A favored vacation destination among Europeans for years, Portugal has burst onto U.S. travelers' radar recently. In late 2016, Travel + Leisure named Portugal its destination of the year, while Forbes called it one of the coolest places to go in 2017.
While the country's southern beaches, northern wine region, and Madeira and Azores archipelagos all have their specific charms, it's the capital, Lisbon, that draws most visitors. According to Travel + Leisure, the capital received 30 percent of all visitors to Portugal in 2015. If you are an Instagram user, it might have seemed as though everyone you knew went there last year. Here are a few reasons why.
1. The Instagram Fodder
If you are on Instagram, you likely double-tapped one or all of the following photos last year:
Vintage sunshine-yellow tram clinging to a steep hill.
Blue tile-fronted buildings used as a selfie backdrop.
Colorful stone buildings with washing hung from wrought iron balconies.
Recent, long-overdue, restorations have made the colors of Lisbon's historic buildings pop, but those still in need of a little care display a defiantly shabby charm that looks just as good on your Instagram account.
The city skyline is not too bad itself. For the perfect shot of Lisbon's terracotta roofs, watched over by the city's own Brazilian-inspired Christ the Redeemer statue, book a room at the Corinthia or have a rooftop terrace cocktail at Sky Bar.
2. The Food
Lisbon's proximity to the ocean offers some of the freshest seafood you'll likely ever taste in a city. Make like Anthony Bourdain and get your fingers sticky with garlic shrimp, oysters, and crab at Cervejario Ramiro. It's a slightly frantic experience as the always-busy waiters zip between tables, soundtracked by the sound of diners determinedly hammering at crab shells with provided mallets, but it's as authentic as it gets.
If you are looking for something a little more sophisticated, book a table at the Michelin-starred Alma, helmed by local celebrity chef Henrique Sa Pessoa. Don't even try to start a day without breakfasting on pasteis de nata (custard tarts) fresh out of the oven from Manteigaria. (Tip: listen for the bell, which is rung every time a fresh batch is ready). A shot of the potent local liqueur ginginja is an anytime pickup and sold from cozy little shops, often in a small edible chocolate cup.
Should all the the options and unfamiliar names feel overwhelming, book a private experience led by a local. Singular Trips offers a private eight-hour tasting tour that takes in seven neighborhoods and at least 12 tastings.
3. The Easy Beachy Daytrips
Under an hour by train, the once-sleepy fishing village of Caiscais is a favorite summer playground for Lisboetas. From there, you can walk along the coast to the glitzy resort town of Estoril. Both can get terribly crowded in the summer so, as an alternative, the New York Times' Places to Go in 2017 list suggests the quieter Comporta: "deliberately underdeveloped and teeming with creative European A-listers," and just over an hour from Lisbon.
Confident surfers should head for Praia Grande, on the Atlantic, 45 minutes from Lisbon, then hit up the breezy beachside Bar do Fundo for post-surf drinks.
4. The Nightlife and Festivals
Lisbon's melancholic musical genre of fado is best heard at one of the city's moody fado clubs. Some are obviously marketed toward the tourist crowd, but plenty of unfussy genuine articles abound. Try Bela or the long-established Adega Machado, where fadistas have sung with passion since 1937.
Lisbon has lots of festivals throughout the year — the NOS Alive music festival in July is one of the best-known — but did you know the city hosts also an entire 'party month' in June? Festas de Lisboa usually runs from late May through early July, during which time the city comes alive with the colors of street festivals and parades, as well as the smell of traditional grilled sardines.
5. The Climate
If the city's cultural, aesthetic, and gastronomic attractions are not enough to convince you to book a flight, maybe its climate will. Lisbon is Europe's sunniest capital city.
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