I no longer see going to Lisbon as traveling. Indeed, we book flights and accommodation, and we go out to do sightseeing and indulge into local dishes. And we take photos – lots of photos. Yet it doesn’t feel as if we’re visiting. The moment I return to Lisbon is the moment I return home. The city’s look and feel, and the rhythm of daily life seem to match me perfectly, as if I were born and lived here for a long time.
Let me show you some of my favourite things to do when in this beautiful, sunny city at the edge of Europe. Even if your stay is no longer than a single day.
SUNRISE IN PRINCIPE REAL
We only have one day to spend in Lisbon, so we make sure to wake up early. We enjoy the first rays of sun at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, the scenic viewpoint at the limit of Bairro Alto and Príncipe Real. It’s as if the sun is rising for us only, almost nobody else in sight.
As we continue our walk in Príncipe Real, we cannot help but notice the beautiful street names – Rua da Rosa, Rua do Jasmim, Rua da Palmeira – and how their melodic pronunciation seems to suggest the hilly landscape they stretch upon. Add the pastel coloured facades, and the quaint little plazas, and you’ll soon understand that everything in Príncipe Real is a suggestion to slow down and take a look around. And what is beauty if not an invitation for contemplation?
BREAKFAST AT TARTINE
Walking in Lisbon – uphill, downhill, then uphill again – is a bit like going to the gym. We stop for breakfast at Tartine, a restaurant, bakery and pastry shop in trendy Chiado district. We share between us an egg benedict dish, with salmon and hollandaise sauce, and Tartine’s brunch formula: granola with yoghurt, tree types of bread from their own selection, croissants, butter, jam, cheese, ham, orange juice and coffee. It’s a lot of food, but it’s simply delicious, and we’re so happy we chose this place.
MORNING WALK IN LAPA
We don’t stay in Baixa-Chiado after breakfast. Shopping on bustling Rua Augusta or queuing for the Santa Justa Lift to get a panoramic view of the city are not tempting enough. It’s my fourth time in Lisbon and the second time we’re here together, yet we haven’t done any of the above. Instead we go to Lapa, a residential area, easily accessible with tram 28 from the centre, yet not exactly on the touristic radar. In fact, once in Lapa, we’re the only people taking photos. But then again, how could we not, when the views are nothing short of amazing?
AFTERNOON IN ALFAMA
We would probably spend the rest of the day in beautiful Lapa, but memories of Alfama, with the sound of church bells echoing on the narrow, cobbled stone streets, and the smell of freshly washed laundry drying out in the sun, are enough reasons for us to get in (a fully packed) tram 28, destination Portas Do Sol. The Doors of the Sun. Such a fortunate name for a miradouro that seems to be forever sun kissed!
Indeed, one cannot come to Lisbon without setting foot in Alfama, the place where it all started, the place where time is standing still, as if to eternally point out to the moment when the city was born. We try to keep this in mind as we make our way through droves of tourists.
COFFEE BREAK AT FABRICA
Coffee has a long tradition in Lisbon, but the specialty coffee is a rather recent phenomenon in the city. There were no such places here four years ago, on our previous visit.
We sit back on a comfortable sofa near the bar at Fábrica Coffee Roasters, while our Chemex is brewing in front of our eyes. The industrial accents and the conviviality of the space make for a nice experience already. When we taste the coffee, things get even better. We order a flat white as well. Then we leave quite hastily. We can’t return from Lisbon without a souvenir, and we know just where to get it from.
SOUVENIR SHOPPING AT A VIDA PORTUGUESA
We might have not reached this part of the city – Intendente – if it weren’t for A Vida Portuguesa, the souvenir shop in Lisbon. In fact, the items they sell here are so rich in significance and prone to activate nostalgia, that Portuguese people themselves find their way to this shop to purchase traditional Portuguese products of highest quality.
We buy sardines, quince marmalade, a bottle of Ginjinha, and soap – lots of it. I somehow manage to convince my boyfriend that we need it all. “Why two soaps with violettes?” he asks, as we head toward the cashier. Indeed, it’s the only fragrance that it’s repeating. “Cause it’s the one I like most,” I reply in one breath. He gives up, and I suppress a smile of victory. Is there anything else that preserve memories better than fragrances?
SUNSET BY THE TEJO RIVER
From Intendente we take the metro back downtown, at Baixa-Chiado. This is Lisbon’s meeting point. The square and streets around the metro stop are swarming with life. There are countless possibilities for shopping and dining, and Bairro Alto is a stone’s throw away.
But we are not here for any of these. Instead we walk toward the river, to take in the view of the sun setting over the Tejo. Hundreds of other people seem to have thought just the same, but there’s place for a revolution in Praça do Comércio, one of the largest squares I’ve ever seen.
Sitting by the water, the humid air on my skin, and the wind playing with my hair, I try to imagine how ships would anchor here, back to Lisbon after a long journey at sea, in the 15th-16th centuries, the age of Portuguese discoveries. The longing for husbands and lovers to return home – safe and sound – at the end of such brave yet life threatening experience, is the very source of fado (which translates to fate, destiny), the melancholic singing so well impregnated into the Portuguese spirit.
And, in spite of the crowds, the selfie sticks and the ice-cream vendors, I am indeed able to feel all this. Because Lisbon is like that – it has the power to send you back in time, with its centuries of history, well preserved and modestly displayed – at the same time keeping you engaged in the present moment –colourful, pulsating, and ephemere as it is.
DINNER IN PRINCIPE REAL
In the past, we would have chosen Bairro Alto for dinner and drinks, with its plethora of bars, restaurants and clubs. We still have fond memories of late night Mojitos, sipped while walking down the cobbled stone streets, then sitting on a bench in Praça Luís de Camões, watching the world go by.
Nowadays, however, we prefer Príncipe Real, as it seems to keep a healthy balance between local and touristic – for the time being, at least. So this is where we head out for dinner tonight. We pass by quaint and picturesque Praça das Flores and stop at Largo ao Tacho, a small neighbourhood restaurant we’ve never tried before, happy to find a table on the terrace. We indulge into a variety of mouth-watering petiscos (traditional Portuguese snacks), followed by a tuna steak my boyfriend could swear is the best he’s ever had. I can say the same about their chocolate cake.
But beyond the satisfaction induced by delicious food paired with the right wine, it’s the magic of the moment that makes me wish this night would never end. I feel I’m at the right place, at the right time, in the right company.
CALLING IT A DAY AT MIRADOURO DE SAO PEDRO DE ALCANTARA
To keep this magic alive, we find our way to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, the place where our day has started. We take a seat on a bench and gaze at the city stretching on the hills in front of us. In darkness it looks as if drizzled with honey. It’s hard to believe we leave in the morning. At the same time, we feel blessed to be here now, grateful for all we’ve seen today. We know we will come back. We always do.
Walking down Rua Dom Pedro V back to our accommodation, we wonder if we should have one last drink at one of the many bars along the way. They all look so inviting. We decide not to. It’s been a long day after all. Far in the distance, the lights on Ponte 25 de Abril are flickering through the misty air, and I suddenly wish for a storm – anything that could prevent us from flying back tomorrow. Because one day in Lisbon is never enough.
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
Praça Luís de Camões
Praça das Flores
Praça do Comércio
Tartine // Rua Serpa Pinto 15A
Princesa do Castelo // Rua do Salvador 64A
Largo ao Tacho // Largo Agostinho da Silva 1A
Nata Lisboa // Various locations
Fabrica Coffee Roasters // Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 136
A Vida Portuguesa //Largo do Intendente Pina Manique 23