The Best of Lisbon City

The Best of Lisbon City

The City of Spies guided walking tour shines a spotlight on that shadowy past, bringing some colourful characters, including the “real” James Bond, to life.

In the Teatro Politeama, on “Lisbon’s Broadway”, performer Josephine Baker regularly smuggled messages for the allies in her bra. From a nearby coffee shop, a chicken farmer turned double agent called Garbo filed fake reports to the Nazis; while in the Avenida Palace Hotel a concealed door led directly into Rossio railway station, so that furtive figures carrying vital intelligence, could avoid the waiting secret police at its main entrance. We were fascinated.

The ferry to Cacilhas

The Cristo Rei statue as seen from the town of Cacilhas by the Tagus river.
The Cristo Rei statue as seen from the town of Cacilhas by the Tagus river. 
Photograph: Alamy

For just €2.75, take the ferry from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré railway station across the Tagus river, to the town of Cacilhas. It’s a quick ride, but it takes you from the city to a small village, with terraces full of restaurants, old stone buildings with chipped blue and white azulejo tiles and stunning views of Lisbon’s seven hills. Once in Cacilhas, take the quick walk to the Cristo Rei statue, pose for a selfie by the famous 25 de Abril bridge, visit the neighbouring town of Almada, or grab a table at Restaurante Ponto Final, and enjoy some afternoon wine by the river.

Sunset drinks in a car park

Rooftop terrace at Park Bar, Lisbon, Portugal
Rooftop terrace at Park Bar

Park Bar is a rooftop bar in a secret spot on top of a car park in the Bairro Alto. On entering the car park there is no signposting to the bar so we had to resort to sign language with the attendant to be sure we were in the right place. The dingy stairwell opens out to a decked garden terrace with a chilled-out vibe, comfy seating, a great wine list and a view to die for. The perfect spot for a sundowner or three.

Chapito restaurant, Alfama

A couple dine in front of a window looking out on the Tagus river at Chapito restaurant, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal.

Restô do Chapitô is a bar, restaurant and a state-funded school for circus performers, but most importantly it has one of the best views in Lisbon, overlooking Alfama (the oldest district of Lisbon), the river and the bridge. The food is great, the vibe is relaxed and the staff are laid-back but efficient. I come here every time I visit Lisbon as it epitomises the city for me.

Secret garden in the middle of Lisbon

estufa fria in lisbon
The greenhouse garden of Estufa Fria in Parque Eduardo VII. 

We stumbled into the jungly paradise of Estufa Fria and Estufa Quente (hot and cool plant houses) in Parque Eduardo VII, the city’s central park, on a misty autumn morning. We walked wide-eyed through the towering ferns and banana trees, taking meandering pathways across streams, eventually encountering a mysterious door into a deserted quarry full of towering cacti. No city sounds could be heard. We expected to see a unicorn but none appeared. Maybe you’ll have more luck.

A restaurant lunch to savour and share

restaurante meson o gaiteir
Restaurante O Gaiteiro

Our first meal in Lisbon was at Restaurante O Gaiteiro,and it really got us off to a great start. After navigating our way through the narrow, cobbled streets we stumbled across it, just in time for lunch. It served mariscada, mixed seafood rice, with prawns, squid and cod. It must use an extremely rich seafood stock as the dish was packed with flavour. We shared a huge platter between two for €8 and washed it down with a carafe of red for €1.50. No frills, just a fantastic dish and friendly atmosphere.

One of Europe’s oldest jazz clubs

hot club
Hot Clube de Portugal

In a side street off one of Lisbon’s main roads, the intimate Hot Clube de Portugal is one of the best places I have been to in Europe for live jazz. No food is available but it is a great venue for some after dinner, late-night music and drinks. Entrance was €10 on a Saturday night and it is usually packed so try not to get there too late.

Poignant, haunting new museum

Museu Do Aljube, Lisbon, Portugal
Museu Do Aljube

For a unique insight into modern Portugal, visit the Museu Do Aljube (Museum of Resistance and Liberation), close to the imposing Sé Cathedral. This new, free museum in a former prison uses the space, including the cells, to trace the period of the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal and its colonies. It is sobering and moving, and by the end you will be pleased to reach the delightful cafe on the top floor, with excellent views of the city and harbour.

Alfama and Graça Nightlife

Up in residential Graça the historic Botequim stands out for its bohemian ambiance and literary heritage whereas nearby Damas, refurbished from a former baker’s premises, is a noted live music venue that doubles up as a restaurant. The neighbourhood is also noted for its fado houses and among these is A Baîuca, where amateur fado singers regale diners with their earthy renditions. Meanwhile, Clube de Fado is renowned for showcasing some of the very best singers and musicians in Portugal. For a more humble experience however, book a table at the family-run Sr Fado. One of the more unusual nightspots is Santiago Alquimista, located near Alfama and known for its theatrical interior and splendid mezzanine balcony. 

Santiago Alquimista 
Tucked away in a side street between the districts of Castelo and Alfama, this is a wonderfully atmospheric venue, part theatre, part art gallery, and part café. The cultural programme is extremely varied, with anything from a poetry recital, music concert or dance performance being staged on any one night. Previous gigs include unusual African brass band outfits, Brazilian salsa bands, electronic synth pop ensembles, guitar bands, solo acoustic performances and trance dance DJ sets – quite a mixed offering! Otherwise Santiago Alquimista is a cool place to hang out over drinks on the first floor mezzanine balcony, which surrounds the entire stage. (+351 21 882 0259, +351 21 888 4503)

Clube de Fado 
Mario Pacheco, an accomplished guitarist who's played with the best of them, including Camane, Ana Sofia Varela and Mariza, owns this beautiful and revered establishment. The club is one of the best venues in Lisbon to hear professional fado, and over the years has attracted Portugal's most celebrated fadistas. The building is centuries old. Guests dine under a vaulted ceiling of brick stone, and in one corner of the room an original Moorish well still stands. Between courses diners are regaled to the haunting strains of Portugal's most emblematic musical style, delivered by male and female singers, depending on the programme. The club's reputation is such that along with portraits of the performers there are dozens of photographs decorating the walls of VIP guests shaking hands with a proud Mario. (+351 21 885 2704)

Once upon a time Graça's newest nightspot used to be a bakery, and when owners Clara Metais and Alexandra Vidal decided to refurbish the premises they deliberately maintained original interior features like the kitchen's stainless steel work surfaces where bakers would roll and knead dough into rolls and loaves. Preserving these quirky design elements enrich the atmosphere of this café-restaurant-concert venue, one of Lisbon's more original nightlife haunts. The emphasis is very much on providing musicians with a live music platform (in fact a large hall at the back of the bar) and Damas hosts an eclectic range and local and international bands on most nights. Regular DJ sets attract the clubbers. (+351 964 964 416, +351 912 162 249)
Damas Clubs


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