Checklist: Lisbon, Portugal

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Checklist: Lisbon, Portugal

The number of visitors to Lisbon has grown rapidly in recent years. Maybe it’s the generally sunny weather. Maybe it’s the crenelated, stone castle almost always in view on the hill overlooking the center of the city. Or maybe it’s the buildings lining the often-winding streets covered with the colorful tiles, azulejos, for which the region is renowned. Whatever it is, the magical feel appeals.

Lisbon also has affordability going for it; it’s relatively cheap compared to other European destinations, especially when it comes to food. Though less glamorous than some cities, new infrastructure investments promise up and coming sparkle. And as tourism has offered a bright spot in an otherwise fairly depressed economy, the government has upgraded transportation, and new hotels have sprung up around the city.

In short, this destination, which has never been more popular, will keep travelers busy and well-fed.

Emma Jacobs is a multimedia journalist and podcast producer based in Paris. She also sketches her travels here.

1. Mercado da Ribeira


The Mercado da Ribeira is a prime example of where old Lisbon meets new. Side by side, you'll find the more traditional vegetable market, which has existed in some form on this spot for centuries, and a sleek, new Time Out-branded food court. The market, open mornings, has cheap and fresh produce grown in Portugal and neighboring Spain. The food court has dozens of stands including outposts of some well-known Lisbon restaurants and fine food shops offering everything from cherry liqueurs to steak. The beautiful glass-roofed building that encloses both dates back to 1892 but the new lights and long tables in tan woods lend themselves to a distinctly modern, trendy atmosphere.
Photo courtesy of Emma Jacobs

2. Cais do Sodré


The whole Cais do Sodré neighborhood is undergoing a similar transformation. A banner on new apartments under construction promise "live + invest," but you can still stop in at O Triângulo Da Ribeira to drink a cheap morning coffee standing at the metal counter. If you'd prefer to sit and eat in a cozier setting, the Café of the Order of Architects (COA) and Café Tati right across the street from the market are both terrific options; COA has a terrace and during the day, Café Tati's big windows let in lots of light to a space with colorfully and eclectically decorated arched ceilings. This neighborhood is also home to Pink Street, a block painted pink that has become popular with tourists but frankly isn't much to write home about. You're better off back at Café Tati, which is typically overflowing with visitors for the live music and delicious food.
Photo courtesy of Emma Jacobs

3. The Carmo Archaeological Museum


If you had just a few hours to spend In Lisbon, this would be the place to spend them. The Carmo Archaeological Museum is in a 14th century convent that was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1755. Set high on the side of a hill, it's crumbling outline can be seen from much of downtown. The courtyard is capped with stone arches now open to empty sky. The presentation of architectural elements rescued from other endangered buildings embedded in the remains is unique and sometimes breathtaking. The museum dates all the way back to 1864, when it was established by the Portuguese Association of Archeologists as a way to preserve the country's architectural heritage. That said, the highlight for many visitors will be the creepy but fascinating Peruvian mummy with its arms wrapped around its knees, displayed in a glass case in the library. While you're there, pick up one of the illustrated guidebooks to the museum by artist João Moreno, part of a series published by Gerador.
Photo courtesy of Emma Jacobs

4. St. George's Castle


The Castelo de São Jorge Castle or St. George's Castle is worth a visit alone but the walk to reach it is a bonus. This trek winds along some of the city's oldest tiny streets, the buildings crowded along them decorated with Lisbon's famous tilework. The view of Lisbon from the ramparts is also a highlight.

But now onto the structure itself: Its transformations mirror the history and cross-cultural influences of the region. St. George's began as a Moorish castle before being transformed into a Portuguese king's fort in the 12th century. Portions of the castle were also casualties of the 1755 earthquake but large sections remain, allowing you to walk the stone walls and climb towers that have stood for centuries. A small archaeological museum displays relics offering clues to what life was like on the site back in the seventh century BC and visitors can also explore a portion of the excavations. Also wandering the grounds: a troop of peacocks.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty

5. Belém


A train ride away from the city center along the Targus River, Belém is home to a cluster of museums and moments. The Jerónimos Monastery is the largest, built as a tribute to the voyage to India of Vasco de Gama. The explorer's remains now lie here alongside those of Portuguese royalty. During the Age of Discovery, the monastery's resident monks prayed for the sailors bound for the far corners of the globe. They also made the regional pastry, pasteis de nata. These are now manufactured down the block in the bakery, Pasteis de Belém, which produces tens of thousands of these egg custard tarts each day. The monks have long departed and visitors can now walk through the monastery's chapel and cloisters. Then, take a short walk to see the Tower of Belém, a historic prison built out on the river and connected to shore by a bridge.
Photo by Pedro Loureiro/Getty

6. Museum of Design and Fashion


The former bank building that houses this museum is undergoing renovations during parts of 2016 and 2017. However, portions of its collection will be on view in other parts of the city and country. The Museum of Design and Fashion's main exhibit normally offers a free tour through decades of trends in fashion and production design in the 20th century. The museum's motto of sorts is that designer gowns can have a lot in common with tables and chairs. It draws out unexpected connections between the international evolutions of haute couture and furniture. The museum also has extensive archives of documents and objects related to Portuguese design.
Photo courtesy of Luísa Ferreira/MUDE

7. Confeitaria Nacional


This elegant and elaborately decorated bakery is very popular with locals and visitors. That said, Confeitaria Nacional is worth waiting in line for. Continually open since 1829, it's still run by the same family that founded the business. While they proudly brew and sells bags and containers of their own coffee blend, the main attractions for most lie in the glass pastry cases.

These hold a practically paralyzing number of enticing choices from the shiny rabbit-shaped cakes to puffy bolas de Berlim or "Berlin balls," the sugar-dusted, Portuguese variation on a German Berliner doughnut. Another tough choice: whether to have your coffee and pastry inside to give you time to admire the murals and woodwork or at the tables outside, which look out onto busy Figueira Square.
Photo courtesy of Emma Jacobs