Insider’s Guide to Lisbon

Lisbon’s best restaurants, shops, hotels and museums, according to chef José Avillez, actor Daniela Ruah, novelist Robert Wilson and designer Alexandra Champalimaud.

THIS CITY IS often overlooked as a destination, considered an also-ran to Paris, Rome and other European capitals, with their iconic attractions and masses of tourists. But there’s something to be said for Lisbon’s subtler charms.

Lilac-hued jacaranda blossoms carpeting the stone benches in Largo do Carmo Square, for instance. Or melancholic fado music wafting from cafes in the twisting streets of Alfama. Or the perfume of sea spray along the waterfront in Belém, close to where the Rio Tejo joins the Atlantic Ocean.

Lisbon peaked as a global powerhouse in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Portuguese explorers sailed from its shores, returning with treasures from India and the coast of Africa. A devastating earthquake and tsunami in the 1700s humbled the city. The current economic crisis has put Portugal in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. An upside of centuries out of the spotlight is that Lisbon’s gems weren’t razed in the name of progress.

There are also advantages to the capital’s lack of notoriety on the cultural front. Visitors can enjoy Lisbon’s museums—the trendy (the Museu Coleção Berardo and the Museu do Design e da Moda) and the traditional (the fado and tile museums)—without crowds.

Yet the city isn’t stuck in the past. Santiago Calatrava designed the futuristic Oriente metro station in Parque das Nacões. The new Beautique Hotels Figueira were created by acclaimed Portuguese designer Nini Andrade e Silva. And British architect Amanda Levete is creating a spaceshiplike EDP Foundation Arts and Technology Centre in Belém.

Back home, regale your friends with your discoveries. Better yet, don’t.

The Chef: José Avillez. Michelin-starred chef/owner of five restaurants in Lisbon, including Belcanto and Café Lisboa

Old-World Transit // Tram 28. Take this vintage yellow tram through old Lisbon. It offers hop-on, hop-off service. But be vigilant; pickpockets are known to work the line.

Authentic Finds // A Vida Portuguesa. This beautiful shop was created by journalist Catarina Portas, who had been investigating old Portuguese brands, some of which faced extinction. Don’t miss the soaps, the handmade notebooks or the Portuguese Sanjo sneakers. I come here a lot to buy gifts; I also buy a lot of things for my restaurants. Rua Anchieta 11,

Romantic Digs // Memmo Alfama Hotel. A hidden treasure, and absolutely perfect for couples. The terrace has one of the best Lisbon views. I’m sure you will enjoy taking a glass of wine there. Travessa das Merceeiras 27,

Glorious Vistas // Belvedere São Pedro de Alcântara. This little park is located at the top of the Elevador da Glória funicular. You have a beautiful view of the east side of Lisbon, including Graça, São Vicente de Fora and the Castle of São Jorge. Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara

Canned Delights // Conserveira de Lisboa. A traditional tinned-fish shop with amazing wrapping and the joy of a family business. I love the Ventresca tuna fish in olive oil, smoked mackerel fillets and Portuguese sardines in olive oil. Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34,

The Scribe: Robert Wilson. Crime writer and part-time Portugal resident whose books include “A Small Death in Lisbon”

Classic Cuisine // Restaurante Clube de Jornalistas. This restaurant in Lapa, the posh end of Lisbon, was an 18th-century palace and has a wonderful walled garden. They serve interesting takes on classic Portuguese cooking, as well as Italian staples. I particularly like the dishes featuring black pig (porco preto), which are fed on acorns that fall from cork oaks in the Alentejo region, where I live.Rua das Trinas 129,

Soulful Sounds // Restaurante Mesa de Frades. To experience real fado singing with a hearty Portuguese meal, this is the place. You eat in a small chapel and fado singers come in groups. They sing and their voices resound in your chest. Rua de Remédios 139, 351-917-029-436

