Lisbon oozes character in a way that you don’t expect from a big city. Perhaps it is the lack of skyscrapers, the fresh sea air, the walkability of the city, the colorful and distinctive neighborhoods, or its fun-loving nature that make Lisbon so likable and so livable.
When to Go
Like any European city, high season is crowded and as Lisbon grows in popularity it will get busier. In early June Lisbon turns into one big party, but locals say autumn (September to October) is their favorite time of the year—there are still plenty of warm days, the best waves of the year for surfing, and it’s time to feast on roasted chestnuts, a local delicacy.
June marks the start of Lisbon’s festive season with the Feast of St. Anthony and the Sardine Festival being highlights. Every year, June 12 to 14, Lisbon honors St. Anthony of Padua, its most revered patron saint, with a festival and holiday. Lisbon goes sardine crazy and becomes one big street party over this period, too. All the streets are closed off to cars and locals drag out their charcoal grills onto the street to grill sardines offered for sale with beer, port, and Ginjinha (a cherry liquor) to strangers and friends, all the while dancing to Fado music or a local rock band. It is definitely something to experience if you time your trip accordingly. Peixe em Lisboa, a celebration of Portugal’s famed seafood gastronomy in May; Adegga Wine and Food Festival in June and July; and any of the many international music festivals such as Rock in Rio Lisboa are also worth attending.
What to Eat
Lisbon is a feast for all the senses, but the seafood is legendary. Favorites include clams and deep fried sardine heads, while peixe grelhado, Portugal’s famous grilled fish, is available daily at any restaurant. No trip to Portugal would be complete without eating your body weight in pasteis de nata and, yes, they do taste best at Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem, where the first of these sweet pastries were baked by Catholic monks in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem in Lisbon.
Souvenir to Take Home
Don’t go home without a few pasteis de Belém for the road. The famous local pastry can be bought at the airport duty free shop (daily baked and sold there) or at the source in Fábrica de Pasteis de Belem. For something a little more lasting, a pair of Bordalo Pinheiro porcelain sardines will be beautiful keepsakes from Portugal.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Explore the city on foot, or travel with a group and make time to cross the river by ferry to catch the sunset from the other side. It is locals’ favorite outing and it will take your breath away. Rather than eating near the overcrowded and touristy Rossio plaza, go local and support one of the many local, family-run eateries.
Lisbon is an Instagram heaven with plenty of viewpoints to get the perfect shot. The best view is from the other side of the river, so take the 10-minute ferry ride to the other side from Cais do Sodré for the perfect view (and photo) of Lisbon. Another more famous viewpoint is Elevador de Santa Justa or the Carmo Lift. The beautiful urban lift connects the Baixa and Bairro Alto neighborhoods and offers a panoramic view of the river and Lisbon.