I was born in Toronto, bred in NYC, buttered in London, and jellied in Lisbon. Moving and adapting is kind of my thing.
Living in New York City meant Starbucks in hand at all times (until cocktail hour!), hailing cabs on weekends but taking the six train to the office; it meant brunch in the West Village and fleeing the city to spend summer weekends in the Hamptons or Fire Island. I then lived in London for many years – this meant going to a million “Members Only” cocktails bars, sweating in the tube, carrying a ginormous handbag containing an umbrella, scarf, extra jumper, sunglass (for that one hour of the day the sun comes out), and looking in the opposite direction before crossing the street.
Now that I live in Lisbon there’s a new set of guidelines. We welcome you here, and you are free to live as you wish of course, just one part of why I love this city.
Every town across the world has its own unique way of existence. From how we do meals, meet people, party, work, drink, relax. If you want to go from tourist to Alfacinha (term for native Lisboners in Portugal), here are a few ways to go from TripAdviser stalker to a walking trip advisor.
Don’t try to buy things before 10am
Looking for fresh hot coffee outside the house in the morning? Good luck doing it before 9am, the earliest. Lisbon is a veritable ghost town in the wee morning hours, especially in the central/tourist areas. There are locals that will give me blow black here, because yes, if you know where to go there are definitely ways to get a 7:30am shot of strong coffee, or “bica” as you should learn to call it, but I find starting the day a bit later is far more Lisboa-like.
Have your cake and bica too… for breakfast
Talk about a sugar rush. Lisboners like to take breakfast outside, on their way to work, in the local coffee shop or pastry shop, make small talk with the waiter while they eat on the coffee counter. If bica is too strong, ask for a galão (coffee with milk), with torrada (toasted bread) or a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart). Whoever said pastries are not a breakfast food has never lived in Lisbon. Also, it is essential to greet everyone with a gleeful “Bom dia!” until noon (good afternoon is “Boa tarde” and is used until 8pm), and everyone will make you feel right at home.
Lunch can be any time from 1pm to 6pm, adapt accordingly, take your time, try all the tascas
Meals are an extremely important part of the day—here in Portugal, one may even call mealtime sacred. Once upon a time, I lived in cities where I was lucky to shove three bites of wilting salad in my mouth between meetings, deadlines, and all the fast-paced “live-to-work” mentalities apply. Lisbon lunch is a time to be tranquilo, and a time to eat your fill at a tasca (a typical casual Portuguese eatery, often family-run, that serves a classic repertoire of dishes according to the days of the week). Do you know those restaurants with the menu in Portuguese, handwritten on the front door and, when you enter, you don’t understand a single word because they all speak Portuguese? Those are the places where you want to eat! Order the set menu for 8 euros and don’t look back. Almost none of these places have websites, that’s how you really know you hit the jackpot, no joke! For a still traditional, yet more well-known Lisboa lunch try Tasquinha do Lagarto in Campolide or the last standing real tasca in its neighbourhood, Imperial de Campo de Ourique.
If you insist on rushing lunch go grab a bifana at Bifanas do Afonso (Rua da Madalena 146 by the Lisbon Cathedral), the Lisbon embodiment of fast food, this meat and bread roll combo is a must-try. Despite endless hype from travel and food bloggers, you won’t find a website for this one either.
Bonus Tip: It’s time for another bica! This time at the end of your meal. After eating, complete the meal Lisboa style by ordering a bica com cheirinho, coffee with a splash of brandy or other boozy boosts.
Party the night away in Anjos and Arroios
While tourists will tend to flood to Bairro Alto and Principe Real to enjoy a night out, the locals tend to go to the more affordable areas of Anjos and Arroios. This is where you find Lisbon’s true underground, while Anjos 70 may be fairly well known thanks to its monthly flea markets (the venue also hosts jams and numerous musical and cultural events) it is just one of many late night establishments in the area. A tour of Anjos 70, Pharmacia Musical (for a quiet musical moment), Bus, and Crew Hassan (the latter two for late night dancing) will involve walking past a bunch of other exciting and hard to find venues. If you want to avoid the tourists, and really experience Lisbon’s idea of partying, then a late night tour of this gritty, yet safe area is a must.
Use your feet
Despite the seven hills, Lisbon is a relatively small town and you can easily discover several neighbourhoods by foot, such as Mouraria, Alfama, Santos, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Príncipe Real or Graça. The best part is to get lost in the narrow streets and find new places, or little squares, that aren’t listed in your tourist guidebook, smile and make some small talk with locals, normally curious with newcomers. Another option is to take a run across the river. Before you stop reading, let me inform you that jogging with the Tagus river by your side is one of the most glorious ways to exercise (and get rid of that extra calories from all the Portuguese gastronomical delights you’ve been eating). From Cais do Sodré to Belém – 7km – you will find a riverside where you can walk, run or cycle until you get tired, all along the Tagus. If you want to do it like the locals go from 6pm onward on weekdays, or in the morning at weekends.
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