If you have booked one of our Lisbon luxury vacation rentals, you may find it hard to drag yourself away from your private pool and ocean views.
But you have to do a little exploring and get some gifts to take back home, right? We have compiled a list of must-do genuine Lisbon city-centre experiences and originally made in Portugal gifts to get for your loved ones, whilst at the same time getting to the essence of this fascinating city:
Sightseeing Lisbon style means taking a ride on Tram 28 or Tram 25!
Lisbon is a hilly city and cobblestone streets abound, thus electricos (trams) and ascensores (funiculars) help to get people around, very especially up and down hills and are an indisputable pictorial part of the city.
The vintage yellow Electrico 28 offers the most interesting route crossing the city centre, going through some of the oldest quarters and many of the main touristic attractions. Starting in front of the Cemitério dos Prazeres (Pleasure Cemetery) and passing between the Jardim and the Basílica da Estrela (romantic gardens and one of the city’s oldest churches), you will go downhill on the Calçada da Estrela past the parliament building of São Bento, towards the Praça do Camões and Bairro Alto (an area of trendy shops and great night life). Then its downhill again through the Chiado and Baixa shopping districts – worth a stop to admire the city’s majestic riverside square of Praça do Comercio. When you start going uphill, you will pass the Igreja de Santo António (the epicentre of Lisbon’s June festivities) and the Sé Catedral (main city cathedral) on the way to the Castelo de São Jorge.
At this stage you should jump off the tram, walk-up to the 16th century castle to admire the views over the city and then quite literally, get lost in Alfama! Step into the maze of Alfama’s medieval alleys and crumbling houses and you wont escape getting lost for a couple of hours of indulgent sightseeing.
No trip to Lisbon is complete without ambling around the Feira da Ladra located just a bit further uphill and behind the Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora (a monastery also worth visiting). The name of this infamous open-air flea market means “thieves market”! Whether the goods have been stolen or not, the market makes for at least an hour’s worth of browsing and don’t be shy to join the locals and haggle for a bargain! The market runs from early morning till mid afternoon, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Back on the tram you will go past Graça (another quaint old residential area of Lisbon) and then start going downhill again to Martin Moniz, the last stop near the Rossio square.
Alternatively, another charming tram route is the one provided by the Electrico 25, which runs between the Cemitério dos Prazeres, via de Jardim/Basilica da Estrela to Rua da Alfândega in the Cais do Sodré district, past numerous embassies in the Estrela/Lapa district, an area which is otherwise off the tourist track.
A caution note: Electricos are an extremely popular way to travel around Lisbon for locals, tourists & pickpockets!
Be extra cautious when queuing up or getting on/off the tram, and anywhere that is crowded.
We also recommend that you aim to start your journey at either the Cemitério dos Prazeres or the Martim Moniz terminus, to make sure that you get a seat!
Food, drink and a bit of culture!
One of the Lisboetas (and in fact most of the Portuguese) favourite pastimes is to stop for a coffee and sip it slowly whilst watching the city buzz around you. In general, this is freshly brewed even in the humblest of cafes and there are dozens of different varieties to choose from, but an espresso or bica (a small strong back coffee) are the most popular.
Some iconic cafés to try out are:
A Brazileira is one of the city’s most historic cafés (opened in 1905), but be warned, it could either be one of your most charming or irritating experiences, depending on your waiter! Nevertheless it has a beautiful Art Deco interior made up of wood, mirrors and marble and a much-photographed statue of poet Fernando Pessoa (who used to be a regular) just outside, with tables on the cobbled pavement that have service until late. Located Rua Garrett #120-122 (Chiado).
The Martinho da Arcada café/restaurant opened in 1782 was another favourite spot of Fernando Pessoa’s – a small table is still reserved for him everyday! Due to its prime location on a corner of Lisbon’s black horse square fronting the river Tagus, it is a great place to stop and enjoy the scenery. Located at Praça do Comercio #37 (Baixa).
