Surprising. Welcoming. Friendly. Lisbon has it all going on.
The European equivalent of a “west coast vibe,” Lisbon exudes it. While we couldn’t escape the references to the earthquake and tsunami of 1755, which devastated the city, and required large portions to be completely rebuilt, the modern Lisbon exudes “stay a little longer.”
We stayed in the Belem, which is a neighborhood in western Lisbon where the royalty and the rich moved after the earthquake because of the relatively flat area and structurally-sound buildings. It is also the last place the explorers saw before venturing into the unknown out of the Tagus River and into the Atlantic Ocean where monsters lurk in the depths.
Belem is where the explorers prayed at the Monastery of Jerónimos, and waved goodbye to the Torre de Belem. It’s quite easy to forget these days that Portugal was a powerhouse in seafaring and world trade.
The Monastery of Jerónimos is the epitome of Manueline style (synonymous with Portuguese late Gothic), which is a Portuguese architectural style originating in the 16th century and corresponding with the Age of Discoveries. Manueline architecture combines maritime elements with discoveries from Africa, India, and South America. The style is named for King Manuel I. It is really unlike anything we’ve seen previously with the unusual combination of notable symbols. Next door is the amazing Maritime Museum, which tells the fantastic history of Portugal’s seafaring expeditions. A great lunch spot is the 14-seat Enoteca de Belem where you get the freshest seafood and local wine.
Nearby the Jerónimos Monastery is the Torre de Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which served as a part of Lisbon’s historical defenses from attack on the Tagus River. Since then its been a customs house and cultural center and now its a great place to hold hands, kiss, and watch the sun set.
Later that evening we went to Lisbon for dinner at Mini Bar, where local cuisine meets modern presentation, and the Chiado Wine Bar where Thomas provided us a late night tour of Portuguese wine over great conversation.
Saturday Stroll Through Lisbon’s Neighborhoods
A twenty-minute Jump electric bike ride following marked pathways alongside the Tagus River and under the 25 of April bridge (the twin of San Francisco’s Golden Gate) makes for a wonderful Saturday morning trip from Belem to central Lisbon. The alternative is a relatively cheap 5-7 Euro Uber ride. It was a gorgeous morning in early December so we opted for a ride. Sharing the pathways with joggers and families out for a stroll, we ended up at Time Out Lisbon, a massive indoor market hall that combines some of Lisbon’s most amazing food and drink in one place.
Having secured a fulsome lunch, we’re ready to explore the city starting with the Baixa. The Baixa was primarily constructed following the 1755 earthquake and represents one of the first examples of earthquake-resistant construction. The first prototypes were tested by marching soldiers to simulate an earthquake.
This part of town is a grid, but just up the hill is the Barrio Alto, which is steep and cobbled. There are three ways to get from the lower town to the upper town: (1) walk, (2) take the funicular, (3) take the elevator de Santa Justa and there is no wrong choice.
One of our most favorite parts of Lisbon are the tile sidewalks. The black and white basalt and limestone square bricks are set in patterns, with certain patterns being linked to specific neighborhoods.
Just down the street is one of the most spectacular places to experience a city sunset – the Convento do Carmo. Within the Convent are some amazing pieces of art and mummified bog people.
On the hill in eastern Lisbon is the Alfama; a neighborhood as rustic as it gets. Situated up a steep hillside, the tiny alley ways feel both like you’ve gone back in time as well as you are trespassing. Houses sit on top of houses and before you know it, you’re lost in a maze trying to find your way down. A “must try” in the Alfama is the famous ginjinha, which is essentially a sour cherry liquor sold in small hole-in-the-wall places along the walk.
For drinks and dinner, we went to the LX Factory, which is a hip new spot in Lisbon. A converted section of factories near the 25th of April bridge, the LX Factory has a rooftop deck, shops, and restaurants. Packed during the day, its a lovely place to spend a few hours on a Saturday night.
Further Afield: the coastal resort town of Cascais and the hillside seafood five-star meal at Monte Mar.
Dine: Peixaria da Esquina is a small corner seafood restaurant in a quiet Lisbon neighborhood.
Stay: Altis Belem Hotel and Spa, a boutique hotel with rooms opening out onto balconies overlooking the Tagus River.
Why We’ll Go Back: the people; we’ve never felt so much welcoming from locals in any other city we’ve been.