The Portuguese capital is in the early stages of a cultural renaissance. “There’s a saying here in Lisbon, ‘desemerda-te‘, which translates to ‘unshit yourself’, or ‘make it happen'”, says Pedro Azevedo, a local DJ and music programmer at Musicbox. A need to create one’s own work arose from the tumultuous economic decay that has stifled the city over the past several years.
And judging from their creative output, that’s exactly what Lisbonians are doing: distinctive music festivals are staged with local and international talent; distinct architecture bears sociopolitical street murals; locals and travelers gather at innovative restaurants; and in general, there’s a palpable, ineffable vibe. Defying economic odds, Lisbon is beyond merely sticking its head out of the water; it’s become an organic entrepreneurial society, steadily bringing new and inspiring ideas to the table. Take a last-minute summer jaunt to the bubbling Portuguese capital and soak in every stroll through its winding, hilly streets. Then you’ll get it.
|Where to Stay
Lisbon’s most sought-after locales are conveniently adjacent to the city center, which naturally is where our top hotel picks are stationed. Luxury-minded travelers should set their sights on the newly opened Memmo Alfama, Lisbon’s sole member of the prestigious Design Hotels group. Its clean rooms and rooftop pool offer a bird’s eye view of historical sites in the Alfama district and Tagus River. The tree-lined Avenida Liberdade is home to the uber-chic Fontecruz Hotel, which boasts Lisbon’s only Moët and Chandon-commissioned bar, along with lush rooms and suites, and a chic lobby/cocktail lounge teeming with locally commissioned art. Finally, solo travelers will want to check into the Gat Rossio in the heart of Lisbon. Its accommodations are simply designed yet elegant, as is its sociable dining space — and it won’t break the bank.
|Where to Eat
Lisbon’s rich culinary community prides itself on its prowess with regional seafood classics. Power up for the day at O Prego da Peixaria in the Principe Real; this reinvented homage to traditional prego eateries is the only spot in town that offers bolo do caco: a cuttlefish, salmon, tomato and algae burger on cuttlefish ink flatbread. From there, whizz past the endless collection of family-owned pastelerias, where you may stop in for a pastel de nata or eight, and arrive at SeaMe — a sushi bar in the posh Biaxa-Chiado neighborhood — where young, attractive crowds sip gin cocktails over stuffed crab, fried cuttlefish in ink sauce, oysters from the nearby Sado River, sardine nigiri and seared scallops with mango. Elsewhere, local dishes like bacalhau (salted cod), shellfish and octopus are common practice: there’s the internationally lauded Cervejaria Romario, a favorite of Anthony Bourdain’s, serving no-frills, unbeatably fresh dishes; or Taberna Moderna in the historic Alfama district.
|Where to Drink
No visit to Lisbon is complete without a raucous night drinking Super Bock and grooving to Afro-Caribbean tunes until the wee hours. Locals and travelers alike haunt the nondescript bars scattered throughout Barrio Alto, where drinking on the street is standard practice. At around 2 a.m., head downhill toward the buzzing Cais do Sodre and catch local and international DJs like Enchufada Records signees DJ Marfox and Rastronaut, spinning kaduru, zouk bass and Afro-Latino-influenced jams at Musicbox and Povo. Or head over to LUX, the aptly named, upscale dance club known for its late-night dance scene. But be warned: Lisboans don’t tend to arrive to the clubs until 3 a.m. at the earliest.
|What to Do
The Barrio Alto and Biaxa-Chiado districts are two of Lisbon’s hotspots for style and well-tailored design. Freshen up your garb at SLOU, a new menswear boutique with a curated collection of high-end brands, followed by a hot razor shave at Barbearia Campos, a century-old barbershop. For the finishing touch, browse through obscure skincare products and artisanal colognes at SkinLife. Once you’re feeling as fresh as you look, hop on the tram and amble through the Belem Tower and monolithic Mosterio dos Jerónimos (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites), then take an elevator ride up the Padrão dos Descobrimentos for a panoramic view of the Tagus River.
If art and culture are your forte, tour the Electricity Museum, currently home to a street art exhibition by sensational Lisboan artist Vhils, along with modern art collections at the Museu do Design e da Moda or the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporãnea do Chiado. If your schedule allows, stop for a quick stroll through the Village Underground and LX Factory, two cultural and commercial hubs.
Visitors to Lisbon often forget about the cache of attractions just a short ride away from the city limits. A visit to Sintra is a must — the historic Medieval city is home to meticulously preserved castles and towers in Moorish, German gothic and Manueline styles. Nearby is Casal Santa Maria — a well-known vineyard offering daily tours and tastings of high-quality wines, including their international award-winning Branco 2010 and Tinto 2009 — and the breathtaking Azenhas do Mar, an unspoiled, hidden beach where you can dine on locally caught seafood at Azenhas do Mar Restaurante Piscinas. Additional kilometers left in your tank? Continue north to the Medieval city of Coimbra, home to Portugal’s most lauded university.