Hidden Gems Lisbon Edition!
This delicious fairy tale of a city, perched on the shores of the Tagus river as the mouth of the Atlantic opens to the west, feels like a frontier. Once a major colonial power, the city now exudes a quiet, laid-back confidence. This is a city with nothing to prove, perfectly content to embrace its beautiful loneliness at the very edge of Europe.
The riches of colonial days have left glorious monuments. Today though the greatest of the treasures of Portugal’s history are the many peoples of former colonial lands. Inspiring young people from across the globe have filled the city with vibrance and verve. Lisbon’s multicultural energy sings from the (elaborately tiled) pavements.
You could spend weeks here, happily sipping ginja and looking at the azulejos. But we found the city is so manageable that we were able to have a great experience in three days in Lisbon.
Here are 10 hidden gems in Lisbon where you can get the feel – and more importantly the taste – of this fantastic destination.
1. The Confeitaria Nacional
Located: Praça da Figueira, Praça Dom Pedro IV 18B
Lisbon’s oldest pastry shop is a wonder, with curved marble stands to enjoy your coffee, a mirrored ceiling, and beautiful display cases all around. Come for some of Portugal’s strong milky café com leite – a welcome shade or two stronger than a cafe au lait or a caffe latte. Resist the urge to add sugar – that edge of bitterness is the ideal complement to a rich golden sponge cake roll, filled with a satiny cream, bright yellow with egg yolks.
You can also sit – for a surcharge. But taking your coffee standing up is much more fun, and places you in the loveliest part of the Confeitaria, which is Lisbon’s oldest pastry shop and therefore a must as one of the hidden gems Lisbon.
2. Livraria Sa’ da Costa
Located: Rua Garrett, 100-102
Livraria Bertrand is said to be the world’s oldest bookstore. But perhaps the secret to its longevity is the renovation. This bookstore may be old, but it, unfortunately, does not feel old. For a hit of that wonderful old book smell, and plenty of browsing through not just books but old maps, charts, and other delights, try the mysterious and beautiful Livraria Sa’ da Costa, just across the street. This friendly and professional corner shop is staffed by bibliophiles and experts. It’s set near a charming square, and also has an ideal old coffee shop just a few steps away. In fact, the cafe is called Bertrand, actually – you’ll find it at Rua Garret 104.
This is a perfect place to get a Beirao – the deep blonde national liqueur you’ll see advertised on all the trams. It tastes a little like a Drambuie. There are also assorted small sandwiches and snacks to enjoy while standing up at the bar in a secret Lisbon spot.
3. Conserveira de Lisboa
Located: Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34
Astonishing as it may be in a country with such bountiful seas, the Portuguese have quite a taste for canned fish and in fact, they’re masters of it. Lisbon has many spectacular, theatrical canned fish emporiums, with fanciful packaging. But these are pricey – more suited to Instagram photos and the odd expensive tin as a souvenir you’ll never open because it’s too pretty and too expensive.
Instead, join the locals at the Conserveira de Lisboa, an old and beautiful wooden shop with top quality canned fish in a great variety. They will stack your selection together and wrap a tight parcel in brown paper, tied up with a string. Try a great variety, especially the ones with light curry sauce. The tins here are priced to please patrons, not ensnare tourists, so buy away, and treat your friends at home. It’s shops like this that should make anyone’s list of Lisbon off the beaten track.
4. Time Out Market
Located: Avenida 24 de Julho 49, Cais do Sodre
The Time Out Market Lisbon, set in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodré, is fantastic. You have all the European central market buzz, and there is no sacrificing of atmosphere for hygiene. This is teeming with activity throughout the day and evening. All around the outside of the central hall are self-service restaurants from the city’s most creative and traditional chefs. Get a dish from one, and then from another, and drink wines by the glass from a third. There are tables in the center to share with happy strangers. This is a great way to try the dishes of top chefs, at self-service prices.
If you want to spend a little heavier but well, check out the raw bars around the parallel corridor. You sit at the counter with a beautiful view of heaps of barnacles, crayfish, oysters, clams, lobsters – 17th-century Dutch painters couldn’t make this up. Vinho verde – a refreshing white – or an Espumante – Portuguese sparkling wine – are great with the feast. It’s not a secret Lisbon spot for the locals, but it is for the tourists. Definitely worth checking out!
