Lisbon Like a Local

I recently spent nine days in Lisbon, which felt downright decadent. The whole time I was there, I kept meaning to visit Castelo de São Jorge. It’s a guidebook must-see and I definitely had time. But the castle on the hill started to feel less and less important as I roamed the city’s colorful neighborhoods and joined the rhythm of everyday life.

Portugal’s capital feels pocket-sized and accessible—and Lisbonites are passionate about what their city offers. “I want you to love Lisbon so much that you become an ambassador for us when you go home!” one local told me.

That wasn’t a tall order.

Here’s why I returned home an ambassador for the city:

Eat Portugal:

Exploring Lisbon’s blooming foodie scene with Celia Pedroso, an exceedingly kind journalist, author, and local expert, should be on every visitor’s list. “A lot has changed in the last three or four years,” she explained. “José Avillez, [who has] five restaurants in Lisbon, is leading this change. It’s interesting how he, Alexandre Silva, Vasco Lello, and other young chefs have renovated the tradition of the petiscos, or Portuguese tapas.”

Time Out’s Spin on Mercado da Ribeira:

This bold reimagining of a long-beloved market debuted in spring of 2014. While the traditional fish and produce markets in operation since the 19th century remain, top chefs and local restaurants have opened satellite stalls here, including Santini ice cream and SeaMe for prego steak sandwiches. Celia introduced me to bolo do caco, a soft, circular bread subtly flavored with garlic butter and herbs. But one of the best bites in Lisbon has to be the bolo do caco com chouriço, a chorizo-spiked sandwich I still crave. Sample them both at Bolo do Caco. The market is packed at midnight on weekend nights; go then to get the real local experience.

Manteigaria:

I was told I couldn’t leave Lisbon without trying the famous custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém. (Outside of this classic restaurant, the pastries are called pastéis de nata.) While they tasted great, I won’t go back (think tour buses unloading and massive lines). Instead, Celia took our tour group to the sleek Manteigaria in the Chiado district for coffee and sublime tarts with a buttery crust and sweet warm custard.

Choupana Caffe:

A 30-minute walk or easy subway ride from downtown, Choupana Caffe is a spacious, modern eatery with free Wi-Fi and great eats, including flaky croissants, hearty salads, and an organic yogurt bar. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only non-local in the wildly popular weekend brunch spot.

LX Factory:

The best time to visit this former industrial complex turned creative hub, located under the iconic 25th of April Bridge, is on Sunday, when an above-average flea market sets up shop. The surrounding Alcântara neighborhood is full of buzzing cafés and restaurants, cool shops, and innovative art galleries worth exploring. Don’t miss: Ler Devagar bookstore, a cavernous space filled with both new and used reads, art, and old printing presses.

Landeau:

This cozy shop, which quickly became my go-to coffee spot, serves only one food item—a rich, addictive chocolate cake made with a top-secret recipe by owner Sofia Landeau. The welcoming space has a communal wood table, vaulted brick ceilings, and soft lighting. A second location can be found at LX Factory.

> PARK:

Because Lisbon is a city built on many hills, finding a fantastic view isn’t a challenge. But some rise above the rest, like the Memmo Hotel bar in the winding, cobblestoned streets of Alfama. There’s no sign alerting pedestrians to PARK, a garden bar located on the roof of a seven-story parking garage, so just find the elevator and head up. The sweeping views from the outdoor jogging track atop the Four Seasons are the best I found in town.

What to Bring Home:

  • If it’s Portuguese goods you want, your first stop needs to be A Vida Portuguesa, a treasure trove of whimsical finds, from journals and jewelry to tiles that have long been the city’s architectural calling card.
  • At Goodies Boutique, guests are welcomed by smiling faces, tastes of port wine, and a selection of local teas, jams, cookies, olive oils, and much more. The original Conserveira de Lisboa, since 1930, is worth a stop to pick up high-quality, inexpensive tinned fish (sardines are a local specialty).
  • At Luvaria Ulisses, you can shop for beautiful leather gloves in a tiny sliver of a space oozing with Old World charm.

Where to Stay:

  • Because Lisbon is less expensive than many other major European cities, it’s possible to find great deals at top hotels. I absolutely loved the Four Seasons, slightly removed from the downtown tourist center and perched on a hill overlooking Eduardo VII Park. Highlights include a beautiful indoor pool and a reasonably priced all-you-can-eat sushi buffet (I spotted Lisbon’s most famous chef, José Avillez, eating with his wife, so you know it’s good).
  • For a great value downtown, check out the brand-new Browns Central Hotel, where I scored a tiny but comfortable room for $99 a night in November.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures on Twitter @anniefitz and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.

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Comments

  1. Pedro
    Lisbon
    January 11, 2016, 9:22 am

    Dear Annie, next time i suggest you another wonderful activity to explore with a local: a Photography Workshop-Tour, where you discover the charm of the city while you improve or begin you Photographic skills.

    http://www.lisbonphotographer.com

  2. Simone
    Italy
    October 9, 2015, 1:51 am

    Dear Annie,
    this summer I spent 7 days doing a trip through Portugal. You’re right: Lisbon is small but I find it beautiful also for this reason. I’ve just published on my blog a full report of this city in which I express my full opinion and I give readers a few tips (for example, what’re the best ways to explore Lisbon? Foot, if you’ve time, or tram). You find it here http://ontravl.com/post/130796147106/lisbon

    Best regards,
    Simone

  3. Liliana
    Lisbon
    April 22, 2015, 3:13 pm

    Next time try to join a movie tour with http://www.lisbonmovietour.com ;)
    All the best
    Liliana
    http://www.lillyslifestyle.com

  4. Alex Knapp
    Fresno, California
    April 6, 2015, 3:50 pm

    Hey Annie!
    I’m a college student and I’m interested in what you do and how you got started doing it. Can I email you some questions I have or is there another way we could get in contact?

