On the Southern European Atlantic coast lies the capital of Portugal. While known to many for its steep landscapes and yellow trams, E&M author Francisca Rosales argues the city offers much more beyond its various tourist traps. Born and raised in Lisbon, she takes you to the grassroots of the city’s streets to help you prepare for your next trip like a true local.
The sunny skies and the light reflected on the tiles are vivid images that I have of Lisbon growing up. In recent years, Lisbon has seen a boom in tourism, making it a more diverse and dynamic city. If you are in Lisbon, I believe that the real charm of the city cannot be found solely in tourist attractions and the yellow trams (locals never actually take them). Therefore, here are some tips on how to experience Lisbon as a local so that you can experience the full potential of the city.
Hidden gems in residential neighbourhoods
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Estrela, a family-friendly (and increasingly trendy) neighbourhood located on one of Lisbon’s hills. There, you can find Jardim da Estrela (Estrela Garden), a beautiful garden, perfect for strolling on a sunny day. A lot of locals gather in the outdoor cafés (esplandas in Portuguese) to enjoy an espresso and catch up with each other. One of my favourite things about the park is how dynamic it is – you will always find families with their children, young people sitting on the grass, or even dance workshops. However, the most special part of the park lies in its southern gates. Walking out of the gates, you will face Estrela Basilica. A beautiful church built in the 18th century. While it glistens in its splendour during the day, I would also recommend seeing it during the night, as the lights enhance its majestic look.
In the same area, visiting São Bento Street is a must. Starting from Rato Square, São Bento is a very long street filled with small antique stores. There, you can find vintage furniture to busts of Saints. At the end of the street, you can go to one of the most famous (and probably the best) ice cream stores in Lisbon, Nanarella, and the Portuguese Parliament.
From the bottom of São Bento, I recommend walking along the neighbourhood of Santo António, if you want to experience an authentic Lisbon neighbourhood. There, you can always spot old ladies looking out of the windows, “spying” on pedestrians, which is quite a common sight in Portugal! One of my favourite spots lies in the Cruz dos Poais, where you can view tiny houses and the Parliament from afar.
Lastly, if you are looking to try something other than Portuguese food, Martim Moniz square is the place to go. There, you will find numerous places with Asian food. Also, you can go to the nearby street Benformoso to try one of the many illegal Chinese restaurants. You just need to find the apartment number, ring the correct doorbell, and you will be let in!
Rua Poais de São Bento & Rua da Boa vista
While walking through neighbourhoods is nice, it might be a bit overwhelming. I recommend that you focus on two (very long) streets – Poais de São Bento and Boa Vista, my favourite streets in Lisbon. These streets are closely located to each other and are home to many cafés and concept stores owned by young Portuguese entrepreneurs. For example, the store Mustique sells summer shirts, a must-have in the wardrobe of Lisbon youngsters. Also, Boa Vista Street, while nice during the day, is extremely lively during nighttime. There, you can find the Musa bar, one of the most famous local beer breweries, and other trendy bars and restaurants.
Sunsets and nights out
Before you go on a night out, you must know how to order beer in Portugal. The drinking culture in Lisbon is quite different from other places in Europe. Most bars/cafés offer only one (of the two Portuguese main beers) on tap – Super Bock and Sagres. So, if you want to blend with the locals, you should not name a beer brand when ordering. Rather, you ask for an “imperial” (0.25cl) or a “caneca” (0.50cl), and they will provide you with whichever beer they have on tap!
Now that you know how to order drinks like a local, Bairro Alto is perfect for a night out with your friends. Bairro Alto is a neighbourhood located in Misericordia, where you can find endless streets with bars and all sorts of music. While most bars play top charts and reggaeton, there are also more alternative options. Try going to bar A Capela, which used to be a small chapel, but nowadays plays great electronic music, or even Zé dos Bois Gallery, a cultural centre which hosts concerts and a rooftop bar, where you can enjoy a cozy view of the chaotic streets of Bairro Alto on a Friday night. Not so far from Bairro Alto, Cais do Sodré, by the Tagus River, also has fun nightlife. By the iconic Pink Street, you will find the restaurant Collect Burger. Despite being a hamburger restaurant, Collect is mostly known for its live electronic music.
If you are looking for a clubbing experience, you should go to Lux, the most famous techno club in Lisbon. With three dance floors, Lux has a chill and inviting atmosphere. Partying in Lisbon usually takes place quite late, so make sure to go to the club around 2 or 3 a.m. to enjoy it at its best!
Lisbon is well-known for its viewpoints, or as we say in Portuguese, “miradouros”. Thus, if you want to have a chill sunset/late afternoon, I recommend buying some snacks and drinks and going to Santa Catarina viewpoint, Monte Agudo viewpoint, or even to Jardim do Cerco da Graça. From these viewpoints, you can enjoy a nice sunset with a view over the river and the city.
Lisbon has become more than a hometown to me. The city has a nostalgic feeling that makes you consider “her” a friend (Portuguese culture and music often portray Lisbon as a girl). Therefore, I hope to see others enjoy the city to its full potential beyond its tourist traps.