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Lisbon, Portugal travel guide: Modern art, fashion & food! LX Factory, hip neighborhoods.

lisbon park restaurant, Bairro Alto

I finally visited Lisbon, Portugal… and kicked myself for not doing so sooner! I loved the city so much that it’s now one of my top three favorites in all of Western Europe.

Portugal tends to be overlooked when people travel to Europe. (I’ve been guilty of skipping it over, in favor of places like Italy and Croatia).

Little did I know that Lisbon is exactly my type of travel experience: not expensive or touristy, lots of cool neighborhoods and street art, and top-notch food — including the best sardines I’ve eaten. 

lisbon portugal rooftops, scenic views

As always, I like to highlight the young, hip, alternative attractions in any city. Visit Lisbon helped us put together the perfectly-tailored itinerary, and supported us as we explored Lisboa for the first time.

portuguese carved doors

We asked them, “Why do travellers go to other countries ahead of Portugal, or treat it as an add-on leg?”

There’s no simple answer. Perhaps Lisbon lacks a world-famous landmark like the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum that tends to draw in tourists. Many are also unfamiliar with Portuguese culture, history, food and attractions.

All this is an advantage for travelers like us, who seek out alternative experiences. It was also a breeze to get to Portugal from Spain: we rode over on our Eurail train passes (which let us ride the rails in 28 European countries).

lisbon clouds blue sky, sculptures

First impression: it’s so beautiful here. No filter needed, for these clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

lisbon Municipio square statue

We couldn’t stop taking photos of the classic architecture. Municipio Square is one of the many pristine public courtyards we passed.

(I’m wearing a white tote purse by Strathberry of Scotland. The modern minimal style and luxury leather got a lot of compliments. My bag’s magnet closure, with an additional bar that goes over the handle, also keeps possessions safe while I’m traveling.)

rua augusta arch, rooftop view

Everyone we met was so kind. Our driver and guide, Mario, acted as our bodyguard while we filmed on top of the Rua Augusta Arch (Arco Triunfal da Rua Augusta).

lisbon Rua Augusta lion statue

Located on the main Commerce Square, the triumphal arch commemorates the rebuilding of Lisbon after a devastating earthquake in 1755. At the top, a female statue of Glory spreads her arms, and a lion rests by her side.

(In a later post, I’ll show you how the Rua Augusta got lit up in a digital light projection!)

From up here, we could see the classic red rooftops and ocean under dramatic skies. Behind me is Lisbon Cathedral, the oldest church in the city.

lisbon parliament building, Palace of Sao Bento

We ran into another lion at the Palácio de São Bento (St Benedict’s Palace), home of the Portuguese parliament.

portugal hip street art

We  were intrigued by the vivacious street art and murals, peeking out from behind 18th century buildings. There’s a sense of energy in Lisbon, and we were determined to see more of it.

park restaurant lisbon car parking lot

In the hip Bairro Alto district, we attempted to find Park restaurant — a secret hangout located in an unassuming car park! There are no signs advertising it, and the lot looks like a regular parkade. However if you ride the elevator up, and walk up another floor surrounded by graffiti, you’ll wind up in a hidden bar / cafe with outstanding views of Lisbon. 

Park address: Calçada do Combro, 58 1200-115 Lisbon

"lisbon

You can sit on the terrace with the hipster crowd, and take in this 180 degree scene of Lisbon from up high.

cheese plate portuguese food

Tip: When traveling in Europe, eat your fill of soft cheese, local wines, and breads — since these are usually not imported out of the country. European bread also tends to be made with high quality grains that don’t cause trouble for people who regularly must eat gluten-free.

At Park, all of the above were extraordinary, and at lower prices than in neighboring countries. (Above — I’m still dreaming of this cheese plate with pumpkin jam…)

lisbon golden gate bridge scenery

Lisbon felt a lot like San Francisco, with streetcars over rolling hills, brightly painted houses, and even a Golden Gate bridge!

This is actually the “25 de Abril Bridge” spanning the Tagus river. It’s named in honor of the Carnation Revolution, the 1974 peaceful civil resistance that overthrew the Estado Novo regime.

LX Boutique Hotel, lisbon art hotels

Lisbon’s artistic vibe followed us everywhere we went — even to our rooms at LX Boutique Hotel in Bairro Alto. The wall above my bed had a mural of Portuguese guitars, which are twelve-strings with a round body. These accompany the singers of Fado, the melancholic musical genre.

We were big fans of LX, a luxury boutique hotel with a lot of personal touches: including funky art displays, free egg tarts and Ginjinha cherry liqueur in the lobby, and a fusion sushi restaurant. (Book a room at LX, found at R. Alecrim 12, 1200-017 Lisboa, Portugal)

lx factory lisbon art center

The same type of spirit is omnipresent at LX Factory, a former industrial corner that is now home to design shops, cute eateries, and creative studios. 

