A complete guide to one of the most laid-back and friendly destinations in Western Europe : Portugal!
There is something so charming about Lisbon’s light, its creative energy and its inspiring startup scene that makes it an exciting place to be right now. Boasting some of the warmest winters in Europe (and some of the sunniest days), Portugal also makes for a perfect getaway during the colder months. It may be small, but this beautiful country has an enormous amount of magic to offer—partly due to the kindness of its people; wherever you go, there is a warmth and an eagerness that emanates from the locals who cannot wait to share the best of their country with you.
The Atlantic Ocean makes up for a big part of the Portuguese identity, and adds to the country's laid-back and relaxed energy. From its cities to its beaches, castles and palaces, spectacular landscapes and miradouros (viewpoints), to its charming hotels and farmstays and farmexperiences (some of which can include an incredibly luxurious train experience), there are so many reasons to visit Portugal year-round.
Here, 60+ reasons why you should be making plans to visit this timeless and magical corner by the sea very soon–not in order of preference, but in the order that suits the ideal drive around the country.
1 - Stay at The Lisboans
Opening only a year ago, the team at The Lisboans (a lovely husband and wife couple, Isaac and Tania, and Tania’s sisters Marta and Marisa) have successfully created a collection of thoughtful design apartments right in the beating heart of Lisbon’s Baixa district.
These residences are full of unique and considered design touches, like an eclectic mix of antique furniture mixed with handmade pieces that the team designed themselves. Think carefully-chosen, handcrafted blankets from one of Portugal’s oldest blanket factories in Alentejo, azulejos-tiled floors and Marshall speakers. The team here are young, driven, super friendly and full of the best local recommendations for the city they are proud to call home–and that's not even the best bit. The breakfast bag that they leave on your door each morning filled with fresh orange juice, bread and pastries (to accompany the yogurt, milk, butter and jam that they have kindly left in the fridge) is heavenly.
If you appreciate high design, book here. The Lisboans’ brand new restaurant—a farm-to-table concept in a their big basement space called Prado–opened in December last year. Looking to stay in? Their boutique, namesake grocery store will open this month.
2 - Head to Santa Clara 1728
When João Rodrigues, the brains behind Santa Clara 1728, first laid-eyes on this formerly abandoned building on the edge of Alfama, he had plans to turn it into a home for his family. Luckily for locals and travelers, João’s plans changed midway through the build, and he decided to turn the home into a boutique six-room guesthouse in partnership with acclaimed Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus.
Here at Santa Clara 1728, it's all about a sensory experience. As soon as you pass the threshold of this 18th-century house, situated off the busy Alfama streets, you'll instantly notice the quiet and calm, the smell of fresh bread and cakes and an overwhelming sense of space, with beautifully high-proportioned ceilings and walls.
These layered yet subtle experiences are entirely intentional, and a stay here leaves you with a more unique guest experience than one typically expects or receives from a standard hotel, or even a luxury property. Santa Clara 1728 is no ordinary hotel; it's a delightfully warm and welcoming home-away-from-home.
3 - Sleep in a Palace (at Palácio Belmonte)
If sleeping in an 15th-century palace is your thing (and why wouldn't it be?!), we recommend booking one of the spacious suites at Palácio Belmonte. Under the watchful eye of the Moorish Castelo São Jorge, in the historical region of Alfama, this is a seriously enchanting place to spend the night. With no formal reception, no lobby, no lifts, no televisions...the list goes on, this property might lack all of the standard mod-cons you have come accustomed to know in a hotel, but what it lacks in modern finishings, it makes up for with endless character, beauty and simplicity.
