When in Lisbon, be sure to spend some time off the main tourist track. Here are three unique places where you can do just that – plus a public transport tip that will make your stay even easier (and more cost-effective too).
Similar to our own Neighbourgoods marketplaces in Joburg and Cape Town, LX Factory is situated in a series of old warehouses, and offers local craftspeople, designers and produce vendors a place to sell their wares in a variety of settings. These range from formal indoor stores to casual and temporary outdoor stands, and the items on offer vary from local cheeses, baked goods and honey to handmade jewellery, clothing and accessories for both adults and children, as well as second-hand goods including books and vinyl records… the list goes on.
Among the permanent brick-and-mortar stores, don’t miss the charming bookshop, Ler Devagar, which has a good selection of titles in English and excellent gift books, and Organii is also a must-visit for organic skincare, gorgeous children’s clothing – much of which is made from organically grown natural fibres – and their small selection of magical basket bags by Toino Abel. Of course there’s also plenty to eat and drink here – stop off at Café na Fábrica for coffee, brunch or a casual meal – and for gorgeous views of the Tagus River combined with cocktails and/or some very good seafood, head upstairs to Rio Maravilha.
Situated slightly off the tourist track alongside the Mercado de Arroios food market in Arroios, a residential neighbourhood of central Lisbon, Mezze is well worth heading uptown for. The exceptionally good Middle Eastern food served here is prepared by a staff consisting mainly of Syrian refugees – who started to arrive in Portugal in 2015 as part of the European Union’s relocation programme. After hosting a successful series of pop-ups in 2016, Mezze’s founders crowd-funded the money with which they started this permanent location, which eventually opened its doors in September 2017.
There are a few set menus available as well as à la carte options – we worked our way through two of the set dinner options, which included delicious kibbeh (fried meatballs with bulgur and walnuts), luscious baba ganoush and hummus, and lamb kebabs with gently spiced rice strewn with cashew nuts, enjoying every bite. The setting is laid-back and casual, with happy groups of diners enjoying the cuisine, which is made for sharing and suits a warm and leisurely Lisbon evening brilliantly well.
Cortiço & Netos
This compact, colourful store sells Portuguese tiles – but not the more obviously tourist-friendly, historically inspired designs you’ll find at many places in Lisbon. The offering at Cortiço & Netos is all about discontinued industrial tiles, many of which were manufactured in the mid-20th century (from the 1960s onwards) and that have all the considerable charms of that period. The tiles are available in a variety of sizes but of course, once they are gone, that’s it, as they are no longer in production… Boxes of vintage tiles might not make for ideal holiday purchases (they’re heavy!) but there is a ‘one-offs’ box in which to browse. A unique tile, to be placed within a plain tiled wall somewhere as a special memento, or simply used as a countertop-protecting trivet, is easy to add to one’s suitcase – and the shop is, in itself, an inspiring place to visit for anyone who loves 20th-century design.
The ‘Zapping’ card Uber operates in the city at very reasonable rates, but crowded, pedestrian-dominated central Lisbon isn’t exactly car-friendly territory. And the city’s public transport system is super efficient and a total pleasure to use. So much so, in fact, that during rush hours it can get very crowded indeed. So be a considerate traveller and avoid using public transport during those times – it’s not a difficult thing to do when you’re on holiday and your time is more flexible, and it makes locals’ lives that little bit easier. To use the system during other times via the method that’s both easiest to use and the most budget-friendly option, make like a local and buy a ‘Zapping’ card.
These are available inside all the Metro (underground) train stations as well as at various convenience stores across the city, and can be ‘topped up’ there too. The card vending and top-up machines in the Metro all have an English-language option so it’s super easy to make your purchases. You buy a Zapping card, which currently costs 50 euro cents, and then add credit in denominations of between 3 and 40 euros. Once you have the card, you’re debited just 1,30 euros per trip on buses and trams, and 1,31 on the Metro (underground) system. Single-ticket costs are slightly more expensive than this.
Simply tap the card at the turnstiles on entry and exit from the Metro system, and tap the card readers only when getting onto the buses and trams (there’s no need to tap out on these systems, which also allow you to continue a single journey within one hour of your first tap-in time). You can also use the Zapping card to travel on the local trains to Cascais and Sintra, two popular tourist spots within a 30-minute train ride of central Lisbon, and to use the hilly city’s famous elevators – such as the Elevador de Santa Justa – and funiculars. There is also a range of day passes available if you are only in Lisbon for a very short period of time; find out more about the options here.