Lisbon’s hotspot status means you’ll be doing your sightseeing among throngs
Many visitors to Portugal land three miles from Lisbon and just stay put in the capital. Why not base yourself in a city known for tile-clad architecture, absurdly pleasant weather and creamy, dreamy pastries? Sure, the hills can be steep, but that’s just an excuse to board an egg-yolk colored tram that takes a rollercoaster-esque route near an actual castle.
Still, it’s hard not to notice that even the most amiable locals are growing fed up with their streets gradually turning into an obstacle course of electric scooters, tuk-tuks and bachelorette gangs. (Lisbon is among the cities at risk of overtourism, according to a report by the World Travel &Tourism Council.) Property owners have transformed entire apartment buildings into Airbnbs, and restaurateurs have opened scores of new eateries that target tourists rather than Portuguese clientele. The upshot: Prices (while lower than in much of Europe) are creeping higher by the day, and visitors are paying more for a less authentic experience.
Crowdphobics would be wise to avoid anything remotely “Instagrammable,” and explore neighborhoods outside of the city center. That’s where you’ll more likely find some calm — and a meal of freshly grilled salmon and Sagres beer for less than $10.
Location: Lisbon is on Portugal’s southwestern coast, where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
In the port of Setubal, you’ll find history, dolphins and outdoor adventures
Part of the allure of Lisbon is that it’s convenient for several popular day trips, including the colorful castles of Sintra and the old walled city of Evora (a previous Go Here article recommends the latter), as well as the historical port town of Setubal, which is less than an hour by car or train. For a more genuine experience, consider making Setubal, set on the northern bank of the Sado River estuary, your base. Lisbon can be a day trip.
For more than 2,000 years, fishing has been main industry around Setubal — there are ruins of a Roman fish-salting complex nearby. If you peek into the water, you’ll see why: It looks like you could just reach your hand in and pull out lunch. A better option is the Mercado do Livramento, a covered market with wide mosaic stone floors and several aquariums’ worth of sea creatures lying on piles of ice. Or take your pick of restaurants along Avenida Luisa Todi, a leafy boulevard named for an 18th-century Portuguese opera star. The local specialty is fried cuttlefish, but you can’t go wrong ordering anything that’s hauled in from the harbor.
Apparently, this seafood smorgasbord is also why about two dozen dolphins hang out here year-round. You can observe them as they hunt together by forming circles around confused fish, says Maria João Fonseca, co-founder of Vertigem Azul, which runs two dolphin-watching boat trips each day. Sightings are limited to 30 minutes to protect the dolphins, but the three-hour journey continues along the Arrabida coastline, a stretch of sandy, serene beaches.
Not only is Setubal more affordable than Lisbon, it’s also “more authentic and close to nature,” says Fonseca. Outdoor activities abound: You can hike Arrabida Park trails, visiting farms to sample wine and cheese, or ferry across the Sado River to Troia, a peninsula where you’ll find beaches, birdwatching and the Roman ruins. In the nearby resort town of Sesimbra, you can climb up to a hilltop Moorish castle. And it’s worth driving out to the wind-swept Cabo Espichel to take in the view from cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean — with not a single tuk-tuk in sight.
Location: Setubal, about 25 miles south of Lisbon, is on the northern bank of the Sado River estuary.
Hallett is a writer based in Florence. Her website is vickyhallett.com.
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