Lisbon: City of Rugged Charm

"Paris and Venice, Eat Your Heart out. Lisbon is the World's Most Romantic City."

Illustration map of Lisbon (by Jessica Smith)

Escape travel

by Kash Bhattacharya

 

Walking through the city’s travessas and catching the strains of fado at every corner, I never stop admiring the beauty of the buildings that have withstood the city’s countless invasions and earthquakes. Lisbon is like a journey back in time. It is a city to fall in love with again and again.

 

Sardines are a Lisbon specialty. Usually they are being grilled and served with either bread or potatoes. (Illustration: Jessica Smith)

 

WHERE TO EAT

 

Walking up and down Lisbon’s narrow travessas requires a lot of energy, so I often stop to refuel at one of the city’s many pastelarias, enjoying the guilty pleasure Lisboetas take most pride in. The Pasteis de Nata is a cinnamon-flavored custard tart, that is customarily washed down with bica, a powerful espresso.

You can find the best Pasteis de Nata in the suburb of Belém, where Vasco da Gama set sail for the New World. Antiga Confeitaria de Belém has been baking the delicious treats since 1837, following an ancient recipe that’s still a highly guarded secret. For a taste of Portuguese cuisine, venture to the Alvalade neighborhood, home of the Portuguese punk movement. Pay a visit to Adega da Bairrada, a locals-only restaurant, and try the classic bacalhau (cod) and cozido à portuguesa, a stew slow cooked to perfection. You can find a variety of meat-based specialties at O Carteiro, such as arroz de cabide- la—chicken (or rabbit) cooked in its own blood and served with rice. Some Portuguese dishes are not for the faint-hearted.

 


»For a taste of Portuguese cuisine, venture to the Alvalade neighborhood, home of the Portuguese punk movement. Pay a visit to Adega da Bairrada, a locals-only restaurant, and try the classic bacalhau (cod) and cozido à portuguesa, a stew slow cooked to perfection.«

 

For a modern take on Portuguese cuisine, check out Time Out Lisboa, which brings together some of the city’s best restaurants under one roof. I love popping into Trincas, sister restaurant of the wonderful Decadente at The Independente Hostel&Suites. Trincas specializes in Portuguese petiscos (sharing dishes); my favorite is the octopus rice. For more petiscos, don’t miss A Maria Não Deixa, near the famous Bica funicular. Get Santini’s excellent gelato for dessert.

 

WHERE TO DRINK

 

The Portuguese are quite particular when it comes to drinking. There’s drinking at meals, at the beach, and at parties, but they don’t do after-work sessions that well and don’t plan drinks without a purpose. Fox Trot is an exception to the norm. The owner, Mr. Joaquim, bought the place from his former boss after 20 years bartending. It has a much sought-after pool table and a lovely beer garden.

 


»Grab a beer from a local supermarket and watch the beautiful sunset by the Tagus River. The place has a great atmosphere and you can listen to the street musicians' funky tunes.«

 

Red Frog Speakeasy, located on the stylish Avenida da Liberdade, might be the best cocktail bar in town. Reminiscent of a 1920s prohibition bar, this speakeasy is hidden behind a closed door with no signage. Ring the bell to enter. The drinks are on the pricier side, but it is a cool experience and the cocktails are very nice. If you like a drink with a view, head to Miradouro de Santa Catarina.

Grab a beer from a local supermarket and watch the beautiful sunset by the Tagus River. The place has a great atmosphere and you can listen to the street musicians' funky tunes. Park Restaurant and Bar is another quirky choice for sunset drinks. It's a rooftop parking lot converted into a hip rooftop-terrace bar.

 

WHERE TO PARTY

 

Contenders come and go, but true icons are timeless. In Lisbon it is Lux, which has superbly curated music and decor that bares the soul of its founder Manuel Reis. One way or another, you’ll wind up there.

Another favorite is the hip Cais do Sodré, also known as Pink Street, a nod to its former guise as Lisbon’s red-light district. What used to be a seedy area has now been transformed into one of the city’s biggest party hotspots. Musicbox is also a popular choice, hosting both Portuguese and international artists. If you’re a hip-hop fan, check out Copenhagen, or Titanic Sur Mer for jazz and live music.

 

GOING FOR A WALK

 

I take great joy in wandering the streets of Alfama, capturing snapshots of local life, such as elderly women gossiping from windows. Bairro da Mourraria is one of the city's most multicultural neighborhoods and another fascinating place to stroll.

Illustration of a typical tram in Lisbon (Jessica Smith)
The Lisbon Tram has been operated since 1837. First, it was pulled by horses. From 1901 on, trains started being operated with electricity. (Illustration: Jessica Smith)

 

GETTING AROUND TOWN

 

I love watching the world go by from the backseat of the Tram—riding it is one of life’s greatest adventures. It seems to have become victim to Lisbon’s rising popularity, so take a ride early in the morning to beat the crowds, and watch out for pickpockets.

 

THE BEST PLACE TO RELAX

 

The Atlantic coastline is only 20 minutes from Lisbon. When the weekend comes, locals head out to popular Costa da Caparica and hang out with friends at bars Cabana do Pescador or Borda D’Água. If the weather doesn’t allow for sand and sea, then having a relaxing picnic at Jardim da Estrela is a pleasant alternative.

 

BEST VIEWPOINT

 

Lisbon is stretched across seven hills and offers many vantage points,
or miradouros. Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara, opposite The Independente Hostel & Suites, has spectacular panoramic views. Or head to The Insólito, a quirky rooftop restaurant, for an even more epic view.

Miradouro Monsanto has a restaurant that has been abandoned since 2001. It used to be visited only by curious people or street artists, but in September 2017 became an official viewpoint of the city.

 

SECRET PLACES

 

Lisbon is mysterious, but it lends itself to being discovered. I recommend jumping on a boat to Cova do Vapor, an authentic fisherman’s outpost with a unique beach. Your senses will be seduced by the taste of fresh fish washed down with Vinho Verde. Top it off with a dive in the cold water and a nap under the warm sun.

Village Underground is another secret spot, right next to LxFactory. Enjoy a drink in the café located in an intriguing architectural structure with stacked shipping containers and double-decker buses. This place is home to a new creative community—and perfectly Instagrammable.

Kash Bhattarcharya was awarded National Geographic Traveller Blogger of the Year in 2016. The journalist also known as TheBudgetTraveller has revolutionized travel for stylesavvy and budget-conscious travelers. Bhattarcharya is co-editor of The Grand Hostels Luxury Hostels of the World. Browse the The Grand Hostels and get inspired for your next trip around the world!

This feature is an exclusive preview from  The Grand Hostels – Luxury Hostels of the World.


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