Once a trading port city at the mouth of the Tagus river, Portugal’s Lisbon has grown (and to this day, still carries on growing) into a fantastically diverse hotspot, with plenty more tricks up its sleeve than its custard tarts. For a break brimming with vibrant colour, relaxing mornings and even more chilled-out nights, set your sights on this city, where living like a laid-back Lisbonite is both affordable and dangerously easy.
What to see and do
Seek out secret viewpoints
The popular panoramas from Amoreiras, the Elevador de Santa Justa and Miradouro das Portas do Sol may be iconic, but make it your mission to seek out the city’s lesser-known viewpoints for an even more marvellous landscape minus the usual crowds. Located in front of a pretty rose-hued palace, the Jardim das Necessidades offers up the best views of the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge; Miradouro da Senhora do Monte is another quiet spot, and one of the city’s highest and most enchanting come sunset; elsewhere, the layered views across the city, castle and river beyond are well worth the walk up to the top of Parque Eduardo VII.
Explore São Jorge Castle for a fill of Moorish history
Sat on a hilltop overlooking the city, this landmark is perhaps Lisbon’s most iconic and noticeable. Set in the heart of the historic centre, and surrounded by winding roads, the grounds of this 11th-century castle are also home to a Black Chamber room for 360-degree snapshots of the city, an archaeological exhibition area, a garden with native forest species, and the ruins of the former Royal Palace of the Alcáçova – and of course, the views are second-to-none. The walk up towards the castle is certainly rewarding if you’re looking for friendly watering holes, small alleyways filled with character, and photogenic tiled facades with which to fill your Instagram feed – but should the walk prove too steep, hop on board a tram for a sweat-free and no less scenic journey.
Ride an old tram through the enchanting Bairro Alto
Whether or not you’re walking Lisbon’s tourist path, you’ll likely wind up on Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, a steep stretch near Bairro Alto which a highly-photographed funicular has travelled up and down since the late 1800s. Hop onto this yellow tram for a chance to experience the city from a unique and old-school vantage point – to your left and right, catch glimpses of local life (from the rainbow-hued graffiti-clad buildings to the laundry hung out to dry from petite balconies), and look ahead to spot the glimmering river in the horizon.
Soak up the sardine craze
You may have already heard of Lisbon’s sardine obsession – and once there, you’ll soon realise the city’s affection for this slim fish knows no bounds. Visit in the summer (June being the usual time of year) to catch the fun-spirited Lisbon Sardine Festival, a religious event otherwise known as the Feast of St. Anthony. Stock up on tinned sardines from the quirky O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa and the Conserveira de Lisboa, or invest in a handful of colourful ceramic alternatives – the perfect souvenir with which to adorn your walls back home. Take a break from shopping or seafood-quaffing and make a beeline for the Rua dos Correeiros Archaeological Nucleus – a treat for history buffs, offering free and insightful underground tours of a former sardine factory (you’ll need to book your time slot in the building next door).
Discover the city’s tiles, tiles and more tiles
Without doubt one of its most distinctive features, Lisbon’s tiles are world-renowned and give the city its truly beautiful, signature appeal. Known locally as azulejos and loved for lining building facades with plentiful patterns and colours (Alfama is your go-to for brilliant displays of tiles and graffiti), they also form elaborate murals across historic landmarks and public sites: the Church and Convent of Madre de Deus showcases fine blue-and-white examples (this 16th-century structure also houses the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, established in the 1960s), while underground Metro stations, such as Oriente and Olaias, offer a visually-appealing, contemporary and artistic take.
Take a day trip further afield
While you’ll never tire of Lisbon’s high streets and tiny cobblestone alleyways, staying a little longer will give you time to explore a handful of unmissable day-trip destinations, located within easy reach by train. With its quaint town centre, toy-like Pena Palace, brilliant white National Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira (a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its Gothic architecture and surreal gardens), Sintra is a touristy yet fascinating chart-topper. During warmer months, Cascais is a fine option for those who’d prefer to do nothing more than flop onto soft sands and sun themselves silly. Wherever you choose, just remember to pre-book your train and admission tickets or arrive at the station with plenty of time to spare – Lisbon’s stations are small, ticket booths are usually scarce, and the queues are lengthy.
