Paris, London, Rome, eat your heart out! Europe’s sexiest, trendiest and most vibrant destination is Lisbon, the ocean capital of the Western world. A city where the skyline waves like the ocean and you can eat a street-grilled sardine with the locals, drink a mini (a small bottle of ice cold beer) and hear Fado – the Portuguese version of the blues. Here’s our take on the ultimate Portugal trip itinerary: stroll through the oldest districts, taking in the beautiful architecture, pastel hued buildings and iconic tile work.
BEST TIME TO GO
Lisbon is a shoulder season destination. The best time to visit is in the spring, March to May, or fall, September to November, when the weather is pleasant. During the winter months, it’s often cloudy or raining, and the city can feel like a ghost town. During the summer, peak tourist season, temperatures can be uncomfortably hot, crowds are common, and it can be hard to find accommodations (plus rates are higher).
LAY OF THE LAND
Lisbon is divided into several small inner-city districts, each with its own unique quirks and charms. Wander through the atmospheric streets of Castelo, home to the fortress that dominates the skyline. In Baixa, at the heart of the city, explore museums and soak in the art and culture, including the extraordinary Design and Fashion Museum (MUDE), shops and cafes. The area’s main thoroughfare, Rua Augusta, leads you right to the river and to the spectacular arch that frames the entrance to the city square, Terreiro do Paço.
Alfama is quintessential Lisbon, a place full of fado houses and tascas (the equivalent of Italy’s trattoria). These are the places to drop in for a bifana (pork sandwich) and some red wine; simple, hearty fare that will keep you going while you explore the boutiques and antique stores. This area is also home to two of the city’s landmarks: the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major, also known as Sé de Lisboa, and the Church of Santa Engrácia, also known as the National Pantheon.
Bairro Alto (Upper District) is the heart and soul of Lisbon’s nightlife. The streets in this quarter buzz from early afternoon to early morning. You can bar-hop from tiny bohemian holes-in-the-wall to more exclusive spots, or you can just stroll and people watch; since most of the establishments are tiny, the streets are always alive and full of local life. Its neighbour, fashionable Chiado with its elegant storefronts, is home to some of the country’s best fashion and interior designers. You’ll also find traditional bespoke fashion houses like Luvaria Ulisses, where affluent Lisbonites have had their gloves made since 1925.
Most visitors head to Belém, drawn by its gardens, museums, churches, and monuments. These include two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the 16th-century Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery, and the Tower of Belém. It’s a lovely place to walk around, and if you’d rather spend time in the sunshine than in museums, there’s a beautiful riverside promenade wide enough to share with cyclists, joggers and strollers. Don’t forget to drop into Pastéis de Belém to experience possibly the best Portuguese custard tarts in the country.
Boutique, boutique, boutique… Lisbon is a city of a million little details and your choice of hotel should uphold this spirit. Old palaces that once belonged to the families of rich traders have now been converted into stylish Portuguese heritage accommodations, where history and culture are part of the stay. Look for a place up on the hill with a river view balcony to enjoy Lisbon’s scenery to the utmost.
The Altis offers a wholly modern experience. Its suites face the water with views of the River Tagus and the Belém Tower. Minimalist in style, but utterly comfortable, this small hotel (there are 50 rooms) has some big features, including the spa, suites decorated with illustrated wall panels, the Bar 38°41’ cocktail lounge, and the Michelin-starred Feitoria restaurant, where chef José Cordeiro prepares his Portuguese-influenced haute cuisine. altishotels.com
Chic and central, this 55-room hotel in an 18th-century building is a draw for creatives and celebrities. The terrace bar has a magnificent view over the city, perfect for a sundown cocktail before heading out for dinner. bairroaltohotel.com
THE INDEPENDENTE HOSTEL & SUITES
Winner of multiple awards,The Independente is all about comfort and relaxed vintage Lisbon with a contemporary twist. It’s set in a heritage 18th century building with four metres high ceilings, and its impressively décor has earned it the title of one of Europe’s top luxury hostels. Its dedicated bar and restaurant, the Decadent, serves a daily Portuguese comfort food menu with incredible value. theindependente.pt
Lisbon’s food scene is definitely on the rise. It’s the only place where street food like grilled sardines and pork steaks rub shoulders with Michelin-starred establishments and new bite-size eateries, all focused on the depth and intricacy of Portuguese flavours.
