A City for Explorers
If someone gets credit for kicking off world exploration and connecting the globe, it’s the Portuguese and their Queen of the Seas: Lisbon. So many world-changing expeditions left from here and brought back international influences that shaped the city into a cultural treasure trove. But while its days as a seafaring superpower are gone, Lisbon is sparking up another urban renaissance, thanks to artists, chefs and cutting-edge entrepreneurs.
Where to Stay
The granddaddy of Lisbon’s historic hotels
As if being 500-plus years old wasn’t enough, this former palace was built over ancient Roman and Moorish walls and offers vistas of the Tagus River, a thick stone facade, 3,800 painted Portuguese tiles and rooms punched up with whimsical art. A stay here is straight out of a fairy-tale.
Where to Eat
High, low and everything in between
The crown jewel of the Altis Belem (a hotel themed around the heritage of Portugal’s global discoveries), this Michelin-star restaurant explores the flavors of the Portuguese colonies across South America, Asia and Africa. Order the six-course “Journey Menu” or call ahead for superstar chef João Rodrigues’s surprise “Creative Menu.”
Tendinha Do Rossio
A popular local spot since 1840, this is where the fado singers and fishermen get their comfort-food fix. Do as the Portuguese do and order one of the petiscos, like bacalhau cakes or suckling pig rissoles with a glass of Ginjinha sour cherry liqueur. Then people-watch from a sidewalk table.
Each weekend, Lisbon’s melting pot comes to a boil in the up-and-coming Martim Moniz neighborhood. Dozens of international stands sell everything from Korean pancakes and African prawns to Taiwanese noodles and Brazilian caipirinhas. Come for an early dinner and stay for the music and impromptu dance parties.
What to Do
Dig deeper into Lisbon's past and present
Shuttling Lisboetas around the city since the turn of the 20th century, this metal-and-wood trolley system zigzags through the most picturesque neighborhoods and attractions for under 3 euros a ride (6 euros for a 24-hour pass). Get up early and ride the full length of route #28 to get a feel for the Baixa, Graça, Alfama and Estrela areas, then take an extra-long stop at the atmospheric São Jorge Castle in Alfama.
This westside neighborhood was the Port Authority to the New World, launching countless historic expeditions. Check out the Jerónimos Monastery, built to honor Vasco da Gama’s safe return from India. Down the road is the Tower of Belem, the harbor’s historic fortress and icon of Lisbon, if not all of Portugal.
Take a Historical Sail
When in one of the world’s great maritime capitals, you have to explore by boat…or better yet, a wooden yacht with Champagne. Sail the mighty Tagus River, passing the Belem Tower, presidential palace and Lisbon’s beloved riverside neighborhoods. Learn about the country’s great explorers, the Age of Discovery and its modern-day landscape on this two-hour tour.
What to Skip
Touristy dinner shows are no way to hear the Portuguese blues.
Staged Fado Music
Don’t go to a manufactured “fado dinner show.” Portugal’s blues music was meant to be experienced in bars (preferably filled with sailors and prostitutes) while eating sausages and drinking jug wine. Head to tiny Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto on Mondays and Wednesday nights for Fado Vadio (amateur night) to get the locals’ take on their national craft.
What to Pack
Every great walking city requires a pair, but in the “City of Seven Hills,” we really mean it. Stay stable and stylish on the steep cobblestone streets with a sleek European tennie.
Cut the river winds and nighttime chill in a light jean jacket. (Counter to the U.S. fashion police, you can even do jean-on-jean in Portugal, so it will go with EVERY outfit in your suitcase!)
Always know which way you’re headed with this delicate compass turned necklace. When in doubt on N/S/E/W, just casually admire your lovely vintage design, and wander with confidence.