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Lisbon, Portugal

I spend a lot of my time in Lisbon.

One might even call me a Lisboner.

(That's an actual English word btw, though you may hear 'Lisbonite' being said by people who live in fear.)

Let's instead just go with the Portuguese word lisboeta, which despite the -a ending works for men, women, children, and everyone else outside and in between due to how the word pessoa (person) is feminine in grammatical gender. (Similar to how a man from Brazil is called a brasileiro while his nationality is still brasileira, since the word 'man' has masculine grammatical gender in Portuguese whereas 'nationalities' are grammatically feminine.)

But this isn't a language lesson, nor some weirdly uncalled-for gender monologue.

This is my guide to Lisboa.

Getting in:

Lisbon's Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS), informally known as Lisbon Airport, and previously called Portela Airport, is one of my favorite plane stations in the entire world for nothing more than being so wonderfully close to the city center. It's like the opposite of Denver's Airport, and reminiscent of Berlin's former Tegel Airport. (TXL in your airport code lists, RIP in your hearts.)

Right outside of the arrivals hall in Lisbon is an escalator down to the Red line of the metro, connecting you to the Green line at Alameda, the Yellow line at Saldanha, and the Blue line at São Sebastião. It takes maybe a half an hour tops to get to any station on the map.

Of course, the trusty rusty trombUber is there too, but I oftentimes prefer Bolt. Pickups are at the Departures lot on the upper level, which can be a bit of a flustercuck at times, but either way your destination is probably 15-20 minutes away so you're in great shape.

Getting around in Lisbon:

No matter where you're going, Lisbon is a city of hills and burning calf muscles, so leave your high heels at home. (Bummer for short kings who are into tall women, it's hard out here for an imp.)

You'll learn very quickly that Lisbon tends to prefer beauty over practicality and form over function.

First case in point, so many walls of city buildings and churches and train stations and fountains and ordinary houses are covered in painted tiles called azujelos. And it's all for decoration.

Second case in point, nearly all of the city's sidewalks are cobblestone mosaics made of granite and/or marble chunks, many of which have detailed designs baked into them, and most of which are slippery when wet. (There's nothing like taking a tumble on Portuguese Pavement. It's even better on an e-scooter, but the city just nerfed those by restricting the parking areas to fixed locations, so they're not as ubiquitous anymore.)

Lisbon's tram line is oftentimes more fashionable than useful as well, but ooh baby that Tram Number 28 sure is iconic. I've never been a passenger on it myself, but I've certainly taken at least ten photos of it. As soon as you see it, you'll know why it's such a classic. It's awesome. (Pro tip for securing a seat is to get on it at the Campo Ourique (Prazeres) origin station and ride it from west to east rather than waiting in the huge line at Martim Moriz.

Of course, there's also the three funiculars: the Glória, the Bica, and the Lavra. These are tram-like cable car elevator railway thingies that move diagonally up some of the sweatier hills in the city. These are also so fundamentally Lisbon it's insane. I've never gotten in one of these either, since I usually opt to walk in attempts to build up my awful cardio, but like, I've taken at least eleven photos of the funiculars.

In spite of my fear mongering about the hills, the greater central part of Lisbon is still enjoyably walkable from one neighborhood to the next, and it's usually the case that you only have to do a single down-up-down (or an up-down-up) to get from point A to point B.

Mind you, the tuk tuks you see roaming around town are not a traditional Lisbon thing. They've only been in the city for a handful of years. I've taken zero pictures of tuk tuks.

Where to stay in Lisbon:

Strategically speaking, if you're interested in exploring the diversity of neighborhoods in Lisbon, the only thing you really want to avoid is choosing an accommodation at the bottom of a main hill. That's because you don't want to be discouraged from leaving home, especially in Lisbon, where there's so much to do outside of the house.

Having said that said, if you're trying to be within good striking distance of all the action, sights, and attractions, I would recommend trying to stay near the top of a neighborhood called Príncipe Real. That way you're perfectly situated to get to sights during the day in Baixa and Alfama, restaurants during the evening pretty much anywhere, and riffraff during the night in Bairro Alto, Bica, and Cais do Sodré. You're also not terribly far from the still up-and-coming Intendente, which has all of that stuff in smaller doses.

