A clutch of small, stylish, and affordable hotel and restaurant openings has revitalized Lisbon′s oldest neighborhoods, turning Portugal’s capital into one of Europe’s most vibrant destinations.
Lay of the Land
Alfama: The 1755 earthquake and tsunami razed most of Lisbon, but this eighth-century Moorish district was left intact.
Bairro Alto: A formerly working-class neighborhood, Bairro Alto is lined with lively bars.
Baixa/Chiado: Baixa, the commercial center, is home to the popular pedestrian-only Rua Augusta. For the best luxury boutiques, head to nearby Chiado.
Belém: Anchored by the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, this western neighborhood is a mix of museums and Manueline architecture.
Príncipe Real: What was once a sleepy district is now a chic swath of antiques shopsand restaurants.
Lisbon is as hilly as San Francisco, so pack a pair of walking shoes. Taxis are plentiful and can be hailed on the street. Historic trolleys, like Tram 28, travel from Bairro Alto to Graça and are great for sightseeing.
Want to know where to check in on your next trip to Lisbon? Consider one of these top hotels.
Lisboa Carmo Hotel: This smartly designed property on a shady hilltop near Praça dos Restauradores is known for its eye-catching sky-blue façade. The 45 guest rooms incorporate textural touches such as blond-wood furnishings and leather headboards. Book No. 503, with large windows that look out onto the Gothic Convento do Carmo’s ruins. $
Palacio Belmonte: A palace built in the 1400’s off Castelo de São Jorge, the renovated Palacio Belmonte pays homage to the past but doesn’t dwell on it. Inside, kilim rugs and 17th-century artifacts are juxtaposed with contemporary art and slick marble bathrooms. $$$
Casa Amora: Lisbon does quaint B&B’s brilliantly, and the year-old Casa Amora, just outside Príncipe Real, is one of the city’s most sophisticated newcomers. Expect centuries-old antiques throughout the property and spacious suites with deep beds draped in soft white duvets. $
Palacio Ramalhete: You’ll find a host of heritage house-hotels along Rua Janelas Verdes in Santos; the latest to open has a light-filled lobby and the standout Old Oak Room Suite (oak walls; crown moldings). $$
Palacete Chafariz del Rei: A painstakingly refurbished landmark Alfama building, Palacete Chafariz del Rei draws a creative clientele ranging from filmmakers to fashion designers. Highlights: the Belle Époque–style common areas and six colorful suites, some with massive crystal chandeliers and views of the Tagus River. $$
Olissippo Lapa Palace: In this 143-year-old former villa, a shady, palm-ringed pool feels straight out of Old Hollywood. Take a stroll through the hotel’s beautifully manicured gardens. $$$
Pestana Palace: It’s not a national monument for nothing. The four spacious Royal suites (inlaid wood flooring; elaborate wainscoting) are aptly named; stained-glass windows and a lavish garden celebrate the turn of the 20th century. $$
Four Seasons Hotel Ritz: The glamour of the 1950’s is beautifully enshrined in this yellow-and-gray palace chock-full of Midcentury pieces. Bonus: the hotel has some of the largest standard rooms in the city. $$$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
The culinary scene in Lisbon is heavy on fresh fish, meats, and plenty of wine. Dig in.
