There are more than a dozen reasons to love Lisbon, of course. Lately the city’s safety and good value—it’s Western Europe’s least expensive capital—have been winning a lot of hearts. But its appeal goes far deeper: narrow cobblestone streets ascending the city’s many hills, historic architecture, beautiful palaces, a culture that’s both soulful (even melancholic) and cheerful, trendy restaurants in neighborhoods like Chiado and Principe Real and a freewheeling late-night scene on the exuberant streets of Bairro Alto.
Most of the Portuguese people I met in this postcard-picturesque city of about half a million were welcoming, effusive and justifiably proud of the place they call home—especially their cuisine, as this is a country where eating is considered a national sport. And several of the expats I met asked me not to write about Lisbon and spoil their secret playground. (Um, sorry.)
It’s lovely to spend a week here with no agenda, getting lost in the time warp of historic neighborhoods, the pleasures of fresh seafood and sunset views at a seaside marisqueira or the swirl of the post-midnight street parties. But during a whirlwind trip through the city, a few—by no means definitive—things stood out.
The patio at the new Bairro do Avillez
José Avillez after training in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse, Eric Freshon and Ferran Adrià, the wunderkind chef set out on his own about eight years ago, taking over the kitchen of a faded temple of gastronomy and earning a Michelin star in just over a year. Now 36, he presides over restaurants including the two-Michelin-star Belcanto and the impossible-to-get-into Mini Bar (“the Tickets of Portugal,” said a friend who is very well connected in the culinary world). This week he opened his seventh, the ambitious, multi-concept Bairro do Avillez, which includes a taberna where typical Portuguese dishes are given inventive twists (the horse mackerel in a seaweed cone with spicy mayonnaise was the most interesting—in the best of ways—thing I’ve eaten in Portugal), a mercearia proffering the country’s best cheese and charcuterie, and a patio area that focuses on seafood (the perfectly cooked sea bass was one of the most otherworldly-delicious thing I’ve eaten anywhere).
The Sky Bar at the Tivoli Lisboa
With all of Lisbon’s hills and Western-facing sea views, sunset watching is practically its own national sport. One of the best, most refined places to do it is at this rooftop bar. It’s in one of the city’s most admired historic five-star hotels, the flagship of the longstanding Portuguese Tivoli hotel group. Beyond the rooftop, the hotel has good-size rooms and a prime location on Liberdade (“the Fifth Avenue of Lisbon,” said a taxi driver who was far overestimating the beauty of Fifth Avenue) near neighborhoods like Chiado and Alfama. It’s about to close for a significant renovation and update and should be better than ever next year. (Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Tivoli.)
Lisbon is not just star chefs and trendy eateries. A seafood feast at Cervejeria Ramiro—raved about by Anthony Bourdain and many others—is a step back in time: white paper over tablecloths, wood paneling that likely hasn’t been updated since the place opened in the ’50s, crowds of lively locals drinking beer and eating garlic shrimp. The traditional dessert is a steak sandwich.
Lisbon is the only European capital with such easy access to sandy beaches: A quick, inexpensive train ride can have you splashing in the sea. It’s about 30 minutes to the end of the line, the posh resort town of Cascais, which has appealing restaurants and nightclubs for when the sun goes down.
A Vida Portuguesa
You know the impeccably evocative, retro packaging of Claus Porto soaps? Everything in this shop, which specializes in local products from companies that have survived the passage of time and represent the best of Portugal, looks like that. “With time, inventiveness and hard work they became perfect and indispensable,” says the brand of its products, which range from personal care items to stationery to gourmet foodstuffs. “They are trademarked in our memories and represent a way of life. They evoke the everyday life of another time and reveal the soul of a country.” Locals like it for nostalgic reasons; visitors because they can do all their souvenir shopping in one smart place.
O Purista Barbière
The barbershop-bar trend is not unique to Lisbon, but this rendition of it, in Bairro Alto, is an awfully good one. The decor is pleasingly retro, the ancient Belgian abbey beer Affligem flows freely, and there’s an impressive array of gins.
One of the dining rooms at Palacio Chiado
Constructed in 1781, this beautiful building is in fact a palace. After a meticulous nearly two-year restoration, it opened as a multi-concept restaurant earlier this year. It would be worth a visit just to admire the artwork and architecture, but there are also many delicious things to eat at the seven fine-dining venues, from charcuterie to burgers to sushi and oysters.
Just as Italy has its espresso bars where locals stop in for a shot and then go about their day, Lisbon has many small, stand-up bars specializing this spirit, Portuguese brandy infused with sour cherries and cinnamon. You don’t linger; you take your shot and move on.
Parque das Nações
The city isn’t all cobblestone streets and historic, traditional architecture. This formerly industrial neighborhood became a hub of out-there contemporary buildings after it was selected to host the World Exposition in 1998. There are performing arts centers inside some of them, but it’s the exteriors that captivate. A riverside promenade and overhead cable cars afford the best views.
Time Out Mercado de Ribeira
It can be tough to stake out a seat, but once you get one, there are gustatory pleasures galore at this massive market, a pleasing alternative to the formality of fine dining. The stalls offer surprisingly sophisticated fare, some of it from culinary stars like Henrique Sá Passoa, one of the country’s most high profile chefs. The magazine has its offices upstairs, in case you were wondering about the name.
You make this day (or longer) trip to this UNESCO World Heritage town (also an easy train ride from Lisbon) for the palaces: the Moorish castle, the National Palace and the magnificent Palácio da Pena, a 19th-century triumph of Romantic architecture that married elements of Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance design. Hit the trifecta by staying (or having a gourmet lunch) in one of Sintra’s other beautiful palaces, which is now the five-starTivoli Palácio Seteais and is fresh off an extensive, thoughtful restoration overseen by the Ricardo do Espirito Santo Silva Foundation and involving around 30 specialist artisans. Most of the furnishings date from the 18th century, and there are about 200 pieces of original art in the 30 guest rooms and gracious public spaces.
A fondness for silly transportation
Touring Sintra and its surrounding area in a motorcycle sidecar is great goofy fun, but it’s also practical as the driver can maneuver past the throng of traffic inching up the hill to the Pena Palace. Likewise, a tour of Lisbon’s very old, very traditional neighborhood of Alfama on a Segway seemed silly but made sense, as the streets are far too steep to enjoy walking up (or slipping down—the cobblestones get quite slick in the summer heat) and far too narrow for even the city’s many tuk-tuks (speaking of silly transportation) to pass through. The Tivoli hotels can arrange both.
Source: Forbes, AUG 18, 2016