People have been saying it: Lisboa could be the new Berlin. Rents are cheap, artists everywhere, nightlife’s so loud. Germans have had a knack for Portugal anyway, and now Europeans can all go on vacation in a city that feels more like a holiday prospect superstar: amazing nature, incredible climate, quality food (fish mate) abundance, and a cab ride never costs more than 5 Euro unless you’re going to the airport, which will be 7,50 puh-leeease.
When people say “this and that is the new Berlin”, they’re mostly really just saying: this city is not like London or Paris, where people hustle to make a living without getting a break or living a culturally invested life with space to breathe and live. So how’s Lisbon then?
If it’s even possible, the people are actually more laid back than in Berlin. Everybody’s doing their own thing, which is mostly not much. But the scene is especially fond of the tourists who want to become part of the vibe. Start-ups, restaurants, expats everywhere mix into the old, narrow streets on the steep hills of the city. Honestly, Lisbon has nothing to do with the travels that you’re used to (and thereby it’s not even comparable to Berlin): it’s more like a beach vacation with better food options and cooler people, on a way smaller scale, so everything feels intimate and familiar as well.
But how truthful is the pastiche assessment of Portugals capital being the new Berlin? Whoever said it first definitely never went out here. Well, Lux – Lisboas poster child “techno” club – isn’t even close. Berlin’s worst party shack is better than this. We went on a Friday night when the line-up resembled a Klubnacht at Berghain, but it was like a throwback to Ibizas Amnesia. Clubbing isn’t what drew us in, anyway and I forgive you, Lux. It was neither the packed streets of Lisbon’s very own Friedrichshain, hip Bairro Alto, where drinks are served in plastic cups and you mingle with the rest of everyone on the streets.
We were, instead, hypnotized by the soft gaze onto the river that looks like a sea, and the calm smiles of the September crowds. The friendly Portugese stay charming – fixe, as they say – through and through, without ever being obnoxiously overbearing or annoying. Not to mention the beauty of a city like this, where even the modern architecture is fantastically embedded into the old backdrop of hills and little mediterranean houses. The colorful tiles on the streets remind you of the fact that there are places and cultures that understand that life is worth decorating.
But the Berlin comparisons become truly obvious (and even more disappointing) when you visit the new sites of the city, namely the Embaixada shopping mall, where little boutiques sell handcrafted stuff that I’d never buy, and the Time Out market, which is effectively a Martkhalle 9 clone but has a certain chic and order that Berlin (thankfully?) lacks. Interestingly, I opted to take the clichéed 28 tram a couple of times up and down to feel the city instead of spending money on the overly curated and polished shopping experiences that remind me of catastrophes like Berlins super-commercial food markets and those new, short-lived restaurants that have no soul at all.
The great thing about Lisbon – one thing that makes it (still) even cooler than Berlin to travel – is the way you can feel, experience and drown in the atmosphere of the place without knowing where to go or what to do. Despite the developments, and the anticipated gentrification / rent rise issues that come with tourism and young creativity, Lisbon stays small and spontaneous. You don’t have to pay entrance to even one club or museum to actually live this city. Yes, entertainment options are available, but the characteristics that you will come to love about Lisbon have nothing to do with consuming products (well, except for the Natas, of course).
If you haven’t been – now is your time to visit. This was my second trip and it left me wanting more. And if you’re planning to go: here are my favorite spots and past-times of Lisbons (a “things you have to do in Lisbon” kind of list, if you will).
Calm. The Botanic Garden invites to chill, not to necessarily see. A blanket and a picnic and 30 degrees in September. We brought all the pastries, all the drinks, and sat and sweated and loved the serenity. Even though Lisboa isn’t quite New York in terms of stress, the Botanic Garden is still an oasis.
Pasteis de Nata
There are Pasteis de Nata everywhere, but you won’t understand the craze about it unless you try the good ones. We went to the original place, to the one in Belem, but they weren’t different at all from those you can find in the city center at Manteigeria. In fact, they’re almost better, because there are no queues at all and you get to eat them with a quick Bica (espresso) shot. The little packets are cinammon and sugar, by the way, not wet wipes (as we thought, whops). Bonus points: the cute vendor always said “see you tomorrow”, even on our last day, and we almost decided to stay.
Sundown at Miradouro de Santa Catarina
Like Görlitzer Park with the weed and the chill-out vibe, but it has a proper sundown and it’s actually quite nice not to sit in dirt (usually). The view is amazing. There are many Miradouros in Lisbon, but none of them are as lively. A pastry (of course) and booze in hand, you can listen to all versions of Bob Marley being played while tourists are taking sundown pics (that’s me!) with their selfie sticks. I’m not mad, though, because nobody is once they’re up there.
