Truth is, I’ve been wanting to visit Lisbon for a while now. In fact, last year around April, I was talking with a friend about visiting Lisbon for my Birthday. While I found myself in a different place on my Birthday last year, I actually made it to Lisbon THIS year, few days before my Birthday. I was there only for 48 hours; a really express stay as some may say, but thanks to some insiders precious tips and sleeping only four hours a night, I managed to do and see quite a lot.
I am drawn to Lisbon mostly because it is a mix of a European city with a Mediterranean climate.
It is a very laid back city, sometimes even provincial, and its compact size makes it relatively easy to navigate. Just take the legendary tram no. 28, and you can see all the touristic attractions in one day or two.
Rumors have it that the city has started to wake up recently and becoming more alive, so I figured I had to check it by myself.
Here is my express guide to Lisbon; Where to Stay, Shop, Sip, Party and Eat.
Stay: Hotel Gat Rossio
When I travel, I am always looking for these cute little places to stay in. I’m not looking for grand hotels with red carpets or velvet ropes. It is not my style. Especially not when I am traveling for work. All I need is a comfortable bed, warm shower, free Wi-Fi, a lot of light, friendly staff and a good breakfast. I found it all and more in the Gat Rossio hotel, part of the GatRooms hotel chain in Europe.
In fact, it was my sister who recommended me on the hotel (It is usually the other way around) as she stayed there on her honeymoon a few years ago. ‘They have a really good breakfast buffet’ she told me ‘and a spacious roof deck where you can eat your breakfast’ she added ‘and the staff are so helpful and friendly’. I didn’t have to look further. I loved the clean design, the simplicity and functionality of the space and of course, the great breakfast room where everyone gathered to sit around long tables, enjoying fruits and pasteis de nata, the well-known Portuguese cakes.
Hotel Gat Rossio, Rua do Jardim do Regedor nº 27-35 e Travessa do Forno nº 9-13. Lisboa
Shop: A Vida Portuguesa
When I am in New York, I love shopping in Anthropologie. It is sort of my ‘go-to’ store for design and inspiration for everything that has to do with my tiny apartment. In Lisbon I found the Portuguese equivalent in A Vida Portuguesa, an eclectic store that holds only Portuguese brands and products for the home; from hand-made olive oil soaps to home decor, shoes, pantry, pastry, vintage posters, you name it. There is also an online store, but there is nothing like visiting the store and smelling the soaps and candles.
A Vida Portuguesa, Rua Anchieta 11, 1200-023 Chiado, Lisboa
It is not a secret that where ever I go and travel, I keep looking for the best coffee in town. Some addictions apparently are hard to be cured. I found KaffeeHaus by chance, while walking in the streets of Chiado area, known for its elegant, sophisticated theaters, bookshops, old-style cafes and luxurious international brand names clothing stores. Even though KaffeeHaus is far from being an old-fashioned typical Lisbon cafe (on the contrary, it has more of a Vienna style) I loved its design, the colorful posters on the walls and the young crowd. Nonchalant, relaxed atmosphere with great coffee and friendly easy going service. (One of the barmen is hard to miss)
KaffeeHaus, Rua Anchieta 3 Chiado, Lisboa
Party: Pensão Amor
Definitely the hottest spot in the city, Pensão Amor, or ‘Guesthouse of Love’ is a chic boudoir style place in Cais do Sodré area, down the hills of Barrio Alto, the upper district in the city, also known also as the hub of night-life. It serves mostly as a bar that serves drinks and Peruvian food, decorated with frescos and endless images and art of nude women. Don’t skip the small bookstore at the back and the pole dance room, decorated with leopard and gold. Highly recommended to make reservations. The place is getting crowded quite fast.
Pensão Amor, Rua do Alecrim, 19, 1200-292 Lisboa
Eat: Martinho da Arcada
Martinho da Arcada is Lisbon’s mythological oldest cafe. Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I passed through it just to experience the phenomenon and look inside. The cafe was founded in 1778! as Café do Gelo (the Ice Cafe) and mostly sold beverages and ice. After having passed through the hands of a set of different owners, in the early nineteenth century it was called the Casa da Neve (the House of Snow) and sold ice cream to the best of Lisbon’s society. Only in 1845 it received its current name after its owner at that time, Martinho Bartolomeu Rodrigues, who turned it into one of the finest and most popular cafes in the city. Its history of over two centuries is closely linked to the social, political and cultural life of Lisbon. If you come for dinner, highly recommended to make reservations.
Martinho da Arcada, Praça do Comércio 3, 1100-148 Lisboa
Eat: Taberna Ideal
I happened to meet one of the owners of Taberna Ideal, a young energetic Lisbonnaire girl, who is running three restaurants at once with another partner. I really liked the vintage feel of the space, but yet contemporary, the eclectic style and choice of furnitures together with the wall decoration, that made the place feel very earthy and welcoming. I liked the simplicity of the design, a checkered paper as a table mate for example. So simple and yet, so brilliant. The menu keeps the regional taste; tibornas, snacks, salads, main dishes and pans (free-range chicken with almonds, quail pie with sausage, cod au gratin with bread) and a large variety of wine. The atmosphere is young and hip and it is always crowded during dinners and weekends. Make sure you spend at least one meal there when you are visiting Santos-o-Velho neighborhood in Lisbon.
Taberna Ideal, Rua da Esperança, 112-114 1200 Lisboa
A travel for me is not completed unless I find the best place to get chocolate, dark chocolate. I have this habit of looking for a good cup of coffee and the best chocolate in town. I found Xocoa while strolling one of the main streets in Baixa (I think it was rua Aurea) and the smell of the chocolate hit me that afternoon. I spotted the store sign and went right in. The highlight of Xocoa is chocolate bars covered with gummy bears and colorful candies; The owner of the store just told me it is their best seller. I bought a bunch of these to have as a snack while touring the city. All chocolate pralines are hand-made, with a Portuguese chocolate blend. Do not miss on that.
Xocoa, Rua do Crucifixo, 112-114, Baixa-Chiado,Lisboa
Lisbon offers a variety of good food in a good feel atmosphere all over. 48 hours are definitely not enough, but it left me with a taste for more. I will be back.