1300 Taberna: This industrial-style dining room in a mid-19th-century factory turned hipster shopping complex specializes in updated Portuguese comfort dishes. Order the hearty caldo verde (potato and kale soup), followed by the grilled sea bass with crab rice. $$
Alma, Henrique Sá Pessoa: The food at the sleek, white-on-white Alma is light and sophisticated, with a well-assembled, all-Portuguese wine list. Choose from traditional plates, such as fish stew with lemongrass and ginger, or French classics with a twist—the duck confit with cilantro pappardelle and spicy tomato sauce is a crowd-pleaser. $$$
A Travessa: An outpost of this Portuguese standby opened next door to the Fado Museum, but the 34-year-old original, in the arcade of a 17th-century convent in Lapa, remains a favorite. The savory appetizers (try the fluffy scrambled eggs mixed with wild mushrooms) are meals unto themselves. $$$
Belcanto: After putting in kitchen time with Ferran Adrià, Alain Ducasse, and Eric Frechon, chef José Avillez (see Local Take) has made his culinary flagship undeniably the finest restaurant in town. The inventive menu has hints of molecular gastronomy and may include goose barnacle or suckling pig topped with orange-peel purée. $$$$
Sea Me: You can’t go wrong with the tender roasted-sardine sushi at Sea Me, a laid-back seafood joint in Chiado. Check the sign at the in-house market near the open kitchen for the list of catches of the day. $$
Churrasco Da Graça: The Portuguese are master grillers. This family-friendly hole-in-the-wall in Graça may not look like much, but the simply prepared chicken and fresh fish more than make up for it. 43 Largo da Graça; 351/218-860-547. $$
Zé Varunca: Sausage, potatoes, and grilled black pork (the cuts poetically named secretos and plumas are the best) pair with regional reds at Zé Varunca, an unassuming tavern off Avenida da Liberdade. $$
A Wine Tour of Lisbon
Portugal’s table wine (vinho de mesa) is rich and complex, not to mention an incredible value.
For a free lecture and mini-tasting, go to Wines of Portugal, on the western end of Terreiro do Paço in Baixa.
Get a deeper immersion at the homey Wine Bar do Castelo (351/218-879-093), where servers will walk you through more than 100 choices.
Try some of the almost 300 varieties (more than 50 by the glass) at Old Pharmacy Wine Inn (351/213-473-034), in a renovated turn-of-the-century shop.
Baixa’s Garrafeira Nacional has one ofthe city’s widest selections of bottles.
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
See + Do
Six ways to get your culture fix.
Castelo de São Jorge: This impressive 10th-century crenellated castle and citadel where Celts, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors successively held sway has knockout views of the Alfama.
Jardim Botânico D’Ajuda: Explore the shaded ponds, steep hills, and lush butterfly garden of this hidden park in Ajuda.
Mosteiro Dos Jerónimos: A 500-year-old monastery on the Tagus River remains a monument to royal power.
Museu do Design e da Moda: In a former bank in Baixa, you’ll find an exhaustive collection of contemporary furniture (Ponti; Studio 65) and vintage couture (Dior; Westwood).
Sé Cathedral: The Romanesque cathedral in Alfama has kept its Roman and Moorish excavation site open to the public. Save time for the upstairs treasury and its Baroque artifacts, including a diamond- and emerald-studded monstrance.
Tasca do Jaime: Don’t leave town without going to a live concert of Portugal’s signature fado music. Most clubs are tourist traps, but this 22-year-old tavern in Graça is the real thing. 91 Rua da Graça; 351/218-881-560.
Looking to uncover the city’s most authentic treasures? Check out these boutiques.
A Vida Portuguesa: Come here for a well-curated selection of homegrown goods (Confiança soaps; Tricana conserves), handicrafts (hand-loomed blankets), and bric-a-brac.
Caza das Vellas Loreto: A family-run candlemaker since the 18th century, the jewel-box shop west of Chiado sells a vast array of colorful candles. There are tapers, novelty sculptures, and scented varieties.
Claudio Corallo: The Italian/São Tomense chocolate maker has almost single-handedly revived the cacao trade in the former Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe, off the western coast of Central Africa. Locals line up to buy the sweet stuff at his shop in Príncipe Real.
ChiCoração: Undyed Portuguese virgin wool has long found its way into traditional blankets and rugs. But this stylish spot makes those fibers into chic capes, coats, sweaters, and shawls.
Three insiders share the scoop on the city they call home.
Founder of Music Box, a live music venue inCais do Sodré
On Saturday mornings, I go to Mercado de Campo de Ourique (Rua Coelho da Rocha) for fresh produce and flowers; there’s a real neighborhood feel to the area. I play the bass, and the open-mike nights at Tasca do Chico are great. In Lisbon, you can eat very affordably and well almost anywhere. At the low-key restaurant Duques do Cais (5 Rua do Alecrim; $$), in Cais do Sodré, an old lady cooks delicious regional dishes. Order the cozido portuguesa, a meat-and-vegetable stew served with rice.
