Lisbon, a city of port wine, beaches, and…tile. The coastal capital of Portugal may occupy a place in the shadow of Spain’s better-known vacation destinations, but people are catching on as the city is quickly becoming a tourist hot spot in its own right.
Lisbon is built on seven hills spread around the area where the River Tejo meets the Atlantic Ocean. These “seven hills” developed into distinct neighborhoods that give Lisbon a diverse vibe. We always appreciate a city a little bit more when it seems like the number of locals outweigh the number of tourists (granted we were visiting in March, so not the hottest tourist time!)
Of course, we took a walking tour with Lisbon ‘Chill-Out Free Tour’ (Reg Note: please support this local group and not one of those big conglomerates!) through the city, with our amazing tour guide Rafa (but pronounced more like Hafa, but not really), Definitely sign up for the tips-only tour if you visit, but if you want to experience the culture yourself, be sure to check out these spots:
Your spot for nightlife
I admit that Nick and I aren’t always the biggest nightcrawlers on our trips. Long and active days with early morning starts usually have us too tuckered out to embark on late nights of mirth and merrymaking. It probably helped that we were traveling with some friends, but with Bairro Alto right down the hill from out AirBnB, we were tempted to partake in a nighttime experience that looked too fun to miss out on.
With streets lined with funky bars and unpretentious eateries, Bairro Alto is the perfect taste of Lisbon hipsterdom. A quiet residential neighborhood by day, the streets come alive after dinner (and remember, this is European dinner times, not American dinner times). The bars are less places you go and hang out at and more places where you stop to refill your cup as you move throughout the streets of the neighborhood with a few thousand other people.
Don’t let that deter you from stopping by during the day, however. Given its eclectic vibe, Bairro Alto is a great gallery of local handmade tiles, new and old.
Be sure to stop at: We tucked into one of the more well put together bars, Majong, for some local Vinho Verde before venturing into the streets to join the party. The best quirk of this bar was definitely the swiss chard lamp shades!
Not feeling Vinho Verde? If you really want to fit in like a local you should make an effort to align yourself with one of Portugal’s two major beers: Super Bock and Sagres. It’s the Bud/Miller rivalry of the Iberian peninsula. Nick and our friend Josh both ended up as Sagres men by the end of the trip.
Not feeling straight-up beer either? See if the bar will add a shot of the local Cherry liquor, Ginjinha, to your glass. That’s what all those people you see with red beers are drinking and it’s delicious.
Shopping district/Typical tourist area
This area, formerly a Monmartian hotspot for Lisbons artists, writers and intellectuals, is a little cleaner and well kept than some other parts of town. The reason becomes obvious when you look at the price of the average item for sale. You can find your typical global chains lining the streets, good if you want a shopping day but nothing you couldn’t find in any other major metropolitan area outside of Lisbon. Still worth a trot though for the beautiful buildings lining the spiffy streets. (Reg Note: I’d recommend starting at the North end, then walking straight down south until you hit the water for gorgeous views and impressive sand art)
Be sure to stop at: If you do want a local boutique, go to A Vida Portuguese for plenty of Portuguese gifts that you can’t find at H&M.
A taste of the locals
Tucked away east of the city, this is a little more residential (and you can tell! many residents are just cooking up some meat on a janky grill on the sidewalk). They’re also known to be a little louder and demonstrative in their day-to-day musings, so if you assume some neighbors are yelling at each other, they’re probably just having a pleasant conversation about whatever is annoying them at the moment.
Be sure to stop at: If you can make the trek up the hills (then staircase, then some more hills) through Alfama, you’ll land at one of the most iconic backdrops in Lisbon, Portas Do Sol. Certainly Instagram-worthy.
While those cover the big 3 neighborhoods, there’s plenty else to do in Lisbon. The city is dotted with historic landmarks, waterside restaurants, great views and bustling squares. There’s even a whole museum dedicated to the art of tile painting! And if you have some extra time, take a quick train ride to the quaint towns hugging Lisbon, like Sintra.
Thanks to Agne for being a wonderful photographer during this trip!