The Authentic Lisbon Experience - All About Portugal
I wrote this article following a trip to Lisbon from my home in England. Enjoy the city of Lisbon like a local and get the most out of your stay. Lisbon is a beautiful city, full of culture that oozes from every building; for instance, monuments in Lisbon express well the country’s glorious past. To get the most out of your visit, take one day from your trip to live like a Lisboner and absorb the atmosphere in this picturesque city.
Breakfast on the hoof
Throughout Lisbon you will see a café or patisserie on just about every street corner. These little shops are the lifeblood of Lisbon life and see an incredibly high footfall of Lisboner’s going about their daily business.
To breakfast in true Lisbon style, order your pastry – often the sweet, flaky Pastel de Nata, a type of egg custard tart – with a café espresso and consume them at the counter. In shops all over the city you will see well-heeled Lisbon business people in smart suits with briefcases stopping for their breakfast on the hoof. At some of the more exclusive cafes, you could pay up to €1.50 for a Nata y café but off the beaten track you could get your morning sugar-and-caffeine jolt for as little as €1 for the lot.
Travel any way you can, but not by cab
Lisbon is well-endowed with many ways of getting around the city. The centre of the city is small and it’s an easy walk between most places, but it’s also extremely steep.
The smart tourist, like the native Lisboner, gets a Viva Viagem card. Not unlike the London Oyster card, this rechargeable card gives you cheap travel around the city on all means of transportation. This includes the Sta Justa Lift, which gives you a stunning city panorama from its platform. A number of the modes of transport popular with tourists, especially the Sta Justa Lift, are upwards of €5 to ride on their own, or included in a €5 24-hour pass.
Santa Justa lift. Visit image source.
A snifter on the way home
Walking through the avenues in the Restauradores area in downtown Lisbon, you’ll notice a number of tiny shop-fronts often adorned with art deco glass panels and ties announcing that they offer Ginja or Ginjinha – a liquor made from sour cherries and brandy that’s particular to Lisbon. These tiny Ginjarias, which are usually no more than a tiny counter and room for no more than three people, dispense Ginja in shot glasses “com Ginja” – with a cherry at the bottom of the glass – or “sem Ginja” – leaving the cherry in the bottle.
A Restauradores Ginjaria after dark. Visit image source.
Walking through Restauradores at about 6pm, when most Lisboners are finishing work, you will see the pavements littered with people stopping for a quick drink on their way home. It’s a chance for people to catch up with friends and with the whole pavement acting as an outdoor bar, there’s plenty of opportunity for people to see and be seen.
Eat late; dance later
If, as in the Sinatra song, you get too hungry for dinner at eight, you may struggle in Lisbon. The usual time to leave your apartment for an evening meal time here is 10pm, and the streets around the Baixa and Bairro Alto, teeming with bars and restaurants, don’t start to get busy until after 9pm. You’d be best to do as the Lisboner’s do and return to your Lisbon apartment and take an afternoon siesta before returning for dinner later.
Once you have dined, there is plenty more to entertain you in Lisbon. Home of Fado, the sometimes melancholy strains of guitar and voice can be heard from the Baixa and Bairro Alto cafes after dark. The musicians play mostly at weekends, so take a Friday or Saturday night to experience the Saudade – or longing – evoked by the fado musicians and their music.