Where to eat and drink
For a tapas-style experience rich in Mediterranean character and flair, take a 15-minute stroll from Rossio Square to find this bright and bustling spot on Rua Dom Pedro V. Grab yourself a bright red stool at the vermouth bar (the first of its kind in Lisbon) or kick back in a booth, to enjoy a Portuguese-meets-Spanish menu by Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa and his team. Dishes are wide-ranging and include marinated salted cod with red onion pickle, Iberian charcuterie boards, squid ink paella, and coal-braised delicacies.
Couple a drink or three with those unforgettable vistas for which Lisbon is known, on a late afternoon-cum-evening jaunt to this hip, seventh-floor bar above a car park on Calçada do Combro. Warm, welcoming and informal, it serves up great drinks and snacks, views for as far as the eye can see towards the river and Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, and an entertaining events programme that ranges from DJ performances to outdoor film screenings.
Páteo at Bairro do Avillez
Simplicity meets sophistication at Chef José Avillez’s most stunning Lisbon outpost, where the foliage-filled, two-tiered interiors are truly sensational – and the varied menu of Portuguese fare is pretty impressive, too. Start your culinary journey off with Bulhão Pato clams, followed by Prawn Açorda or blue lobster on coals with Bairro’s special sauce. For something a little more low-key, try one of Avillez’s numerous other venues: Pizzaria Lisboa for a generously-sized take on the classic Italian pie, Taberna at Bairro do Avillez for rave-reviewed food in a market-style space, or Cantinho do Avillez for informal gastronomic dining amid colourful antiques.
Located in a corner building near São Jorge Castle, this restaurant will offer welcome respite on your steep uphill climb towards this historic landmark. Head here for the photogenic bruschetta platters, topped with spiced sausages, cheese, fish and fruit, and be sure not to leave without your fill of fantastic local wine. For those with bigger appetites, the traditional Portuguese seafood soup is a flavourful treat you’ll not want to miss. Nab yourself a spot on the small outdoor terrace on sunny days, or enjoy the warmth of the restaurant’s rustic indoor dining area.
Time Out Market’s food hall
If you’re a ravenous traveller who simply can’t settle on just one eatery (and why should you?), make for the Time Out Market’s food hall. Since its opening in 2014, it has been a hit amongst tourists and locals alike, who flock here for more than 40 stalls serving up the dreamiest of flavours – from messy burgers and ice-cold lagers, to expertly-mixed cocktails and refined fare by Michelin-starred names. Sample the freshest oysters at Marisqueira Azul, before sinking your teeth into traditional Portuguese snacks with a sophisticated twist at Balcão da Esquina – but leave enough room for the carefully curated cakes at Nós é mais Bolos, and don’t forget to grab a bag of Croqueteria’s much-loved croquettes for the road.
Casa dos Ovos Moles em Lisboa
For sweet pastries heightened to a whole new level, head straight to this hotspot’s two branches in either Estrela or Chiado – the former for a signature experience packed full of colour and kitsch fun, or the latter for a decidedly more rustic yet equally charming atmosphere. Line your stomach with their speciality, ovos moles – a 500-year-old Portuguese pastry born in convent kitchens back in the 16th century, and offering up a tasty slice of history today. You’ll find a huge variety of confections to choose from, including the conical tocha do monge and the cute, crescent-shaped pasteis de Santa Clara turnovers.
Quiosque Ribeira das Naus
Take the riverside stroll from Comércio Plaza towards the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, and you’ll come across this al fresco café-bar, offering loungers and a shaded seating area for a drinking experience that’s as relaxing as can be. Whether you’re stopping by for a quick drink or hanging around a little longer to catch the sunset across the river (a remarkable sight on warmer days), you’ll soon find yourself slipping back a few gears, as you soak up the chilled-out atmosphere and slow-sip a cold beer.
