March 7, 2020
Embark: Our Top Twenty Things To Do in Lisbon
The city of the millennial. The city of amazing seafood and the city of the original street food market. The city of a hundred music festivals, a thousand hills and a million Pasteis de Nata. Say hello to Lisbon.
Arriving in October, in what is known as ‘Shoulder Season’ (who knew there is a word for that post-summer, pre-winter moment?) the forecast for the week was mixed, including heavy downpours of that warm, fresh-smelling rain and periods of hot sun (the type that simply requires that super-cold, weak beer – here it is: Super Bock), just to cool you down. It didn’t look like there was going to be much in between, but that’ll do just fine. I ventured to Lisbon for a couple of nights by myself, opting for a fancy hotel before joining pals for that classic Airbnb experience. Having been to Lisbon before, I was the unofficial tour guide as we tried to pack in as much as possible in our 4 days of holiday.
One thing to note is that Lisbon is deceptively massive. Zoom in on your Google maps and it looks tiny, but that doesn’t really take in the hills, or the amazing tiny ginnels, as you seek to explore this colourful city where street art abounds. I would recommend getting a Lisboa Card (and learning to use it properly) – with this you can jump on the tube, tram and rail, but that’s not all – you can also hire bikes, a segway and an electric scooter, and do the whole route from the centre to Belem with such ease. There are hundreds of interesting tours too, focusing on everything from street food to history, which can be done on any of the aforementioned modes of transport.
Here We Count Down Our Top Twenty Things to Do in Lisbon
Cascais is definitely worth a trip, or an overnight stay. This is a small seaside town near Lisbon, which is full of fresh seafood and hosts a beautiful lighthouse. Cascais is home to the natural park, 16th century sea fort and numerous art museums.
Sightsee in Sintra
Sintra is a magical mountain resort town and a rich person’s sanctuary, only now beginning to register with the sightseeing public. Get up early and get the train from Lisbon, then hop on the sightseeing bus and take in the steep, winding roads. Visit the castle and one of the palaces, but be prepared to queue. Another warning – Sintra has its own micro-climate; whilst there might be blue skies in Lisbon, Sintra can often be misty. There are plenty of hidden caves, gardens and waterfalls around The Quinta de Regaleira, which are given that perfect, Gothic ambience when swathed in mist.
Take in the Views at Panoramico de Monsanto
Panoramico de Monsanto is an old high-society restaurant from the 1960s, set high in the hills above Lisbon. Now completely abandoned and full of (unofficial) street art, it’s an amazing place to take in the views and explore the various floors.
Time Out Market
Lisbon’s Time Out Market was the original Time Out market offering, and is arguably the blueprint for the pop-up food market as we know them today! Originally this was just the Mercado da Ribeira, which opened in 1890. It wasn’t until Time Out Magazine opened up the food court to numerous chefs and food concepts in 2014 that it became a hotbed of food talent. It features a demo station, various drinking stations (a Super Bock beer experience plus Portuguese wines), and the bench seating familiar from those street food halls of the UK, plus an interesting co-working space called Second Home.
Experience a Jose Avillez Eatery
Chef and restaurateur Jose Avillez has more than ten different concepts in Lisbon now, plus one in Dubai. He is the king of the Lisbon food scene. Belcanto (2 Michelin star) is elegant, but you have to book many months in advance, Beco is a fun and immersive experience (dinner and a cabaret show), and Cafe Lisboa is the perfect place to meet and enjoy something a little less ‘fine dining’ – ditto with Pizzeria Lisboa. Bairro do Avillez is a vast space with lots of different eating areas, offering everything from charcuterie to seafood.
Eat Pasteis de Nata at Manteigaria
Head here for the best version of a Pasteis de Nata. Apologies to all Portuguese people, because the Pasteis de Belem is not actually the same as the nationally-renowned Pasteis de Nata, but the Belem version is the original/older recipe, with a slightly thinner, crisper pastry and a more gently flavoured custard. Expect to queue for a while to sample the goodness!
These famous fish are everywhere in Lisbon, and are best eaten freshly caught and straight off the grill. They come tinned here, too, though. And yes – fish in a can is actually not just good, but amazing! This is Portugal’s original fast food dish. As well as sardines in olive oil, enjoy other tinned seafood such as tuna, octopus and more, often slightly spiced, or in a tomato sauce.
Dine at Ponto Final
Ponto Final is a picturesque restaurant over the water in Almada, from which you can really take in the views of Lisbon. It’s rustic, but all the more perfect for an afternoon of drinking wine and snacking on seafood. I had an amazing monkfish stew, full of flavour and colour. You need to take a ferry, but the journey’s great, also comprising a walk by some old factories covered in some amazing graffiti.
You need to drink some Ginjinha whilst in Lisbon. This is a Portuguese liqueur made using ginja berries. You can find it almost anywhere in the city, especially if you wander through the winding streets – locals will step out of their homes to sell it to you.