Without a doubt the finest restaurant in Lisbon, Belcanto serves elaborate contemporary Portuguese cuisine. You may want to save it for your last night in town; if there’s one lasting impression of Lisbon you’ll want, this is it. Dishes like the carrots and olives in different textures with pine nut milk and lupine ‘caviar’ or the prawn, mushroom, apple and hibiscus curry – are examples of the genius of Chef Avillez, a star on the Portuguese food scene fresh from his training with Chef Ferran Adrià at El Bulli. belcanto.pt
A gem in the world of food at the hands of the head Chef André Cruz. This is where you let your senses go wild. Here traditional Portuguese gastronomy discovers and blends with the more exotic cuisines of the world, preserving the genuine essence of local traditional flavours. Your gastronomic journey starts off with a sumptuous atmosphere of sophistication and is complemented by a generous selection of fine wines. Your taste buds will thank you! restaurantefeitoria.com
A fixture in Lisbon’s pop culture and one of the capital’s largest open food markets, this iconic market has been recently refurbished to accommodate 30 Portuguese quick eats (Petiscos) stands. Traditional Portuguese dishes such as seafood rice, steak in a bun, salt cod with chickpeas, and piri piri prawns are served in bite-size or handheld portions, so finger licking is totally acceptable. Go during the weekend evenings to get the feel (and smell) of a Portuguese feast.
The name does justice to the location of this restaurant, as it’s literally at the end of the river walk on the other side of the Tagus. Here, the food is all about the deep, traditional flavours of Portuguese home cooking. Some must-try dishes are the salt cod with chickpeas and the tomato rice with deep fried baby mackerel for a taste of the local fishermen’s favourite dish.
If you’re looking to experience authentic Lisbon, this is the place. This tiny, family-run restaurant (just seven tables) has been open for forty years and the décor has not changed in that time. The food is simple and unpretentious, with dishes like monkfish stew and chargrilled fish, but the real draw is the fado, Portugal’s traditional melancholic folk music.
Cocktails and twilight are the words of the moment in the Lisbon party scene, and the city’s rolling hills and 20km waterfront are dotted with beautiful outdoor bars to make the most of them. It is at these places where you see young, energetic, tanned and beautiful Lisbon locals sipping gin cocktails and toasting to yet another ruby red sunset. Could life be any more spectacular?
Widely acclaimed as Lisbon’s best cocktail bar, Cinco Lounge is on the forefront of the recent wave of mixology culture in Lisbon. Its dimly lit, strikingly coloured ambiance, constantly evolving cocktail menu, and contemporary urban music selection make it a must-try for cocktail aficionados.
The best part about this place is the guy who made it his life’s goal to transform the top level of a parking garage into Lisbon’s best rooftop bar. Well, let me say that he did it! Simply called PARK, it styles itself as the first suspended garden of Lisbon, where the city’s young crowd comes for drinks.
Recognized for decades as the best Portuguese nightclub and still ranking today as one of Europe’s best, Lux is constantly changing. It offers a prime location over the water and décor featuring purple neon, white furniture, and vintage chandeliers. This is the place where the hip, gay and trendy society of Lisbon flocks to listen to the world’s top electronic music DJs.
Lisbon is best seen by walking its cobbled streets, so be sure to pack some comfortable shoes along with those Louboutins. Forget the tourist map and navigate the back streets of old town Lisbon with just a few landmarks that you can see over the city’s many belvederes. It’s very easy to get lost in them, but if you’ve got an adventurous spirit, it only adds to the mystique of the old town.
FEIRA DA LADRA
The open-air market, called Feira da Ladra (Flea Market), takes place around the Church of São Vicente de Fora. Here you can find everything that’s characteristic of the Portuguese culture in vintage personal items. From hand-made artisan goods, CD’s, books, clothes, stamps, coins, military objects, antiques and furniture is all on display here, so the occasional bargain is still possible although many of the stores now seem to cater exclusively to the tourists. Perfect for a souvenir!
Where: Campo de Santa Clara, Alfama
How: Tram 28
Lisbon’s cute-as-a-button trams operate daily. Tram 28 goes right through the city. Hop on and hop off whenever you spot something of interest; another one will be along in 10 minutes.
When: 6am to 5pm, Tuesdays and Saturdays
Brought to you by the upcoming generation of Lisbon artists, the LX Factory is a refurbished factory plant featuring ateliers, bookshops, restaurants, bars, design, concept and furniture stores. It’s a prime location to get your hands on hip, contemporary products. The inspirational graffiti sets the tone of one of Lisbon’s most progressive locations.
LX Factory is located in the Alcântara district, both a residential and industrial area halfway between downtown and the monuments of Belém.
Alfama (alhama means springs or bath, a reference to the hot springs found in the area) is Lisbon’s most emblematic quarter and one of the most rewarding for walkers and photographers thanks to its medieval alleys and outstanding views. Very few sunrises can match the one over Alfama seen from the top terrace of the former Palacio Belmonte. Once a mosque where morning prayers were announced during the Moorish occupation of Lisbon, from here you can see the sun rising over the water, right next to the Alfama skyline.