Our Guide to Lisbon

Lisbon is one of my favourite cities to visit. Like many cities in Europe, it is old-timey and gorgeous. The architecture and the intricate design to many of its buildings and squares show that it once was an extremely wealthy power, but has since declined. Keep an eye out for fancy old buildings that are looking good, and those that are falling apart.

Worth noting:

  • Lisbon is a city built on hills, which is an important part of its design. Keep an eye out for its streetcar system and its elevator… both the oldest in the world.
  • You can read about our experiences in Lisbon here, here, here, and here.
  • Breakfast is hard to come by anywhere in Portugal. The idea of brunch or breakfast being eggs, toast, etc, doesn’t exist in Portugal. Breakfast is an espresso and a pastry. In Lisbon, there are a few more options, and in most cafes you can get different types of ‘toast’ with a coffee (see below) 
  • Lunch is typically served between 11am and 3pm. If you want to eat between 3pm and 5:30pm, good luck. Most restaurants are closed at that time.
  • When you sit down at most Portuguese restaurants, they’ll put bread, pate, olives, etc on the table. If you eat these, the cost will be added to your bill. If you’re not interested, you can ask them to take it away, no problem.
  • Espumante is the word for Portuguese sparking wine (like Spanish cava or Italian prosecco). Be sure to try some while you’re there, as it’s rarely found outside of the country.
  • Common greetings include “bon dia” (good day or good morning), “boa tarde” (good afternoon), “boa noite” (good evening).

Places we’ve stayed:

  • VIP Executive Arts Hotel – has parking, is close to the airport, in a new part of Lisbon. Not close to the downtown if you’re walking, but a cab to the downtown is around 12 euros
  • Travel & Tales AirBnB – These guys have an apartment building in the Principe Real neighbourhood of Lisbon. The apartment is super gorgeous and they are really great guys. They have an office in the base of their building and are easily available if you need any help.

Restaurant recommendations:

Writing and re-writing this list for friends and family is almost painful because Portuguese cuisine is just so good. Every time I review this list I start looking at flights to Lisbon so I can go back all over again.

None of these places would be described as budget friendly, but relative to other capital cities, the price quality of Portuguese food, particularly at these places, is top notch.

  • Sea Me (4/5) (for lunch) – the classic example of Lisbon cool. At once incredible cool, high quality, and unpretentious/relaxed. Great for lunch.
  • Cervejaria Ramiro (5/5) – This place is AMAZING. It’s famous for it’s amazing selection and quality of seafood. The concept is similar to a food hall in that you grab a seat at a shared table and the servers turn out your order quickly. There will almost certainly be a lineup and wait. We waited for 15 minutes, but your wait could be much longer. We suggest to order the shrimp, the clams, and goose barnacles (percebes). The lobster is also good. Everything there is good. Highly recommend.
  • Faz Gostos Lx (4/5) – This is a great place for higher end fancy Portuguese food, located in a building that used to be a convent. Perfect for a relaxing dinner in a beautiful space.
  • Stanislav Avenida (4/5) – This is a really good Russian restaurant. The pierogies and the steak tartare are our favourites. The service is excellent, and once again the restaurant itself is beautiful.
  • Bistro Edelweiss (2/5)- If you’re in the Principe Real neighbourhood and you’re looking for a restaurant with quality food, this is a good option. As you can surmise, they’re a German restaurant. The restaurant and service are both charming. Portugal is full of places that are overshadowed, yet still interesting and high quality. This is one of them.
  • Mercado da Ribeira (3/5) – In an area historically known for shipping, TimeOut turned a warehouse into a high end food court/food hall. Different top restaurants/chefs in Lisbon have fast food stalls here, so it’s a good way to explore the range of cuisine in Lisbon. As far as dining experience goes, it’s not ideal, but like everywhere in Portugal, they serve beer and wine.
  • Belcanto (3/5) – If you’re interested in fine dining, this is apparently the one to try. We haven’t tried it but it’s recommended by a trusted friend who vouched for its quality, especially given the price.
  • Esplanada Cafe (4/5) – This is a cafe located in the Jardim do Principe Real. It’s a great spot for breakfast, as it’s basically a greenhouse cafe in a park. For a satisfying snack we suggest you order a tosta mista, which is sort of like a grilled cheese open-faced sandwich.
  • Manteigaria (5/5) – Across the street from Sea Me, this is one of the best pastry shops in downtown Lisbon. Stop in for an espresso and a custard tart, and watch the bakers move through the motions of making pestels de nata in mass quantities. Dessert and a show!
  • Cantinho Lusitano: (?/5)We haven’t been here but it’s always been on our list. We always seem to be in Lisbon when it’s closed or very busy. Try it out for classic Portuguese cuisine!
  • The Mill (4/5) – This is a wine bar/snack bar owned by a friend of ours (Madeline) and some friends. You can definitely get breakfast here.
  • ‘The Nuns’ Canteen’ (Associação Católica Internacional ao Serviço da Juventude Feminina – ACISJF) (3/5) – If you’re looking for a great view on a budget, this is the place for you. This Guardian article mentions a canteen/cafeteria run by nuns where one can grab a cheap lunch with a great view, and it’s exactly as great as it sounds. Enter through the doorway in an alley and head up to the third floor. You’ll find a well-priced traditional Portuguese lunch, while overlooking the Tagus River and the Chiado neighbourhood. Address: Travessa do Ferragial 1, +351 213 240 910

