lisbon best kept secrets

For one of the best sunsets in Lisbon, take the ferry to Cais do Ginjal. (Photo: Getty Images)


See Lisbon’s Vibrance and Charm Through a Local’s Eye

Lisbon is changing. The Portuguese capital has become one of Europe’s most fashionable cities over the past few years, bringing excitement, investment and unprecedented numbers of tourists.

“The city is more vibrant and more beautiful than it has ever been,” says Bruno Gomes, founder and owner of We Hate Tourism Tours, a company that aims to give visitors an authentic Lisbon experience. “I took my 90-year-old grandfather for a ride around the city recently, and he told me, ‘Lisbon was never as pretty as it is today.’”

But Lisbon risks losing the charm that made it so attractive in the first place. “We were a poor and forgotten country on the west coast of Europe that seemed like it didn’t have anything to offer,” Gomes says. “We never tried hard to be cool; we just wanted to be ourselves — and this is what made Lisbon such a popular place to visit.”

“Time will tell if what made Lisbon interesting in the first place will end, but for sure we have to mature, to be a city that is an exciting place to visit but also to live in.”

Few know the city better than Gomes, who was born and has lived all of his 39 years here, founding We Hate Tourism Tours in 2010. There is still much to discover, he says. Here are five of his favorite lesser-known Lisbon experiences.

1. Visit Restelo Hermitage

Vasco da Gama and his crew spent the night here before setting sail for India in 1497.

lisbon best kept secrets
The Restelo Hermitage in Belem. (Photo: Getty Images)

“It’s an amazing location; you can see all of Belem, and you can see the river and the bridge, plus the beginning of the ocean. But it’s always quiet. Nobody really goes there.

From all the places in Belem, it’s one of the most important because of what it represents, because of Vasco da Gama. It is really significant.”

2. Eat Croissants at Careca

The rival café to world-renowned Pasteis de Belem has its own sweet treat.

“O Careca is the favorite of the well-off families. You can find government ministers having breakfast here, but it’s rare to see a tourist. It’s a great place to experience Portuguese breakfast culture; it’s refined, but local and informal, too.

They serve croissants, but not like in France. I took a French friend there, and he said, ‘You guys are crazy; you can’t call this a croissant!’ It’s like a sugar bomb!”

3. Take the Ferry to Cais do Ginjal

Across the river Tagus from downtown Lisbon is a remarkable stretch of old docks.

“This is a place that people know about, but they don’t go, even though it’s just a ferry away. It’s in guidebooks, but you just don’t see many people there.

It has one of the best sunsets in the city. When the sun goes down in the summer, it goes down in the ocean. The light is incredible. There’s a few restaurants, too, with great views. It’s amazing and very calm.”

4. Eat Lunch at Cantina LX

This down-to-earth restaurant serves superb Portuguese food.

lisbon best kept secrets
Enjoy simple and tasty Portuguese food. (Photo: Courtesy of Cantina LX)

“This is one of my favorite places for lunch. I go three or four times a week! They do simple Portuguese food in the old wood-fired oven; they don’t try to be fashionable.

I really love the octopus. They boil it and then they put it in a pan with potatoes and lots of olive oil, and it goes in the oven. It gets really crispy, but at the same time it’s soft … it’s very good!”

5. Watch the Sun Go down at Miradouro de Santa Catarina

Lisbon is a city of views, but some have lost their charm. Not this one.

“Some of the famous viewpoints are impossible to enjoy now because of all the people, but Santa Catarina has the same vibe as 10 or 20 years ago.

There’s a bar and a kiosk, but most people grab some beers in the grocery store and bring them here. People come down at the end of the day in the same way they have for years. It’s laid-back; it has that old Lisbon atmosphere.”