The definitive Surfer’s Guide to Lisbon: the best places to see, eat and shred in the Portuguese capital
29 April 2020
It’s the second oldest capital in Europe and one of the most attractive cities for tourists to explore in the entire world. Lisbon, it seems, is a mecca for all things delicious, interesting, fun and beautiful. However, the fact that it also boasts some seriously fun waves makes it a must-visit destination for intrepid travelers with saltwater in their veins. Check out our Lisbon guide below.
If the scent of ocean air mingled with the smell of freshly baked pastries gets you excited, you’ve come to the right place. Portugal’s capital city on the banks of the River Tagus (Rio Tejo) exudes old-world charm whilst also treating traveling surfers to a veritable sensory feast. The weather is spectacular, with a typical Mediterranean climate that features mild winters and warm summers, and it’s a great place to visit during pretty much any time of the year.
Like Rome, Istanbul and even Moscow, Lisbon is built on hills. These seven hills are named Castelo, Graça, Monte, Penha de Franca, S.Pedro de Alcântara, Santa Catarina and Estrela, and all of them offer fantastic views over the city and ocean or across the river. You can explore these many hills and the cobblestone streets that cross them by foot, or you can take a seat and raid a plate of fresh seafood at any one of its many high quality yet affordable restaurants.
Need we remind you that Lisbon straddles the mighty Atlantic Ocean, so you best be packing a couple of sleds for your trip. Often overshadowed by Ericeira, a quaint, wave-rich town only 45 minutes up the highway that stands alone as Europe’s only World Surfing Reserve, Lisbon’s long and varied coastline ensures that you have more than a few choice beaches to shred.
In case you can’t tell, we’re big fans of this beguiling and budget-friendly capital city, which is why we’re sharing its unique character and many curiosities with each of you in the following article. Read on to learn more about all that Lisbon has to offer and discover why it’s one of the most popular cities in Europe for traveling surfers.
Lisbon city guide
Explore, eat, party, drink and surf your way around Lisbon like a pro, armed with nothing but our city guide on your phone browser, a sense of adventure in your soul and a pastel de nata in your belly.
Explore the city center and the neighborhood
Whether by foot, tram, Uber, taxi or scooter, Lisbon is an easy city to explore. Of course, you’ll need to negotiate some hills, but the plus side is that there are plentiful high points from which to drink in the views.
Lisbon extends over seven hills and each hill has a viewpoint that offer stunning views over the historic city. Most of these spots called “miradouros” have cafés serving snacks and refreshments and offer plenty of space to sit and chill with friends. Some of the best ones from which you can admire the beauty of the city are: Miradouro da Graça, Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, Miradouro das Portas do Sol. Make sure you visit them on a sunny day at sunset, the view definitely take your breath away!
Start by checking out the historic São Jorge Castle, located in the parish of Santa Maria Maior. Dating back to the 8th century BC, it’s one of the oldest man made structures in all of Europe. After that you can take a tram to Feira da Ladra and check out the open-air thieves market overlooking the river. You won’t find your own personal belongings being hocked to the highest bidder, but you will find a dazzling array of intriguing trinkets for sale.
Lisbon is also home to many beautiful gardens. Parque Eduardo VII is one of the city’s biggest public parks with decent views of the city. Jardim do Torel is also worth a visit if you desire both town and ocean vistas, as are the miradouros or viewpoints that are found throughout the city, with Nossa Senhora do Monte widely regarded as the best.
Another not to be missed experience in Lisbon is a trip to a fado house. As Portugal’s traditional music, it allows you to tap into the local psyche. Note that not every fado house is created equal. Our advice is to ask a local for a recommendation. If that fails, try A Tasco do Chico midweek.
Walking tours are nothing new, but you can always find one that speaks to your interests. How about a street art tour in Central Lisbon? Or a history tour in the Rossio area? There are even guided tours with food and wine tastings if getting sloshed and exploring the city sounds like your idea of fun. Where do we sign up?
Party in the best bars and clubs in the capital
If you think Lisbon is all hills, parks and splendid views, you’re only halfway there when it comes to getting to know Portugal’s capital. There’s also a pretty crazy party scene too, and while it may not be crazy busy like Paris or as hedonistic as Amsterdam, you’re never far away from a good time when you’re in Lisbon after dark.
One of the best places to start your night is in Bairro Alto. Here you can fuel up before you go clubbing and start to get a feel for the local vibe. One of the stand out establishments in this suburb is Galeria Zé dos Bois, an art center in the heart of Bairro Alto that hosts some of the most brilliant and alternative live-music performances in town.
Páginas Tantas is another place where you can catch some seriously groovy music. A jazz bar that’s often stumbled upon accidentally rather than sought out intentionally, it features a warm and inviting setting that’s great for conversation. If you’re keen for a chill evening with your partner or a small group of friends, this is a great place to visit.
Fancy yourself a bit of a singer? Then Maria Caxuxa, a retro karaoke bar with a cool atmosphere and an eclectic mix of music, will be right up your cobblestone alley. The drinks are reasonably priced and the crowd is young, fun and willing to mingle. Expect to get caught up in one or two sing-a-longs with your new friends.
Once you’ve had your fill of Bairro Alto, you can then follow your fellow partygoers down to Rua Cor-de-Rosa (Pink Street) and visit some of the bigger clubs in and around the area. For example, the impromptu jam sessions at Tokyo, themed-event nights at Titanic Sur Mer and the African-inspired electronic music of Lounge all offer something different for late-night revelers to sample.
