Visually, Lisbon is exceptionally striking. However, its homogeneity is chiefly a result of the catastrophic earthquake that virtually destroyed the city in 1755. Today’s Lisbon would be unrecognizable to the navigators such as Vasco da Gama, who set sail from the Tagus estuary during Portugal’s Golden Age in the late 15th century. Only Alfama, the oldest surviving district, is still laced with medieval alleys and colored by Moorish influence. The Belém neighborhood is home to a wealth of monuments, including the iconic Belém Tower, the opulent National Coach Museum and the Jerónimos Monastery, where da Gama is buried. Bairro Alto is the home of fado music, whose melancholy strains are said to embody the Portuguese national temperament.
The Atlantic moderates Lisbon’s climate, preventing it from becoming too hot even in the middle of summer.
Lisbon’s Best Viewpoints
Lisbon’s many hills have allowed the city to create numerous miradouros, or viewpoints, around its center. The best are the Miradouro de Santa Luzia and the Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (formerly the Miradouro da Graça) in Alfama and, on the other side of the city, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara.
Excellent Shops Abound
Lisbon is excellent for shopping, as prices tend to be lower than they are in other European capitals. In addition to superb wines, Portugal has a long tradition of producing distinctive ceramics, elegant leather goods, fine textiles and unusual handicrafts. Some favorites: Elegant Claus Porto (Rua da Misericórdia 135), which has produced exquisitely packaged soaps with enticing fragrances since 1887, opened its own beautiful shop late in 2016. Visit the unique Pelcor (Pátio do Tijolo 16) for beautifully made handbags and distinctive accessories crafted from fine sheets of Portuguese cork. In business since 1741, Sant’Anna (Rua do Alecrim 95) sells handmade pottery and exquisite azulejos (hand-painted tiles). Silva & Feijóo (Rua Dos Bacalhoeiros 117), with an atmospheric, old-fashioned interior, is a great place to find delicacies such as the excellent Acushla olive oil or Port wine pâté. The best place to buy a bottle of wine, Port or Madeira is Garrafeira Nacional (Rua de Santa Justa 18), in the heart of the city.
Portugal’s Tradition of Fado
Fado, traditionally performed by a single vocalist accompanied by a trio of guitars, is Portugal’s great contribution to music. Reserve a table after dinner, as the food rarely matches the quality of the singing. Consider these two contrasting but equally memorable venues: In Alfama, Casa de Linhares (Beco dos Armazéns do Linho 2. Tel. (351) 91-018-8118) presents lyrical singers in a candlelit space of soaring brick vaults. O Faia (Rua da Barroca 54-56. Tel. (351) 21-342-6742) in Bairro Alto has less atmosphere, but there, altos such as Lenita Gentil and Filipa Cardoso grab you by the throat and don’t let go, so powerful are their voices.
The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
Lisbon recently opened a striking new museum on the bank of the Tagus near the major sites of Belém. Designed by British architect Amanda Levete, the curvaceous Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) swoops along the river, its scaly surface clad in white crackle-glazed tiles. The galleries inside host site-specific contemporary exhibitions, as do newly renovated galleries in the adjacent former power station. A pedestrian bridge is now open that leads straight to the museum’s roof, a terrace with panoramic views of the city and river.
Avoid Belém’s Tourist-Trap Restaurants
Belém has no shortage of tourist-trap restaurants, but we ate extremely well at Nune’s Real Marisqueira, a casual seafood spot between the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower, which was filled almost exclusively by locals. Rua Bartolomeu Dias 112, Lote. Tel. (351) 21-301-9899.