Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
- Avenidas Novas
- Ancient and Modern Museum
Since 2011, tourism to Portugal has been on a spectacular upswing, eventually earning record numbers in 2015 when it welcomed 10 million international visitors. As its capital, Lisbon has been enjoying a significant slice of this pie (it helps that it has the most capable airport), especially among Americans. Travel to Lisbon from the U.S. increased 17 percent from 2015 to 2016, and there’s every reason to expect similar growth moving forward thanks to new flight connections from both United and Delta taking off in 2017. With all this foreign interest, the city continues to build hospitality and cultural infrastructure to complement its wealth of historic monuments. Charming boutique hotels, extravagant luxury properties, and stylish apartments have been consistently opening to accommodate this influx. New high-profile museums are bowing all over the city: MAAT was the big one in 2016, but the Berardo Collection Museum and Museum of Portuguese Jewish History are scheduled for 2017 unveilings. The already impressive culinary and nightlife scene (five Lisbon restaurants now have Michelin stars) hasn't stopped growing—and star chef Jose Avillez isn't the only one behind the expansion. Add nearly 300 sunny days a year and temperatures that rarely dip below 60 degrees, and Lisbon has all the ingredients to make it one of the world’s most desirable destinations.
There really isn’t a bad time to visit the Portuguese capital. Weather is generally mild, and there are a lot of events and festivals scattered throughout the year. But spring and fall, when the weather is very comfortable (temperatures range between mid 50s and mid 70s), and tourists haven’t yet mobbed the city for the summer season, are the best times to get the most out of Lisbon.
Portela Airport, which has been undergoing modernizing upgrades, is a 15-minute car ride into downtown Lisbon. It shouldn’t cost more than 12 Euros to most parts of the city by taxi (the airport has a stand). If you’d rather plan ahead, organize a luxury sedan pickup by Amiroad, which charges about $35 to any hotel in town. If you’re not in a rush, the bus service (a dedicated route from Portela to several key locations in downtown Lisbon) and metro are straightforward and inexpensive.
It’s a great city to walk around in if you can tackle the hilly terrain, which is part of Lisbon’s charm. The color-coded metro and the public busses are cheap and easy to use. There are also the beautiful old school trams, which are not just for tourists; locals do in fact use them to get up and down these hills. (The city is San Francisco’s European sister for a reason.) The narrow, winding streets of downtown Lisbon can make finding parking spots a hair-pulling exercise so renting a car while in town is not advisable. Taxis are easy to hail, but Uber is the best option.
1. Thanks to its topography, there are tons of miradouros (viewpoints) that offer postcard-perfect snapshots of the city. Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara at the edge of Principe Real is one of the most well-known and can be quite crowded, but Miradouro do Torel, just east of Avenida de Liberdade, is more of a secret.
2. Time permitting, check out the northern neighborhood of Alvalade. Developed in the 1950s, the architecture here (a lot of big, modern, and sometimes brutalist styles) is a massive departure from the historic, red-roofed buildings of downtown Lisbon. Charming cafes and restaurants cater more to locals than tourists.
3. Lisbon itself doesn’t have great beaches, but there are plenty nearby that are worth the (day) trip. Guincho in Cascais is a 20-minute drive west. An hour away in Alentejo, Comporta has been a favored quick-break destination for Lisboetas but is quickly gaining renown among foreigners, too. It attracts a fashionably laid-back scene thanks to the mix of rusticity (farmlands everywhere) and pristine coastlines.
Portugal is known for its vast selection of delectable desserts; the most famous of them all is pastel de nata, a cup-shaped puff pastry filled with egg custard. Uber-popular Pasteis de Belém (Rua Belém 84-92; 351-21/363-7423; pasteisdebelem.pt) has been making these treats from the same traditional recipe since 1837. Pastelaria Aloma in Campo de Ourique has been winning a lot of awards for their perfectly creamy iteration of the iconic natas (Rua Francisco Metrass 67; 351-21/396-3797).
Ginjinha is a sweet liqueur made from sour cherries and peddled all over town. The legend goes that 19th-century Galician monks were the originators of the drink, and it has since become one of the country’s most iconic tipples. These days, there are a handful of small historic bars dedicated to the stuff. Ginjinha Sem Rival (Rua Portas de Santo Antão 7; 351-21/346-8231) and A Ginjinha (Largo de São Domingos, 8; 351-21/814-5374), two of the oldest purveyors in Lisbon, serve homemade ginjinha to long lines of locals and tourists. For a more elegant setting, try it at Foxtrot (Travessa Santa Teresa 28; 351-21/395-269), an intimate lounge in Principe Real decorated with Art Nouveau flourishes.
Lanche (pronounced “lunsch”), which roughly translates to afternoon snack, is a popular dining tradition among the Portuguese, who enjoy taking an extended coffee break between lunch and dinner. Pair um bica (an espresso) with cakes or small savory dishes such as croquettes and rissois, pastries stuffed with cheese, meat, or seafood.
WINTER: Winter temperatures are generally pretty mild in Lisbon (hovering around the mid 60s for most of the season), but it can get a little rainy. And while there are some events and festivals taking place (like February’s Córtex Festival for short films), winter is best spent visiting museums and eating in the city’s top restaurants.
SPRING: So many events, so little time: Peixe em Lisboa, the food festival that celebrates Portuguese cooking, and especially seafood, occurs in April with tastings, chef cooking demonstrations, classes, and more. The international music festival Rock in Rio is staged in May. ARCO, the contemporary art fair from Madrid, has started a Lisbon edition and also takes place in May.
SUMMER: It’s music festival season in Lisbon. Super Bok Super Rock, which focuses on rock and metal has been running for over 20 years. There’s also a lot of jazz events, including Jazz em Agosto. Expect performances and conferences at the Gulbenkian Museum. It’s also the best time to get away to the country’s beaches, both near (Sintra, Guincho) and far (Azores, Tavira).
FALL: Early autumn is a great time to visit Lisbon-area beaches. They’re not as crowded, but the water is still quite warm. The city is otherwise flushed with high-profile events: Caixa Alfama (a Fado festival) is in September, Moda Lisboa (the local fashion week) is in October, and the Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival (previous editions were attended by the likes of David Lynch and Juliette Binoche) happens in November.