Lisbon is known as “Europe’s West Coast” and is the second oldest capital in Europe after Athens. Given the blending of traditional heritage with striking modernism, it’s no wonder Lisbon has so much to offer.
Travelers are often so caught up in their list of sights to see, that they miss some of the most important aspects of absorbing the local culture. On a recent trip to Lisbon, I found that some of the city’s best features are the common everyday sights for local Lisboans.
Trams – Many of Lisbon’s trams are the same ones used in World War II, so don’t expect air conditioning or a smooth trip up and around the area’s hills. Although these trams are older, I find that it adds to their charm and the experience! I recommend TRAM #28 in particular since it passes through the city’s most notable neighborhoods, including Graca, Baixa and Bairro Alto. The tram is less than 3.5€ (or $4) for the day and you can purchase tickets on board or at kiosks around the city.
Markets – Mercado da Ribeira is the largest general market and fresh food market in Lisbon. Despite its popular location, it hasn’t fallen into the trap of becoming an expensive farmer’s market – it is a very affordable daily market that sells just about everything, including fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, chilies and spices.
Locals also love the Feira da Ladra (which translates to “The Thieves’ Market”) held every Tuesday and Saturday in Alfama. If you are a fan of flea markets and are looking for vintage treasures, there is a good chance you will find them here.
Bakeries – Lisbon is home to amazing bakeries. The most famous dessert is the Pasteis de Nata, which are Portuguese custard tarts, that you will see virtually everywhere. However, do not overlook the wonderful breads, cakes and cookies that are baked here daily as well!
One bakery that I highly recommend is Tartine. They bake artisanal bread called Chiado Cake, which is a puff pastry with eggs and sugar.
The L’Eclair bakery offers ten different types of eclairs, from Iranian imported pistachio cream to an assorted berry eclair. They also have wonderful croissants and macarons.
Another must-visit is Lomar. This bakery offers delicious butter cookies called linguas de veado, which translates to “deer’s tongues.”
Lisbon has some of the most spectacular sunsets in Europe. During your trip make sure not to miss a view of the sun going down. This “City of Seven Hills” is full of bars, restaurants and hotels that take advantage of the majestic views by pairing their services with the scenery. Many offer terraced rooftop bars with affordable “happy hours.”
I also had the pleasure of taking a private sunset cruise on the calm waters of the Tagus River. For two hours, I cruised along the Lisbon coastline and enjoyed the tranquility of the remoteness, with the hustle and bustle of the city still in view from afar.
By land, I suggest heading to Miradouro do Monte in the Graca district, which is one of the highest viewpoints in Lisbon and the best panoramic view. From this spot, you can see all of downtown Lisbon, the Tagus River, the south bank, the Monsanto Natural Park and city as far as the eye can reach!
Nightlife – Lisbon is a festive city year-round, and Lisboans and tourists create a pleasant melting pot throughout the bars, discos and nightclubs.
My recommendation is to start your night in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, which is deserted during the day, but come midnight, the streets are filled with people having a good time in the bars, on the open terraces and in the street and alleyways.
Fado – Lisbon’s traditional music genre is a must do! There are two basic styles of fado: Lisbon and Coimbra. These intensely melancholic songs are usually about love, woes, and pains or express sadness and longing for things that were lost or that were never accomplished. But in Coimbra, they also occasionally contain humor and political undertones.
In Lisbon, it is always sung by a solo performer, while in Coimbra, it is often performed by groups of male university students. They are accompanied by two guitarists, one playing the melody on a twelve-string Portuguese guitar and the other supplying the rhythm on the six-string viola.
Beware of the extremely touristy, overpriced dinner and fado packages. I recommend visiting authentic fado houses and alleys off the beaten track. One such place is A Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto, where you can enjoy the music and not be obligated to buy dinner.
Another option, Café Luso, is one of Lisbon’s oldest fado houses. Located in the cellar of a former 18th-century palace that survived the great earthquake of 1755, the vaulted stone and brick ceilings provide the perfect acoustic conditions.
However you choose to spend your time in Lisbon, these highlights are not to be missed. If you would like to head off-the-beaten tourist path and experience all that Lisbon has to offer, there is no better way to explore the city like a local.