Everything is Better in Lisbon

Nations Park Gondola Lift Lisbon
Nations Park Gondola Lift Lisbon. ( Photos by Paul Shoul )

Lisbon Was Great Four Years Ago and Today Remains one of Europe’s Favorite Cities

By Paul Shoul
Senior Writer

Everything really is better in Lisbon. I was there four years ago and feared returning because surely, it would be overrun, losing its charm in the undertow of a wave of popularity.

I was so wrong. Lisbon has done it right and evolved gracefully into one of the most popular destinations on the planet, embracing its history, culture, and cuisine.

Lisbon trolly-tram
Lisbon’s famous trolley’s. Paul Shoul photos.

This is one of the oldest cities in the world. Evidence of a fantastic history is everywhere. Romans, Norwegians, Muslims, and Visigoths fought over it.

Returning with Gold

During the age of discovery in the 15th to the 17th century Lisbon extracted massive wealth from global colonialism. Their ships returned with gold and jewels that funded majestic historic buildings, public squares, and monuments.

 It is an incredible maze of narrow, charming, hilly streets paved by unique small white cobblestones, all weaving their way to the city center on the shores of the Tagus River.

Here are a few tips on where to stay, cool things to do, and especially, what to eat in Lisbon.

Lisbon’s Royal Treasure Museum

The crown jewels of Portuguese royal families are protected in one of the biggest safes in the world at the Ajuda National Palace. Security is tight: the walls are 10 feet thick. Everyone passes through a metal detector before entering and is

Royal Treasure Museum
Royal Treasure Museum

accounted for on exiting. Watchful eyes monitor camera footage.It’s like the perfect mission impossible set for a master jewel robbery.

There is treasure here—over 1,000 priceless objects dating from the 17th to the 20th century on three floors of displays.

The largest gold nuggets in the world, found in the mines in Brazil. Diamonds, Royal Insignias, and medals. Jeweled tobacco and snuff boxes. Crowns, diamond jewelry, and sacred religious items. A complete silver banquet setting in one display augmented by a digital LCD screen depicting life-size videos of the royal family dining at the table. The opulence of their lives is almost overwhelming.

Royal Treasure Museum

The MAAT Marriage

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology

MAAT is the marriage of art and technology, a monument to Lisbon’s industrial heritage, architecture, and contemporary art. The museum complex on the river’s banks features beautifully designed art galleries and the 1908 Tejo coal-fired power station. It is very cool to wander through the inner workings of the giant turbines like a steampunk sculpture maze. One can only imagine the incredible forces at work when it supplied electricity to the city.

Sculpture, paintings, and drawings to room-sized installations are  housed within four galleries in a beautifully designed modern building along the banks of the river. 

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology

Let’s take a ride

It was a pleasure reconnecting with my old friends at  Bike Iberia who were kind enough to loan me an electric bike to explore the city.

 Located just a few hundred feet from the path, the process of renting is easy and fast. Just fill out a brief form, grab a helmet, a lock, and a few safety instructions, hop on and you are ready to go.

Lisbon bike path
Lisbon bike path

Over 20 km of bike lane follows the Tagus River past the city center, docks, and nature preserves. It is lined with art installations, fishermen, and many outside dining spots along the way. I loved the ease of an electric bike that effortlessly powers you along and the freedom its 40 km range gave me to journey at will.

Lisbon’s Baixa District

 The 360-degree view from the top of Rua Augusta Arch in the Baxia district displays Lisbon in all of its magnificent glory. Toward the river is the plaza Praça do Comércio, in the middle of a grand plaza, a bronze statue of King Jose on his horse stands looking toward the river. Behind him the city spreads over the hills. 

Baxia is the heart of Lisbon. Grand 18th-century buildings line the avenues with restaurants, cafes, hotels  and shops.

Lisbon from the top of Rua Augusta Arch

Let’s eat

My first meal in Lisbon was at Restaurant Papaçôrda at the Time Out Market in the Mercado da Ribeira. What a fantastic introduction.

