Since Portugal was voted best European destination at the World Travel awards in 2017, travelers from all over the world come to visit this charming Southern Europe country, often starting from Lisbon. It’s no wonder as Lisbon combines the perfect dose of sunny climate, rich history and old world charm, with an excellent gastronomy and nightlife at affordable prices.
Unlike some of the other European capitals, Lisbon is a lively and busy city, where the rhythm of life is somehow slower – Portuguese style! A city with modern vibes which respects traditions and carefully kept its rich architecture. Although years after years, visited by an ever-increasing number of tourists, the capital of Portugal still boasts tons of character and uniqueness.
Follow me to get a taste of the bright sunny weather, deep blue sky all topped up by delicious food, wine and of course Porto, where centuries of history await at every sights and sip! Discover the bohemian district at LX Factory or a derelict bus and tramway depot transformed into art installations.
Let’s start our explorations where it all began, at Torre de Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage–listed fortress which epitomizes the Age of Discoveries. At the beginning of the fifteen centuries, leaving from Belem, Vasco da Gama and other explorers traveled the world looking for spices and other treasures. Expanding routes through the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal created a historic maritime empire stretching from Brazil to Indonesia.
The jewel of the Manueline architectural style was built between 1514 and 1520 by Francisco de Arruda. Standing on an island about 200 meters in the Rio Tejo, the impressive tower combines Moorish, Renaissance, and Gothic elements. Best time to visit is early morning before the tour groups arrive or late-afternoon just before sunset (visits close at 6 pm). Avoid weekends and be ready to climb a narrow spiral staircase up to the tower, you’ll be rewarded with sublime views over Belem and the river. Facing the ocean, the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) is a 52- meter-high monument on the waterside near the marina. The monument was built to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The ship’s prow shape features 33 prominent people who played a big part in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. These include King Alfonso V, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral and Ferdinand Magellan, and the most important Henry the Navigator. Visitors can access the rooftop via a lift to experience the panoramic views across the Tagus river and Belém.
Just in front of the monument, the Mappa Mundi is a giant marble map of the world and highlight important dates in history.
Another classified UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for the notable work of architecture, Jerónimos Monastery is a national monument and a symbol of Portuguese wealth. In 1496, King Manuel I decided to found the Monastery of St. Mary of Belém to immortalize the memory of the Infante, for his intense devotion to Our Lady and faith in St. Jerome. Later donated to the monks of the Order of St. Jerome, in the 19th century the church became the sepulcher for heroes and poets: Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões.
Next, we board a vintage yellow tram along a scenic ride through palm tree-lined streets towards Alfama, Lisbon oldest district.
Wander down through Alfama’s steep, narrow, cobblestoned streets and catch a glimpse of the more traditional side of Lisbon before gentrification. Early morning is the best time to catch the scene of Portuguese women selling fresh fish from their doorways. With narrow lanes of residential houses and grocery stores, it has a distinct village atmosphere. Linger in a backstreet cafe along the way and experience the bohemian lifestyle with lesser tourists. Spending the afternoon in Alfama, you can sip glasses of port at an outdoor café amid smartly clad Lisboans and eat reinvented Portuguese cuisine looking over the stunning river views.
Lisbon is a city full of Epicurean Delights
Neighboring Alfama area, a hipper and trendier alternative, Chiado is on top of the glamour scale with designer shops, art galleries and a vast selection of trendy restaurants and bars.
Stepping off the iconic tram-line 28, in the middle of Chiado, Café No Chiado features a very cool interior and a great terrace. Pick up a book at the upstairs library or a paper from their impressive range of Portuguese and foreign newspapers, and order a light meal from their unpretentious menu composed of salads, steaks, sandwiches and Portuguese specialties. An oasis of calm in the middle of the trendiest shopping district.
Modern and romantic, Largo restaurant is a cool culinary spot within the walls of an old convent. Entering the place, vaulted stone ceilings and imposing stone columns contrast with contemporary colors of black and white against a palette of apple green and soft lime colors. One of the most coveted tables for couples is next to the aquariums where jellyfish are drifting away, magically enhanced by the eerie lightings. The fuchsia washed mezzanine serves a chill-out lounge for guests to enjoy a cocktail before or after dinner. Portuguese Chef Miguel Castro e Silva innovative takes on re-interpreting traditional Portuguese dishes with international flavors is highly praised by gastronomes across Portugal and internationally.
