Why you should visit Lisbon?
From the cheerful yellow trams climbing up the city’s famous hills to the colorful white and blue Azulejo tiles adorning churches, palaces, and even subway stations, Lisbon is an aesthetic city no matter where you look.
Lisbon’s geographic position on the map means pleasant summers and mild winters, while its topography offers nothing short of spectacular views. From the ground, stroll along the photogenic Cais das Colunas, or climb up to the city’s highest peak, Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, for a great vantage point.
Gastronomy, of course, races through the blood of Lisbon’s locals. Seafood reigns supreme, whether it’s trying the freshly caught fish of the day, a can of sardines (which are a national icon in Portugal), or bacalhau (salted cod). Of course, we can’t forget about Bifanas (pork sandwiches), cozido à Portuguesa (rustic beans and meat stew), or especially the sweet yellow dessert that is known as pastéis de nata.
Lisbon is a feast for the eyes, stomach, and soul, because no matter where you go, you will be charmed by beautiful views, delicious delicacies, and unforgettable experiences.
What to Do & See in Lisbon
From hipster Príncipe Real to historical Alfama, Lisbon is just waiting to be explored. Get a head start with our recommendations:
1. Enthralling Lisbon districts: Lisbon’s urban architecture reveals itself as charming and full of life. There are so many neighborhoods just waiting to be delved in. We recommend starting in the Príncipe Real (Royal Prince) district, which is filled with lush gardens and colorful 19th century mansions. It has an excellent selection of boutique stores (perfect for souvenir shopping) and a delightfully photogenic kiosk called Quiosque do Refresco. Longing the avenue you will enter Chiado, a chic neighborhood full of cute upscale little shops where you can stop at the iconic Café Brasileira for an excellent cup of coffee. Bairro Alto – popularly known as “bairro” – is a lively district, not quite by night, but with a wide offer of bars, restaurants and music. Further south is the central district of Baixa, a relatively flat area with grand buildings, sprawling squares, and the famous Elevador Santa Justa. Alfama is fascinating, considered the fado’s birthplace, and Last but not least, Belém is home to several famous landmarks like Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery), Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), Museu Coleção Berardo, and the MAAT (contemporary art museum). Of course, we can’t forget about Pastéis de Belém, the pastry shop that makes the pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tart)!
2. Dona Maria II National Theatre is a majestic Neoclassical building in Rossio Square, founded in 1846. It might not have a spot on the typical ‘Top 10 Things to do in Lisbon’ blog posts, but it’s worth a visit for those interested in a more in-depth understanding of Lisbon’s history. Please contact us if you’d like a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about this historical masterpiece.
3. Ribeira Market — Even if it has been turned into a touristy place and a meeting point for haut de gamme chefs to display more affordable options, the Ribeira Market has nicely preserved the old food market atmosphere where vendors sell daily fresh food. Not to miss are the fish stalls, which are better visited from Thursday to Saturday for the abundance of fish for sale. However, please note that some stalls might be closed on their weekly day off.
4. Arts: There are four main art spaces in the city. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum: from the Mesopotamians to the Impressionists and from old coins to European painting, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon covers an impressive range of periods and areas. It also hosts a beautiful garden that is a prime example of Portuguese landscape architecture. The National Museum of Ancient Art (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Portuguese, MNAA) in Lisbon is considered to be among one of the most important art museums in Europe. Works in the museum span a period from the 12th to 19th centuries, and are remarkable in their creativity as they are in their record of time. Altogether, the collection reflects the history, culture, and role played by Portugal in the world during those eight centuries. For contemporary art lovers, the Centro de Arte Moderno by Gulbenkian Foundation is part of the marvelous Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; this Centre for Modern Art exhibits a permanent collection of Portuguese and international art, including works by Lourdes Castro, Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, Paula Rego, and David Hockney. The gardens around the museum are an oasis of peace in the city. Finally, the Berardo Museum. Throughout the years, controversial businessman Joe Berardo built up an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art and stored it at the Centro Cultural de Belém. The Museu Berardo is housed in the CCB. The Berardo Museum displays works by Joana Vasconcelos, Miro, Warhol, Picasso, Schnabel, and Basquiat, and has regular and noteworthy temporary exhibits.
5. Arrábida –– At a mere 18.6 miles from Lisbon, the Natural Park Sierra de Arrábida is formed by a group of mountains attached to the sea that extend from Setúbal to Cape Espichel. When the tide is at its lowest point, all of the beaches bordering each cape can be conquered on foot, from Galapos to Portinho. Don’t forget: the water in Portugal is cold, and much colder compared to those of the Mediterranean Sea! When making your way to Arrábida, it is essential that you drive along the N379-1. From the top of the mountains, the views of the beaches of Arrábida, the Sado estuary, and the Troia peninsula are spectacular. In addition, a community of dolphins resides permanently in the Sado Estuary, while in the Moinho da Maré da Mourisca, more than 200 types of birds can be observed. Nature in its purest form. And, of course, great food and wine await too!
6. The Portuguese royal family became fond of spending the summer in Cascáis in 1870, and if such an exalted group spent the entire season in town, then it must be good, right? This long and noble tradition has made Cascáis a succession of palaces, mansions, and castles that seem to have come from a dream on the seashore. However, nowadays this charming town is rather touristy, with an extensive pedestrian area and easily accessible beaches. A must when visiting: grab a scoop at Gelados Santini, for arguably the best ice cream in Portugal!
