When I was curating my itinerary for Lisbon, of course I had to schedule in the city’s highlights like Time Out Market, the artsy LXFactory, the Games of Thrones vibes at Bélem Tower (if only to devour egg tarts at the nearby Pastéis de Belém) and dine at one of José Avillez’s many establishments. While I relished every moment of exploration and discovery, I found that my most cherished finds from the trip were less acclaimed which I’m aiming to rectify.
The goal of this post is not to provide the “ultimate” guide to Lisbon or “must-sees for a Lisbon first-timer” but to showcase my tried-and-true favourites; my personal treasure trove of gems excavated from Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, IRL.
No doubt you’ve come across the term miradouro while researching Portugal. No idea what it is? Roughly translated, it’s a viewpoint🔭 As Lisbon was built upon seven hills, these elevated terraces with resting spots and shade were established throughout the city.
Imagine wandering the winding maze of streets that suddenly give way to a panoramic vista of orange clay tiled roofs atop pastel-hued buildings that meet clear blue skies. So dreamy.
A favourite of mine was perched upon a hillside in the Graça neighbourhood – Miradouro da Senhora do Monte (“Our Lady of the Hill Viewpoint”) – while another fantastic vantage point was found at the bustling Portas do Sol in Alfama.
If you want a real feel for the culture and history of Lisbon, wander the steep cobblestoned streets of one of its oldest quarters – Alfama. You’ll get a real sense of community from this pocket of the city with its pots of flowers, whitewashed buildings and laundry hanging from wrought iron balconies.
Give your feet a break by lounging in an open-air Eco Tuk Tuk on a tour of this charming area. Guided along numerous large scale murals, I was particularly enamoured by the work of the local engraving artist, Vhils. He chisels enormous portraits in relief into plaster and brick walls in urban spaces for an impressive end result.
After working up an appetite, head to O Cantinho da Rute for hunks of cheese and drool-worthy homemade chorizo that comes sizzling on an open flame. This Portuguese-style charcuterie is served with a selection of honey and jams that pairs perfectly with the rich flavours.
Pastel de feijão
I’m willing to bet that you’ve never heard of a dessert that’s made with white beans. Prior to visiting Lisbon, neither had I. While it may sound odd the pastéis de feijão may be one of the most scrumptious things you’ll taste in all of Portugal!
The canellini and almond mixture in the pastry is so top secret that the owner at Fábrica do Pastel Feijão in the quaint Alfama district won’t even divulge the recipe to his employees 🤫 Instead, he comes in every morning at 4am to make a batch for the day.
Sip a piping hot espresso to balance the sweetness of the dessert. We loved it so much that we made a hasty stop to pick some up on the way to the airport.
Treat yourself to a night of chic-yet-affordable luxury at this palace turned trendy hostel and suites located in the hip Principe Real neighbourhood. Ride a vintage elevator up to stylishly furnished rooms with exposed wooden beams and throw open double doors to a terrace with a sloping roof offering an elevated view of Lisbon.
Enjoy a low-key night IN at The Decadente, the gorgeously rustic on-premises restaurant or head skyward to the rooftop for drinks at The Insolito. Otherwise, The Independente is in a prime location in the city for several of Lisbon’s hot spots like Restaurante Tapisco and the popular Peruvian eatery, A Cevicheria where you’ll dine under a giant, decorative octopus.
Once an abandoned fish factory, Prado has been transformed into an elegant eatery with caramel leather seats along the walls, blonde wood tables, brass fixtures and high-ceilings laden with lush foliage.
The design lover in me was already enthralled with the space so I was extra pleased to find that it also deeply satisfied my tastebuds. Upon my first bite of fresh sourdough smeared with goat’s butter flavoured with sea lettuce and smoked salt (weird sounding combo, I know), I wanted to go all Oprah and jump on the table shouting “I LOVE BREAD!”
Indulge in a farm-to-table menu brimming with seasonal delights like the pleurotus mushrooms with toasted buckwheat drenched in a red pepper sauce, mussels in a delicate broth with leeks and a meaty pork leg served with cockles, spinach and coriander.
When you visit Portugal, it is your responsibility NAY your duty to devour as many pastéis de nata as your pants will allow before you have to switch to elastic waistbands. Where is the best place to eat these delightful Portuguese pastries in Lisbon? This may be a controversial opinion but after extensive taste-testing, my favourite were from Manteigaria.
With a delicious history of having once been a butter factory – hence the name “Manteigaria” – this pastéis de nata shop infuses their custard with cinnamon, which I preferred to the classic vanilla flavour of the OG Pastéis de Belém ones.
Crisp pastry with the right amount of crunch enrobes creamy egg custard that’s been cooked just long enough for the top to caramelize. Heaven!
Part of what makes Lisbon so darn Instagrammable is the abundance of azulejos tiling this vibrant city. Stemming from Arabic origins, azulejo means ‘small polished stone’ and date back to the 13th century when the Moors invaded land that now belongs to Spain and Portugal.
Characterized by vibrant blue, yellow, green and white and geometric patterns, these tiles sometimes feature historically significant Portuguese scenes in predominantly hues of blue, yellow, green and white decorating everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and train stations.
To learn more about the history of tile heritage, head to Museu Nacional do Azulejo to admire the extensive collection of decorative ceramic tiles that look like patterns found in a kaleidoscope.
Sol e Pesca
Follow the pink paved road in Cais de Sondre to this Anthony Bourdain-approved hole-in-the-wall that specializes in petiscos made with canned seafood products, a must-try when in Portugal.
May sound bizarre but trust me, canned seafood in Portugal is completely different from the unappetizing tins of flaked tuna you begrudgingly pick up in North American supermarkets for sad desk salads. They are next-level delicacies like mussels, anchovies, roe, swordfish and squid preserved in high quality olive oil and herbs.
If it’s a nice day, enjoy the weather by sitting at the tables outside at Sol e Pesca with a fruity pitcher of sangria while you peruse the menu. My favourites were the stuffed squids in a delicately spicy tomato sauce, a bacalhau dish with soft chunks of bread and mussels in garlic olive oil that we ordered a second helping of.
One of my favourite ways to acclimate to a new country and soak up/in the culture is by essentially pickling my liver is the local alcohol of choice. A typical drink in Lisbon is Ginjinha or simply Ginja, a liqueur of alcohol infused with ginja berries (sour cherries) and served in a shot form or a chocolate cup.
While staying in the Principe Real neighbourhood, we wandered into a nearby bar called Pub Lisboeta for a post-meal aperitif and end up staying until the wee hours of the morning. The bartender would ask our drink preferences and whip up delicious custom cocktails with the Ginja as a base! Definitely grab a bottle of this liqueur before flying out because it’ll be hard to find back home.
I loved so many things about Lisbon but if I had to be brutal, these were the picks that made the cut. If there was an honourable mentions section, a day trip to Sintra would’ve been at the top of the list but technically it’s not in Lisbon. For a fully planned trip that includes these picks, check out my 10-day curated itinerary of Portugal.
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