There are also a number of small cafe Quiosques (kiosks) dating back the 1800’s that have recently been restored. They serve classic refreshments such as orchata (with almonds), mazagran (made with coffee) and capilé (with spleenwort), as well as lemonade and Port wine.
Located in some of the capitals most charming squares, you will find them at Praça de São Paulo (Cais do Sodré), Praça Luís de Camões (Bairro Alto), Praça do Príncipe Real (Príncipe Real) & Praça das Flores (Príncipe Real).
Try a Ginjinha, or two! Typical of Lisbon and sometimes simply called Ginja, this strong cherry brandy is served in a small glass with an alcohol soaked cherry at the bottom.
The place to sip this legendary drink is at a hole-in-the-wall bar in Lisbon’s Rossio square, where curious tourists and drunken old men mix to enjoy the sweet and sticky concoction!
Some of the regulars drink their shot in one gulp, sucking on the cherry for a while before spitting the pit into the street!
Try the best Ginginha in Lisbon at # 7 Portas de Santo Antão, the mythical “Ginjinha Sem Rival“.
Eating sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines) in the summer is another national pastime but in Lisbon. They are also the symbol of the June Santos Populares city festivities and are at their best at this time of the year too! In a restaurant they will be served with a salad and potatoes; on the streets they will be served in a bread roll. Look out for an outdoor eatery in a sunny spot with sardines sizzling on a grill outside, sit down and order.
Fado, Portugal’s national song is mournful, sad and accompanied by guitars but quite an experience. In 2011, this music genre was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. If you are planning a day out in Lisbon till late and want to include listening to some Fado, you will find the most genuine Fado bars & eateries in the Alfama district. Alternatively, visit the Museu de Fado; Website: www.museudofado.pt
Shopping “Made in Portugal”
The Conserveira de Lisboa is an old family business founded in the 1930’s with a genuine traditional look. Here you can buy quality tins of canned & spiced sardines, tuna fish, octopus, mackerel and various fish pastes, beautifully hand wrapped. Located at Rua dos Bacalhoeiros #34 (Baixa); Website: www.conserveiradelisboa.pt
An artisan candle shop Caza das Vellas do Loreto has been in existence since 1789. They come in every colour, style and size, for all occasions, presented in a wonderful wooden interior. They can literally brighten up your home or give it a new fragrance, the choice of aromas go from magnolia to green tea. Located at Rua do Loreto #53-55 (Bairro Alto); Website: www.cazavellasloreto.com
Turn back time and grab a classic Portuguese product as a gift at a Vida Portuguesa – nostalgic Lisboetas come here for the same soaps, toothpastes, and gourmet products their grandmothers used to buy, while tourists are fascinated by the retro packaging. Genuine is the word to describe everything you see. Located Rua Anchieta #11 (Chiado); Website: www.avidaportuguesa.com
Probably the tiniest shop in the world, Luvaria Ulisses has space for only one customer at a time in its 1920s Art Deco interior! It offers classic gloves for the classiest ladies (and gentlemen). Just like old times, you rest your elbow on a cushion and are measured to have an original hand-made glove made just for you. Located at Rua do Carmo #87A (Chiado); Website: www.luvariaulisses.com
Filigree is the art of working gold or silver in very fine interwoven strands into ornamental figures. Introduced to Portugal by the Phoenicians, Portuguese artisans have been creating beautiful pieces of this art form for centuries.
The Museu da Filigrana goes through the chronological evolution of the Filigree Art in Portugal and sells replicas of traditional pieces as well as more modern styles. Located at Largo de São Carlos, #1 (Chiado); Website: www.museudafiligrana.pt
Last but not least, the extraordinary Portuguese label Story Tailors created in 2006 is located in Lisbon’s Chiado district.
An-eighteenth century building that once stored spices, fabrics and precious stones, is now full of whimsical creations.
The label is responsible creating costumes for the National Theatres of D. Maria II in Lisbon and S. João in Oporto, the Municipal Theatre of S. Luiz and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, for The Gift band, singers Misia and other artists. Located at Calçada do Ferragial #8 (Chiado); Website: www.storytailors.pt
We hope you have travelled with a large suitcase!