As author of “The Portuguese Travel Cookbook“, Lisbon local Nelson Carvalheiro knows a thing or two about the best places to eat, drink and make the most of a stay in the capital of Portugal. During research for his book he had the enviable task of travelling the length and breadth of Portugal sampling mouth-watering seafood and tasty traditional recipes that haven’t changed for centuries. Who better then to take us on a whistle-stop tour of some of Lisbon’s most incredible little restaurants and sights that locals usually keep to themselves. Read on and check out his top tips for exploring Lisbon like a local...
“May is a great time of year to explore Lisbon because the weather is mild and there aren’t so many tourists around yet. Lisbon is best seen while walking its hilly cobble streets, and late spring/early summer is a great time of year to do it, occasionally stopping at a café for some chargrilled sardines and, if you’re lucky, to listen to fado, Portugal’s melancholy folk music. Walking is also the best way to explore Lisbon because Lisbon is a hilly city and many of its narrow cobbled streets are inaccessible to cars and other vehicles. These narrow streets are where you’ll find the beating heart of the city. Do yourself a favour and get lost in Lisbon’s maze of cobbled lanes.
A good place to enjoy a coffee is São Roque bakery in Principe Real. The interior is superb, with its neoclassical tiles and pillars. Locals still line up to buy the excellent bread, but you can also sit at a table and have a coffee and pastry, all of which are homemade. Merendinha do Arco at Rua dos Sapateiros 230 is my favourite place for lunch in Lisbon, I always order grilled cutlass fish with bean rice. It’s a small place, with no fancy décor, except for what the owner has collected over his 20 or more years of running the place. It seats about 30 people sharing 3 communal tables, which are always filled with only locals, so elbow space is a bit of a challenge at busy lunch times. Ask for the daily specials which include salt cod with chickpeas, veal and vegetable stew, fried black pork loin and be sure to order some traditional house vinho verde to go with your meal. At the end of the meal everyone gets a shot of aged distilled grape liqueur, so be ready to feel on top of the world after this experience!
Ponto Final at Cais do Ginjam 72 Cacilhas is a great spot for dinner in Lisbon because you can have a waterfront meal while seeing the sunset over Lisbon. It takes its name from its location, it’s literally at the end of a riverside walk on the other side of the Tagus. To get to the restaurant you cross the river on the commuter ferry from Cais do Sodre (Lisbon side) to Caçilhas (Almada side). I recommend that you call ahead and reserve a table. That way you’ll get to enjoy magnificent uninterrupted views of the water. If you want to catch an early dinner, 6pm is the best time to book as you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful evening sunshine. Here the food is all about real traditional Portuguese home cooked flavours, so the must have starters are; salt cod with chick peas and the escabeche sardines, which come with very rustic Alentejo bread. For the main course I strongly suggest the tomato rice with deep-fried baby mackerels for a taste of a local fisherman’s favourite dish, or ask for the catch of the day and they will char grill it fresh for you on request.
Most people don’t realise that Lisbon is one of the most authentic capitals in Europe. Portuguese people are proud – they love everything about Portugal and Lisboners love everything about Lisbon.
Before you come to Lisbon you should read something about the age of Portuguese discoveries. I actually think that this should be a mandatory question at Lisbon airport! Much more than being a pretty waterfront city, Lisbon (and Portugal’s) history is deeply connected with the Age of Discoveries, and the bridging of gaps between distant civilizations. What the Portuguese did at the time was unprecedented and visitors should understand this amazing feat before exploring Lisbon sights.
In Lisbon, ’boutique’ and ‘vintage’ means being able to shop at stores that have been open for more than a century, many of them being run by the same family that originally founded them. Sapataria do Carmo (custom made shoes) , Luvaria Ulisses (custom made gloves) and Chapelaria Azevedo (custom made hats) are just a few examples.
The best thing to do for free while exploring Lisbon is to sit at the Cais das Colunas (at the waterfront of Praça do Comercio), enjoy the sun and watch the boats go by. For me it is easy to see why Lisbon is regarded as one of the best cities in Europe to visit: you can step directly onto a beach, the seafood tastes ocean fresh and the sun shines for 300 days of the year. The city juggles the relaxed feel of southern Europe with a weightier history and heritage, but it also has a youthful energy that seems to stem from the light, which has frequently been described as a cinematographer’s dream.
The Bairro Alto area has the best nightlife because the streets in this quarter buzz from early afternoon to early morning. You can bar hop from tiny bohemian holes in the wall to more select places, or you can just stroll and people watch; as most of the establishments are tiny, life is very much out in the streets.”
Flights to Lisbon
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