Hailed as one of Europe’s coolest hidden gems, Lisbon has a lot to adore. It’s the perfect port city: rich in history and unique shops; with great wine, wonderful food and plenty of culture to boot – what’s not to love?
Whether you’re a foodie, culture vulture or shopping enthusiast, our insider’s guide to the beautiful capital city of Portugal ticks all the must-see boxes.
If Portugal were to name a national sandwich, it would be the bifana. Filled with slow-cooked, thinly-sliced pork marinated in garlic, butter, spices and white wine; the humble bifana is all part of the Lisbon experience.
“You have to eat a bifana if you come to Lisbon,” says Lisbon resident Alexandre Cotovio on Spotted By Locals. He points to Bifanas do Caldas, a tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery in Rua da Madalena. “Forget about going to a fancy restaurant; this, like many other spots serving bifanas, is just a little shop with a balcony and no tables.”
If you’re hankering to get your gastronomic fix, the woman in the know is foodie expert Célia Pedroso. Her Eat Portugal Food Tours allow you to explore Lisbon’s culinary surprises: seafood, Portuguese tapas, custard tarts, traditional cherry brandy (ginjinha) and port tasting are all on the menu.
Wine lovers will love By The Wine – the flagship store of famed Portuguese vintner José Maria da Fonseca on Rua das Flores, near Chiado. Wines by the glass and Portuguese gastronomy are served up in a traditional wine cellar ambiance – Salt Of Portugal calls it the ‘coolest bar in Lisbon’.
If you prefer your drinks with a little jazz, Lisbon is home to one of Europe’s oldest jazz bars, Hot Club Portugal. It now sits in Praça da Alegria after a fire destroyed the previous building in 2009.
Close by is another historic building where you can spend the night in luxury – the charming Hotel Lisboa Plaza, just a two minute walk from the bar.
Lisbon-born Nuno Lopes de Paula from Spotted By Locals recommends Grogg, an intimate pub located in the Alvalade quarter. Hidden behind tall buildings, it’s easily missed by tourists. If you’re not in the mood for a pint, go for the gooseberry milkshake and a fresh toastie.
If it’s unique boutiques you’re looking for, Lisbon delivers.
The Chiado district alone is home to A Vida Portuguesa; a treasure trove in an old fabric merchant’s warehouse which sells whimsical goods from a range of Portuguese heritage brands. Then there’s the old world charm of Luvaria Ulisses, whose leather gloves have adorned royalty.
Beauty aficionados will love Skinlife, a unique and exclusive collection of perfumes, makeup, skin and hair products in the heart of Chiado.
“The service is perfect and they really help you pick something special and unique.” says Lisbonite Erik Lassche from Spotted By Locals. “With their help I even passed the ‘mother-in-law test’ and managed to offer my wife’s mother something special for Christmas.”
The Amoreiras Towers caused quite a controversy among locals when the postmodern skyscrapers were first mooted to soar above the historic city. Today though, the shopping centre is very much integral to Lisbon’s skyline.
This year, it will offer a treat beyond shopping, opening its rooftop for visitors for the first time, offering 360 degree views over Lisbon.
“The landscape is really amazing and the feeling is that you have Lisbon (and slightly beyond) literally at your feet, ” Portuguese lifestyle and culture magazine New In Town reports.
An entire floor of the National Museum of Ancient Art is currently closed. It will, however, be reopening in May with around 200 new Portuguese works, rarely seen before.
Temporary exhibitions to check out this year include the Masaveu Collection, a set of 60 works from great Spanish masters (El Greco, Goya and Sorolla to name a few) and the stunning View of Via di Ripetta in Rome by Italian urban landscape painter Bernardo Bellotto.
One thing the tourist guides don’t tell you is that just next door to the legendary museum is an 18th century palace which doubles as a small charming boutique hotel. Book a night at As Janelas Verdes to properly savour its gentle, romantic atmosphere.
As Janelas Verdes
Once the largest church in the capital, the Carmo Convent was left devastated in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The roofless nave is now open to the sky and the main altar is an archaeological museum.
Sandra, founder of the cultural travel blog Tripper and writer of two Lisbon travel guides, says Lisbon ‘adopted’ her seventeen years ago. One of her favourite places in the city is the romantic gothic ruins – she advises to watch out for the ‘Carmo Cat’; the monument’s resident feline, on your visit.