Another stylish choice for dinner and conveniently located next to the MAAT, Sud restaurant (SUD Lisboa Terrazza) and multipurpose venue (SUD Lisboa Hall) is a two floors building on the waterfront connected by a sky bridge with stunning views of the 25 de Abril Bridge. The stylish interior restaurant also offers ‘al fresco’ seating facing the Tagus river, where Italian and Mediterranean cuisine can be enjoyed all day long. There are a separate cozy cocktail bar and a shisha lounge. The whole space features a contemporary décor and is livened up at night by DJs or the sounds of a live jazz singer. There is a panoramic swimming pool open in the summer up on the rooftop, while theme parties and a variety of events happen in the neighboring building.
Stunning views from the hills of Lisbon
Towering above Lisbon, Castelo de São Jorge, mid-11th-century hilltop fortifications sneak into almost every Instagram shot. Wander through its tortuous ramparts and pine-shaded courtyards for impressive views over the city’s red rooftops to the river. Three guided tours are offered daily between 10.30am, 1 pm and 4 pm (included in the admission price).
The perfect location to wind down just off the castle walls, Café da Garagem (Rua da Costa do Castelo, 75) is a hidden gem for its spectacular views over the western parts of Lisbon. The hilly landscape is reflected on the huge interior window. Many people from Lisbon come here to study or work and unwind with a glass of local wine. The restaurant serves good salads, and excellent cheese and sausage boards.
Creative Hub and avant-garde art at LX Factory
For a dose of cutting-edge creativity, head to LF Factory, a former manufacturing district transformed into Lisbon’s new hip adults and family playground dotted with trendy eateries, galleries, hip shops and boutiques. The birth of this new creative island began in 1846, on the ruins of a gigantic abandoned industrial site when a threads and fabrics company called “Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense” moved to Alcântara, a quarter located on the way to Belém. During the golden industrial age, other companies followed and moved to the 23.000 m2 industrial site. Abandoned until recently, its metamorphosis started with the Expo 98, then with the birth of LX Factory in 2008. A creative village which is home to new start-ups, design companies, alternative galleries and emerging artist’s studios. The place is decorated with huge, colorful graffiti-style murals on the exterior walls. Wander around this creative village to discover hipster shops, watch performing art, attend fashion events or simply eat at one of the small restaurants with lovely terraces. Weekend nights see parties with a dance- and art-loving crowd
Recommended shops & restaurants at LX Factory: Landeau chocolate, Remind to Smile shop, Kare Design, Barber Factory, Tacho restaurant, Sagres, Duro shop, Da Praca
Village Underground Lisbon a derelict bus and tramway depot transformed into art installations and co-working space
After a season in London, Mariana Duarte Silva came back to Portugal, bringing with her the ideas about creating a Village Underground in Lisbon with the support of the railway company Carris and the Lisbon City Hall. The Carris Museum is composed of fourteen maritime containers and two disabled buses. Village Underground Lisbon is a co-working space for creative activities, as well as a venue for cultural events. Each container or bus can be shared by five people and there are 60 available co-working spaces. Prices vary between 150 and 200 Euros per person per month for unfurnished space and include internet, electricity and air conditioning. Foreigners can rent by the hour, starting at 30€.
Start-ups and creatives alike have already called it their new home: Channel 180, Vice magazine, the musicians “Macacos do Chinês”, lawyers, writers, architecture studio LIKEarchitects, the studio of Gustavo Rodrigues, Sal and Buzico (theater).
Food tips: Don’t forget to try some of the most popular local specialties:
Sardinhas grelhadas: grilled sardines are one of Portugal’s most beloved dishes. They’re the symbol of Festas de Lisboa month-long party held yearly in June.
Bacalhau: they say Portuguese have 365 ways of cooking bacalhau (cod) one for each day of the year. Bacalhau com Natas (with cream), Bacalhau à Brás (with fries and scrambled egg) are the most popular choices, but you’re on to a memorable meal with anything on the menu.
Caldo Verde: a kale soup with slices of chorizo.
Pastel de nata: the iconic egg custard tarts. They’re easily available in all pastry shops and best accompanied by a bica (café).
For more information, visit Turismo de Portugal