After one of the rare 10 do's and don'ts reports from Latin America (we are working to correct that) with Buenos Aires by Vanessa Camozzi, we cross the Atlantic and head for Portugal with 10 do's and don'ts of Lisbon by Luisa Santos an art curator who divides her time between London and Lisbon.
10 do’s and 10 don’ts in Lisbon
Lisbon is the city where I was born and raised. I have lived in some different cities, as Linz, Copenhagen and London in my 20s and was lucky enough to get to know cities in different continents as the USA, Europe and Asia. I cannot name a favorite city but if I would have to name a city “home” that would certainly be Lisbon, where I find my roots in the sea and my dreams in the bright white light.
Go to old cafés like Pasteleria Versailles in Saldanha and Pastelaria Mexicana (it’s not a Mexican café) located Avenida Guerra Junqueiro 30 C, founded in the 1940s, with its amazing tiles and a sort of aquarium full of colourful birds.
Visit Gulbenkian. It’s composed of two Museums, a traditional one and a Contemporary / Modern Art Center and it has the most beautiful gardens in the city. It was planned and designed by architect Ribeiro Telles. The exhibition programme at the Modern Art Centre is impressive and there are always good concerts if you like classical music and jazz;
Save time for Miradouros as Miradouro da Graça, Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte and Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon is the city of the seven hills and the views are amazing. From each point, the city is visible almost fully and the view to the river is always quite refreshing and somehow, makes you feel like getting into a boat, like the Lisboners of the 15th Century did in the discoveries.
Pay visit to Bairro de Alvalade, a neighborhood from the 1950s (which is something rather recent for Portuguese terms), the architecture is very different from the one in the old town (as Alfama and Bairro Alto) and there are many local shops selling way nicer and cheaper products than in the touristy areas as downtown (Baixa).
Have lunch at Martim Moniz , a sort of a melting pot of cultures. There, you can easily eat a Chinese meal together with an Indian Mango Lassi. It’s very vibrant and it’s being renewed as it used to be a quite dodgy area.
Go to Estação do Rossio , it’s a beautiful train station located in Restauradores on the end of Liberdade Avenue, a very posh avenue with shops like Louis Vouitton, Prada and the like. Restauradores is very near to Rossio Square, in the Pombaline Downtown (18th Century, built after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami which wrecked the whole city) of Lisbon.
DO go to Largo do Intendente. Most people will tell you it’s the equivalent to the red district in Amsterdam. That is partially true but it’s also wrong as it’s been subject to a huge renovation and the Largo (square) is now full of artists, the Mayor has moved there, you can find a residency for artists and there are always live concerts in the Summer as well as performances and site-specific artworks which are changing a lot the perception people have towards this area.
Visit Belém (take the tram 15 at Cais to Sodré) and have a Pastel de Belém at the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém. The queue is long and full of tourists as well as locals. A Pastel de Belém is not the same as a Pastel de Nata, it’s always warm, and the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém is filled with beautiful traditional Portuguese tiles. Once you’re in the area, have a look at Mosteiro dos Jerónimos , Padrão dos Descobrimentos and stop to watch the river. On the other side of the river you’ll see Almada, which is also worth a boat trip from Terreiro do Paço...
Make an evening stop at Zé dos Bois if you are into alternative / indie music. It’s a very peculiar space, an old building in the old town (Bairro Alto) with an exhibition space, a bookshop, a bar and a concerts’ room.
DON’T go to any Starbuck’s café. Lisbon is filled with traditional cafés, why would someone pay double for an expresso (an expresso in Lisbon costs roughly 0,60 Eur and at Starbuck’s costs around 1,20 Eur), which tastes bad? And it’s a chain that you can find anywhere in the world.
DON’T go to any Padaria Portuguesa. To a tourist, at first sight, might look as something traditional but it’s not. It’s a chain and the quality is poor.
Stay away from Hard Rock Café. The music is not terrible but there are so many nice concert and music places in Lisbon that this one is the one to be missed.
Skip Colombo, Vasco da Gama or any shopping mall. Please support local and small shops. You are in the city of the white light, please don’t spend your days in a closed space.
DON’T visit Lisbon in August, it’s way too hot and there are many shops closed for holidays.
DON’T go to a Fado House where there is a person giving you a leaflet at the entrance and pushing you to enter. The best Fado Houses don’t need to ask for clients and are usually located in narrow streets and corners in Bairro Alto (old town) and Alfama.
DON’T forget to try a Port wine. It’s from Porto but if you are in Lisbon you’ll find it as well.
DON’T rent a car if you are staying in the city or even if you want to go to Cascais or Sintra. Take trains and metro instead. The traffic in Lisbon is unbearable and it’s very difficult (and pricey) to park.
No need to take a cab from the airport. Lisbon has just built a new metro station in the airport and it takes you everywhere in the city for 1,50 Eur (a cab can cost you from 10 to 50 Eur, depending on where you want to go).
No need to choose the cheapest hotel or the most expensive (as Tivoli or Sheraton). There are very good deals in areas as Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques, Saldanha and even the Old Town (Bairro Alto). There are some new hostels that might be a good option but it’s also nice to rent a flat from a local.
(* Photo credits: Pastelaria Versailles pastry box from Eating the World piece on this Cafe, Museu do Fado from Museu do Fado Facebook page, Rua Augusta in Pombaline by Osvaldo Gago via Wikipedia, Hotel DAH in Alameda Dom Afonso Henriques from Hotel DAH website,