Trendsetter and Hipster’s Guide to Enjoying Lisbon
Accompanying my husband and me to Lisbon were several of my LEGO minifigures, notably the Series 10 blind bag favorite Trendsetter and her custom-made boyfriend who I named Hipster. My Instagram story has Trendsetter falling in love with Hipster while working on location in Brooklyn and the two of them deciding to take a honeymoon in Portugal without actually getting married. The money they saved on the wedding more than paid for the honeymoon.
The point of the Trendsetter/Hipster story line is that Lisbon is becoming a fashionable tourist destination, and despite my personal unhipness, I intend to do what I can to make it even more so. My very trendy and hip kids, Derrick and Maddy, had a wonderful time when they visited us in December 2012, and both would like to return.
Alongside the beautiful and varied architecture, the cobblestone streets and sidewalks with surprising inlaid mosaics, the historic sites, beaches, and stunning vistas, Lisbon (and Portugal in general) has friendly and welcoming people who generally speak multiple languages and enjoy trying out their English on visitors. The city is also blessed with a lively civic culture and many well publicized free and low-cost activities open to anyone who happens to be around.
Any visitor’s experience in Lisbon will doubtless be enriched by taking advantage of these activities and in this way becoming part of the life of the country. The availability of activities and special events, excellent publicity, and welcoming attitude of the people make it much easier for visitors to integrate themselves in the community and interact with locals than pretty much anywhere else I have lived or traveled. Look for announcements on billboards, bus stops, signs in shop windows, and that great source of civic information (and many events themselves)—the Metro.
When we arrived on April 9, one of the first signs we saw was for “Peixe em Lisboa.” And I didn’t need three semesters of Portuguese to know what that meant, because the sign carried the subtitle “Lisbon Fish Flavours.” In other words, English speakers, welcome! Visitors welcome! Locals welcome!
Richard and I walked from our apartment to the conveniently located Terreiro do Paço, downtown at the edge of the river. (Most of the civic events are within walking distance from hotels, hostels, and other tourist areas, and others are reachable by bus or Metro.) We paid fifteen euros each for a ticket that entitled us to five euros’ worth of small plates from the dozen featured restaurants, a glass of wine (and more free samples at the exhibit area outside the dining hall), and a 20% discount at the Lisbon Story Centre, which is a fun way to spend an hour or two learning about the city’s history. Inside the dining area, we sampled the wares of Lisbon’s most prominent fish restaurants, several of which we’ve visited since. We found some empty seats at a table next to three students at the hotel and cooking school where I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner the last time I was here. The students were very friendly and one of them invited us to the youth hostel where she has a part-time job as a chef.
Richard is a foodie, and the quality of the offerings at Peixe em Lisboa rivaled anything we’ve attended in New York City at a fraction of the price. [Update: We later dined at some of these restaurants, and many other excellent ones, which my husband has reviewed here.] My thing is world music, and later this month I’m going to a free concert at the National Assembly building. Again, the publicity for this event is excellent—postcards in many restaurants, billboards throughout the city, and two giant banners in front of the National Assembly. The last time I was in Lisbon, there were almost daily protests in front of the National Assembly building, so it will be a new experience to be inside, enjoying an officially sponsored celebration.
While I’ve focused on attractions in Lisbon, my friends from Porto would like to make sure their city in the north of Portugal gets sufficient love. They’ve pointed out that two separate tourism sites have ranked Porto the #1 place to visit in Europe two years in a row. I am currently in Porto, returning to Lisbon tomorrow, and I promise a feature on Porto sometime before my return to New York.