What to do and things to see (and things to do and what to see) in Lisbon:

First of all, my number one recommendation is to stay away from Lisbon because it's getting way too too crowded as it is. But, if you must visit the Portuguese capital, the good news is you can do so pretty much any time of year—you just can't go to the beach and enjoy warm enough water any time of year.

Nevertheless, when it is nice enough to hit the beach, Lisbon has a handful of options at arm's length. These include Praia da Conceição in Cascais, Praia de Santo Amaro in Oeiras, Praia de Carcavelos in Carcavelos, and Praia do Guicho in Alcabideche. Of course, if you take a trip across the Golden Gate-looking bridge called Ponte 25 de Abril (Bridge of April 25), you'll find an entirely different handful of beaches along the coast of Caparica aka Costa da Caparica, as well as some hidden gems down in Sesimbra like Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo. That one's probably my favorite at the time of writing this.

Now, I'm not here to give out the kind of advice that says when you go to Lisbon you should leave to visit Sintra and Cascais and Sesimbra, so I'm going to omit those almost entirely. Instead, the farthest away place that I'm going to talk about is Belém, because if you're in Lisbon for tourism you kinda need to knock the Belém Tower off your list early so you can get back to everything else. This is a fortified medieval tower that sits just off the coastline on a tiny little island (if you can call it an island) that's only big enough for the tower itself. It's one of the most iconic places in Lisbon to take a photo, and you don't need to stand in line or go into the tower like many people feel the need to do.

Next up is the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém pastry shop, which is just as famous if not more famous than the tower itself. This legendary bakery sells some of the best egg custard tarts (called Pastéis de Nata in the plural, Pastel de Nata in the singular) in all of Portugal, and it's so well-established that the name has even become a generic/genericized trademark to some people. (Meaning many people refer to Pastéis de Nata by the name Pastéis de Belém, similar to how people might refer to bandages as Band-Aids, or hot tubs as Jacuzzis.)

If you've got the time to stand in line there, I definitely recommend it, especially if you're already out in that area. (If not, you can always hit up Manteigaria when you're back in Lisbon. That's my favorite Pastel de Nata place. Or Pastel de Manteigaria, rather.)

Similarly, if you're already out in that area, you might as well make a pit stop at an industrial complex from the 19th century known as LX Factory, though I think it's a teensy bit overrated these days. Nevertheless, there (in the Alcântara neighborhood) you'll find a bunch of unique shops, restaurants, bars, and artwork.

Once you're back in Lisbon proper, you're just in time to make one more mini excursion somewhere else again. This time, assuming you're near the Cais do Sodré transit station, you can hop on a ferry that'll take you across the river to a neighborhood called Cacilhas in ten minutes. This is the waterfront area of a town called Almada, home to the giant Cristo Rei statue that's modeled after Rio de Janeiro's Cristo Redentor.

It's nice to take a walk through Cacilhas and stop at some of the waterfront restaurants for a glass of Portugal's unique vinho verde (green wine), and take in the views of Lisbon across the river. Any place will do, though Ponto Final is the most trafficked, while Atira-te ao Rio is a nearby option as well.

Alright, getting back to Lisbon for real this time, if you continue heading east along the coast line from Cais do Sodré, eventually you'll run into the Praça do Comércio. This is a gigantic public square with the waterfront on one side and the famously triumphal Arco da Rua Augusta on the other. It's a great place to take tons of pictures that won't end up being your favorites when the trip is over. It's definitely worth seeing in person with your eyeballs, though.

Another thing you'll see with your eyeballs from this spot is that there's literally a castle up the hill to the west side. That's the Castelo de São Jorge, one of the major tourist attractions in Lisbon. Once again, it's a bit of a hike to reach the top of the hill (so maybe this is your chance to cram yourself into Tram 28), but you'll get to see the wonderfully old Alfama neighborhood along the way.

Assuming you've bought your entrance tickets on your phone while you're en route, once you've entered the castle you'll notice a couple of things. First, it's that this castle is not currently fit for living in at all (since it's basically just castle walls and open courtyards), and second, you didn't come for the castle anyway. You came for the view.