You won’t find any cooked dishes at this small and intimate restaurant, where Chef Tiago Feio uses his fiery wit rather than a stove to create a tasting menu of balanced and incredibly thoughtful regional dishes, made using locally-sourced ingredients. Set in a former bakery near São Jorge Castle, it provides an ultra-refreshing culinary thrill paired, but of course, with delicious wines and quality service – all traits which have earned it top TripAdvisor ratings and reviews.
A Taberna da Rua das Flores
Prepare yourself for a feast at this traditional taverna, where the dining area is so small and the reputation is so great that you’ll need to arrive early (and mostly likely queue) for a table. Convivial, buzzing and informal, it offers a set menu, presented by waiters to each table alongside recommended wine pairings – an attention to detail that’s showcased across the sharing dishes, too, each bursting with authentic Portuguese flavours, fresh ingredients and eye-catching presentation.
Where to shop
Based in Ribeiro da Cunha Palace, a beautiful and iconic 19th-century building, Embaixada is one of Lisbon’s most sought-after and popular shopping galleries. Find independent boutiques and artists selling high-end accessories, homeware and craftwork, and head to the open dining area on the ground floor to refuel after a spot of retail therapy. If you’re a lover of architecture and design, it’s worth paying this hotspot a visit simply to marvel at the intricate detailing across the palace’s doors, walls, pillars and ceilings.
Mercado da Ribeira
Forming one half of the expansive Time Out Market – the largest in Lisbon – this traditional spot is your go-to for long-standing stalls selling piles of fresh seafood, meat, fruit, vegetables and flowers. Head to this historic venue early, as the produce market opens from 6am until 2pm only. For edible treats from lunchtime until much later in the day, the adjacent food hall (reviewed above) provides plentiful chances to line your stomach with hearty food and drink.
History meets contemporary cool at this creative island and shopper’s haven, located on a sprawling, 23,000-square-metre industrial site. There’s a little something for everyone here, and the plethora of artist-run shops and eateries make the 20-minute train journey (or hour-long riverside walk, if you’re so inclined) worth it – whether you’re after your fill of fashion, music, fine art or finger-licking-good food. Stock up on wall art at Bairro Arte and realise your vintage homeware dreams at muitomuito, before sitting down for a bite to eat – we have a soft spot for LXeeseCake by Madame Cheeselova, where the coulis-topped cheesecake is melt-in-your-mouth spectacular.
No visit to Portugal would be complete without a taste of the local wine and port, and you’d be foolish not to want to take a few bottles of the country’s finest back home with you. Located on Rua de Santa Justa, just steps from the Elevador that offers magical vistas, Garrafeira Nacional is your go-to for a seemingly never-ending range of wines, ports, whiskies and more. The service is on point, too, with knowledgeable staff on hand to help you navigate the maze of options.
Feira da Ladra
Antiques obsessives and junk collectors should head to this gem of a gypsy flea market and stock up on all matter of trinkets, from books and ceramics to military objects and clothing. Hop on board Tram 28 to reach the market, which is spread across Alfama’s Campo de Santa Clara from dawn to dusk on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You’ve the National Pantheon just around the corner for an impressive spot of post-shopping sightseeing.
If you can’t get enough of the city’s incredible tiles, scattered across its building facades in a flurry of patterned colour, you could always opt to take some home with you. Head to this marvellous shop on Rua Dom Pedro V, to find genuine tiles, elegant furnishings and more gorgeous decorative pieces, spread out across its three floors. Classified by the New York Times as one of the 12 Treasures of Europe, this shop sells a wide range of tiles dating as far back as the 15th century – even history buffs will find their slice of heaven here, as each tile offers a unique display of ancient styles and traditions.