Time Out Market in the Mercado da Ribeira
Time Out Market in the Mercado da Ribeira

This is a working market next to a spectacular food hall with 26 small restaurants and a large central eating area of tables. The prices are reasonable and the quality and variety of every possible delicious Portuguese specialty are outstanding.

 Papaçôrda restaurant is on the second floor for a more refined, traditional dining experience. For over 35 years it has served specialties:  Bass with sauteed turnip tops, grilled tiger prawn with lemon risotto, and a traditional stew with smoked sausage, potato, and vegetables.

Peixinhos da Horta
Peixinhos da Horta, the original Tempura

The star of the meal was the starter Peixinhos da Horta. In the 1600s, Portuguese missionaries introduced peixinhos da horta, which later became tempura, to Japan. Who knew? Delicate perfectly battered and fried vegetables with a remarkable crunch. 

Barrio De Avillez

Created by the renowned Chef José Avillez. Barrio de Avillez is a nerve center of gastronomic experience housed in a former convent. It includes the Taberna (Tavern) for a more traditional fare, Pateo (where the chef spreads his culinary wings.) Pizzeria Lisboa and The Mini Bar: A speakeasy/cabaret-influenced backroom that one enters through a door hidden in a bookcase.

Dinner at Pateo: Lisbon Standout

Dinner at Pateo was one of the best of the trip. It’s a massive room with a festive atmosphere. An open kitchen pumps out unique dishes. Watching the ballet of a great restaurant in action is a wonder. 

Flaked cod mixed with onion, shoestring fries, eggs, parsley, and exploding olives. Chargrilled squid with black rice, chorizo garlic, and kimchi mayonnaise. Bulhao pato clams. Tuna tartar. Iberian pork dry-cured ham.

Barrio de Avillez
Barrio de Avillez

The squid was illuminating. Black rice with squid ink has an intense (earthy), rich taste of the sea. Accenting it with the creamy, sweet, spicy kimchi mayo was a genius contrast in color and flavor. 

River Lounge Restaurant & Bar at the Myriad in Lisbon

River Lounge Restaurant & Bar at the Myriad in Lisbon
River Lounge Restaurant & Bar at the Myriad in Lisbon

Located on the banks of the Tagus River, The  Myriad by Sana Hotels has the perfect location in the Parque das Nações in what was the site of the 1998 Expo.

There is a stunning bar at the top of the hotel with 360 city views, The Michelin Star Fifty Seconds restaurant, and the ground floor River Lounge, where I had a superb lunch: oysters from Sesimbra, Pata Negra Smoked Ham, fried breaded shrimp, roasted duck magret, and a sphere of chocolate.

Matiz Lisboa
Matiz Lisboa

Matiz Lisboa

Where to Stay in Lisbon

I stayed in the Sofitel Lisbon Libertad, just a 5 min walk from the city center and the river. It has all the amenities and luxury you expect from this renowned hotel brand, and has one of Lisbon’s best restaurants.

Dinner at Matiz was fantastic: foie gras grapes served with port wine jelly and fruit bread chips, Azores tuna tartar, shallots.

Restaurante Beira Gare.
Restaurante Beira Gare.

Piri-Piri, avocado, black lobster ravioli, seafood bisque, mussels, cockles, cataplana seafood stew, grilled octopus, chorizo, potato terrine, black garlic cream.  

For my final bite of Lisbon, I walked toward the river from my hotel to visit an old favorite spot. Lisbon is growing fast, with over a 17 percent increase in monthly tourists. Thankfully, nothing seems to have changed at Restaurante Beira Gare.

This is an old, bustling local spot at the entrance of Rossio train station. It has about ten tables and a long-standing only counter you saddle up to for a quick bite.

Restaurante Beira Gare.
Restaurante Beira Gare sandwich

After all of the fancy food, these are the flavors that stay with me. Great Portuguese  bread, a simple piece of  grilled meat, and ice cold Sagres beer. When the chef reaches over the counter dangling a piece of beef for a special treat ? 

Well, that’s the icing on Lisbon’s cake.





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