Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is a great destination for a city break.
Whether you’re a foodie, into cultural attractions or merely want to meander along its cobbled streets shooting photographs, it’s a city that’s easy to spend time in.
Almost two decades ago Patricia Madeira moved to Lisbon from Coimbra, the university city in central Portugal. Being an outsider allowed Pats to discover Lisbon’s attractions with fresh eyes and to fall in love with the city.
She started guiding friends, and friends of friends, around the city, providing an insider’s perspective as to highlights and places to dine. That passion for sharing knowledge has evolved into a business. Here she shares her local knowledge for readers of Go Eat Do.
Why do you think people should come to Lisbon?
Even though I’d love to be objective, and pardon my lack of impartiality, I will evoke many reasons — I totally adore this city.
There’s the light and the architecture. The quirky blend of new and ancient. I have a big crush on Pombaline and Manueline styles.
The 17th and 18th century palaces, some of them completely hidden in the urban fabric. The 900 years of history (I do have my favourite eras and personalities that I like to share and debate about on my tours),
The waterfront, with its clear blue skies and the sea breeze, the many hours of sun all year long.
The food and the rituals of eating. The Portuguese love to sit at the table, have beautiful food and, significantly, to talk about food and the wine.
There’s also the diversity of Lisbon’s cultural offerings, the tiles (azulejos), the friendliness of the people and the laid-back atmosphere.
What is your favourite place in Lisbon?
It’s a tough choice as I have several places I really like. Perhaps, I would highlight the beautiful viewpoints (miradouros) and the Lisbon waterfront, that feels like being at the sea even though is a river. At these spots you have liberating, panoramic views and are able to clarify your thoughts. It feels like meditation.
If you were going to take a guest to lunch/dinner, where would you choose and why?
Another difficult decision, as the offering is vast.
I would probably go to one of the many new restaurants reinterpreting traditional Portuguese gastronomy. We could sit outside and share petiscos (Portuguese tapas). From the many options available, I would highlight Madame Petisca (Rua de Santa Catarina 17; tel. +351 915 150 860) in the Santa Catarina District. The view is amazing and the petiscos are superb. I never get tired of their Peixinhos da Horta (Portuguese Tempura).
I would take them around Praça das Flores, Príncipe Real or Bairro Alto, just to name a few of Lisbon’s districts. If my guests are really hungry for authentic Portuguese food I would probably go to Varina da Madragoa (Rua da Madres 34; tel. +351 21 396 5533) or Fidalgo (Rua da Barroca 27; tel. +351 21 342 2900). Two classics that never fail.
If there is a bar or cafe that you could take guests to, which would it be?
I love to take them to Carinho do Vinho (Rua Nova da Piedade 23; tel. 351 21 826 1872) in Praça das Flores. It’s a slow food movement wine bar and shop. You can sip on Portuguese wine from small producers and ask all the questions you want to know answers to, as the owners are super friendly and dedicate time to their guests. Of course, the signature drink has to be wine.
What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with Lisbon?
That one foggy morning Dom Sebastião — or King Sebastian the Desired, as he’s often called —will show up and help the country in its darkest hours. He disappeared in battle, in Morocco, during 1578.
His disappearance led to a dynastic crisis that led to the loss of independence and the birth of the myth of Sebastianism. So, every foggy morning, even though I feel it’s like waiting for Godot I can’t help but wonder if he’s really going to show up…
If guests can stay in the area for an extra day, what do you recommend they do and see in the surrounding area?
Take a day trip to Cascais, on the south coast of Lisbon. Don’t miss Casa das Histórias, Paula Rego’s museum designed by architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. The building makes use of certain aspects of the region’s historical architecture reinterpreted in a contemporary way.
Less than an hour by train, the mystical and romantic town of Sintra, a place of palaces and sumptuous nature, is also a good option. Just try to avoid it on the weekends, as it can become rather touristy and crowded.
Alternatively, the city of Évora is a 90 minutes’ drive from Lisbon. In the Alentejo region, with a well-preserved old town centre, still partially enclosed by medieval walls, Évora is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a charming destination.
Contact Pats via her website, Lisbon with Pats, to book a personalised tour of the Portuguese capital.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.