I scream, you scream, CEVICHE! This restaurant is a pure pleasure for lunch, when it’s not overcrowded and you don’t need a booking and you can stuff your face on Ceviche, the new favorite food in Berlin and Lisbon. The chef knows what he’s doing, although he doesn’t lower the steep prices (for Lisbon, anyway) at lunchtime, which is okay, I guess. It’s rightly so. A Cevicheria is amazing.
The locals beach is called Caparica and is only about an hour away with public transport. If you’re two people, you can split a cab from the ferry (it’s on the other side of the river) and it’s just about the same price as the bus fair. The beach is 30 km long and the longer you go down south, the gayer it gets (apparently). We only made it to the first part of it, though. The waters were cold, but doable (even in September). The best thing about the town, Caparica, were the arcade halls. I can’t believe we don’t have them in Berlin. But they’re probably just as nostalgic and long forgotten as the Mediterranean beach towns for the working class usually are.
Taberna Da Rua das Flores
More Ceviche and fish tartar, but by far the best atmosphere and culinary experience in town. If you’ve been to Goldener Hahn in Berlin, you’ll know what Taberna is like. It’s perfect and the food is great. There are no reservations, so you just come as early as you can and probably stand in line (unless you do me, then you come at 5pm and get wasted by 6 and then go and watch the sunset on the Miradouro, fully satisfied and happy to go to bed at 8).
You shan’t go shopping here, but the architecture (Oriental stuff) is worth a trip. It’s right next to Cevicheria and the Botanic Garden, so you won’t make any detours. The building was once a consulate for the former Portuguese colony Macau, and it’s stunning and beautiful. You just have to ignore the horrible hand-craft boutique shops that sell felt wallets and overpriced pencils and notebooks with Lisbon graphic design on it. Might as well buy your clothes on Mauerpark.
Sol e Pesca
The Portugese have a thing for canned fish, and now I have, too. There’s even a restaurant – Sol e Pesce – down near Cais do Sodre, where you can order canned fish (you basically chose the tins) and then it gets served in olive oil and with bread, and it’s just amazing, and it’s certainly something that we’re missing out on here. I could eat this all day and night and I wouldn’t feel ashamed at all. There are also pretty shops, kioskes and stores all over town where you can buy those tins to bring back as souvenirs. That’s pretty neat as they’re not expensive but usually have amazing designs.
Copenhagen Coffee Lab
I wish I could eat pastries all day, but one morning we woke up and craved something light for breakfast, and “real” coffee (i.e. I needed to wake up to actual filter coffee and not thousand shots of electrifying espresso). So we researched for a little bit and found the Copenhagen Coffee Lab, Lisboas 5 Elephant. Free wi-fi and cool people in a very nice neighborhood, but yes, generic, could be in NYC or in Berlin or whatever. Still: sometimes a good filter coffee and some müsli and banana bread are all that matters.
Sintra, Praia Do Guincho, Cascais
Sintra and Praia Do Guincho are magical places. One is a town with eccentric castles that were built by royalty as summer residences once, the other is a famous surfer beach with ice cold water and fearsome waves. Unfortunately, I lost a film roll with all the necessary pictures on it, so this is all you get now. This is a daytrip from Lisbon if you want to do it all. We were lazy and decided to jump on board with We Hate Tourism Tours, cool guys, it seems. The tour was fine, although the rest of the crowd (7 people in total) were all over 50 and North American, which kind of wasn’t like I expected. But still nice. A bit too expensive for a one day tour, but convenient, including a little picnic with a good view.
Pistola Y Corazon
Fair question: why eat Tacos in Portugal? I guess because after day three of Pasteis and Bacalhau (Kabeljau / codfish, the Portugese signature fish), you just really want to try something else. Young people and good food are abundant at Pistola Y Corazon, conveniently located only one street away from us. I swear every good restaurant is packed after 6 in Lisbon. Seems like Berlin isn’t the only city dedicated to food for the next years to come.
Time Out Market
I mentioned it before. The Time-Out Market is a better, more constructed version of the Markthalle 9, but it also has an actual market joining and much better food (albeit also expensive). The cakes are ridiculous. I didn’t even know the Portugese had such a cake tradition. Totally worth a visit if you’re hungry and want to snack your life away, but it’s not really a Lisbon experience that you have to have.
Everybody tells you to watch out on the 28, the classic tram line, always over-packed and spilling over. But it takes you up the hills and you should go there to discover the narrow-winding roads of the central neighborhoods like Alfama. Check your pockets. we caught some people who behaved like thieves, and we clung dearly to our belongings when we noticed people being robbed.
The View, The Rest