Lisbon - 12 tips for Sustainable Tourism and Luxury Travel in 2023
Nestled on the western coast of Portugal, Lisbon, the vibrant capital city, is a destination that seamlessly blends rich history, stunning architecture, and a thriving contemporary scene. With charming neighbourhoods, Instagram-friendly viewpoints, and a blossoming culinary culture, Lisbon, one of the oldest cities in Europe, has become a top choice for travellers and digital nomads. In fact, it’s too popular, coming down with the affliction known as overtourism. But, if you take time to explore, there are plenty of exciting choices for both sustainable tourism and luxury travel.
Lisbon’s sustainable tourism strategy
To overcome overtourism, Lisbon has regulated vacation rentals, promoted responsible tourism practices, and encouraged visitors to explore lesser-known areas and attractions. Initiatives like the Lisbon Sustainable Tourism 2027 aim to strike a balance between visitor satisfaction and the well-being of its residents. It’s not an easy fix and will take time to calibrate for an optimal setting.
In recognition of its efforts, Lisbon was chosen as the European Green Capital in 2020, as it works towards reducing its carbon footprint and promoting greener transportation. Truth be told, the best transport option is to walk. The quaint trams and abundance of choices like metro, trains and buses are great, but to really explore the metropolis, nothing beats walking. It’s sustainable, for the city, and for yourself.
From Michelin star dining options to eco-friendly deluxe accommodations, Lisbon offers travellers opportunities to make conscious decisions that support the city’s transition. Here are our travel tips for Lisbon, compiled during the off-season that blend environmental, social and cultural sustainability with a touch of luxury. Please note this is not a sponsored list.
Lisbon Restaurants - Fine dining, brunch and dessert
The 1 Michelin star restaurant, 100 Maneiras, offers a unique and memorable experience. Chef Ljubomir Stanisic, known for his innovative approach to gastronomy, took Maral and myself on a culinary journey through 17 courses. We were there for Maral’s birthday and selected the tasting menu called The Story,
100 Maneiras translates to 100 Ways, reflecting the restaurant’s philosophy of presenting unexpected and inventive dishes. The evening showcased a fusion of traditional Portuguese flavours with international influences that had our palates in constant surprise.
The ambiance is elegant and contemporary, with a touch of artsy flair, and the dimly lit dining room creates an intimate and sophisticated atmosphere, perfect for special occasions or romantic dinners, as I had intended. We found the service attentive and knowledgeable, especially around the Portuguese wine pairings.
At 100 Maneiras, sustainability is a key aspect of their culinary ethos. The restaurant prides itself on using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, supporting local farmers and producers. The commitment extends to their seafood choices, with a focus on sustainable fishing practices and responsible sourcing.
It’s located north of Bairro Alto, the old town which buzzes with life, meaning our night continued long after the dinner.
A charming café located in the heart of Lisbon, more specifically the Baixa-Chiado neighbourhood. There’s usually a long line of locals and tourists waiting to get in, so if you’re famished, come early. The breakfast and brunch options include healthy and nutritious bowls, juices, smoothies, fruits salads, chia pudding, oatmeal, and their delectable pancakes. Our favourite was the mascarpone and raspberry. Add to it avocado and salmon sandwiches, eggs, and why not a Mimosa cocktail? Portions are big so you won’t leave unsatisfied.
The emphasis is on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients to create flavourful, and wholesome meals with lots of colour. The café stresses sustainable practices and strives to minimise packaging while promoting recycling and waste reduction. It exudes a laid-back and welcoming ambiance, the interior blending natural elements, such as wood and plants. Ideal for energise before sightseeing or as a pick-me-up after a late night in Lisbon.
A love letter to Pastéis de Nata
The iconic Portuguese tarts have captured the hearts of food enthusiasts around the world. Ours too. Through the bakery windows you lay eyes upon these golden pleasures, and the anticipation heightens. The delicate pastry, flaky and lightly browned by fire, cradles a velvety custard filling that glistens invitingly, evoking memories of childhood treats. As you lift the Pastéis de Nata to your lips, the aroma envelops you in a warm embrace. The scent of freshly baked delights, kissed by a hint of cinnamon, dances in the air, enticing you with its sweet seduction.
Your teeth sink into the crisp, buttery layers of the pastry, yielding effortlessly to reveal the creamy custard within. The decadent filling, a harmonious blend of eggs, sugar, and luscious vanilla, possesses a silky texture that coats your palate. With every bite, it caresses your taste buds, imparting a delicate sweetness balanced by a subtle touch of caramelisation.
