Lúcia’s Lisbon: Insider’s guide to Europe’s coolest city (part 1)
Lúcia is a cupcake-baking, drama teaching, record spinning ex-Lisbonite who happens to work for 9flats. She’s also full of secret, insider tips about this hip, affordable and (for some crazy reason) often overlooked European capital.
She’s put together, just for you, a 3-day walking tour around all the places she loves in and around Lisbon, and that tourist guides don’t reach. Enjoy, you’re in for a treat…
Day 1: Saucy, secret, delicious downtown
Flirty Olisipo, lady of great curves and seven hills, once dreamed of being the capital of a nation. She tried everything. Even changing her name: Olissipona, Oliosipon, Ulishbona, اليكسبونا(al-Lixbûnâ). Centuries went by until, at last, her knight arrived and made her a capital, and gave her her final name: Lisboa.
However, she would forever have one faithful lover laying at her feet: the Tagus. She got what she wanted. She was the first capital of a unified country in this nation that is Europe. She would watch ships departing, “giving new worlds to the world” as Luís Vaz de Camões once said in “Os Lusíadas”; would witness the first woman voting in a democratic election in Europe; soldiers holding revolutions with carnations…
Lisbon continues today to be one of the pearls to discover in a Europe of contrasts. There are treasures in the labyrinthian neighbourhoods of Lisbon, secret places, that only ‘alfacinhas’ know. I’m not from Lisbon, but I lived there for 10 years. And Lisbon stole my heart. Even today, every time I go to Portugal on holiday, I go to Lisbon. So, let me lead you in this secret discovery.
Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?
Then come closer. I will guide you through Lisbon for the next couple of weeks. We’ll go neighbourhood by neighbourhood and I hope that in the end you’ll feel the need to go there and explore it by yourself. I choose downtown Lisbon to start.
First, something nice to eat
Let’s start our trip in BlueTerrace in Alcantara. I lived here for a some time and I love it so much. Let’s go down the street and take tram 15 to Cais do Sodré.
Neighborhood of prostitutes and sailors, bohemians and love, we stop to eat a bagel with gold olive oil in the tavern Sol e Pesca, which once was a fishing shop. Here we’ll find a myriad of Portuguese ‘conservas’ (fish or seafood preserved in tins) which will be accompanied by a typical bread. I recommend the olives and a glass of Setubal Muscatel.
Next to Sol e Pesca you can find another good place to have lunch: Muv Bar. If she’s not on holiday, Sara Vargas will be your hostess. She is very nice and feel free to ask some her for local tips. Sara is one of the founders of Cais Sodré Cabaret, a retro-vintage party with burlesque and vaudeville acts, and DJs that, since it started a few years ago, is shaking the heart of Lisbon.
After lunch, feel free to take a walk in the wild side. Go first to Ribeira Market to have a smell of Lisbon traditional fish markets, then walk a bit and check out the buildings in Rua de Sao Paulo. Here, you’ll find some that are pretty nice, full of colours and with beautiful traditional mosaics in their façades. Go to one of the small cafés around there and have a coffee. You should ask for a ‘bica’ and a ‘Rissól de Camarão’. Mham! Mham! I just love rissóis! If you like seafood you will like this. The bica, a short, strong expresso, will give you the kick you need to go for a new walk and the Rissól will comfort your stomach.
Neighbour to our lovely tavern Sol e Pesca you will find Pensão Amor, a nice place for a late afternoon coffee or a well-lubricated conversation. Here, you’ll find a very peculiar decor, inspired by burlesque and the art of making love. Try some Port. Or if you are not a fan of liqueur wines, have a glass of red. Portuguese wines are among the top 10 best wines in the world. My favourite ones are from Alentejo due to their velvet fruity taste. There’s nothing better for a conversation than an old, sweet glass of Portuguese wine.
Shake, rattle and roll
Cais do Sodré is the favourite choice of all trendy young people from Lisbon right now. Here, you can dance in clubs that were old brothels, some of which even have retired striptease dancers that come around 3am to dance for customers. Almost all the bars and discos are named after northern European capitals, and the music you can dance to round here varies from bar to bar: from rock’n’roll in Roterdão club, to modern sounds and DJs at Europa Club. Don’t miss Music Box, with concerts from national and international artists, VJs and DJs.
I think it’s time to go to the next neighbourhood. Let’s move ourselves in the good old fashion way and take Bica’s Ascensor (ascending tram). Here you’ll find, again, lots of locals having a drink in the street. I suggest you go to Baliza café Bar and ask Bruno, the owner, to make you a nice cocktail. There’s no doubt that this guy knows what he’s doing.
Well, enough partying for today! Soon, I’ll take you to Bairro Alto, were I lived too, during my university times, and to Avenida da Liberdade. Just a last note: if you liked Cais do Sodré here’s a nice place to stay: LSA – Cais do Sodre.
Since I don’t want you to get lost, here’s the complete route to all places I mention: My Secret Lisbon Route. In here you can find some more tips and a nice music selection in every spot. Enjoy!