A creative’s guide to Lisbon: A thriving art scene and foodie heaven in historic Portugal
Although it might not be the first city that springs to mind when planning a minibreak, Lisbon is fast becoming one of the hottest weekend destinations for creative movers and shakers.
Famed for its peaks and troughs – the city is built on seven rather steep hills – and harbouring a thriving art scene, it’s the perfect destination for those seeking refinery, sun and scenery.
When it comes to Lisbon’s architecture, its variety of styles and candy coloured facades are an Instagram dream. A mixture of tradition and contemporary culture, the Portuguese capital boasts a flourishing food and drink industry that offers a taste of the city’s origins alongside a nod to the new.
Places to stay for design lovers
Staying in Lisbon comes with various options. Whether you prefer a hotel setting or a true taste of local life in an apartment, there’s something for you.
If good things come in small packages, then the 25-room boutique hotel Valverde, inspired by townhouses in London and New York, is certainly a solid option. With a restaurant that boasts local wines and a Lisbon-authentic kitchen, it’s one for the foodies.
For something slightly more historical, AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado comprises a boutique hotel situated in an 18th-century building. Sporting original features, every room is truly unique.
If you’re seeking somewhere more suitable for groups, Baixa House offers apartments that sleep between one and seven guests. A combination of old and new, they provide the perfect place to lay your head after sampling the nearby bars. Similarly, The Lisbonaire Apartments are a great option.
Five touristy things you should do in Lisbon
One of Lisbon’s most captivating features is its food and drink scene. Whereas most cities have one or two local delicacies, the Portuguese capital has several.
Ginjinha wine, or cherry liqueur, is a favourite amongst the locals and is a must-try for anyone visiting the city.
Continuing on the sweet theme, Lisbon is also famous for its custard tarts. Head to Belem-based bakery, Pasteis de Belem, to sample – you won’t regret it.
Steering away from the many mouth-watering delights on offer, if you have a stomach for heights then the Santa Justa Lift is well worth a flight. A staple of public transport since 1902, Elevador do Carmo as it’s officially titled, provides a unique view of the city.
With so much to do and see, it’s highly recommended that visitors embark on one of the city’s many walking tours. The locals are extremely passionate about their heritage and love to impart their knowledge. Check out the best-rated tours here.
Something that sets Lisbon apart from other European cities is its close proximity to beautiful beaches. If you’re looking to mix culture with relaxation, just a short train ride from the city centre is Praia do Carcavelos and Praia de Guincho.
Wonderful watering holes
Along with food, drinks are a true highlight of Lisbon’s rich heritage. In addition to Ginjinha wine, Vinho Verde, or ‘green wine’, is Portugal’s answer to Prosecco.
If you’re a fan of the slightly unusual, Red Frog Speakeasy should be on your bar crawl list. Located just outside the main hub of activity, the hidden space is accessible via a doorbell. Here you’ll find traditional cocktails with a twist in unforgettable surroundings. In the darkened interior you’ll spot vintage curiosities and a cool crowd.
Seeking more cocktails and a quirky setting? Bar Foxtrot comes highly recommended. Steeped in the vintage glamour of an Art Nouveau theme, the bar is a wondrous sight to behold. Step back in time while sipping an expertly made Old Fashioned – you’ll never want to leave.
For something chic, Cinco Lounge is a New York-style cocktail bar offering low sofas and classic beverages done well. Although not in the main tourist areas, it’s worth a visit if you have the time.
Fans of craft beer will appreciate Duque Brewpub, located between Bairro Alto and Rossio. Serving only Portuguese craft beers, punters can opt for bottled or on tap. Music fans will also welcome a soundtrack of the likes of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
Fearing the risk of overplaying the high-quality food scene in Lisbon, I’ll be brief – if you’re a foodie, you will not be disappointed.
Whatever your bag, there will be a restaurant for you. Naturally, a coast-side location makes seafood a key offering. And as you’d expect, chefs in Lisbon know their way around a prawn.
A Cevicheria is based in Principe Real and was opened by chef Kiko Martins after a stint of travelling. The décor is fresh and relaxed, hosting a central counter. Peruvian ceviche is the restaurant’s speciality, so if you’ve never tried it this would be a good place to start. Early arrival is advised, as bookings are not accepted.
Meat lovers should pay Sala de Corte a visit. A central steakhouse, the restaurant is a favourite among locals and tourists alike. Using only the best quality ingredients, the steaks and hamburgers are exquisite.
Fish fans should check out Sea Me, a modern approach to a traditional fish shop. Over the years, ‘fish shops’ have disappeared in Lisbon, so if you’re keen to try some authentic fare then this is your chance.
The beauty of Lisbon is its strong local culture, which filters down into little, family-run cafes and bars. Those that live in the city will often stand and eat at the counter of these small establishments, especially in the mornings for a pastry and coffee, so the best thing to do is get out and explore.
The agency scene
With so many creative bars, restaurants, shops and museums, it’s a no brainer that Lisbon would be a hotspot for working creatives.
Aparticula is a European web agency specialising in branding and development, with bases in Lisbon – Rua Braamcamp – and Paris.
At the cutting-edge of advertising is agency FunnyHow. Its ingenious, gangster-inspired website highlights the team’s creativity and flair. With headquarters in Lisbon, it’s a cornerstone of the city’s current creative scene.
Also specialising in advertising, 9 The Creative Shop is proud to call Lisbon its home. Creating a range of visual designs for its clients, the team’s style is bold and bright.
Nylon has bases in both New York and Lisbon. Offering marketing and branding, the agency has worked with a variety of clients including Havana Club, Hugo Boss and Super Bock.
Cool co-working spaces
If you’re a freelancer looking for a creative destination, Lisbon is a good place for soaking up inspiration. If deadlines are mounting, perhaps you could combine your minibreak with some work, taking advantage of the many coworking spaces the city has to offer.
Cowork Central is perfect for the remote worker. Described as fun, friendly and central, the space provides a base for almost 50 people every day. Ideal for those visiting the city, passes are offered either daily at €15 or for longer-term usage.
Alternatively, Coworklisboa comes highly recommended and again is geared towards those passing through. A diverse community of developers, scientists, architects and photographers, anything goes. Desks start from €12 per day.
Village Underground Lisboa is another comfortable and cost-effective option for short stays. Its surroundings are unique, utilising shipping containers and double-decker buses for its architectural structure. A staple of the creative community, you can visit for just €15 per day.
If it’s not already obvious, I truly fell in love with the city of Lisbon. Its people are friendly, the food and drink are great, and the architecture is captivating. I’d encourage anyone to visit, if only for a working weekend.