5. Museu Nacional do Azulejo
Located: Rua Madre de Deus 4
You will have noticed the tiles everywhere, decking the facades of even humble buildings in intricate patterns and gloss. These are a defining part of Portugal’s aesthetic heritage, a gift of the Moors. In fact, the name itself derives from Arabic ‘az-zulay’ – polished stone.
In addition to the beautiful repeated and interlocking patterns, entire pictorial scenes were fashioned from tile. Many of these are rendered in blue and white, just like the Delft China of the Netherlands, which was much in fashion in the latter half of the 17th century. These elaborate scenes in tile were first commissioned from Dutch workshops, and production later moved to Portugal, keeping the aristocratic color scheme. Later aesthetic currents, such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco, were also expressed in this national craft, and even contemporary artists have used this deeply meaningful medium. An afternoon at Lisbon’s beautiful Museu Nacional do Azulejo – National Museum of the Azulejo – is pleasurably spent.
6. Sol e Pesca
Located: Rua Nova do Carvalho 44
Not too far from the Time out Market on a pedestrianized alley, you’ll find a novel, fun, and extremely low-key dining experience. In this former bait and tackle shop – complete with the original sign (“Sun and Fish”) – almost nothing has changed. The cases that once held tackle are now stacked with canned fish. Nets and such hand unpretentiously from the ceiling. This was an absolute minimum of intervention. The extremely friendly counter guys play great music and serve glass pitchers of house wine to pour into short tumblers – including an aerated white that is as festive as it is casual. For Lisbon off the beaten path lovers, the menu centers on the supreme quality canned seafood they offer in a large selection, along with some simple dishes to complement – salads and so on. This is one of my favorite restaurants on all of my travels ever.
7. A Ginjinha Espinheira
Located: Largo São Domingos 8
This original shop is the most famous of several in the neighborhood that dispenses shots of Ginjinha – a popular cherry liqueur. Stopping for a shot is a pleasant afternoon and evening ritual, much like having a standing espresso at a bar in Italy – just as chaotic and just as casual. At ‘A Ginjinha,’ you’ll notice a sink on the right – you’ll need it. This cherry liqueur is served in short, overflowing shot glasses and it’s impossible not to get your hands sticky. The shop smells sweet and fruity and potent. It will set you back very little – as of the fall of 2019, a plain shot was 1 euro. But spring for the shot with a few pleasantly bitter cherries floating in it – for 1.20.
Located: Rua do Loreto 2
Pasteis de Nata is the definitive pastry of Lisbon. This simple egg custard tart, scented with lemon peel and cinnamon, is everywhere. Blackened on top, and delicate in the center, it’s like a creme brulee in a shatteringly flaky and delicate pastry shell. Pasteis de Belem may be the most famous – out by the dramatic Tower of Belem on the Tagus. But the pasteis de nata at Manteigaria were the creamiest and flakiest of all. Simple and delicious. If you don’t make it to the main store, you can also pick one up at the Time Out Market.
9. Queijaria Nacional
Located: Rua da Conceição 8
Probably you are guessing that the name has something to do with cheese, and you’re correct. But in addition to a case of excellent local cheeses, you’ll also find an excellent casual restaurant with just one big wooden table in front of the display cases. There’s a daily menu, plus selections of cheeses and charcuterie and wines. Completely delightful, intimate, and perfect for people who want to connect with a region through artisanal foods and see a secret Lisbon favorite.
10. Praça do Comércio
Located: Praça do Comércio, 1100-148
Preferably taking the broad pedestrian Rua Augusta, stroll in Lisbon’s cosmopolitan center until you come to a grand arch which opens on to this huge plaza, showcasing the Pombaline style. Surrounded by arcades on three sides, the bank of the broad river Tagus makes up the fourth. This is one of Europe’s most impressive public squares, somewhere between Piazza San Marco in Venice and St. Peter’s Square in dimension. The sun here is merciless, glorious, and the space broken only by the equestrian statue of King Dom José I, whose horse tramples snakes in their path.
I hope you found a few of the hidden gems Lisbon edition to be worthy of a stop! So many places are very touristy, but these secret Lisbon off the beaten path places will surely make your trip!
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