Lisbon is a city of great contrasts, you can see both the old and the new of Portugal in a single journey. Whether you want to see its unique architecture, savouring Portuguese cuisine, or just looking for an interesting European capital to visit, Lisbon won’t disappoint. After a long and relatively harsh winter throughout Europe, enjoying a little sun and sea away in Lisbon sounds like a great idea indeed. Discover the Portuguese capital with our brief city guide here.
Lisbon, A Marine Saga
The Portuguese capital is located on a hilly bend in the Tagus river, which opens into a huge natural harbour. A legend has it that the city was founded by Greek wanderer Ulysses. Some believed that Phoenician mariners were the ones who first settled in this prime riverside location. After the Christian reconquest in the 11th century, Lisbon took a couple of centuries to become the capital, and another couple to come into its own, when Portuguese caravels set sail on discovery voyages.
Highlights in the Portuguese Capital
To see modern Portuguese art, the Museu do Chiado makes a great visit. It offers a comprehensive overview of Portugal’s art up until 1950s. From now until 6th June, “One Way, Two Directions” exhibits the museum’s collection of important oil paintings, prints and video installations. Through this exhibition, the museum shows visitors not only the historical dimension of its collection, but also Portugal’s contemporary art scene. While walking through the exhibition, you can appreciate the architectural space of the museum itself – for example, the two rooms Sala dos Fornos and Sala Polivalente – which has had a certain influence on the exhibition’s discourse.
Next to Chiado, the Bairro Alto district’s streets are lined with bars and restaurants. To the west is São Bento and the National Assembly, Estrela, with its marbled Basilica, and the Lapa diplomatic district. Here the Museu de Arte Antiga (Rua das Janelas Verdes, 213 912 800, www.mnarteantiga-ipmuseus.pt, closed Mon) showcases seven centuries of fine and applied art, much of it the fascinating product of the mixture of Portuguese culture with the others mariners encountered.
Lisbon is all about seafood, and vinho verde, the lightly sparkling wine from the north, which complements the dishes well. But you can also find specialties from Portugal’s mainland, such as cozido à portuguesa (stew with beans, smoked sausage and pig’s ear) or porco à alentejana (pork with clams), then there’s bacalhau, which is salted cod. After soaking, it can be cooked in as many as 365 different ways. For those who love to mingle with the locals, the down-to-earth A Varina (Rua das Madres 34, Tel. +351 21 396 5533) offers dishes at great value, whereas the more fashionable Bica do Sapato (Av. Infante D.Henrique, Armazém B, Cais da Pedra, Tel. +351 218 810 320) and Pap'Açorda (Rua da Atalaia, 57/59, Tel. +351 213 464 811 - reservations are absolutely necessary) are great places to see and be seen, in addition to savouring contemporary Portuguese cuisine.
If you prefer to stay within the sophisticated setting of a luxury hotel, then head to Olissippo Lapa Palace (Rua do Pau da Bandeira 4, Tel. +351 21 394 9410) in the historic centre. This hotel has created a paradise of its own, with exotic gardens and beautiful swimming pools. Its poolside restaurant, Le Pavilion, offers the freshest seafood dishes. This is where you can enjoy the sunshine, scenery and fantastic cuisine all at the same time.
Saldanha Mar Restaurant inside Fontana Park Hotel (Rua Eng. Vieira da Silva 2, Tel. +351 291 724 207) offers a trendy culinary experience in the design hotel. Its menu focuses on seafood and shellfish dishes prepared in the Portuguese and Mediterranean tradition. Yet another option is Jerónimos 8’s bar (Rua dos Jerónimos 8, Tel. +351 21 360 0900), where the extraordinary Bussaco Reserve wines and prestigious Portuguese wines are served. This is a great place to kick back after a long day of sightseeing without the formality of palace hotels.
An Authentic Lisbon
The concierge team at Olissippo Lapa Palace suggests an itinerary that will give you an insight into the city of Lisbon. From the hotel, an English-speaking professional driver (Tel. +351 92 672 8142) takes you to Belém, where the caravels departed for the Portuguese discoveries odyssey centuries ago. Visit the Monastery of Belém – where Vasco da Gama prayed the night before setting sail to India at the end of the 15th century – , and Torre de Belém, commissioned by King Manuel I to commemorate da Gama’s expedition. Take a short trip to Estoril, Cascais and Guincho, and savour superb seafood at the famous Porto Santa Maria restaurant. After lunch, head to Cascais marina where a beautiful 44-feet sail boat will take you back to Lisbon (Contact the cruise service, Tel. +351 92 672 8141). If you still have time before dinner, enjoy a relaxing massage or treatment at Olissippo Lapa Palace wellness centre. This beautiful day in Lisbon winds down on the terrace at Lapa Restaurant, which serves the finest Mediterranean cuisine with local flavours.