The opportunity to meet the Palácio’s charismatic owners, Frederic Coustols and his Portuguese wife, Maria, is an experience in and of itself. Frederic, a Frenchman who bought the palace back in 1994 for 26 million euros (!) before starting work on its restoration, and Maria, an artist, are inspiring in their zest for life, hospitality, generosity and warmth. Spend a night sipping Portuguese wine and getting to know them. After a night's stay here, and hours of captivating discussion, their love for their family, the arts, meeting people, travel and storytelling is clear. Complete with a secret garden, a pool and exceptional views over the colored houses and red rooftops of Lisbon, this is a truly incredible, once-in-a-lifetime place to stay.
4 - Go boutique at Casa do Barão
In a quiet corner of the Chiado neighborhood, this charming boutique hotel is a warm and friendly respite, and its location couldn’t be more perfect. With decadent breakfasts served in a light-filled, glass eatery that overlooks a pretty garden and a little lap pool, Casa do Barão offers a relaxing yet luxurious getaway. Designed by architect and owner Rui Gomes da Costa, the rooms and suites are spacious and full of thoughtful design touches. When you're booking, we recommend room number 15.
5 - Visit a Shiitake Mushroom Farm
You will live an incredible experience! This farm is characterized by being family-friendly, where the family "Lopes" based on human and ethical values, combines the experience of the elders with the irreverence of the younger. Its products are completely organic finding the entire production process certified by Naturalfa.
5 - Discover Mi Casa En Lisboa
Sitting pretty on a hill in the Lisbon neighborhood of Graça, not far from the flea market Feira da Ladra in Alfama, Maria Ulecia’s beautiful home has nine light-filled rooms and spectacular views over Graça park, the São Jorge Castle and out to the River Tagus. The team's generous hospitality spills over to breakfast each morning: María and her team prepare an incredible, daily-changing menu featuring local produce and delicious homemade cakes, which you'll smell as soon as you enter for check-in. We recommend booking the extra large attic room with a private terrace.
6 - Visit MAAT
The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) opened a little over 12 months ago on the edge of Lisbon’s Tagus River in the Belém neighborhood. An impressive building, designed by London-based architecture firm AL_A, the building is covered in 15,000 white ceramic tiles, with an incredible undulating shape inspired by the rippling of water. Sitting pretty alongside the river, the museum also occupies the former Central Tejo power plant building next door—a red brick thermoelectric plant building that has been converted into a gallery space.
7- Check out the Museu Nacional do Azulejo
It would be impossible to visit Lisbon without noticing its hundreds of walls that are laden with incredibly beautiful hand-painted tiles (or azulejos). Expect a stop-you-in-your-tracks wall display around every corner, each one more colorful and beautiful than the last. At the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, housed in the former convent of Madre de Deus, founded in 1509, you can experience and learn about the history of this unique and iconic art form. With a lovely open-air courtyard café, this is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours.
8- Shop at the Mercado Biologico in the Príncipe Real Garden
Each Saturday morning, local farmers gather to sell their produce at the beautiful Príncipe Real Garden. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., shop for fresh fruit and vegetables, handmade olive oils, jellies, breads and more. Don't just grab and go; this is a beautiful park for a picnic. Sit and enjoy the things you buy at the market, or grab coffee at one of the open-air cafés nearby.
9- Visit the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum & Gardens
This cultural hub is part of a bigger complex made up of a center for modern art, a library, gardens and an auditorium where live music and other performances take place. The gardens at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum are incredibly peaceful and beautiful. Japanese in design, they make for a lovely, relaxing place to while away a couple of hours before or after spending time in the museum, which has one of the largest private art collections in Europe and the world.
10- Have a raspberry farm experience
With about 1.5 hectares of greenhouses, this production supports 10,000 raspberry plants grown in ridges, being in its first year of production. Family-friendly production, located in an area with a privileged view over Sintra mountain range, perfect for a unique experience in the countryside 20 minutes from Lisbon. Check here
11- Browse at Under the Cover
Just across the road from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and gardens is an adorable little magazine shop, appropriately named Under the Cover. Filled to the brim with an impressive line-up of unique and interesting local and international titles, it is definitely worth making a stop here after spending some time across the road at the museum.