One of the recurring themes in these city guides is that I tend to gush over the best parks of each city, but when it comes to Lisbon, it's all about the views—and more specifically, the miradouros.

In English, I guess we would call these viewpoints, or belvederes, or observation decks, but in any case they are elevated areas where you have a half or full panoramic view of the surrounding city. This is where the hills come in handy, because Lisbon's miradouros are so good you could spend a day hopping from one to the next. Don't miss these ones:

The Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a really cute one just down the hill from the castle. Pictures with the pergola typically end up on Instagram.

The Miradouro da Senhora do Monte is one of the highest points in the area, is set in a churchyard, and has views of the castle, the bridge, and the old city. You'll oftentimes hear live music there as well.

The Miradouro de Santa Catarina is a lesser-known spot that's great for sunsets, especially when there's live music. The nearby kiosk (Quiosque do Adamastor) sells coffee, beer, wine, cocktails, etc.

Lastly, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara is one of the most popular as it provides one of the best views of the city from the western side, along with some pop-up shops for food, drinks, and handmade goods. This one is very special, and it's great during the daytime and at night.

Another thing you'll probably do your first time in Lisbon is visit the Mercado da Ribeira, which includes a big produce and flower market on one side, and the absurdly trodden yet incessantly recommended food court known as Time Out Market on the other. I personally don't really like this place since it feels like a Disneyland cafeteria with half the sufficient seating or something, but it does do a good job of pulling together a lot of Lisbon's culinary classics in one place, despite there being almost no locals there. (So if there's something you were meaning to try before leaving the city, this place probably has it.)

Another spot in Lisbon where 99% of the people are tourists is the Elevador de Santa Justa, a giant cast-iron elevator that takes you from the downtown and down low part of Baixa to the up high part of Chiado. There's absolutely no reason to wait in line for this thing when you can just walk up the Calçada do Carmo street in five minutes and enter the same viewing deck for free instead. That's still worth checking out.

That said, once you're up there you can either have some draaanks with a view at what used to be called Topo Chiado, or you can be scholarly and check out the Carmo Convent just around the corner. This is a fairly interesting archaeological museum and/or former Gothic church that got destroyed by the famous 1755 earthquake (also known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake), which is pretty much the most important thing to know about the history of Lisbon—so if you don't know about it, the time is now to start pretending you know.

Back down in Baixa you'll also find the Igreja de São Domingos (Church of St. Dominic), which was not only damaged by multiple earthquakes (including the big kahuna in 1755 that you haven't already forgotten right?), but it also got its ass beat by a fire that broke out in 1959. The traces of the fire are still visible on the inside today, and it's a neat sight to see.

Before leaving the area of the church, there's another tourist-trap classic you can do right around the corner, which is to try the cherry-like liqueur known as ginjinha.

There's two competing ginjinha places right around the corner from the church, one of them is simply called, A Ginjinha ('The Ginjinha'), and the other one is called, Ginjinha sem Rival ('Ginjinha without Rival'). You probably won't even like one of them enough to try the other, but hey, you still tried one of them because it was a thing to do.

Something else you can do that's a thing to do is to open a fancy and/or traditional tin of sardines from one of the new and/or old canned fish shops, such as Mundo Fantástico Da Sardinha Portuguesa (The Fantastic World Of Portuguese Sardines), or Conserveira de Lisboa.

If you like flea markets, the Feira da Ladra runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays over in the Santa Clara area beyond Alfama.

Speaking of Alfama, one of the oldest traditions of visiting Lisbon is to listen to Fado, a genre of music characterized by somber tunes and lyrics, sung in a performative and almost opera-like way in the streets and in restaurants.

There's a lot I can say about this, including the beaten-to-death Portuguese word saudade (featured in the photo at the top of this guide and in Chapter 21 of 100 Flights the book), however I'll have to save that for another time so we can move on.

For now I'll say you can make dinner reservations at a Fado restaurant to ensure your spot (since most places are quite small), or you can wander around Alfama in the evenings and just follow your ear, hoping to find a vacant table for post-dinner drinks. I like A Baiuca and Tasca do Jaime, and another one to try is Mesa De Frades.