Visit Nova da Piedade
This one is not on the usual tourists’ map, but Nova da Piedade is a cute little foodie hill, offering up amazing wurst in the Mercado de Sao Bento, pizza by the slice over the road, an ice-cream parlour and the Copenhagen Coffee Lab. You can basically enjoy a four course dinner as you stroll down the street!
Watch Some Fado
Whilst in Lisbon you need to watch some Fado (Portuguese folk music, a little similar to flamenco but without the dancing). This music, whilst not happy is very dramatic, and is typical in the smaller districts like Bairro Alto. Even the smaller bars here feature some of the best Fado players around.
Explore Lx Factory
No visit to Lisbon is even worth it without a trip to Lx Factory. This is a historical industrial complex, now chock-full of super-cool arts, food, bars, offices and shops. The bookshop is one of Lisbon’s most famous Instagrammable spots, featuring a suspended bike and a statue of a patchwork lady, on the roof terrace. Lx Factory hosts numerous events throughout the year, too, from art markets to concerts and festivals. The different cuisines on offer here include Mexican, American-style burgers and Hot Dogs and sushi, as well as Portugese-inspired seafood menus. Be careful though – some only offer daytime service.
Try Proper Piri-Piri at Bonjardim
Ahhh piri-piri. Forever spoilt for UK eaters by Nando’s. For an authentic, great, spit-roasted piri-piri chicken, visit Bonjardim. The restaurant is down a little side street not far from the Hard Rock Café. The restaurant is known locally as King of Chickens. This is the place to try proper piri-piri.
Have a drink (or two) at Park Bar
Situated on the top of a multi-storey car park in the Barrio Alto district, Park Bar is a pretty hip space. This trendy rooftop bar offers up fairly cheap cocktails and a comfortingly chilled ambiance provided by regular DJs – making this a haven.
Looking for somewhere to dance? Incognito is a fun, hidden-away club. From the front, this is no more than a door with no name on it, but once you are inside, Incognito offers up three (small) floors of Synth Pop / New Wave, and it’s extremely popular with the locals.
Party on Pink Lane
Any Loiner knows Call Lane – and this is the Lisbon equivalent. This fun road of bars, walking drinking tours and street entertainment makes for the happy merriment to be seen everywhere. It is also home to Pensao Amor, a former Boarding House, now full of different bars, nooks and crannies (but an open mind is needed!). You can find a live jazz band in one room, a burlesque show in another and much, much more…
No visit to Lisbon is complete without a trip to Ramiro. This famous seafood restaurant, established in the 1950s, is a neighbourhood restaurant which is now world-famous. A lunchtime stop for us meant an hour wait just to get in the door (but they have this clever ticket system which spits out random numbers, leaving you second guessing when your number might be called up). Ordering by the weight, we scoffed down clams, mussels, tiger prawns and goose barnacles, mopping up the garlic, buttery juices with crusty bread. Dessert here is Prego, a steak sandwich, served with sliced garlic and a sweet mustard.
Eat at Erva
Whilst researching the best restaurants in Lisbon, I came across a Forbes article on new(ish) restaurants. I wanted to try somewhere new, but also one offering contemporary Portuguese cuisine. Erva was on the list and fit the bill. Translating as ‘herb’, Erva’s name is what drew me to it, and its short menu was double-delightful.
Erva is situated in Corinthia Hotel Lisboa, but has a separate entrance – and, yes, it was full of American tourists. Eating alone is sometimes an ordeal, but the Front of House manager was ever so kind and made me feel very welcome. I must admit, I had gone through their Instagram before my visit and I simply couldn’t get past one of the dishes I’d seen on the ‘gram. My normal rule is to try what the staff recommend – luckily for me, it was this dish.
My family loves bread, and what better than three types of bread – brown, tomato, and white. It was a simple but extremely exciting start to a meal. It came with one of the best olive oils (hand-pressed) I have ever had, and a rich butter, and I drank a ‘Message in a Bottle’ (a cocktail featuring whiskey and chocolate bitters, served in a small bottle).
With the fresh food markets not being open on a Monday, some of the menu wasn’t available (I was eating on a Monday evening). Nevertheless tasty options abounded. I opted for cod tempura (which was served with a radish mayo), and a leg of lamb with beetroot served three ways for my main course. They both really showcased the restaurant’s ethos of fresh cooking and simple but great tasting ingredients, served in a relaxed atmosphere. Good for solo dining too.
Take the 28 Tram
Taking the cool old 28 Tram is a must; zoom up hills and round streets where you can literally touch the walls by leaning out either side. It also saves the long walk to the castle – although the walk does take-in some amazing street art. Whichever way you get to the top, make sure you reward yourself with some salt cod balls (croquetas de bacalhau) and a glass of port, or a beer.
Wander Lisbon’s Parks
While you’re doing all that walking and exploring, it is worth noting the amount of amazing parks that Lisbon has. Actual parks. There are so many to walk in and explore. From Jardim do Principe Real (take in the cute Embaixada Concept Store whilst in the neighbourhood), to the long, thin Parque Eduardo VII, which has a huge tennis centre and an expansive, jungly greenhouse area.
All photos by Simon Fogal and shot on iPhone (June 2018, October 2019)