7. Almada – Hardly a well-known area, the city of Almada can be found right on the opposite bank of the Tagus River and is connected with Lisbon by the famous 25th of April Bridge. Although it’s not for everyone, Almada handsomely rewards those who really want to explore the lesser known corners of Lisbon. One of those rewards is the gorgeous view of Lisbon, which can be found near the old part of town higher up in the city. On a sunny day, it’s a perfect plan to have lunch at Atira-te ao Rio, a lovely restaurant-café set on a spacious deck. Best of all, it’s easy to find: its yellow chairs are unmistakable. The café specializes in very simple yet absolutely delicious food that’s of utmost quality, and the fish is maravilhosa! If you can stay until sunset, don’t hesitate. If you like contemporary art and are ready for a little climbing, you can enjoy a tour and a lovely coffee with views at La Casa de la Cerca, located in the historic center of the city of Almada at the top of the cliff.
Food & Wine in Lisbon
Gastronomy and viticulture are at the center of Lisbon’s social life, with thousands of cafes, wine bars, and restaurants waiting for you.
✧ FOODS NOT TO MISS
Whether it’s grabbing a quick bite at a bakery, pastry shop, or café, or perhaps lounging around atop an outdoor terrace, or even enjoying local food with good friends in a small tavern or high-end restaurant… there is an option for every moment.
- Bacalhau à Brás – One of the most famous Portuguese dishes, cod fish “Brás style” can be found gracing menus across the entire country. A multipurpose dish that can be served for lunch, dinner, or even brunch, Bacalhau à Brás is truly the jack of all trades in Portuguese cuisine. The most common version combines salt cod, eggs, and potatoes, and is topped with olives.
- Bife a Marrare is a steak served with a cream-based garlic rich sauce that was originally created more than 200 years ago in a small Lisbon café called Marrare das Sete Portas.
- Ovos verdes: Named ‘Green eggs’ after the parsley used for the filling, these are eggs that are stuffed and breaded. Similar to a deep-fried deviled egg, ovos verdes are a popular snack across Portugal.
- Iscas are thin strips of liver marinated in wine, vinegar, and spices, and fried. According to Albino Forjaz de Sampaio (1884-1949) in his book Volupia – The Ninth Art: Gastronomy, it was a common dish in 19th and early 20th century Lisbon.
- Pastéis de Nata is the dessert of choice when traversing through the city. With a soft custard center and crunchy outside, the Pastéis de Nata is usually sprinkled with cinnamon. Originally created by Catholic monks at the Hieronymites Monastery in Lisbon, the desserts were created by using leftover egg yolks , while the egg whites were used to starch the friars and nuns’ religious habits. In the 1830s, the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to confectioners who opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. Only them can use the name Pastéis de Belém: the descendants own the business to this day, and the recipe remains a closely guarded secret.
- Coffee in Portugal is a fiercely protected tradition, and café culture runs deep. Similar to Aperitivo hour in Spain or Italy, going out for coffee is often used as an excuse to catch up with friends and family. The quality of coffee is outstanding.
- Wine bars in Portugal are a big thing, and Lisbon has some delightful spots where either wine by the glass or by the bottle are ready to be served, and often in company of great petiscos. The small portions can vary from cold meats and cheese platters to intricate local specialties. If we plan your trip, we’ll be sure to share some of our favorite addresses with you.
✧ WINES REGIONS AROUND
There are many wines in Central Portugal, thanks to its coastal location and dozens of DOCs (Denominação de Origem Controlada).
- Lisboa – Besides being rich in monuments and history, Lisboa also offers an excellent and easily accessible wine culture. The City of Seven hills is surrounded by award-winning wineries that cater to all tastes and palates.
- Peninsula de Setúbal – This region has a heritage of viticulture that spans thousands of years. In fact, grape seeds were found in the peninsula that date back to 8th century BC! Likewise, the region is famous for its dessert wines, made of the Moscatel and Moscatel Roxo varities, and comprise of one of the oldest and most famous wines in the world. Muscat of Setúbal is a fortified wine of fantastic quality and taste thanks to being aged in oak barrels.
Where to Stay in Lisbon?
Top: The Lumiares Hotel & Spa | Bottom left: Indoor pool at Four Seasons Lisbon | Bottom right: Hotel Valverde Lisboa
Valverde Hotel is among our favorites, an elegant five star boutique hotel that recently joined Relais et Châteaux club. Located in Avenida Liberdade, the most notable and grandest area of Lisbon, Valverde can only be described as a harmonious mix between London and New York townhouses. Classic and elegant yet never stuffy, the modern furniture, works of art, and personalized service give it that certain je ne sais quoi of discreet luxury.
Of course, Four Seasons Lisbon is a classical yet excellent choice. Built in the 1950’s, then-prime minister António de Oliveira Salazar wanted the capital of Portugal to have a hotel that was worthy enough for diplomats and important foreign visitors. Noted as “Lisbon’s most iconic address,” the Four Seasons Lisbon can be considered as a destination in itself: it doubles as a ‘living museum’ thanks to the large number of contemporary works of art in the hotel, as well as the perfect spot to enjoy a lavish brunch overlooking Eduardo VII Park at Varanda Restaurant.
For private apartments seekers, we have plenty of fantastic options at your disposal. For example, the fully-equipped, serviced suites at The Lumiares Hotel & Spa in bohemian Bairro Alto is a great option. With 47 individual rooms spread across 5 floors, as well as 2 on-site restaurants, a spa/sauna, and gym room, The Lumiares is truly “designed to feel like a 5-star home away from home.” Our personal favorite? Well, let’s just say that you won’t want to leave its rooftop terrace!
Looking for the perfect accommodation in Lisbon? Paladar y Tomar will find the accommodation that best suits your personality and needs – please contact us for more information.