Between the gravity-defying yellow trams and the intricate tile work that decorates the city’s centuries-old buildings, there are plenty of reasons to put Lisbon on your bucket list. Most importantly, it’s still relatively cheap by European standards, making it possible to eat—and drink—like a Portuguese king when visiting.
More and more, Lisbon is being recognized for its food, but if you ask us, what really defines the city is its distinctive drinking culture. Here’s how to sip your way through Lisbon from morning ’til night.
Find the closest café and join the sleepy locals leaning against the counter. Order a bica, Lisbon’s version of an espresso shot, along with a pastéis de nata, one of the city’s famed custard tarts. Scarf them down standing up, then head to an overlook (miradouro) to watch the sunrise (pictured above). With its view of the Tagus River and São Jorge Castle, Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte is one of the most breathtaking.
Even with the assistance of the city’s rickety trams, Lisbon’s seven hills will challenge any explorer’s calf muscles, leaving you ready for a pick-me-up before midmorning. Luckily, the city is dotted with little bars that specialize in ginjinha, a sweet cherry liqueur served straight up in a shot glass, with or without a booze-soaked cherry in the bottom. Generally priced around a dollar per shot, you may be tempted to sling back a couple before moving on.
Whether your wanderings take you to the riverfront, the Chiado shopping district or the medieval streets of Alfama, you’re bound to find a sidewalk café with an open table around lunchtime. Take your time and seek out a place that really speaks to you, whether it’s overlooking the bustling Rossio Square or down a quiet alley with old women hanging their laundry overhead. Wherever you settle in, relax with an ice-cold bottle of Vinho Verde, Portugal’s delightfully refreshing and slightly fizzy “green wine.”
It would be a crime to leave Portugal without sampling one of its most famous exports, port wine. While you could—and should—order a bottle with lunch or dinner, if you want to gain a more thorough understanding of the wine, visit a place that specializes in port like the Lisboa Solar in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. An official establishment of the Port and Douro Wines Institute, the spot offers a vast selection of ports at all price points.
Beloved by Anthony Bourdain groupies and locals alike, Cervejaria Ramiro has been serving up steaming piles of seafood since the 1950s. Start with a Sagres beer, the city’s unofficial brew, then dig into a feast of garlicky clams, grilled tiger prawns and goose barnacles. Finish off with a tender steak sandwich slathered in yellow mustard and a dish of vodka-spiked lemon sorbet.
Lisbon’s nightlife rivals that of any European capital, with some bars staying open as late (or early) as 4 a.m. Options range from dancing the night away in a superclub owned by John Malkovich to sipping wine while being serenaded by a singer and two guitarists at a romantic Fado club, or keeping it low-key with a nightcap and a view of the city at one of Lisbon’s many rooftop bars. Wherever you end up, be sure to order a glass of Amendoa Amarga, a bitter almond liqueur, and think about the day ahead, when you can start the sipping cycle all over again.
Erica Jackson Curran
is a former alt-weekly editor turned moonlight freelancer based in Richmond, Virginia. She likes fancy cocktails and red lipstick, and she’s always in the process of planning her next trip.