Tile facades of antique buildings shimmer in the sun. Mazes of ornate wrought iron terraces curl around hugging apartments. Up and down, up and down, pedestrians surf wave after wave of uneven cobblestone streets. A man clanging a bell outside of a bakery alerts locals that custard pastries are ready for devouring. Just as the rich cinnamon scent hits your nose, a rickety wooden tram screeches and jerks around a corner like a clumsy drunk.
Touted as one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon’s just-right mix of old world charm and modern neighborhoods make it an absolute must for any travel lover. I wandered its cobbled alleyways and seven hills to create a unique guide of history and culture that you won’t find in any tourbooks. Keep reading to learn my top 7 musts for your first trip to Lisbon.
1. Savor a warm Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria
Out of all the places to find Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon (and there are plenty) this one is hands down the best. The bakery is tiny with standing room only, and don’t get it twisted – they only serve pastéis. But, they’re warm and fresh directly from the oven. These flakey, cinnamony, egg custard treats are little cups of heaven. Unlike other bakeries, the only thing that separates you and bakers is a pane of glass so you can witness the entire process. Try to eat just one, I dare you.
Location: Rua do Loreto 2, 1200-108
Hours: 8am-12am every day
2. Explore Gothic architecture at Jerónimos Monastery
Mosteiros dos Jerónimos is one of Portugal’s greatest symbols of wealth and power from the Age of Exploration. Commissioned in 1501 by King Manuel I, the monastery was funded by Portugal’s domination of African and Indian trade routes. The mesmerizing cloister of the monastery is famous for its Late Gothic Manueline (after King Manuel I) style. Elaborate carvings with maritime motifs serve as an hommage to the prosperity of the era. The gilded tomb of explorer Vasco De Gama is inside the church next to the monastery.
Location: Praça do Império 1400-206
Hours: See website.
3. Let loose at Pistola y Corazon
In the vibrant Bairro Alto neighborhood find Pistola y Corazon, a rugged taco joint. The place is hard to miss as you walk down the street. Look for a crowd waiting like hungry seagulls as they inhale liquor drinks from plastic bags. Picnic tables, loud music and complimentary mezcal shots are fair game (along with some seriously spicy tacos, no doubt). Try the tacos chicharrón en salsa roja and hold onto your pants!
Location: Rua da Boavista 16, 1200-066
Hours: See website.
4. Ride the tram to the top of Castelo de São Jorge
The tram ride is an experience in and of itself. I know what you’re thinking, but they’re not just for tourists. Locals ride them too. The tramway lines run where the metro doesn’t reach and more modern trams can’t pass. The 1930s wood-panelled Remodelado trams come within inches of pedestrians as they clang their way through the streets. Take the scenic E28 route for €2.90 up to the ancient Moorish Castle of St. George. Enjoy the best views of Lisbon and transported back in time with a complimentary tour.
Location: R. de Santa Cruz do Castelo, 1100-129
Free guided tours: 10:30am, 1pm, 4pm
Hours: Daily 9am-6pm
5. Indulge your inner hipster at LX Factory
Location: Rua Rodrigues de Faria, 103
Hours: 9am-12am daily (bars vary)
Video: LX Factory
6. Visit Torre de Belém
Another well-known example of Late Gothic Manueline architecture, the iconic Tower of Belem was used as a defense system and gateway in the 16th century. Located right on the shore of the Tagus river, it could almost be mistaken for a giant sandcastle from above. Go to the top for the beautiful views and grab a drink or some fresh fruit from a vendor along the riverbank afterward.
Location: Avenida Brasilia – Belem, 1400-038
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm
7. Indulge in a sampling of local wines, hams and cheeses
Enjoy the best the country has to offer at Lisbon Winery. The cozy wine bar offers group tastings every day at 3:30pm, but if no one shows, they’re still happy to indulge you. The tasting starts with a selection of local olive oils and an elaborate cheese board with the first two whites. Then two reds and a port are served with an array of mouthwatering Iberico hams. Don’t like the notes you’re tasting from a particular pour? Simply let your guide know and he’ll gladly accommodate to your preferences.
Location: Rua da Barroca, 9-13
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 3pm-12am.
I hope you enjoy this curated selection of spots if you ever find yourself in Lisbon! Where have you found the best intersection of tradition vs trendy in your travels? Until next time, boa viagem!