Curious Bar // Pavilhão Chinês. One of the most eccentric bars in the city. The walls are covered in cabinets filled with toys, dolls, hats, helmets and other paraphernalia. Enjoy a cocktail or a glass of Port or even a simple beer. A knock is sometimes required to gain entry. Rua Dom Pedro V 89/91, 351-21-342-4729

Major Market // Mercado da Ribeira. This late-19th-century building has a glass front and roof, and houses the largest food market in the city. Here you will see locals queue for the best fresh fish, organic vegetables and the triangular boards of salt cod (bacalhau), which now come from Norway. Avenida 24 Julho

The Designer: Alexandra Champalimaud. Lisbon-born interior designer of high-end hotels, homes and restaurants

Antiques Atelier // Ricardo do Espirito Santo Silva Foundation Workshop. This workshop is one of the few remaining places where you can learn the rare art of furniture carving. Discover how to hand-tool a reproduction of an 18th-century piece—or purchase one. Largo das Portas do Sol, 2,

Day Trip // Sintra. Drive to the town of Sintra and stop by the 12th-century Palacio da Vila in the center, with its extraordinary painted ceilings. Lunch on the terrace at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, or stop by the cafe Piriquita for a queijada (a typical pastry) and a bica (espresso). Then move on to Casa Branca, where I buy fine linen and cotton embroidered sheets.

Royal Wonder // Palacio Fronteira. A private tour of this late-17th-century house and garden, en route to Sintra, cannot be missed. I have enjoyed many enchanting moments there. Rua São Domingos de Benfica 1,

Gem for Jewels // Leitão & Irmão. A great destination for modern silver, elegant porcelain and jewelry at astonishingly fair prices. I buy wedding presents and special gifts here and ship them all over the world. Largo do Chiado 16 e 17,

Grand Dining // Restaurante Belcanto. Have lunch next to the opera house in the Chiado district. This place is wonderfully Old World. Sit near the window and order the bacalhau with a glass of simple red wine. Largo de São Carlos 10,

The Performer: Daniela Ruah. Star of “NCIS: LA,” who grew up in Lisbon

Happening Hood // Bairro Alto. This is an incredible area in old Lisbon with steep, narrow cobblestone streets. You can spend the day sightseeing at the miradouros (places with panoramic views of the city), shopping in little boutiques and eating at the many cafes and restaurants. On the weekends, this part of town is an epicenter for night life. The bars tend to be quite small, and in the summer you can take your beverage outside.

Sweet Treat // Pastéis de Belém. One of my favorite cafes, which specializes in pasteis de nata, a puff-pastry-and-custard delight that tastes even better when you sprinkle a little cinnamon and powdered sugar on it. It’s in the heart of the Belém area, only a few feet from the Tejo. Rua de Belém 84-92,

Art and Outdoors // Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. A cultural center that hosts art exhibitions with pieces by the likes of Monet, Renoir and Degas, as well as concerts and other performances. It has beautiful, artistically landscaped gardens. It is inexpensive to visit and a really wonderful place to just get lost in. Avenida Berna 45A,

Superlative Seafood // Cervejaria Ramiro. Best shellfish in town! There is always a huge line out the door and it’s completely informal, but the staff are nice and fast. After stuffing myself with clams and shrimp, I always ask for a prego (a steak sandwich). Avenida Almirante Reis nº1 – H,

Plus Don’t Miss…

Júlio Pomar Museum. This tiny new museum, designed by star architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, showcases the oeuvre of Portuguese painter Julio Pomar.

LX Factory. An old factory complex has been turned into a space for cafes, shops, ateliers and galleries. Don’t miss the stylish Ler Devagar Bookstore, which retains an original press from the printing shop that used to occupy the space.

Campo de Ourique. This under-the-radar neighborhood northwest of the city center brims with a sense of community. Meander tree-lined streets, checking out spots like Casa Pélys, a former photo studio turned into a vintage shop, and Hamburgueria da Parada, a craft-burger kiosk.

From The Wall Street Journal. Jeanine Barone. 20.06.14

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