Bar recommendations:

  • Pavilhao Chines – this place is pretty bizarre. Drop in for a drink to check out all the knick knacks they’ve collected here. It’s pretty hilarious.
  • Kiosks – there are little kiosks on the streets all over Lisbon. Some have tables and chairs in a little patio area. All serve coffee and pastries, and these are definitely part of Portuguese “breakfast” culture. Most also serve alcohol, and many straight up serve sangria, cocktails, etc. These are Kevin’s 2 favourite kiosk spots:
    • Largo do Carmo (beside a church, near the top of the elevator)
    • Bambu (on Avenida Liberdade, the main boulevard in Lisbon)
  • Pensao Amor – A really cool bar with a burlesque theme. Very laid back with couches, etc. You can chill out and have a drink. Great cocktails. This is a fairly unique place, and there are many other late night spots nearby.
  • Clube de Fado – while in Lisbon you *definitely* want to go to a Fado bar. Fado is traditional Portuguese music, and it’s unlike anything else. This is the best place to go for a show. There’s actually a Moorish well in the corner of the performance room.

Sites to see:

  • Jeronimos Monastery: You can pay to go inside the whole thing, or just see the church for free. Be sure to walk along the outside of the building to appreciate the detail of the carvings on the wall. This monastery and the many surrounding sites, all in an area known as “Belem” are about a 40 minute walk from the main core of the city, so you may want to take a cab to get there.
  • The original Belem pastry cafe (near the monastery): This is where Portuguese cream tarts were invented! There’s usually a big line out side. Instead of waiting there, go inside and get table service, and the wait will be shorter. The cafe is quite large, so just head inside and find a seat.
  • Near the Jeronimos Monastery there are lots of other sites to walk around and see, including the “Monument of the Discoveries” and the “Tower of Belem“, which is over 500 years old.
  • Anywhere you are, put on your serious shoes and walk around the city to explore the various squares. Walking in Lisbon can be tough due to the hills, but it’s a small enough city that you can walk just about anywhere. 
  • Neighbourhoods you must see, in the downtown core, include Chiado and Bairro Alte – these 2 neighbourhoods have great nightlife, with lots of bars, people in the streets, etc.
  • The Lisbon Oceanarium is also quite cool, and worth checking out. It’s in a modern area of the city, so you will likely have to cab there, but it is worth it.
  • Be sure to walk down to the waterfront to see where Portuguese exploring ships used to dock for royal pomp and pageantry after a long trip. Don’t eat in the restaurants on the square by the waterfront though, because they’re mostly tourist traps.

Lisbon is a great city, full of great people. We spend the majority of our time there walking around, eating delicious food, and drinking Portuguese wine. If you like any of those things, then you’re sure to love Lisbon.

For more stories on how you can have fun in Lisbon, check out our blog archive on Lisbon.

Enjoy!

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