Sprawled over seven hills above the glittering River Tagus, the Portuguese capital of Lisbon is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in Europe. One minute you’re strolling through narrow cobbled streets adorned with colourful street art, the next you’re basking in sunshine at the city’s coolest rooftop bar. Combing striking gothic architecture, captivating history, delicious food and a buzzing nightlife, Lisbon is a city that makes it very, very hard for you to leave. Here’s your insider’s guide to this charming capital.
WHERE TO STAY
AlmaLusa Baixa Chiado, Lisbon | If you want to be right in the thick of things, check in at the AlmaLusa Baixa Chiado hotel, which is only minutes away from the city’s bohemian beating heart, Bairro Alto. In a far corner of one of Lisbon’s prettiest squares, this 18th-century building is packed with history and character; there are original flagstones floors, wooden beamed ceiling and ornate stone fireplaces, and the 28 bedrooms are chic and understated. Each room has its own unique decor, but all are spacious and free of clutter, with subtle colour schemes, sleek monochrome bathrooms with luxury amenities, a fold-up desk, and large windows that look down on the white marble square. The onsite restaurant serves up a variety of local food, including the national dish Bacalhau – dried and salted cod – and the pervasive pastel de nata, Portugal’s beloved egg custard pastries. Downstairs the friendly concierge are relaxed and helpful, and will happily give you their recommendations for the city’s best restaurants, bars and museums.
The Oitavos, Cascais | If you want to merge the laid-back feel of a beach holiday while still exploring Lisbon, head to The Oitavos, just 20 minutes west of Lisbon beside the Sintra Mountains. The Oitavos is located next to the pretty fishing town of Cascais and the village of Sintra, an enchanting UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s scattered with fairytale castles and dense forests. The hotel itself is no less spectacular; overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and golden, rolling sand dunes, the decor is modern and innovative, with sleek lines and elegantly simple interiors. The 142 guest rooms are comprised of rooms, lofts, suites and a private villa, and it’s the ideal destination if you love the outdoors, culture, food and wellness. Be sure to check out the spa, which has eight treatment rooms, a yoga room, a Pilates room, and Balneotherapy area with an indoor jet pool and sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. In terms of dining there are four separate areas – The Ipsylon Restaurant & Bar, The Atlantic Pool Bar, the Japanese Bar and Verbasco, all of which are overseen by expert Chef Cyril Devilliers.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Clube de Journalistas | Long beloved by journalists and diplomats, dining at Clube de Jornalistas will undoubtedly be one of your most memorable meals in Lisbon. Located in a 17th-century mansion in the city’s Lapa neighbourhood, history and old-world charm permeate nearly every aspect of this lovely building. Though the days of secret journalist meetings here are over, the sense of exclusivity remains, from the discreet green door entrance to the glasses of champagne you’re handed as you arrive. Usually packed with couples, this characterful restaurant provides an intimate and romantic dining experience, with gentle music and softly flickering candlelight. All dietary requirements are catered for (so if you’re vegan or gluten-free, fear not!) and the food is beautifully presented and packed with flavour.
Local–Your Healthy Kitchen | If you’ve sipped one too many jugs of sangria, or enjoyed a few too many custard tarts, then head to Lisbon’s most talked about new restaurant, Local–Your Healthy Kitchen. So popular it’s opened two branches in just six months, eating here will offset any prior unhealthiness – without it feeling like an ordeal. From fresh fish to dairy-free, there are multiple options for all diets and palates, but what each dish shares is an absence of refined sugar and anything processed. Feast on dishes like corvina fillet in a pesto and rye crust, smashed sweet potato and broccoli, or beautiful bowls of quinoa, aubergine, courgette, almonds, chickpeas and pomegranate with hummus. Afterwards, treat yourself to some of the gorgeous plant-based desserts; the blackberry cheesecake is heavenly.
Park | Heading to the top floor of a car park might seem a strange choice for dinner and drinks, but on the sixth floor of a Bairro Alto car park is Lisbon’s coolest rooftop bar, Park. In the day Park is sun-soaked and casual, and you can admire 180-degree views of Santa Catarina church and the enormous 25 de Abril suspension bridge. Come here for dinner – the specialities are the burgers, of which there are several meat and veggie varieties – but as evening draws in, grab yourself a spot among the potted plants and settle down. Once night falls Park is the hippest place to be in Lisbon; sip cocktails with the city’s coolest clientele, then dance until dawn as the resident DJ churns out tunes.
WHAT TO DO
Hop on a Tram 28 tour to Alfama | Alfama is the oldest part of the city, and these labyrinth-like streets are some of the most photogenic in Lisbon. Crammed with colourful and cracked tile-covered buildings, these steep streets can be an effort to climb in the summer heat, so hop on a 28 tram tour from Bairro Alto. These cute yellow old-school trolleys will take you close enough to Lisbon’s most breathtaking viewpoint – the Miradouro da Graça. Officially called the Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen Viewpoint, after the famous Portuguese poet, from this pretty square you can marvel at a vista that includes the iconic Castelo de São Jorge, the suspension bridge, and nearly all the city’s different neighbourhoods along the river. Grab a limonada from the vendor, sit under the shade of the encircling pine trees and enjoy the view.
Shop for souvenirs | Lisbon’s tiled walls are known throughout the world, so if you only buy one souvenir, make it a handmade tile to take home. There are countless traditional tile shops peppered throughout Lisbon (skip the tourist-oriented ones behind the Praça do Comércio, though), but one of the best is Cortiço & Netos, a veritable treasure trove of painted and intricate tiles. Armazém das Caldas sells quirky handmade crockery from local artisans’ workshops, so if you’re looking to make your kitchen unique, be sure to stop in here. A Vida Portuguesa is packed with traditional children’s games, striking framed posters and vintage-style tinned food, and Claus Porto is where to head if you have a thing for intoxicating essential oils and aromatic handmade soaps.