Pull on your hill-walking shoes to discover a capital steeped in history and teeming with entrepreneurial spirit with our businessperson’s guide to Lisbon
Where to stay
The recently upgraded Tivoli Avenida Liberdade (formerly the Tivoli Jardem) offers luxury accommodation on one of the city’s most prestigious streets: the 90m-wide boulevard, lined with cafés, bars and boutiques, from which it takes its name. The hotel has 286 stylish, yet subtly decorated rooms and suites, the largest of which are bigger than a typical city-centre flat. For an even greater sense of space, the ninth-floor rooftop bar provides views across Lisbon to the Tagus estuary and beyond. The hotel’s Avanifit centre – including a spa, gym and outdoor pool – will get you in shape for all the hill-walking that’s integral to any visit here.
Where to eat
You can enjoy a modern fusion of Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine in the Avani Avenida Liberdade hotel’s Restaurante Olivier, one of several eateries operated in Lisbon by chef Olivier da Costa. Director recommends the taster menu, featuring octopus and a melt-in-the-mouth beef carpaccio, and a glass of one of the excellent local wines. Seafood predominates in this maritime city, but Can The Can on the Praça do Comércio shows that it’s even possible to make gourmet dishes from tinned food. If you’re seeking a snack on the go, pastel de nata (custard tart) is the nation’s signature sweet.
What to see
The Basílica da Estrela, a stunning baroque church commissioned by Queen Maria I, was one of the first big buildings to be constructed in Lisbon after a huge earthquake flattened the city in 1755. The trams that serve the area are an eye-catching old-world delight – until you see the queues for them, at which point a tuk-tuk ride seems the preferable alternative. As you negotiate the narrow lanes, keep an eye out for the unofficial street art that decorates several key properties. The city’s seven hills offer plenty of vantage points for a view across the terracotta rooftops, while the terrace atop the triumphal arch on Rua Augusta provides fantastic vistas across the water to Ponte 25 de Abril, the suspension bridge named after the day of the 1974 coup that ended nearly five decades of dictatorship in Portugal. On Lisbon’s main square, Praça Dom Pedro IV, you’ll find that Mundo Fantástico da Sardinha Portuguesa (the Fantastic World of Portuguese Sardines) offers more types of tin than you would have thought possible – and a chance to be snapped on “the sardine throne”. After such giddy pleasures, you should be ready for an evening slog up the slopes of the Bairro Alto district, which is home to all the liquid and musical refreshment you could wish for to reward your efforts.
Etiquette and customs
The language barrier is minimal for anglophone visitors. English is very widely spoken here – the Anglo-Portuguese treaty of 1373 is Europe’s most enduring official alliance. The capital feels more relaxed than the industrial cities of northern Portugal (“We live; they work,” say the Lisboetas.) The preferred working culture of the new generation of young entrepreneurs who have been attracted to the city in recent years is all laptops, lattes and laid-back informality, yet an older, less casual approach persists in some quarters. It’s still considered impolite to talk business without prefacing this with several minutes of personal chit-chat, for instance.
For the flight
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis is a magical realist novel, by the late Nobel laureate José Saramago, that tells of the return to Lisbon of a tormented exile from the city, while A Small Death in Lisbon earned Robert Wilson a Gold Dagger award from the Crime Writers’ Association. If you want to sample the traditional music of Lisbon, you’ll need a compilation of fado, a particularly melancholic folk sub-genre that originated in the city in the early 19th century. On the film front, check out On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – it includes a scene in which James Bond buys a ring at a jewellery store on Praça Dom Pedro IV for his doomed fiancée. For a comparatively uplifting experience, try Lisbon Story by cult German director Wim Wenders – a quirky celebration of the city’s many charms.
Pull on your hill-walking shoes to discover a capital steeped in history and teeming with entrepreneurial spirit