Nestled where the Atlantic meets the Tagus river, Lisbon is Portugal’s most vibrant city. It’s a marvel of rolling hills and towering trees overlooking glistening water. Few European cities rival Lisbon’s laid-back atmosphere with its ample offerings. It is somehow booming with lively nightlife while also being an incredibly laid-back, quiet place to spend an afternoon stroll.
And now, with the most recent flight deals from YYZ & YUL to Lisbon & London for only $483 and direct flights to Lisbon for $349, it’s undoubtedly a hot ticket item for European travel. Not sure what Lisbon has to offer? Been before and want something different? Here are some unique recommendations on how to best spend a trip in this European gem.
- Instead of Time Out Market, head to Mercado de Campo de Orique
The former is a bustling, trendy spot where you’re likely to get international favorites, but the Mercado de Campo de Orique shines because it gives you the traditional Portuguese market experience. Several stalls serve homemade food and many vendors sell fresh, unique fruits that you won’t find in-season back home. A wander through this market provides an exceptional look at daily life in Lisbon and supports local vendors first.
- Instead of Belem Tower, check out Palacio Alverca
The tower of Belem is an interesting site, though admittedly a lot smaller and less wow-factor than one would expect from all the hype and photos. Instead, hit up the Palacio Alverca for a unique, Moroccan-style palace embedded in the city. This palace is over 300 years old and marks a unique time in Lisbon’s history when the city was essentially just farmland. You can dine inside at Casa do Alentejo and feel like you’re sitting amidst a traditional Moroccan riad for lunch or dinner.
- After taking in the view at São Jorge Castle, walk around Alfama
The view from São Jorge is quite stunning and frankly, shouldn’t be missed. But it doesn’t mean you should just stop for a photo opp and head back. The neighborhoods surrounding the castle are immaculate. Boasting narrow alleyways lined with cafes and shops, the Alfama district is Lisbon’s most photogenic walk. For a city that is best enjoyed on foot, it would be a big mistake to not get lost wandering through the various alleys of the old district.
- Enjoy the hidden majesty of Jardim do Torel
While beautiful, Lisbon is not necessarily known for its abundance of natural spaces. Parks are far and few between so, if you’re looking to spend the afternoon sharing some wine and cheese in the grass while also experiencing peace and quiet, you should aim for a more secluded park like Jardim do Torel. This hidden gem is unknown to even most locals and boasts wonderful green spaces beneath towering trees. It’s a lovely way to get away from the bustle and take in a sunny afternoon (or sunset, for that matter!).
- Treat yourself to the best Pastel de Nata
Look. Everyone knows when you go to Portugal, you eat Portuguese tarts. I wish I had a cool tip to tell you to eat some other dessert but.. I’d be doing you a disservice. Instead, avoid the crowds and long lines at the establishments found in your Lonely Planet and look no further than Manteigaria. The tarts are just as good (if not better) than they would be anywhere else and the cafe doesn’t offer seating so it never gets too crowded. Take some to go and head to a park or viewpoint like the locals do.
- Mix up your nightlife by heading to Crew Hassan
A unique feature of Lisbon is that it offers a nightlife that’s not-for-profit. While an entry fee is always required, cultural establishments like Crew Hassan, which is in the basement of a local record store, offer a unique nighttime experience such as live, local concerts, open mics and even the occasional DJ and dancing. It’s a great way to meet locals as these spots aren’t frequented by hordes of tourists.
- Go all out at the Palácio Chiado
While dining at this palace’s restaurant might have you taking out a loan, the opulence featured within is uncanny. But, hey! If fine dining is your thing, we have you covered. Alternatively, a wander through the newly restored hallways of this 18th-century palace could lead you to some more reasonably priced bites at the food court (a step up from a local shopping mall, to say the least). Feel like having a drink instead? Pick up a glass from the champagne bar and stare up at immaculately designed ceilings arching over pastel paintings.
No matter what you choose to do, Lisbon is one of the greatest cities in Europe for travelers of all proclivities. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy its vast array of unique offerings at your own pace.