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An Insider's Guide to Lisbon

Dessie Nedyalkova

13 September 2017

Time to Read

6 minute read

A hilly, coastal capital famous for its colourful tiles, postcard-perfect panoramic views, cobbled alleyways and UNESCO listed sites, we’re sure you’ve already planned plenty to see in Lisbon. Yet if you want to get off the beaten path, or you’re returning to this iconic holiday destination and looking for new ways to see the city, look no further! Here is our insider’s guide to the picturesque Portuguese capital:

Pratos do Dia

Come lunchtime, the Portuguese capital’s restaurants fill up with tourists and locals alike, in search of a freshly-prepared meal. Look out for handwritten notes posted out front many traditional Portuguese restaurants, inviting hungry passers-by for the Pratos do Dia (plates of the day). This daily menu usually consists of fresh fish, hauled in that morning, accompanied by potatoes, vegetables or a salad. Don’t be afraid to ask for the vinho de casa either, as Portuguese house wine is locally sourced and is the drink of choice for many locals at lunchtime!  

Bairro Alto vs Chiado

Two equally beautiful districts of the city, Bairro Alto and Chiado are closely related, though have a completely distinct feel. Fashionable, stylish Chiado is packed full of shopping opportunities, theatres, historic monuments and quirky cafes and restaurants. This is certainly the place to find yourself in during the day, when the district buzzes with everyday activity and life. However, when the sun starts to set over the narrow streets and wide boulevards of the Portuguese capital, sweep over to Bairro Alto, where the real fun begins! Many smalls bars and restaurants remain open late into the night, with crowds spilling out front into the cobbled streets of this neighbourhood, sipping on caipirinhas and Portuguese sangria, and enjoying some faro (traditional Portuguese music). Join them for a night to remember!

Belém

After you’ve ticked eating a pastel de nata with a strong coffee at Pasteis de Belem off your Lisbon to-do list, it’s time to venture to lesser known places! Marvel at the Moorish beauty and architectural splendour of the Jerónimos Monastery, another UNESCO Heritage Site and a fantastic  example of the Portuguese late Gothic style of architecture. The nearby Tower of Belém is certainly worth a visit too – make sure you climb all the way up the narrow winding staircase to the top of the tower for spectacular views over the Tagus river, and the rest of the Belem district.  If time permits, take a leisurely stroll (sorry, it’s uphill!) to the Palace of Ajuda – once designed and architectured to home the royal family following the 1735 earthquake and tsunami, now largely a museum and exhibition space where you can marvel at the opulent furnishings and interior design the Portuguese royals would have been accustomed to.   

Praça do Comércio 

 Standing proud on the banks of the Tagus river, this large open-plan plaza was rebuilt following the destruction of the former Parcos da Ribeira in the great earthquake Lisbon experienced in 1755. Named the ‘Square of Commerce’ once it re-opened, to illustrate Lisbon’s move towards a more commercial and economically strong future, the square was populated with official governmental buildings and the statue of King José I. On a sunny day, the majestic look and feel of the square is truly inspiring, and the steps down to the waterfront are an ideal place to feel the cool breeze blow over as you look beyond the twin pillars to sea. 

Views

A city built on undulating terrain on the banks of the great river Tagus in Lisbon, is bound to have some scenic lookouts from which to admire the city and surrounding views from above. Here are our top insider reccommendations on the best miradouros (lookout) spots of Lisbon:

  • 25 de Abril Bridge/Sanctuary of Christ the King  –  in the district of Almada stands the proud statue of Christ, which many will undoubtedly compare to its (almost) twin in Rio de Janeiro. This special lookout offers views over the iconic 25 de Abril bridge and Lisbon.
  • Castelo de São Jorge – the ancient fortifications of St George’s Castle offer stunning views over the entire city from its many terraces and battlements.
  • Portas do Sol – the view from this Alfama district lookout is perhaps the most famous one of Lisbon. Burnt red rooftops capping whitewashed houses and buildings, towers, domes and aged blocks descending towards the river make for a pretty picture, any time of the day.
  • Miradouro da Graça – offering views to the St George’s Castle and the 25 de Abril bridge, this miradouro is the perfect place to catch some shade and an afternoon snack or drink. 

Jardim Botanico

If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, and the heat and vibrancy of the city has gotten a little too much for you, there’s no place more perfect for a respite than at the Jardim Botanico. Tucked away from the public eye and barely visible from the surrounding streets of the Principe Real district, the botanical garden is a tranquil space packed out with tropical greenery to bring you back to nature in the heart of the city. Dense vegetation and exotic plants are gathered in this enchanting garden, with over 18,000 species waiting to be admired and explored. 

Get out of town

Though this is an insider’s guide to Lisbon, we’re going to break the rules enough to tell you of some great spots to explore within close proximity to the city. Sintra, a charming hillside town with a UNESCO Heritage Site listing, offers another take on Portuguese culture with its picturesque Pena Palace and surrounding natural attractions. The beaches of Cascais are a mere train ride away from Lisbon city centre, and the perfect place to take a break from the city, pitched up on a sun lounger with a cold cerveja! We recommend Estoril beach, with its inviting beachfront bars and restaurants, and the charming Forte da Cruz – a historical fort on the shores of Cascais bay. 

So there you have it: 7 ways to take on Lisbon like a local! All that stands between you and this glorious city is a flight…

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