12- Go to the Up and Comers: Beato and Marvila
Lisbon has its go-to districts, but a couple of neighborhoods are still on the rise in the eastern industrial part of the city (between Alfama and the new-ish Parque das Nacões). Beato and Marvila are full of abandoned warehouses and buildings that are quickly being filled up by start-ups, co-working spaces and craft beer breweries. We recommend grabbing a beer at Dois Corvos or Musa (which just opened inside a factory on Rua do Açucar in October), and then lunch or dinner at Lugar que nao Existe (translation: That Place That Does Not Exist). There are heaps of galleries in these neighborhoods as well (be sure to check out Underdogs), as well as a cute cafe called Café Com Calma, and a massive vintage warehouse (Cantinho do Vintage) that's worth a visit for some shopping.
13- Visit the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira
The Time Out Mercado da Ribeira is Lisbon’s biggest market. Housed in a large food hall, with tons of food stalls choose from—run by some of Lisbon’s top chefs, no less —you could spend hours indulging here. When you visit, we recommend trying the seared tuna pregos in carob bread from Sea Me, the Portuguese tarts from Manteigaria, the local green wine (vinho verde) from O Bar da Odete and ice cream from Santini (try the coconut and pineapple).
14-Collect your own aromatic herbs
Get acquainted with biological aromatic herbs in a field of 4 hectares, among several varieties, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, peppermint and common mint. The dedication and care is constant, ensuring the quality of plants and growth with the best conditions, allowing healthy and balanced crops, without chemicals and additives.Have a cutting and collection experience and in the end provide an infusion.
15- Indulge in Portuguese Tarts
It would be a crime to visit Portugal without trying one (or many) of their most-revered delicacies, the Portuguese custard tart (or pastéis de nata). With crunchy pastry on the outside and a soft and warm custard filling, you likely won’t stop at one. In our opinion (and according to the locals we asked), there are three contenders for the city’s finest. Our top pick is by far the most well known for these sweet treats, Pastéis de Belém. The pastry is super crunchy and slightly salty, and the still-warm custard is not as sweet as most.
The other place to stop for tarts is Manteigaria, which has a number of locations around town. There will often be long queues out the door of the Chiado outpost, as they ring a bell to signal a fresh batch just out of the oven. Lastly, Martinho da Arcada, a small, quaint café at the Praça do Comércio, is an older cafe in Lisbon, most famously known as a writer’s hang out (and where Fernando Pessoa still has a table booked exclusively for him, even more than 80 years after his passing!). The tarts here are homemade, and the experience of enjoying them in such an authentic setting isn't to be missed.
16- Where to Drink in Lisbon
If you want an awesome view with your sundowner, check out Park. Located on the top floor of a parking lot in the heart of Lisbon, it might be full of tourists, but the sunset views over the Tagus river and Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge are spectacular.
By the Wine is a wine store and wine bar with an impressive wine-bottle lined ceiling. There is also a very cute Aussie-owned wine bar in the back streets of Principe Real called The Bar that is worth checking out
17- Shop at the Feira da Ladra Flea Market
Feira da Ladra, which translates to "thieves fair," is Lisbon’s oldest flea market. Taking up a large corner in Alfama, the market has been in operation since the 12th century! Come here on a Tuesday or Sunday morning to find antiques and second-hand goods. Here, you can shop for everything from ceramics, tiles and glassware to clothes, shoes and books. This market is not for the shopping faint of heart; there are stalls everywhere, so you will need patience to scope out the good stuff.
18- Go to the Champalimaud Foundation Research Center
The Champalimaud Foundation (a foundation set up by the family of António Champalimaud—a Portuguese banker and industrialist who in 2004 was the wealthiest man in Portugal) set up the Centre of Research in Lisbon’s Belém, designed by Charles Correa. If architecture is of interest, this impressive building is well-worth a visit. While the facilities are dedicated to neuroscience and cancer research, the building and its grounds are a true sight to see. Spend some time in the gardens, and enjoy lunch at Darwin's cafe after taking a walking tour around the building. After a lovely afternoon at this beautiful place, why not stop by the pastéis' birthplace, the factory Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém, for yet another nata.
