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WHY GO: Lisbon Portugal is a hot destination right now – and should be. Just a 6 1/2 hour flight, it’s the closest Mainland Europe city to New York. Colorful, classic and innovative all at once, with mosaic sidewalks, cobblestone streets, terra cotta roofs, tiled buildings, Lisbon is eye-catching no matter which way you look.
Here – the Getaway Mavens give you tested advice about what to see, where to shop, hottest places to eat and one great hotel to put you in the center of things. Read on:
Things to Do in and Around Lisbon Portugal
Take in the stunning walkways and streets of the Chiado shopping district.
Lisbon carefully tends to its aging streets – fixing them with an artistic eye.
Find every Portuguese product worth bringing home at A Vida Portuguesa.
These include beautiful tins of sardines (3-7 Euro), luxurious soaps, art tiles and plenty more attractively presented high quality local goods.
Shop for linens at the 130 year old Paris Em Lisboa Linen Shop in Chiado.
Pick up luxury sheet sets and duvet covers for a fraction of what you’ll spend elsewhere.
Buy custom-fitted leather gloves for 55-75 Euro at the tiny two-person at a time Luvaria Ulisses glove shop.
It’s been at the same location since 1925.
Portugal is known for its cork products, and you’ll find some of the best cork handbags at the off-the-beaten-track Pelcor.
Walk down Rua Augusta – to the magnificent arch.
And yes, you can go to the top for a fee.
The monument beyond the arch looks out over the Tagus River, which was once peppered with protective towers and forts.
Visit the Tower of Belem
Located in the Belem section of Lisbon, a visit to this fortification, built in 1515, provides an overview of Lisbon history and grants great river views.
This monument stands as homage to explorers who set off from Portugal for new lands. It was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Lisbon’s own Prince Henry the Navigator.
Eat some pasteis de nata at the famous Pasteis de Belem
Do not leave the Belem area without trying out one of the city’s best known pastry shops – Pasteis de Belem. These custard delights are to Lisbon what Cafe Du Monde’s beignets are to New Orleans. The recipe hasn’t changed since 1837, when monks at the Monastery of Jeronimos next door began selling these sweet custard tarts to keep their home solvent.
Next, head back to the Bairro Alto district to compare pastries
Makers of these “Pastel de Nata,” as the Belem pastries came to be called, are quite competitive. You’ll find Manteigaria‘s version right off the square next to the Diesel store. You can watch them being made and they are served hot from the oven.
Ride the #28 Tram
The square is also where you’ll pick up Tram #28.
You’ll find the tram stop on the other side of the monument (above).
Electric trolly cars come every five minutes or so on the route from Bairro Alto neighborhood to the Alfama District.
If you intend to use the great public transportation system throughout the day, it pays to purchase a day-pass for 7 Euro (each ride costs 2.95 Euro).
In Alfama, you’ll come across local characters like this nattily dressed gentleman sporting the colors of his favorite soccer team.
Visit the hilltop town of Sintra. Arrange for a Private Tour With Sintra Magik Private Tours
Spend the day in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra – about 30 minutes from Lisbon and home to several Royal Palaces, including the whimsical and colorful Pena Palace.
To get the most out of a trip here – and the “Golden Triangle” area of Sintra, Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point of mainland Europe), the tony town of Cascais and a fresh-from-the-sea lunch at a local fishing village, book your tour through Sintra Magik Private Tours.
This is personalized and professional service at its best. Guides are incredibly knowledgeable and engaging. They know Portuguese history, speak English well, and are very keen to showing visitors the best and most “local” restaurants and attractions.
A full day private tour, which includes all transportation from 9am-5pm, entrance fees and a guided tour through Pena Palace, lunch at a local fresh seafood restaurant (not a tourist trap) costs just 135 Euro per person (plus a 35 Euro pick-up fee).
Pena Palace is an amalgam of styles, themes, and colors – built on the grounds of a monastery and expanded by King Ferdinand in the mid-1800’s.
In Sintra, the best place to sample Port Wines is in Cantinho Gourmet – in a back tasting room. You’ll learn the difference between Ruby and Tawny red Ports, and the rare but developing White Ports.
Stop at the Westernmost Point of European Mainland
For those who thrill at “extreme” directional points on the globe, a stop at the Atlantic Oceanside Cabo Da Roca is in order, as it’s the Westernmost Point of European Mainland.
Cabo Da Roca is a very quick (and windblown) stop, before heading to Azoia, a small fishing village. Stop into a casual local restaurant for just-pulled from the water Sea Bass, lightly grilled with olive oil and salt, filleted table side and served with potatoes and greens.
To really get into Lisbon culture, plan at least one night listening to Fado Music
This from-the-gut, low-register mix of The Blues, Opera and Jazz – all in the Spanish-Russian sounding Portuguese language – is very alluring. Fado clubs in the Bairro Alto Neighborhood are like jazz clubs in New Orleans. You’ll find them one after another on narrow lanes. For the best (with dinner as well), book a table at Clube Do Fado, which is known to feature rising stars in a very esoteric firmament.
Check Out Lisbon’s Orient Train Station
Even if you have no plans to take a train from Lisbon to Porto, you should see this beautifully designed structure by architect Santiago Calatrava. New Yorkers might recognize Calatrava’s style. He also designed the the dove-shaped World Trade Transportation Hub in downtown Manhattan.
Restaurants in Lisbon
This is not an exhaustive list in the least but it gives you a starting point.
This is your view from the Bairro Alto Hotel’s Rooftop Terrace Bar, where your evening should begin at least one night. If you cannot draw yourself away (and most can’t), stay for dinner.
From traditional (Fado) to contemporary, Lisbon is busting out all over with innovative cuisine. Here – the fun pink interior of Sacramento Restaurant offsets its serious foodie food. One of the best in the city.
EAT: Time Out Market
If you can’t decide on cuisine, chose from a huge selection at Time Out Market near the waterfront in Barrio Alto. A food court the likes of which you’ve never seen, this is where you’ll discover some of the best up and coming celebrity chefs. No big surprise its a great hit with locals and tourists alike.
Where to Stay in Lisbon
STAY: The Bairro Alto Hotel is steps from Chiado and the riverfront in central Lisbon.
Tram 28 goes right by the front door, and to top it off, it’s got one of the best rooftop bars in the country. A boutique hotel, service is fun and on the ball. Rooms and baths, though a bit small, are charming. Wi-fi is free and European breakfast (including order your own egg dish) is hearty and delicious. Rooms from $270 per night.