It’s commonly understood that the best way to explore a new place is to go straight to the locals. Each week in the Urbanist, we take that wisdom one step further by seeking out not just locals but local experts — those who are especially well-versed in their cities’ newest and most noteworthy scenes — to give us insider tips. This week, we asked chef Diogo Lopes, pastry sous chef at Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, for his recommendations in Portugal’s capital city.
“Nothing compares to June in Lisbon. Between March and September is the best time to visit, but June is actually my favorite month of the year to be in Lisbon. The jacarandá trees are in full bloom, painting the city with dashes of lilac and the smell of grilled sardines in the streets announce Santos Popularesfestivities, a celebration that brings Lisbon’s historic bairros (neighborhoods) to life. People are in the streets. It’s all about food and being around your friends. There is so much to see. Going to some museums and having a 28’s tram ride is great but don’t forget to lose yourself in the historic neighborhoods like Graça (one of my favorites with, without a doubt, the best view of the city), go to smaller restaurants and cafés, try a pastéis de nata, and, if the weather is good, take one day to go to the beach. Try to learn the basics in advance like Bom dia and Obrigado; it shows that you made an effort but you will realize that most of the people are fluent in English.”
His Other Musts
Photo: Courtesy of Memmo Alfama
“Memmo Alfama (Tv. Merceeiras 27) is a great boutique hotel in the heart of Alfama — Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood. It’s small enough to feel private and has the best views of the coastline, the river, and the old neighborhoods. It’s very close to the São Jorge Castle, which you must visit. The decor is modern design in an old building, but it’s designed to feel like a Portuguese home. The hotel also has a great rooftop. You can go up there and have a beer or gin and watch the sun set.”
Photo: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images
“Graça is my happy place with the most genuine people, food, and views of the city. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods where you can still find a lot of locals living. It’s on a top of a hill, not many people go there, which is a shame because it has some of the best views in the city. The restaurants in Graça always have more locals than tourists. They’re not decorated to impress and sometimes are very loud, but the food is good, simple, traditional and full of flavor. Botequim (Largo Graça 79), A Mourisca (Travessa das Mónicas 28), and Satélite da Graça (Largo Graça 41) are some of my favorites. At Mourisca, I especially like the seafood rice that comes in small iron pots to the table. But if you look for something with a twist, Ceia (Campo de Santa Clara 128) by chef Pedro Pena Bastos is a must go. His restaurant only has 14 seats and there’s only a single menu available that’s crafted for each day. It makes the experience very personal and unique.”
Pastéis de Nata
Photo: Courtesy of Manteigaria
“In Lisbon, pastéis de nata is a religion. Amen. It’s the best combination of a crispy, well caramelized puff pastry and a custard-based filling, best eaten warm, sprinkled with ground cinnamon. Pastéis de Belém are the most popular. You can only get them at a bakery called Pastéis de Belém (R. de Belém 84-92). They have a great story behind their pastry; it’s a secret recipe that’s been in the same family for generations. They do thousands of it every single day, but only two people know the recipe. But for me, Manteigaria(Rua do Loreto 2) has the best pasteis de nata. The puff pastry is very crispy. The inside is so creamy. You can eat one or two on site, but you’ll want to take a box of six home. Also, Landeau Chocolate has the most amazing and rich chocolate cake. Confeitaria Nacional (Praça Dom Pedro IV 18B) and Alcoa (R. Garrett 37) are the best places to find traditional Portuguese pastries.”
Photo: Kenton Thatcher/Courtesy of Rio Maravilha
“I would recommendRio Maravilha (R. Rodrigues de Faria 103) in LxFactory, Este Oeste (Praça do Império) in Belém, or Epur (Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes 14). LxFactory used to be an old industrial complex that was abandoned until a couple years ago when it was restored. There’s a lot of new businesses there. In the tallest building there, there’s Rio Maravilha. It’s super quiet and has a great view of the sunset. The food they serve there is amazing. The chef is giving this really cool twist on Porteguese cuisine. It’s the perfect marriage of food and drinks and ambience. I always order tapas, something to share, because you’ll want to have a full table with your friends when you go, tasting a little bit of everything. The menu changes a lot; they use the best products in season. Recently they’ve had everything from corn dogs, chicken wings, and cassava chips to duck rice, razor clams, grilled prawns and crab bread stew.”