(Address: Rua Rodrigues de Faria, 103, Alcântara, Lisbon)

LX Factory Alcântara, design shops

In 1845, a fabric and thread factory opened up in this area on the outskirts of Lisbon (Alcantara). It became a manufacturing hub that was later abandoned.

lisbon hipster neighborhood, art murals

Now, the space has been transformed into a playground for Portuguese artists. Many of the walls are covered in eye-catching modern works.

lisbon modern young design, furniture

We ducked into the various art studios and interior design shops, including one that sold handmade furniture for kids. LX Factory also has restaurants with outdoor seating areas — our guide Mario recommend the sushi parlor.

lx factory art studios, restaurants

I enjoyed seeing how “ugly” old industrial structures were transformed into bright, edgy works of art.

lisbon bookstore lx factory

At Ler Devagar bookstore, I found novels and treatises in all languages. The big warehouse-like interior is my idea of book heaven.

lisboa murals graffiti artwork

Can you spot the skull? LX Factory is packed with creativity, and I hope you’ll make the trip to see it.

portugal street cars, Bairro Alto

What are some other hipster areas to explore? Bairro Alto, and Cais do Sodre. My team and I could have spent days browsing the artisan stores, such as a wax candle shop that looked like a cathedral. (Photos by Borderless Media)

lisbon best egg custard tarts

Everyone knows about the joys of Italian and Spanish food… and we discovered that Portuguese cuisine is right up there. We loved the fresh seafood — there’s outstanding sushi here — and tasted a variety of local dishes at the Mercado da Ribeira market (I’ll show you in an upcoming post).

Some must-eats: the famous egg custard tarts, sushi / seafood, black rice…

lisbon sardine shop, portugal

… and above all, sardines! These are essentially a food group for me — I eat these little fishies all the time at home, and they’re full of healthy oils and minerals.

You can imagine my excitement at visiting Lisbon sardine shops, and seeing rows of tins with cat-faces. One of the historic ones is Conserveira De Lisboa (Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34).

colorful cans portuguese sardines

I bought so many sardines, in various rainbow packaging. The shops also sell other canned fish, such as mackerel.

sardine fish dishes, plates

Sardines are so famous in Portugal that they’re considered a national icon. Many souvenir shops had sardine products for sale.

lisbon independent fashion shops

Finally, fashion. At Embaixada LX, we found boutiques by indie Portuguese designers inside a centuries-old building. It’s wonderful how Europe can preserve and transform architecture in this way.

(Address: Praça do Príncipe Real 26, 1250-184 Lisboa, Portugal)

Embaixada Shopping Príncipe Real, Lisbon

These concept stores sit inside a Moorish-style building built in 1857.

hipster clothing shops lisbon

There’s a dramatic double staircase, an Arabic courtyard and stained glass windows.

Embaixada portugal design galleries

The stores flowed into each other: toys, swimwear, home goods. All of the works are by local designers, and ranged from silky caftans to quirky lamps. 

portugal indie fashion, art

Embaixada shopping center is yet another example of Lisbon’s cool, quirky charm. Visiting the city was a breath of fresh air, and I wish I had come sooner to experience it.

lion throne sculpture lisbon

Obrigado to Eurail and Visit Lisbon for making our Portugal adventures possible. (We learned that the Japanese word for thank you, “arigato,” is derived from the Portuguese one!) For more architectural inspiration, check out these modern Japanese houses.

We stayed at LX Boutique Hotel and fully recommend it for its value, hip atmosphere and location.

lisbon portuguese art, architecture

I hope this post opens your eyes to Lisbon, and that you’ll include the city in your itinerary when you come to Europe.

What do you think of the contemporary art, food and fashion found in Lisboa?

SHARE & COMMENT

29 Comments

  1. Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Bravo great guide to Lisboa.

  2. Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Nice!

  3. Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Oh, pity You didn’t come to Feira da Ladra, our flea Market near Panteão Nacional. I have a store there (fashion design) and it would be a pleasure to meet You. But I’m glad You liked Lisbon :) smile emoticon L(

    • Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Awww next time,

  4. Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Soo Cool

  5. Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful city, would go back there any day.

    • Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Me toooooooooo

  6. Posted December 17, 2015 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    One of my fav cities, too bad people donot come here more.

    • Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      I know, it must change!

  7. Posted December 18, 2015 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    a great post xxx

  8. Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Great blog with very nice photos! We are very happy to read that you enjoyed your time in Lisbon

    Cheers,
    Saul

  9. Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations for this article. What did you like most of #Lisbon?

    • Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      hard to choose but SARDINES FOREVER haha

  10. Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    top tips and secret cafés! Thanks for the lovely read this morning! Wish I was there now *H

    • Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      You’re welcome!

  11. Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    WeLoveLisbon

  12. Posted December 18, 2015 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Don’t miss Algarve next time!

    • Posted December 19, 2015 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      Ahh the photos are gorgeous, I must make it there next time!

  13. Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    it was so helpful when planning our trip

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      I’m so glad to hear!

  14. Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    :) ola lacarmina

  15. Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Merry Christmas to you La Carmina where will you be?

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      will announce next locations soon ;)

  16. Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Big thanks for that. I am from Germany and happened to work in Wales and during this time I visited London and your guide was a really big help for me. Now it happens that I will work in Lisbon, so I am truly thankful for your blog this time. Love it lots and maybe you could visit Cardiff some time and Coffee Barker. Great Tuna Melts with chutney ;-)

    Greetings and Merry Christmas to you.

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:30 am | Permalink

      Hi Kitty, this makes me very happy to hear! Looking forward to hearing what you think of Lisbon. And YES, Cardiff is on my list of place I should visit… tuna melts with chutney sound like my type of thing :) Keep in touch!

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