Lisbon is quickly becoming one of Western Europe’s top travel destinations and who can you blame with a city so rich in history, culture, and cuisine. Days here can be spent gazing at monuments to the Nation’s imperial past, while nights are best for dancing to samba or listening to the national music, Fado. In between you need to keep yourself filled with Portugal’s legendary bacalhau dishes (dried or salted cod) and have pastéis de nata for dessert. You can’t forget to wash it down with a wide array of sweet and dry wines. If cocktails are more your taste, gin bars are all the rage with many carrying over 100 different varieties. Lisbon is one of the world’s famous cities-built-on-seven-hills and below I’ll show you the best way to navigate them in order to capture the best it has to offer.
Belem Tower was built in the 16th century to be the gateway for travelers into the city, so why not let it welcome you? This 30 meter tall UNESCO World Heritage Site was built to fortify the city during the Middle Ages. Jeronimos Monastery is the other half of Lisbon’s legendary UNESCO site and is home to the grave of legendary explorer Vasco De Gama. In fact, De Gama and his crew prayed here before their 1st expedition and the structure was completed using tax collections that Portugal’s strong navy gathered. These monuments and the nearby neighborhood can leave you hungry, that’s why you need to try Portugal’s true pearl, pastéis de nata. Antiga Confeitaria de Belem is the place to buy the greatest dessert I’ve ever had. A custard that has a torched top and flaky crust is best accompanied with an espresso.
The oldest district of the city houses some of the city’s most well preserved culture. Climb up to the Portas do Sol to get a glimpse of the sunset reflecting off Lisbon’s iconic rooftops. Or, check Lisbon Cathedral to see the city’s rich religious history. My favorite part of the neighborhood is strolling the city’s winding streets and meeting its inhabitants who are quick to sell you ginjinha (sweet cherry wine) from their “storefront”.
Grab lunch at any number of restaurants and cafes in the area (be mindful of siesta time), but make sure you get the bacalhau wherever you go, I don’t know what they do, but I’ve never had it quite as good as I have in Portugal. Stay the evening and listen to Fado, Portugal’s version of the blues. It can be quite somber, but when taken in in a quiet café, it’s deeply powerful. Tasco do Jamie d’Alfama is world renown.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite part of the neighborhood (even if it doesn’t fit the traditional theme). The Feira da Ladra flea market on Tuesdays and Saturdays carries everything from souvenir ceramics to iPads and everything between. The most unique are the records that float around from stand to stand, including rare prints and every genre imaginable.
The center of the city’s nightlife and shopping draws crowds from abroad and locals alike. An amazing music scene that can be experienced on every street in the legendary Bairro Alto boasts Fado as its most famous export, but if you’re like me listening to a slow latin influenced blues is beautiful, but not ideal for a big night of partying. If jazz is your thing then Hot Clube Portugal is a world class jazz club that also elicits views of the city’s unique skyline. You can also find upbeat latin music at every stop or wind down at BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto.
If you want something different from the raucousness of Bairro Alto, but still want to be in the mix head over to Chiado and try Vintage Gourmet for dinner or drinks. Lisbon residents are all about gin at the moment and this place houses over 200 varieties with a bartender who knows the perfect accessories and is great conversation while he figures out how to best prepare your drinks. If you are in the mood for dessert and don’t feel like heading out to Belem for your pasteis de nata, across the street from Vintage is Manteigaria Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata where you can get some more of this delectable pastry and some espresso to chase it down.
Baixa/Marques de Pombal/Rossio
Rossio is the Puerta del Sol of Lisbon. A meeting point for locals (and where some will try to sell you weed) this is the center of it all. After the earthquake of 1755 the city was redesigned by architect Marques de Pombal to reflect enlightenment attitudes. Continue this theme and head to Baixa for the modern shopping of all your favorite brands. Or, visit Bertrand Books the oldest continually opened bookstore in the world, which survived the earthquake and everything else mother nature has thrown at it since 1732. The English selection isn’t great, but it’s a nice visit nonetheless and there are often bazaars outside on weekends. When you’re finished here follow the main road to the legendary Praca de Comercio. This coastline is a great place to relax and photograph Lisbon’s legendary architecture.
My favorite spot in Lisbon is way more than just Castelo de Sao Jorge, though the Moorish castle provides immaculate city and river vistas and gives insight to the city’s diverse past. The neighborhood’s winding alleys open up to some of the country’s greatest restaurants. My favorite restaurant, maybe ever, is Cantinho do Aziz a Mozambican restaurant. If you’re unfamiliar imagine a combination of Portuguese, Indian, and Southeast African cuisine. I can’t recommend this place enough.
When you need to walk off all the delicious food, it’s best to stay local and look at the capital of the city’s illustrious street art. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it maintains its character while embracing the city’s graffiti takeover. Down the main street are classic photographs of its residents and quick bios about the simple lives they lead in a cosmopolitan city in an aptly named exhibit called A Tribute.
But the real draw is Graffiti Street or Escadinhas de Sao Cristovao. This popular hangout is a great place to have a beer and sit in the street admiring the avant-garde decorations of Boutique Taberna or the legendary Fado graffiti (amongst many others). Walk up and down to find your favorite amongst all the one-of-a-kind pieces. Take the elevator (which has a graffiti exhibit in the building itself) to catch sunset over the city and enjoy a glass (or jug) of passion fruit sangria at Espumantaria do Petisco to cap off your trip.
Lisbon is a massive city with so much more to see including it’s own Christ the Redeemer and Roman Aqueducts. Not to mention the numerous things to do outside the city. But, above are the central reasons that make Lisbon one of my favorite cities in the world!
All photos taken by me and rights are reserved. If you have any questions about the city or my other destinations feel free to contact me at email@example.com