Just remember that most clubs don’t open their doors until midnight or later, so ready yourself for a late-night that could go well into the morning. In fact, you might as well already accept that you’ll probably be getting home as the sun rises. You can even pick up a morning pastel de nata as a breakfast snack on the way home.
Savour the Portuguese cuisine
Portuguese food is simple, honest and made with local ingredients. Haughty cuisine may exist, but we’re yet to find a dish that doesn’t scream “shovel me into your face and don’t forget to ask for more”.
Of course, the real stars of the show in Portugal are its pastries. One of the most widely known of this is the aforementioned pastel de nata. If you’ve never heard of it, welcome to a world of mouth pleasures where egg custard, pastry and cinnamon are the best of friends. The result is a delicious pastry that you can never have just one of. Check out Belem or Manteigaria in Mercado da Ribeira for pastel de natas that will make you weep with happiness.
For something less sweet, sink your teeth into the pig fat pudding at Cervejaria O Zapata in Bairro Alto. Just make sure to book in advance as there’s usually a big crowd. Don’t be afraid to try all the other delicious traditional Portuguese food that they have on their menu either.
As a coastal city that was once the center of world trade, you better believe they’ve got seafood for days. Marisqueiras (seafood restaurants) boast massive bubbling tanks full of plump lobsters and crabs. For a real taste of Portuguese Atlantic fare though, grab a plate of goose barnacles. Percebes, this is how they call it here, is a curious crustaceans that live attached to the hard surfaces of rocks in the Galician and Portuguese coastline. It is very hard to get them, this is why it is not the cheapest seafood you will find in Portugal, but possibly one of the best you can taste.
In Mercado da Ribeira, also known as Time out Market, you’ll find fresh fruit and veggies, fish and flowers by the bunch. Once a local market and ground zero for Portuguese grandma gossip, it was transformed into a gourmet food court back in 2014. Consequently, it’s more touristic and more chaotic, but don’t let that stop you. It’s still fun to browse the stalls and share some novel dishes with your friends.
Running late for a dinner reservation? Don’t worry. This is Lisbon after all and things move a little bit slower in this part of the world. Relax, take your time and go with the flow. Better yet, stop and try some ginjinha, otherwise known as cherry liquor. It’s a drink that’s endured wars, earthquakes and dictatorships, and after your first sip, you might wonder how. Take a second swig though and you’ll quickly realize this strong and sweet alcoholic beverage ain’t so bad. It’s also believed to be a cure-all for many illnesses.
Surf in some of the best spots around Lisbon
This is what you came here for, right? To ride Lisbon’s waves and marvel at how the cement abruptly gives way to sand and finally water? Well, you won’t be disappointed.
With over a dozen surf spots to choose from, most of which are a mere 10-minute drive from the city center, Lisbon is no slouch when it comes to quality surf breaks. Wax up that stick and check out our top three favorite spots in Lisbon below.
Praia de Carcavelos
The first wave on our list is Carcavelos. The OG Lisbon beachie, it’s one of Portugal’s most recognizable surf breaks due to the fort that’s located on its eastern point.
More than just a crumbly mush burger, Carcavelos regularly barrels over shifting sandbanks, detonating in knee-deep water that doesn’t offer much in the way of forgiveness if you bomb the takeoff.
Sure, it gets busy, but it’s worth the crowds if you can nab just one tubing left or right when a southwest swell rolls into town.
Praia do Guincho
Guincho is the second wave on our list. Located just to the north of Carcavelos in the city of Cascais, Guincho is known for the fact that it almost always has waves and that it’s almost always windy as hell.
Gale-force gusts aside though, it boasts consistent waves on all tides for all skill levels. It’s definitely worth checking when everywhere else is less than inspiring. Just don’t ever expect to ride it on your own though.
Costa da Caparica
Costa Caparica is the third and final surf spot in Lisbon we recommend for traveling wave riders. Essentially, this is a 30 kilometer stretch of coast on the south side of the River Tagus made up of multiple spots.
There are the lefthanders at Cova do Vapor and Rio, plus the seven jetties referred to as CDS with waves of varying quality. There’s also Praia da Rainha, which is a wide-open beachbreak that has been known to get pretty fun. Costa Caparica is worth a look if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the beaches to the north.
Who knows? You might even get lucky and find a couple of solo peaks reserved for you and your mates.
Some extra to know before you go
Get to know Lisbon like a local by checking out the following Rapturecamps travel tips:
- Make sure to bring some comfy shoes. After a long day hoofing it around town, even the smallest incline can feel Everest-esque
- Purchase a Viva Viagem card. It makes using the metro, bus, tram, funicular, ferry and suburban train quick and easy. Just pick one up on any metro, ferry or suburban train
- Lisbon is safe, accessible and flush with great cafes, restaurants, surf spots and sights, so don’t be afraid to throw out the guide book and get lost
- The tram system in Lisbon gets a lot of press and is very popular with tourists. If riding around in a quaint yellow carriage and taking in the sights from a seat appeals to you, hop on the historic ‘number 28’ tram and go for a spin
- Most locals speak English fluently, so you won’t have to learn the language before you go. That being said, a friendly “Bom dia” (good day) or “Olá” (hi) is always welcome. As is saying thank you, which is “Obrigado” (or “Obrigada” if you’re female)
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