  5. Lindsey
    Michigan
    March 31, 2015, 4:36 pm

    Hey Annie! Love your blog – is there a way to connect with you directly?

    Thanks!

  6. João Luz
    Cascais
    March 5, 2015, 9:38 am

    If you want to visit Lisbon like a local, you must get the bestripvouchers guide. They give you free transfers, app for mobile phone with GPS that guides you in Lisbon, and more than 7500€ in discounts (experiences, museums, sport, restaurants, transports, hotels and many more). Visit http://www.bestripvouchers.com and you will see i`m right.
    Thank you for all your kind words about my country.

  7. P.Coonley/Serendipity Traveler
    Boston, USA
    February 23, 2015, 12:56 pm

    Always stellar resources Annie! Looking forward to our trip to Portugal…….

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 27, 2015, 1:40 pm

      Thanks Peggy!! Can’t wait to hear what you discover.

  8. Rita Machado
    lisbon
    February 20, 2015, 5:55 pm

    Annie, while I agree that you had a wonderful “food tour” I must say that good portuguese food and a good portuguese food experience it isn’t about high-end cheffy restaurants. Of course they make good food, but if you, for example, made a quizz to 100 locals you would realize that those kind of restaurants would not be on most people’s minds. I would suggest that, if you visit Portugal again you should try things differently.

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 27, 2015, 1:40 pm

      Hi Rita – Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree with you that good Portuguese food experiences aren’t all about high-end restaurants. I did mention Jose Avillez, who has been a leader in putting Lisbon on the foodie map. His restaurants are varied in their price ranges. But other than that – the places I mentioned are affordable, like Landeau (coffee & chocolate cake), Choupana (prices generally under ten euros) and the market. For example, the best thing I ate in Lisbon was that chorizo-spiked sandwich at Bolo do Caco in the market and it was three euros. I am obsessed with local recommendations and all of the places above were locally recommended to me. That said, please tell me your favorite spots for the next time I’m in Lisbon because I miss it already!

  9. P.Coonley/Serendipity Traveler
    Boston, USA
    February 20, 2015, 2:50 pm

    Planning our women’s jaunt to Lisbon Annie & your recommends are always worth noting.

  10. Janice
    Palm Beach
    February 19, 2015, 9:06 am

    As an International Tour Director I have had the good fortune to visit many places. I also have many ,many more places to see. Portugal is at the top of my list for groups in the near future. Thanks for the lovely review.

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 27, 2015, 1:41 pm

      Thanks Janice – keep me posted on when you visit!

  11. Ana Faustino
    Lisbon
    February 11, 2015, 5:19 pm

    Hi!!!! As co-founder and owner of Choupana Caffe, I want to thank for this great surprise! Had no ideia of your visit and I feel extremelly thankful for your kind words! Hope to see you again at Choupana! Big kiss from outstanding Lisbon!

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 27, 2015, 1:42 pm

      Oh hi! So great that you saw this! I returned to Choupana three times on my trip – I loved it so much and felt like a real Lisbon local. :) Thanks Ana!!

  12. Sofia
    lisbon
    February 1, 2015, 5:08 pm

    you really should have stayed at http://www.lisbon-houses.com

  13. Rupert Eden
    Lisbon
    January 30, 2015, 6:23 am

    What a joke. You call yourself an “insider” ! Thanks to these stereotypical reports on Lisbon the hidden gems of the city still remain a mystery to most visitors …

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 6, 2015, 10:22 am

      Thanks for the kind words. After spending nine days there and spending a lot of time talking and hanging out with locals, I know that visitors to Lisbon would appreciate these places. That said, I would love to hear your favorite hidden gems.

  14. sukkyong shin
    Seoul, Korea
    January 28, 2015, 7:47 pm

    Bom dia..amigos..
    Hi from Seoul, Korea..!!
    I love Portugal after seeing the country for 70 days like a local. GREAT one to connect with the nicest people…I met…

    Just be there, you will feel what I am saying, gladly..I am going back in 10 days again..^^

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 6, 2015, 10:25 am

      70 days – wow! Love Portugal.

  15. Hilda Andrade
    Toronto Ontario Canada
    January 28, 2015, 10:47 am

    I agree. I am a Portuguese Canadian; born in Canada, my parents are from the Azores. I love the “Continente” with the e as they are referred to as. Lisbon was our destination for 4 nights in 2011; we had so much fun. The Aquarium is a must, Sintra, Cascais as well. So much to see and do in the city and around. I will be back!

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 6, 2015, 10:24 am

      I heard the Aquarium is fabulous! I visited Sintra and the beaches outside Lisbon – so beautiful!

  16. Bruno B.
    Barcelona, Spain
    January 20, 2015, 9:40 am

    I lived in Lisbon for 10 years and these are indeed great tips. Mercado da Ribeira in particular turned high-end portuguese food affordable and acessible to everyone. Choupana has a GREAT brunch (I miss the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and celery!). Park on the other hand, I feel it’s overrated. But hey, that’s me.

    Anyway, I feel the best taste you can have in Lisbon are in the small restaurants in Alfama, Bica and Castelo. These serve fabulous food (specially fish) at laughable prices. Toma La Da Ca is my favorite , but virtually any restaurant will serve you more than decent food.

    http://www.geekyexplorer.com

    • Annie Fitzsimmons
      February 6, 2015, 10:23 am

      Thanks for the comment, Bruno. I miss Lisbon terribly after spending 9 days there! I wrote down Toma La Da Ca for my next visit. And I’ll be sure to try the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon & celery from Choupana!