Where to go out in Lisbon:

Similar to its neighborhoods and/or parishes (called freguesias), Lisbon's nightlife scene is not a homogenous product. From hip speakeasies and chic rooftops to grungy clubs and dirty dives, it really just depends on what you're into. All the slopportunities are there.

I'm a big fan of the 'get your drinks inside but take them outside to hang out with everyone in the streets' community type of vibe, so I like these places:

Musa da Bica, a small taproom with a collection of beers from its own brewery, set on its own little side street where everyone hangs out. There's also a kitchen and a DJ on most going out nights.

Loucos & Sonhadores, a real gem of a bar with a vintage look, great prices, and friendly staff. These days (at time of writing) it's super popular among the younger Portuguese crowd.

Largo do Intendente, which is the name of an area rather than a single place. Here you'll find a small handful of bars where people fill up the streets to mingle and enjoy the open air. If you like this one, you'll probably also like Largo de Santos as well.

If you're looking for a cocktail at a speakeasy type of place where you need to buzz a bell to get in, here ya go:

Foxtrot is one of my favorite cocktail bars in Lisbon. There's an old-timey vibe, they give you free bar snacks, and the drinks are very professional. Go early or risk waiting outside while it's at capacity.

Pavilhão Chinesa is one of those unique places where there's just so much paraphernalia on the walls that you can sit at a new table each time and have a new experience.

Red Frog is actually hidden inside of another bar called Monkey Mash, which is cool on its own. You have to reserve ahead of time to get into Red Frog. Once you're in there you'll see why, because there's only a few tables and a lot of pageantry. Very high production value.

If you're looking for a rooftop, try the aforementioned Topo Chiado (now called Carmo Rooftop) during the day, Park around sunset (if it's not overcrowded and touristy), and Java at night. I've never been to Sky Bar but people used to talk about it a lot.

You can get Portuguese wine pretty much anywhere, but some specific wine bars I like are BytheWine, The Little Wine Bar, Casa da Praia, and Enoteca LX.

Can't mention Lisbon nightlife without bringing up the famous Pink Street. This is way more literal than you might think. It's a strip of bars on a small road that is painted hot pink. There's also a bunch of rainbow umbrellas above it, so it's definitely a photo slopportunity for first timers.

Some other bars I like:

Pensão Amor on Pink Street used to be a favorite of mine pre-Covid. It was then closed for renovations even after the grand re-openings started happening, and now this place is a hit or miss and oftentimes too crowded. If you can go during a sweet spot, it's still a great venue to check out.

Casa Independete next to Largo do Intendente is a really hip spot set inside of a former apartment with a big terrace and a dance floor.

Right up the road is another cool place called Crew Hassan, which is a laid back, low key, alternative kind of place with a DJ booth that's at just the right volume level.

If you're looking to go bar hopping, I'd recommend checking out Rua da Boavista, a road near Cais do Sodré with plenty of nice places to check out, such as Social B and Boavista Social Club.

If you're looking to go clubbing, you know that's not usually my strong suit. Most people in Lisbon will send you to the safest bet, which is LuxFrágil, a multi-tiered techno club with a slightly strict door policy and a nice rooftop. A buddy and I were there the night they finally reopened the clubs after Covid and we got on the local news, lol. You can look it up if you like to waste your time.

The rest of the club scene in Lisbon is mostly down along the water between Cais do Sodré and Santos, and most places play techno or reggaeton. Some other clubs I can at least namedrop are Ministerium and Titanic Sur Mer.

Of course, if all else fails, most tourists will end up in the mega bar district known as Bairro Alto. This is a small maze of streets in the center of town that I've mostly avoided mentioning until now, because at night time it's a total flustercuck.

I'm not saying it's bad, but I'm not saying it's good either. Your best move is to just show up and walk around until you find a place you think is worth going inside. You can do this until 3 or 4am.

Where to eat and what to eat in Lisbon:

Listen, if you want this beef on ya, then you need to order a bifana.

I'm sorry, let me start over.

Along with the prego, the bifana is Portugal's main sandwich. (Side note for the haters: I'll talk about Francesinhas when I do the guide to Porto.)

