For many people today, luxury travel is becoming less about just luxury hotels and more about something deeper – abandoning the hour-by-hour itinerary and regimented group tour in favour of the idea that there is nowhere that you have to be, at all. For them, indulgence is to be found in experiencing a destination as it naturally unfolds, with the most luxurious thing of all on their side – time. And so when you visit this lifestyle city, check out all of our suggestions, just a few, or discover your own. After all, that’s how they do it in Lisbon.
In the past few years, Lisbon has become something of the new cool kid of Europe. Just ask Madonna, Christian Louboutin, Michael Fassbender, Scarlett Johanssen or Ricky Martin – who all own property in the Portugese capital – or John Malkovich, who owns a restaurant there that is reportedly kicking gastronomic goals.
Some are calling it the new Barcelona, but with no offence to the colourful Spanish holiday city, Lisbon can stand on its own merit – it’s an impressive place, even without the pinxos and afternoon siesta. So let’s cut to the chase – you already know Lisbon is worth seeing, but you don’t want to know where to be a tourist, you want to see Lisbon through the eyes of a local, are we right? So step right up: Here are the restaurants, bars and things to do that Lisbon locals love. I hope you brought your walking shoes, because trust us when we say, you’ll want to take your time.
Lisbon is a very walkable city, so feel free to explore on foot, especially when it comes to the old town neighbourhoods of Alfamo and Chiado. But if you want to see as much as you can, go right ahead and jump on one of those oh-so charming tram lines that tendril their way through the city (we recommend the number 30).
For the active holidayer, swing your leg over a bicycle from one of the new street rental bike pods that were just introduced to the city, allowing you to cycle everywhere (or everywhere flat, if you’re anything like us). Another option for getting around is the humble tuk-tuk. Jumping on the back of one of these taxi-meets-golf-cart vehicles is a tonne of fun, especially if you’re with a few friends, and while it might be a little touristy, it is actually one of the best ways to see all the city has to offer. There are lots of companies, like this one, ready for you to book whatever tour or route you like, and you can rest assured you’ll be driven around by a local who knows Lisbon like the back of their hand. It might not be the most luxurious experience, but every now and then you just want to experience a city with the wind in your hair, are we right?
Getting hungry (and thirsty)
We thought you’d never ask! Here are some of our favourite local haunts to eat, drink and be merry in Lisbon (and you can discover which neighbourhoods to explore here).
Get here early to nab a table in the upstairs bar on the petite, sunny balcony overlooking the pretty streets of Chiado, and opt for the octopus salad, cheese and cured meats (their specialty) and an Aperol Spritz to wash it all down.
Some of the city’s best Japanese food, not to mention service. Opt for the vegetarian gyoza, the sushi-sashimi bowl on ice and the black miso cod – it is to die for.
To access this excellent rooftop bar, you’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing. Hidden behind the guise of an ordinary parking garage, jump into the carpark’s freight elevator and past your fair share of offensively drab concrete and you’ll finally arrive in a lush rooftop garden, where spectacular views and cocktails a-plenty await.
John Malkovich’s restaurant serves up a mean meal. Sautéed scallops with Jerusalem artichoke cream and roasted mushrooms salad are outstanding, not to mention the cocktails or any one of the desserts. We recommend ordering a few and sharing… or not.
The new hotspot for expats who like to eat brunch out – read: any Australian ever – because let’s be honest, Europe doesn’t really ‘do’ breakfast.
Go to this new haunt for yummy casual Asian-fusion – it’s already a favourite among expats.
For genuine Szechuan Chinese food in one of Lisbon’s newer neighbourhoods – Parque Das Nacoes. The area is on the river and there is a string of new restaurants that have just opened that are worth checking out.
This is the place to go for a seafood lunch – something the Portuguese do pretty much perfectly. Something else we love about Portugal? Many restaurants, including this one, do something called couvert, where the waiter will bring you delicious morsels like prawns, a cheese platter and octopus salad before you even order so much as an entrée. Move over, basket of measly bread, this is how dining should be done!
This recently-opened 19-room hotel has a petite rooftop restaurant and open-air rooftop bar with beautiful views over the old town. And the cherry on top? Every Wednesday and Thursday from 6-8pm they hold an Oysters and Champagne Happy Hour. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
This place was recommended to us by our tuk-tuk driver who insisted it is the best gelato in Lisbon – after having a taste, we didn’t argue.
Don’t lie, we know the tourist in you wants to know where to find the best Portuguese tart… well, here it is. This place is an absolute institution and is known internationally. And yes, they are the best Portuguese tarts we’ve ever had – really.
Another hot spot from which to enjoy a cocktail with a view.
This five star hotel puts on a seaside weekend brunch on the outdoor terrace – enough said.
Enjoy a tipple and sushi right on the water at this luxury hotel in Cascais.
Getting curious (other local things to do)
A great way to take in Lisbon like a local is by embarking on the 13-kilometre ride along the coast from Guincho to the old town of Cascais, which is a favourite among English expats. Another route is the cycle from Parque Das Nascoes to Praca Do Commercio.
Lie by the pool at Palacio Estoril
Fun Fact: This wellness hotel is next to the casino where Ian Fleming conceived of the idea for James Bond. You can lie poolside all day here for a very reasonable 30 euros. Again, why wouldn’t you…
Go to Praia de Sao Joao da Caparica
This is one of the beaches favoured by Lisbon locals, so skip Cascais and head straight there if you’re after traditional long sandy beach vibes, like we get at home in Australia. For a few euros you can nab a lounger and umbrella, and then at lunch time head to one of the casual, boho beach restaurants a few metres away for a seafood lunch. Our favourite is Meste Zé, where we love the white sangria, whole grilled fish and the clams – a Portuguese specialty. When you’re ready for dessert, head back to your sandy haven and wait for what we’ve ignorantly coined, ‘the doughnut man’, who does exactly as you would guess – walk up and down the beach selling his handmade, traditional Portuguese doughnuts. You can choose custard or Nutella fillings, but there are no wrong answers when it comes to Bola de Berlim, so take your pick and prepare for a party in your mouth.
Wander Lisbon’s neighbourhoods
Not sure where to start? Read about our favourite areas of Lisbon to explore here.
Lisbon seems to get another new luxury hotel every other week lately, a product of its burgeoning luxury tourism market. Here are our favourite places for you to rest your weary head.