Toca da Raposa.
Photo: Marcelo Duarte
“We work long hours, so normally I go to the bars that have a nice view of the city. There are these two that I love. One isPark, which has the best view of the coast, and the other isSky Bar (Av. da Liberdade 185), which has the best rooftop. They are great, amazing, but for meToca da Raposa (R. da Condessa 45) is one of the best bars in Lisbon. It’s like one of the places that you have to know someone who’s been there to know that it exists. It’s an out of body experience. They’ve been doing this great twist on cocktails, using vegetables and fermentation. The most exciting cocktail on the menu right now is ‘Serra da Estrela.’ It has fermented pineapple from the Azores, carolino rice vodka, and medronho. It is really really good. Trust me. Last time I was there, I got my menu signed by the owner. The menu changes constantly. I go there every single month to try new cocktails.”
Sightseeing and Attractions
Torre de Belem.
Photo: Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty
“You should always go toTorre de Belém (Av. Brasília) because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a must. You’ll take great pictures. It’s a place with a lot of history. Of course, Praça do Comércio is a great open space in the middle of the city. Because we don’t have a really tall buildings, you see the entire sky is blue. They do concerts there. TheMuseu Nacional do Azulejo (R. Me. Deus 4) is amazing. They have great work there. You take your time there. You appreciate the tiles and the work they put into it, the history. For me the most overrated is Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Praça do Império 1400-206). It’s an amazing place to go, but there are so many lines there. If you plan on coming to Lisbon another time, you should leave it for your second or third visit. Don’t forget the city itself is an open museum. Instead of spending three or four hours in a crowded museum, you could walk around the city losing yourself in the old neighborhoods or trying to speak with locals, which is always a good idea. Go to a bar, go to a cafe, have a pastéis de nata, and try to find someone who speaks Porteguese or might look Porteguese and ask, “Which is the best place to go around?” They will give you the nice option to go.”
A Vida Portuguesa.
Photo: Courtesy of A Vida Portuguesa
“There’s this small shop calledA Vida Portuguesa. They take old Porteuguese products and give them new life. I would recommend taking home a ceramic swallow here. It’s normally put on the outside walls of houses. It’s really pretty and you can find them in several colors. In the central of Portugal, the old houses were always painted white and because the swallows would come to Portugal to make their nests and procreate, they would get all the walls dirty because they would try to make their nests there. So they would put these ceramic swallows on their houses to deter the swallows.”
Photo: Ricardo Rocha/Getty Images
“Sintra and Cascais are a must if you plan on spending more than two days in Lisbon. Sintra is more in the mountains, while Cascais is close to the sea. Sintra is more historic because it used to be the residence of kings. I’m a little bias about Cascais because I lived there for almost 10 years. It’s a 20-minute car ride from Lisbon or 30 to 40 minutes in a bus. It’s a really good place to go as a visitor. The sights are something out of this word. You can toGuincho Beach and try a surf lesson. If you go there, I definitely recommend eating fish. I like to go toBaía do Peixe (Av. Dom Carlos I) where they serve this large variety of seafood and fish from the coast of Portugal. If you want a more high end experience, you can go toFortaleza do Guincho (Praia do Guincho). They have around 20 or 25 seats, and they have the best products. Even though it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s completely affordable. Sardina is really popular this time of year, but cod fish is the national fish. They say there’s a thousand and one ways to do a cod fish dish, and trust me, there’s two thousand even. Also, Duna da Crismina is the best place to go for a coffee or a late afternoon beer.”