From trying to untangle the networks of narrow streets in historic neighbourhoods to cooling off on the rugged beaches of the Atlantic coast, life in Lisbon is never boring! But to experience life like the Lisboetas, check out our 5 favourite hidden gems in the city and start seeing Lisbon through the eyes of a local. From tiny restaurants that will take you far off the beaten path to spots where those in the know head to hang out with the locals, we've got everything covered. Time to get exploring!
Photo credit: trouver.com
This one’s not technically in Lisbon, but hear us out. From the port at Cais do Sodré, hop on the commuter ferry to Amalda and swap views of the southern shores of the river Tagus and the Christo Rei statue for a vista of the Lisbon skyline. You’ll step off the ferry in Cacilhas - a paradise for seafood lovers. This neighbourhood might not have the same polished look as central Lisbon, but don’t be put off by the slightly worn (although we prefer well loved) aesthetic that this area has. The number of seafood restaurants that greet you as soon as you step off the boat can be a little overwhelming and all look unhelpfully similar, so we’d recommend bypassing the confusion and taking the narrow street that winds along the water to Ponto Final (R. do Ginjal 72, 2800 Almada). This no-frills restaurant is the best in the area, and you’ll want to stay forever in the easygoing atmosphere, perched so close to the waters edge it might feel like one false move and you’ll fall in - but it’s all part of the charm. Ponto Final is only closed on Tuesdays, but Lisboetas don’t eat seafood on Mondays since by then the Saturday catch is no longer fresh, and there’s no fishing on Sundays. You might find fish on menus in touristic areas and at some local spots so long as it’s fried, but if you’re making the pilgrimage to Almada and want to eat like a local make sure to avoid the start of the week.
Cais do Sodré to Cascais
There’s nothing quite like a holiday from your holiday, right? Conveniently for you, that’s exactly what taking the train to one of small beach towns on the Atlantic coast feels like. From Cais do Sodré station, take the train to Cascais and take your pick from one of the sun drenched beaches that line the route out of the city. This historic fishing village is only half an hour away on the train, so if you feel like escaping city life for a day this short trip is the perfect option, but it’s not the only spot along the way you’ll want to jump off at. You’re spoiled for choice, as every station en route offers beautiful beaches, clean water and a few bars and restaurants, making this stretch of coast the perfect setup for a beach day. A couple of the best are Praia de Carcavelos and São Pedro, which are famed for their surf but are also loved by locals looking to settle in for a day soaking up the sun and enjoying drinks at one of the bars which line the waterfront.
Os Amigos da Severa
You couldn’t visit Lisbon and not listen to fado at some point - it would be rude, and frankly impossible to avoid. The best places to hear this traditional music that was born in the medieval quarter of the city is in historic Mouraria or Alfama, but instead of heading to a casa de fados where you’ll pay a fixed price for entry, a drink and sometimes dinner, stop by Amigos da Severa instead. This hidden spot is a tiny tavern, where locals often play for each other, themselves and whoever else happens to be lucky enough to have squeezed into the bar at the time. It’s also a great spot to try the local cherry liqueur, ginja. There are certainly more famous spots to enjoy a glass or two in the city centre, but for a local vibe and home made liqueur you can’t go wrong with this bar. The history of the place can be read through the objects that adorn the walls and covers the small counter; from a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to old fado posters, record sleeves to football scarves, dried flowers and even a string of garlic - it looks like it hasn’t changed since your grandmother was a girl, but we wouldn’t change it for the world!
R. Capelão 32, 1100-341 Lisboa
Ribeira das Naus
This road leads you away from Lisbon’s main square, the Praça do Comércio, along the river towards the train station. It’s a spot where locals come to hang out, sunbath and or play with their kids at weekends to get outdoors without leaving the city. There’s a small kiosk with deckchairs to sit back in and enjoy the panoramic views over the river, but to get a taste of life like the locals, grab some beers from a shop on they way and sit right on the stone floor which slopes down into the river instead. When the main road curves around to the right, keep walking along the promenade and you’ll find a cluster of pop up bars and street food stalls. In the evenings you’ll find locals sitting at the benches, enjoying the mojitos and grabbing some food - it’s the perfect spot to cool off in the evenings.
We’ve got a little secret for you, but don’t tell everyone. In Mouraria, an old local neighbourhood, a small number of ‘illegal’ Chinese restaurants have started to appear close to the Martim Moniz metro station. Also known as clandestinos by the locals, these spots are essentially in someone’s home, where the food comes straight from their kitchen and the bathroom is the same as the one used by the family who lives there. Some are literally in the family’s living room and you might have to arrange yourself around someone’s grandma watching tv in the corner and the old guys playing boardgames, whilst some owners have converted their apartment to have a more restaurant like set-up. Those not in the know would walk straight past these spots, as the only way to distinguish them from the surrounding flats is by a red Chinese lantern that hangs in the window, so take a deep breath, ring the door bell and prepare to try truly authentic Chinese food. It might sound strange, but these eateries have become part of the fabric of local life in this area, and it’s not an experience you’ll get anywhere else. You’ll find two of these secret spots at 59 Rua do Benformosso, but also in Rua do Terreirinho and Beco da Oliveira. The dishes here are truly authentic and made the traditional way with local produce, and whilst you might recognize some like salt and pepper squid, some menus involve chicken hearts and frogs legs. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.