to buy both the train ticket and the pass. The trains run pretty frequently so you can just show up to the station.

Once you arrive to the train station in Sintra, turn to your right to board the 434 bus which cost €5 per person, paid in cash to the driver. The 434 bus is the public transportation option that stops at three destinations in a circular route.

We skipped the first stop and exited the bus at the Moorish Castle. Little did we know that you needed to purchase a ticket for both the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, so we waited in long lines at both. I suggest purchasing your tickets online in advance of your visit.

After walking around the Moorish Castle for about 45 minutes, we walked uphill to the Pena Palace instead of boarding the 434 bus. It was definitely an uphill haul but would have taken longer to get back on the bus.

Due to large crowds, we decided not to tour inside the palace but instead enjoyed exterior views and the Sherwood Forest-esque grounds surrounding the palace.

Shopping:

A Vida Portuguesa is a one-stop shop to stock up on locally-made, handcrafted products for your home or personal use. Also keep your eyes open for any local shops selling handcrafted Portuguese tiles, known as azulejos, as this is what the area is known for.

Should you need to pick up anything else while you are here, don’t fret. The central shopping district just a few blocks off of the main plaza is dotted with the likes of H&M, Zara, and Mango. You’ll find whatever you are looking for.

I hope this Lisbon City Guide has you excited to visit this beautiful Portuguese city and please let me know if you have any questions by posting a comment below.

And make sure to follow our entire Round the World trip on the blog and Instagram!