Portugal’s capital consistently features on travel surveys for the best value city breaks in Europe, but I’ve found there’s a lot more to its appeal than just the prospect of saving money. Lisbon is high up on my travel wish list because it combines a blatant love of fashion and design with a wealth of history, having risen from the ashes of the tragic 1755 earthquake and also having blended the influence of the many cultures and countries discovered by its explorers.
Taking in all of these factors, I’ve examined some of the most important sights that I’d be looking to see on a city break here. My wish list is based on quite a few websites, but I’ve linked back to a couple of really useful ones – namely Spotted By Locals and Go Lisbon – as well as official sites for some of the places I’d be checking out.
Become a MUDEist
The Museo do Design e da Moda (MUDE) is one of the main reasons I’ve set my sights on this city. It plays host to a hotbed of talent from around the world, with a brilliant permanent collection of fashion and lifestyle design staples, from the BIC biro to the clothing of Ann Demuelemeester, Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood.
There are also some tempting temporary exhibitions; currently Schiap Shock, a tribute to Esla Schiaparelli, can be seen here until the end of October. What’s more, all of this won’t cost you a single cent to experience.
Go for the hard sell at the Berardo Museum
Fanatical about fonts, gaga for graphics and a sucker for slogans, I’m an advertiser’s dream consumer. All the better if the ad you’re showing me is retro, which is why the Berardo Museum definitely gets my endorsement for its temporary exhibition, Happy Consumption.
This is a curated selection of the museum’s own stash of 1,500 pieces of advertising art, covering everything from wartime propaganda in the UK and Spain to beauty products as seen on Hollywood stars. Having recently enjoyed the British Museum’s propaganda exhibition, I’d like to continue my journey into the world of persuasive language and questionable product placement.
- Dig deep at Carmo Archaeological Museum, home to church ruins, mummies and shrunken heads (be still, my beating heart)
- Get in touch with outsider art at the Security Pavilion Museum, where all of the exhibits have been produced by mentally ill patients
- Find out more about Lisbon pre-1755 earthquake using the intricate street model at the City Museum
Step into the world of Storytailors
For me, the Storytailors atelier really illustrates how fashion can go far deeper than sweeping through trends every season (‘wear any piece of any collection, no matter when, independently of the chronological factor’, as the designers say). Fashion really can be art and can have a lasting impact, entrancing the wearers and those around them.
The shop, which lives and breathes a fairy-tale aesthetic, can be found weaving its magic in the trendy Chiado district. For those of you unable to afford tailor-made pieces, the Narké line of basics is worth a look, too – think plenty of ruched hems, brightly coloured tulle skirts, floral patterns and lashings of butterflies.
Pop some Dreampills
With an Alice in Wonderland enthusiasm for tasting the unknown (EAT ME? Don’t mind if I do…) and a classy pharmaceutical interior that makes it the antithesis of the dreaded M&Ms World, Dreampills is my kind of sweet shop. Confectionery is rightfully recognised as having the power to lift your mood and brighten your day, with the staff here offering you a custom-made prescription of sugary treats.
There are two branches to discover – one in Bairro Alto and the other in Santos – so there’s no excuse not to pop in, whether to satisfy your own cravings or to pick up some quirky souvenirs for friends. I would probably aim to bring some of these home, but then cave in and indulge long before I got back to the UK.
- Embrace eco fashion at Embaixada LX, where I can shop with less of a guilty conscience!
- Celebrate vintage at the Thieves Market and track down some real bargains
- Sample Portuguese food by way of Japan at Castella do Paulo
Check out the street art at GAU
I’ve read quite a lot about Portuguese street art already, but already it feels like the Galeria de Arte Urbana (GAU) is going to surpass my expectations. Whilst most of the world’s graffiti starts life as an illegal act and then has to be protected from overzealous council officials wielding paintbrushes, GAU is a project endorsed and dreamt up by Lisbon City Hall.
Giving graffiti artists a legitimate place to create their work has, in turn, slashed the number of illegal scrawlings in the streets, showing that the people behind the spray cans don’t just want to cover walls in boring old tags and lazy scribbles; they want to create art. I think it’s a fantastic idea to give them this platform. According to Spotted by Locals, in order to make the most of GAU, I should start exploring along Calçada da Glória and take it from there.
Grab um bica or two at A Brasileira
The Portuguese are known for their love of coffee, but the best place to enjoy a small espresso-style cup (um bica) is at A Brasileira, a haven for caffeine addicts but also literary lovers. The cafe dates back to 1905 and, before the tourists arrived in their droves, it was known as a hangout for the great thinkers of the city, including poet Fernando Pessoa.
Even if you’re not a fan of coffee, you can still admire the Art Deco interiors and the wide range of pastries on offer. There have been some very dubious TripAdvisor reviews recently, so many tourists might just want to take their photo of the Pessoa statue outside and then move on, but I’d be happy to linger here for a drink or two.
- Ride the Santa Justa Lift and enjoy the view at the top
- Head to the source of Pasteis de Nata, the city’s famous pastries, at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem
- Take a trip to the eye-catching Pena Palace at Sintra
Aside from my own personal agenda, I’ve also been inspired by these bloggers’ visits to the city:
- Jai, from Savoir There, talks Pasteis de Nata, sidecar tours and street photography. It’s worth checking out her other Lisbon posts, too.
- Oneika, from Oneika the Traveller, explains how the third time’s a charm in this city. Her third visit is detailed using beautifully colourful photos.
- Expert Portugal blogger Julie Dawn Fox recommends visiting Pensão Amor, a bar housed in a former brothel. I’m all for celebrating the building’s transformation into something more positive.
I’d also welcome insight from any readers who have experienced the city – what would you recommend? Feel free to comment below or tweet me – @misspallen – with your tips.