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With more and more tourists flocking to visit the beautiful Portuguese capital, are there any places you can go in Lisbon and avoid the typical tourist routes, tuk-tuk trails and tacky travel souvenirs?
Well, thankfully the answer is yes! Quiet corner cafes, hidden “Praças” and envy-inducing rooftop bars all lie just waiting to be discovered as you wander through Lisbon, though they’re not always easy to find. Whether you’re looking for chilled afternoon spots, local hangouts or classy bars and restaurants that lie off the beaten track, these are my live-like-a-local recommendations for you:
Set in a small square wedged in the heart of Lisbon’s bustling Mouraria district, this little restaurant is great for a light lunch, dinner or drink but remember to bring cash as 21st-century card machines haven’t arrived here yet. The menu at Jasmim da Mouraria is simple; a one-pager filled with various “petiscos” such as Portuguese carrots, sardines and salads, as well as other nibbles of fresh bread, oils and olives, tuna ceviche and cheese and meat platters. They also serve good local wines and refreshingly there’s usually only one pudding to choose from: a sublime Portuguese “bolo de chocolate”. Sit out under the tree and enjoy the simple calm and beauty of this little corner before diving back into Mouraria’s historic, winding streets.
Drinks and “petiscos”: €15 per person
Praça das Flores is one of those magical Lisbon squares that make you feel as if it was waiting there for you alone to discover it. Tucked in between the trendy areas of São Bento and Príncipe Real, this sleepy, pint-sized cobbled square has a small garden in the middle and is home to an equally pint-sized Persian restaurant that serves some of the city’s most exquisitely colourful dishes. Cafeh Tehran’s menu, in particular its beetroot hummus, roast aubergine and delicious flat breads, is a feast for both the stomach and the eyes. It’s not only the perfect spot for a quiet lunch, coffee or dinner; it’s also deliciously different to the white wash of creamy millennial brunch cafés that lie further down the hill. Sit here happily and watch the world go by for a couple of hours before re-joining the buzz of the city centre.
Drinks and main dishes: €20 – €25 per person
It seems only a matter of time before the charm of this stunning sunset spot is discovered and supped up by some swanky, overpriced bar. For now, however, it is only one of Lisbon’s Banana cafés that sits at the bottom of this park, serving a unassuming range of toasted Portuguese sandwiches, “empadas”, smoothies, breakfast bowls, coffees, beers and teas to any passer-by looking for a simple refuel, chilled vibes and some serious views. In summer the park also hosts live DJ sets outdoors that start at sunset and play on late into the night. Just turn off the Avenida da Liberdade and hop up the hill on the Ascensor do Lavra, Lisbon’s oldest funicular opened in 1884, to this largely unspoiled regal spot. Beware – the funicular drivers tend to head home at 8 pm so if you’re going elsewhere, later on, watch your step on the steep slope back down!
Drink and light bite: €7 – €12 per person
Without a doubt the best place in Lisbon for real Portuguese chicken and chips – toss aside any idea of Nandos, this is the real deal! Bonjardim has been an old favourite with locals and tourists alike for generations and with good reason. Set just off the main Avenida de Liberdade, here you’re as likely to spy foreigners as Portuguese families, politicians and businessmen tucking into mounds of roast chicken, chips, salad and Portugal’s famous spicy piri-piri sauce. Cheap, plentiful and delicious, what’s not to love?
Main course: €8 – €19 per person
For evening drinks with a quirky twist, Casa Independente is the place to go. On the outside this old townhouse may look desolate, but at night it is anything but. Inside you’ll find two floors of creaking wooden corridors lined with black and white framed photographs, roomfuls of assorted antique furniture and house plants, a handful of bars spread throughout and a walled, open-air courtyard at the back, set with candles, climbing plants and trees. It’s the definition of shabby chic, though too hipster ever to call itself so. Don’t arrive before 11 pm; once there enjoy a fantastically eclectic range of gin and tonics, (including pink grapefruit and rosemary) and live music, which is often questionable. If afrobeats or ‘70s Spanish fusion is not your vibe, at least the surreal atmosphere will make up for it. Casa Independente has only worked its magic on you successfully if you’ve completely lost all notion of what era you are in or what genre of music you’re listening to. Warning: the pink neon-lit bathroom is the men’s; the green is ladies!
Drinks: €1 beer, €4 – 9 cocktails
Set on the bank of the Tejo, just a stone’s throw from central Cais do Sodré, this is the perfect place to lap up sunlight and coffee, in winter and summer alike. Enjoy light snacks such as Portuguese toasted sandwiches and pizza, or coffees and a cinnamony Pastel de Nata as you pause and reflect. On warm summer evenings, the scene at the Quiosque grows livelier with live Brazilian samba and fusion music, as well as enthusiastic dancing locals. Join in the crowds or sit back and watch the river along with a couple of cold beers or a glass of sweet Moscatel made just across the waters in Setúbal.
Drink and light bite: €10 per person
When it comes to rooftop bars you’ll probably already have heard of Park Bar (everyone has – it’s the cool one on top of a car park). But cool as it is, Park is more often than not rammed full, meaning that even if you do squeeze in you its unlikely you will see the view. So where can you find equally fantastic views without the crowds? The answer is TOPO Martim Moniz. Set atop a shopping centre, you’ll get the views as the sun sinks over the goldening walls of the Castelo de São Jorge, Mouraria and Graça, great cocktails and live music. If that weren’t enough there’s also a super modern but unpretentious restaurant just below that enjoys the same stunning views through floor-to-ceiling glass windows. If you’re planning to eat then reservations are a must! Topo is a great kick-start to the night – roll onto Bairro Alto after.
The artisanal wood-fired pizza at Zero Zero may be sublime, but it’s the stunning patio at the back, which is the real hidden gem. A wide pergola set with cascades of bougainvillaea, shady green leaves and tumbling flowers makes you feel as though you’ve stepped out of Lisbon’s trendy Príncipe Real district straight into a private garden. On hot days it provides cool relief, with cold drinks and light antipasti dishes, while at night the buzzing atmosphere and soft candlelight make for an unforgettable evening. Numerous good bars and Bairro Alto are within striking distance if you’re looking to carry on the party after!
Main course: up to €30 per person
In true speakeasy style, a discreet knock on a shabby black door is just a normal part of the ritual in being admitted to the wonder of Foxtrot, in all its Art Deco glory. The faded elegance of the 1920s hits you in a wave of Jazz and deep velvet furniture as you enter; there’s a range of Lisbon-themed cocktails that each include an elaborately long list of ingredients, dim lamp-lit rooms and a spot-lit snooker-table, even a valet car parking service. Whether you’re there just for a couple of cocktails or to sample their classic steak and chips, you won’t be able to resist being lulled back in time by Foxtrot’s heady atmosphere. To be noted also is their extensive range of gins, some Portuguese, which are simply exquisite.
Main course and drinks: €15 – €20 per person