Chef at Belcanto, Cantinho do Avillez, and Pizzeria Lisboa
One of the best walks in the city is from the Belvedere of São Pedro de Alcântara, the hilltop entrance to Bairro Alto, to the Baroque church Igreja São Roque. At the traditional food store Conserveira de Lisboa, you can find row upon row of canned specialties. Get the Tricana-brand atum ventresca (tuna belly) in olive oil or the Portuguese sardines. For a seafood dinner, check out Cervejaria Ramiro ($$); I invited Anthony Bourdain there for lunch, and he loved it.
Lux is my favorite nightclub and gallery in the city and where I first displayed my piece The Bride before taking it to the Venice Biennale four years later. If you’re looking for great one-off pieces, I love the couture designs from the avant-garde clothing boutique Storytailors; it carries incredible corsets and layered tulle dresses. One of my go-to restaurants is Pap’açorda ($$), in Bairro Alto. Try the classic pataniscas de bacalhau (cod fritters) with red beans and rice.
See the Tiles of Lisbon
What frescoes are to Italy, tiles, or azulejos, are to Portugal. Head east from Praça do Comercio to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, housed in a convent dating back to 1509. Don’t miss the tile panel of the city made in 1738. The Palacio dos Marqueses de Fronteira (1 Largo de São Domingos de Benfica; 351/217-784-599) has some of the world’s most detailed antique pieces; private tours are offered in the morning. Buy reproductions and contemporary ceramics to ship home at the centuries-old shop Azulejos Sant’Anna, in Alcântara.
The Romanesque cathedral in the mazelike Alfama district houses 12th- and 13th-century treasures from a Moorish excavation. Be sure to stop at the adjoining cloister, which has an archaeological site with artifacts from Roman times. Don't miss the upstairs treasury and its Baroque artifacts, including a diamond- and emerald-studded monstrance.
Museu do Design e da Moda
In a former bank in Baixa, you’ll find an exhaustive collection of contemporary furniture (Ponti; Studio 65) and vintage couture (Dior; Westwood). All of the 1,000 or so pieces at the Museu do Design were first bought for private use.
Locals converge on this Belgian-influenced restaurant in a former 17th-century convent for lambic, abbey, and Trappist ales, and for the bull-steak frites. An outpost of this Portuguese standby opened next door to the Fado Museum, but the 34-year-old original remains a favorite. The savory appetizers (try the fluffy scrambled eggs mixed with wild mushrooms) are meals unto themselves.
The history of Lisbon itself is present in Palacio Belmonte: it has walls built during the Roman and Muslim occupations and 59 azulejos panels from 1725, and the main building was built in 1449. The hotel is located in the shadow of Castelo Sao Jorge and overlooks the old town and the water below. Each of the 11 suites is individually decorated with 17th and 18th century antiques and paintings, Moorish touches such as latticed windows, Japanese and African artifacts, and modern art. The outdoor garden is filled with orange trees and a black marble pool.
Promoter Manuel Reis's club at the docks is the place to go to dance to pumping house music all night long with a lively crowd of creative types and bar-crawlers.
Olissippo Lapa Palace
This hilltop hotel surrounded by gardens in the embassy district was built in 1870 as a private villa and feels straigh out of Old Hollywood. Enjoy the palm-shaded outdoor pool and the bird's-eye view of the city's red-tile roofs. Take a stroll through the hotel’s beautifully manicured gardens.
Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon
Caza das Vellas Loreto
For a taste of the past, step into this shop that has been producing handmade beeswax candles in more or less the same fashion since 1789. There are tapers, novelty sculptures, and scented varieties. From the tiny septuagenarian woman serving you to the hand-stamped paper bags you leave with, the experience is delightfully traditional.
Tasca do Chico
This small beer hall in Bairro Alto hosts Fado Vadio [Street Fado] nights twice a week.