19-The secret Life of the Snails
An farm in Torres Novas creates and markets snails as well as "Helix Aspersa Máxima" fingerlings in an adapted complete biological cycle. All the production is carried out in an agricultural greenhouse with irrigation systems by nebulizers, in order to guarantee the ideal temperatura and humidity for the growth and development of the species. The greenhouse is composed of 12 fenced parks seeded with radishes, cabbages and turnips and with an average of 460 shelters in appropriate wood.
20- LX Factory
Especially fun on a Sunday, when a weekly flea market is held along its main street, the Lx Factory is a mini-neighborhood near Alcântara that is home to a downtown, creative crowd. Here, design studios, co-working spaces, cafés, restaurants and boutiques abound.
There is always something to do, see and explore in this part of town. Check out the Ler Devagar bookstore for its impressive floor-to-ceiling wall of books centered around a two-story printing press. Grab coffee (really good coffee) from the Wish Slow Coffee House. If you fall in love with their brew, don't stress–they also have another location in Chiado.
21-Taste the best crafted beer
Want to learn all the processes associated with the production of homemade beer? This producer became a universal brand for homemade beer, when he began to realize the acceptance of his product, having begun to take "fun" seriously. If producing a basic beer is a matter of following the recipe, creating drinks with peculiar characteristics and establishing some standard, it becomes a great challenge. In this way and in addition to the fun, the success of the producer obtained with a homemade label, i may mean a change of hobby for a possible future profession.
22-Visit the West Coast Beaches
The West Coast beaches of the Algarve are rugged, wild and ridiculously beautiful. At Costa Vicentina you will find the beaches of Amoreira, Carrapateira, Castelejo and Beliche just to name few, ending with Odeceixe (the last stop before you enter back into the Alentejo region). In wintertime, these beaches are near deserted, and in summertime they never become too crowded either. It’s beautiful here.
23-Take a Day Trip to Sintra
Unlike some of the other hidden gems mentioned in our guide, the hilltop town of Sintra is certainly no secret. Like something out of a fairytale, this very pretty town is full of colorful palaces and charming buildings. If you are in the mood for a workout, we recommend taking the Seteais hiking trail—which begins at the Palace of Seteais and takes you up through forested paths to the park, the Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle. It is an incredibly beautiful trail through the forest with wonderful views back out over town. The only downside about Sintra is that it is always so packed with tourists, so we would suggest doing a day trip from Lisbon rather than staying overnight.
24-Pick up sweet grapes
In the heart of the Alentejo, the producer has created a magical space where vines grow closely watched by the most experienced eyes and cared for by the most delicate hands. The grapes are distinguished by the unique flavor and texture. Crunchy and sweet are absolutely irresistible. The grapes are protected throughout the year, using the most advanced production techniques so that in the summer they grow beautiful and sweet, making the delights of those who taste them.
25-Visit the Duoro Valley
The beauty of the Duoro Valley is astonishing. Take the Presidential Train there and you'll struggle to work out if you're in the countryside of Switzerland, whizzing around Lake Como, or a combination of both.
Rolling hills and beautifully-manicured vineyards abound here—it is truly magnificent. There are plenty of wonderful sleeping options in the valley, but for something homey and more boutique, we highly recommend booking a room at the beautiful House of Quintas dos Murcas. With interiors by the very clever Lisbon-design firm, Anahory Almeida (the same team behind São Lourenço do Barrocal and some of Lisboa’s best restaurants), it is a beautiful place to spend a night or more. If dos Murcas happens to be full, check out the boutique wine hotel Quinta do Vallado, or the Six Senses Duoro Valley instead.