There may be no city more perfectly poised for a tourist explosion than Lisbon. It’s the oldest city in Western Europe — hundreds of years older than London, Paris, and Rome — but somehow it still feels like a secret. And even though it’s a city rich in history, Lisbon is in no way stuck in the past. Interesting shops and restaurants abound, and there’s something new and fascinating around each tile-covered corner.
The weather is gorgeous, the food is fantastic, and every night is a party on the streets of Bairro Alto. If you’re looking for a new pocket of Europe to discover, this is it.
Where to Stay
When deciding on a neighborhood in Lisbon, it’s important to take the city’s hills into account. A standard map won’t show you which streets will leave you huffing and puffing to your door, so it can be difficult to know what you’re getting yourself into. Chiado is one of the flattest neighborhoods in town, and its location right in the city center makes it the perfect starting point for a day’s adventures.
If you’re torn between renting an apartment or staying in a hotel, a serviced apartment can be a great choice. Sweet Inn is a company that runs beautiful, modern apartments throughout the city, and each offers many of the amenities and conveniences traditionally associated with a hotel. You can even opt for a local smartphone as part of your reservation!
What to Buy
Portugal may be famous for cork, but Lisbon is the cute packaging capital of Europe. Shops are brimming with brightly-colored, retro-style tubes of hand lotion, bars of sweetly-scented soap, and tins of sardines. A Vida Portuguesa is a beautifully-curated little jewel of a store tucked down a side street, with tall, glimmering displays of beauty products and wide tables stacked with soft, colorful textiles and all manner of drool-worthy home goods. If you only go to one shop while in Lisbon, make it this one.
But if you can manage to tear yourself away from A Vida Portuguesa, make your way just down the street to Loja da Burel, a factory shop offering accessories made with thick, colorful wool from the Serra da Estrela mountains. For something a little different and deeply charming, visit Luvaria Ulisses, an old-fashioned boutique that sells beautifully-crafted gloves. Everything about the store harkens to another, more glamorous time, and a visit is guaranteed to make you feel like Rose preparing to board the Titanic (sans Cal and impending iceberg).
Interesting shops and restaurants abound, and there’s something new and fascinating around each tile-covered corner.
What to Eat
Fresh fish abounds in Lisbon, and they put it to good use. Try a traditional Portuguese plate of fish with potatoes, or go exotic and try their take on sushi. There are lots of new, interesting restaurants serving more modern dishes, and if you’re homesick and craving a burger (we won’t tell), there are plenty of really great options.
Portugal is famous for its little custard tarts — pasteis de nata — and they’re delicious and everywhere. But what you must, must, MUST try is Pão de Deus, “Bread of God.” This fluffy, moist, lightly sweet loaf with a layer of coconut on top will leave you with heart eyes and Fado music ringing in your ears. Try it on its own, or sliced open with a slab of ham and cheese inside like the locals do.
What to Do
Lisbon is packed with things to see — from the São Jorge Castle on one side to the Golden Gate’s little brother, the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, on the other. The best way to see it all and everything in between is on a sidecar tour. Yep, strap on your head scarf. Sidecar Touring will pick you up at your apartment in a vintage motorcycle, tuck you into your vintage sidecar, and zip you through the city. Not only is it incredibly fun, but it’s a great way to get acquainted with the city and all its neighborhoods.
After you’ve learned some history and gotten the lay of the land, it’s time to go out adventuring. On the west side of the city is LX Factory, a former factory space turned into a cool outdoor shopping area. There are vintage stores, great restaurants, and trendy little cafes and sweet shops — perfect for a long, hungry stroll.
Later, clamber onto a cable car and ride up to Igreja da Graça. There’s a little cafe on the terrace where you can sit with a glass of something cool, listen to the guitar player strumming on the steps of the church, and take in the best view in the city.
Have you been to Lisbon?
Images via Jessica Doehle