The bifana is a pork steak sandwich on a roll, and the prego is a beef steak sandwich on a roll. Both are usually enjoyed with mustard and an imperial (a small draft beer) on the side. I recommend trying this at Beira Gare, O Trevo, Casa das Bifanas, and most of all, As Bifanas do Afonso.

To appease my vegan friends who want no part of this beef on ya, allow me to direct you to Jardim das Cerejas, PSI, The Green Affair, and Vegan Nata (for vegan pastéis).

If you eat anything, some of the other dishes you gotta try in Lisbon are the octopus tail roasted in olive oil (polvo à lagareiro), most codfish dishes (but probably the Bacalhau à Brás), the sardines for the hell of it, the Alheira sausage in disguise that isn't really sausage (but poultry and other game instead), and Piri Piri chicken, straight from Portugal's spicy, culinary colonizing past. (There's a pun or a portmaneau in there somewhere. Maybe even a Portomanteau? Good god, I'm moving on.)

As Lisbon is becoming more and more reverse-colonized with digital nomads, it's no wonder that brunch is becoming more popular in the city. Some very on-the-beaten-path spots are Dear Breakfast, the mill, Zenith, and Amelia.

A lesser-known bagel place that hasn't opened its new doors yet (but is available for orders and shoutouts) is rhodo bagels.

As for traditional restaurants, one of my favorites is an unassuming Italian place called Leonetta. For some reason those mozzarella bites blow my socks off every time.

Estrela da Bica is a hard to get into (or rather, hard to remember to make a reservation far enough in advance to get into) kind of place that seemingly never disappoints. If you sit outside you get to watch the funiculars go up and down.

There's a place close to the lovely Avenida Liberdade road called A Cozinha - Sr. Lisboa (The Kitchen - Mr. Lisbon) that I absolutely loved, but I think they may have closed this location and only retained the other one (which I haven't been to yet) called O Jardim - Sr. Lisboa (The Garden - Mr. Lisbon). The menu looks to be more or less the same, and if the preparation is more or less the same, then it remains one of my favorite restaurants in the city.

If you're over in Alfama and hungry, I really like the vibe at Antú Alfama. It's slightly hidden but in such a good spot.

Up a bit higher in Alfama you'll find another great spot (with city and river views from the upstairs dining room) called Chapitô à Mesa, which is always a pleasure.

If you can't handle any more Portuguese food, a good break would be Cafeh Tehran, an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant. Hard to go wrong there.

If you can handle more Portuguese food, I'm a sucker for da Prata 52, a small tapas place run by an even smaller band of brothers. They're great with tourists and they help you order what you actually want with their recommendations.

If you like Netflix and/or celebrity chef things, I've got two for you.

The Phil guy from Somebody Feed Phil nailed it when he recommended the Goan restaurant Jesus é Goês. That place is dope, and a bit tricky to secure a table. Absolutely worth it. (RIP to the owner Jesus, who passed away in April of 2023.)

Anthony Bourdain (also RIP) recommended a seafood restaurant called Cervejaria Ramiro, which is also dope, and also tricky to secure a table, but I think it might also be too popular to be worth the price tag. (Also.) If you can't get in there, or simply don't want to, a really good alternative is A Marisqueira do Lis, less than two blocks away on the same road, Avenida Almirante Reis.

Ok, there's one more place I have to point out for the sweet teeth out there. (Sweet tooths? Sweets tooth?)

Up a bit further on the same road I was just talking about, there's a pastry shop called Fábrica dos Bolos do Chile (Factory of Cakes from Chile). This place is so unique, and going there is an experience in itself.

First of all, the hours of this place go from 8:30pm to 6am daily. That's weird enough on its own, right?

Secondly, you can't really go in, but you can go down the stairs to see the man behind the metal bars of what resembles a prison door. (Also, I kid you not, the street address of this place on Google Maps even mentions that it is in the "cave" part of the building.)

Now, behind this man is a fat selection of various pastries and desserts to choose from, all of which are simply amazing. You tell him what you want, he puts it in a brown paper bag, you give him the money, and you walk away. End of transaction.

It's perfect. It's so charming.

It's where I became a former Berliner turned Lisboner eating a Berliner in Lisbon at 5am one morning.


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