3 Lisbon Insiders Share Tips on What to Do in the Portuguese Capital
From secret walks to artworks, here’s where to find the best that the city has to offer
Lisbon, which is a center of commerce, entertainment and arts, is the oldest city in Western Europe. The 4 million tourists who visit annually are attracted by its global vibe, its history and its beaches. The city’s art is underfoot (the streets are paved with intricate mosaics called calcada portuguesa) and up above (the buildings are illustrated with murals made of azulejo tiles).
From sightseeing to sampling the latest cuisine, Lisbon’s mayor, a star chef and a top concierge share what they love about the ancient city built on seven hills.
Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina was born in Porto, the second largest city in the country. An economist and politician, he has been in office since 2015.
What he loves:
“I enjoy watching the awakening of the city. You can get up at dawn and have a hot cocoa near the Ribeira area, next to the Tagus River. Along the banks of the river, there are esplanades, cycle tracks and open-air gym circuits. In the historic districts of Mouraria, Alfama or Bairro Alto, you can find cafés and restaurants where you can listen to Fado Vadio—the Fado genre in which amateur singers spontaneously sing the world heritage song between a coffee or a beer.”
“The “path of the East”—a section of riverside territory that goes from the Beato borough, passes through the Marvila neighborhood and is bordered by the borough of Parque das Nações—is a hidden treasure. It’s a diamond in the rough. The area, a pillar of Lisbon’s economic base from the early 1900s, still has small factories and workshops. True examples of industrial archeology, these obsolete old factories are, little by little, gaining a new dynamic. The two artisanal beer factories and emerging restaurants are attracting Lisboners and foreign foodies. The Beato Creative Hub, where several technological start-ups, multinationals and other companies in the areas of innovation, research and creativity will work, is not to be skipped.”
Chef Jose Avillez revamped Lisbon’s Belcanto in 2012, turning it into a two-Michelin-star restaurant that was named one of the best by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. He added to that success with Beco, Mini Bar, Bairro do Avillez, Cantinho do Avillez, Café Lisboa and Pizzaria Lisboa, all of which are in Lisbon. Mr. Avillez grew up in Cascais, 19 miles west of Lisbon, near the ocean and a pine forest.
What he loves:
“The best way to see and enjoy Lisbon is to walk around. My favorite neighborhood is Chiado. It’s very beautiful, charming and vibrant and where I have most of my restaurants. It is a traditional shopping area that mixes old and modern shops. It is also an important cultural area, with several interesting museums and fantastic theaters. From here, you can easily go to Baixa, to the Castle of São Jorge, to Bairro Alto or to Príncipe Real. If you’ve still got some time left, you can go to Belém. I also love to take a ride on the famous Tram 28, which offers an unforgettable trip around old Lisbon. But be vigilant of pickpockets, who are usually disguised as tourists.
“At the end of the day, I love to relax at a Lisbon café terrace and enjoy the amazing views. Belvedere of San Pedro de Alcântara, which has a fountain, is a great option. Because Lisbon is such a small city, I don’t know if there are many food secrets, but I love going to Manteigaria Silva. It has been in business since 1890, and it’s one of Lisbon’s traditional retail treasures.
“After seeing a play at the theater, I love to stop at Gambrinus restaurant, sit at the counter and have some late-night snacks. I also ask for the veal croquettes.”
“For sightseeing, there’s the magnificent garden at the Fronteira Palace in Benfica near the zoo. The 5.5 hectares were inspired by the great architecture of Italian gardens. Cardaes Convent near Príncipoe Real is one of the most original 17th-century baroque convents. The artwork—paintings, tiles and marble—is set in a rich baroque and rococo interior. The House-Museum Medeiros e Almeida has an important decorative arts collection. And Estufa Fria/Lisboa Greenhouse at Parque Eduardo VII near Marquês de Pombal is a pleasant green space, where you get a sense of tranquillity and well-being while seeing hundreds of different plant specimens from all over the world.
“There’s the Pilar 7 Bridge Experience, which allows you to discover the 25 de Abril Bridge in a unique way—there’s a trip in a panoramic lift up to a deck, where you will get an amazing view of the city.
“For an elegant and majestic show, go to the Equestrian Art at Picadeiro Henrique Calado at Calçada da Ajuda, where horses and riders perform challenging exercises and choreographed routines to music every week.
“When you’re finished, head to the Park Lounge Bar, which is in an unexpected location: It’s right on top of Calcada do Combro’s parking lot in Bairro Alto. It’s on the seventh floor and offers a scenic view that you can enjoy while sipping a cocktail.”
Patricia Coutinho, the longtime concierge of the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, was born in the fishing town of Nazaré, about two hours north of Lisbon, where Garrett McNamara broke the world record for the largest wave ever surfed.
What she loves:
“The unique light. The city is by the river and with the seven hills, the pastel-colored facades of buildings, the azulejos (Portuguese tiles) and cobblestones, the light reflects everywhere.
“I’m a real foodie, and Lisbon’s gastronomic scene is exploding. The fish is the best in the world. You’ll find the city’s best tacos and margaritas at Pistola y Corazon.
“Vicente by Carnalentejana, a former coal warehouse, is a restaurant specializing in meat from Portugal’s Alentejo region.
“As far as things to see, there’s a sunset boat tour on the Tagus River. Walking down the little, narrow streets of Alfama, the oldest district in the city, is an adventure.”
“The street art in Lisbon is unique. One of my favorite pieces is the gigantic wall in Alcantra next to the LX Factory. Another highlight is the Fado piece in Calçada Portuguesa (Portuguese Cobblestone). You can see all the large-scale murals by taking the hotel’s four-hour tour that is held in conjunction with Underdogs while riding in a vintage sidecar with a driver.”