Now, at home, memories of the symphony of flavours transports us to the bustling and sun kissed streets of Lisbon. You can find them throughout town in most cafes, our favourite being the Fábrica da Nata on Praça dos Restauradores.
Sustainable and Luxury Accommodation
Inspira Liberdade Boutique Hotel
Smack in central Lisbon, the establishment features energy-efficient design, water-saving practices, and organic, locally sourced food options. Guests can expect a luxurious experience in elegant rooms equipped with modern amenities and sustainable materials. For those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation, the hotel’s facilities include a spa and wellness centre with a range of eco-conscious treatments and therapies.
Olissippo Lapa Palace
Let’s go 5-star! You can find the prestigious luxury hotel in the charming Lapa district of Lisbon, situated on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, amid a sub-tropical centennial garden. The property is part of Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable program, which means that apart from offering an exceptional experience, it takes pride in its commitment to sustainability.
Energy and water conservation are key focus areas with efficiency measures throughout its premises. In addition, the hotel supports the local community, collaborating with suppliers, artisans, and businesses, promoting the region’s cultural heritage.
Guests at Olissippo Lapa Palace can enjoy the luxurious and elegant ambience of the rooms and suites, tastefully decorated with a blend of traditional Portuguese and contemporary elements. The hotel’s stunning gardens, outdoor swimming pools, and spa facilities offer a tranquil retreat.
Memmo Príncipe Real
In the charming Príncipe Real neighborhood, Memmo is a 5-star boutique hotel rewarded with the Earthcheck Silver certificate for its efforts. Relax in spacious rooms, on a rooftop terrace with breathtaking views, or in the serene swimming pool.
Culture and art
The brilliant museum stands as a captivating testimonial to the rich cultural heritage of Portugal and its iconic musical genre, Fado. Easy to spot it in the historic and insanely charming neighborhood of Alfama, the birthplace of Fado. Here you can get lost in the twisty alleyways while you count floors and steps on your activity meter. Headphones on, we immersed ourselves in the experience and its importance in Portuguese culture. We heard about the word saudade; a feeling of soul-jarring melancholy and nostalgia in which Fado is the ultimate decoder.
What makes the sight a true gem is its comprehensive portrayal of Fado’s history, evolution, and cultural significance. Through a combination of multimedia exhibits, artefacts, audiovisual presentations, and interactive displays, you get a deep insight into the genre’s origins, its poetic lyrics, and the emotions it conveys. Visitors explore the humble beginnings in the taverns and streets of Lisbon to its emergence as a symbol of Portuguese identity.
The museum’s collection includes a wide range of memorabilia, recordings, and personal items belonging to prominent artists. As any traveller to Lisbon knows, you can catch Fado performances at touristic restaurants. We suggest coming to the museum for captivating live shows, where talented musicians and singers bring the haunting beauty and emotional depth of Fado to life.
The renowned museum, next to Praça de Espanha is a must, and oozes with class. It’s a legacy of the late Calouste Gulbenkian, who amassed an extraordinary collection of priceless art. From ancient Egyptian artifacts to European paintings and decorative arts, visitors enjoy an enthralling journey with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Monet, and Renoir, as well as significant works from the Oriental and Islamic world.
Also marvel at the architectural design of the museum. The building blends into its lush surroundings, with beautiful gardens and serene water features that provide a tranquil setting for visitors. The architecture creates an atmosphere of harmony and contemplation, enhancing the overall cultural experience.
Besides its permanent collection, the Gulbenkian hosts temporary exhibitions that delve into specific themes, artists, or periods of art history, contributing to a vibrant artistic ecosystem.
Ler Devagar bookshop
Ler Devagar means read slowly. The bookstore in LX Factory (see below) is a hidden gem for book enthusiasts and creative minds. Situated in a repurposed industrial complex, it has a unique and dramatic ambience that sets it apart from traditional stores. Housed in a former printing space, it offers books, concerts, and exhibitions and we weren’t surprised to learn it was named one of the 10 most beautiful bookstores in the world; the aesthetics are incredible.
LX Factory is a dynamic hub for art, culture, and creativity, and the Ler Devagar perfectly embodies this spirit. The industrial-style building, sports exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and an eclectic mix of vintage furniture and modern design elements. The atmosphere is laid-back and inviting, creating a cosy and inspiring space for book lovers to explore.
One of the notable aspects of the bookshop’s ethos is its commitment to sustainability. LX Factory embraces eco-friendly practices, and Ler Devagar follows suit. It promotes a conscious approach to reading by offering a selection of second-hand books, contributing to the circular economy. This adds a unique charm, where each item carries its own history and previous readers’ imprints.
Ler Devagar often hosts cultural events, including book presentations, discussions, and workshops, which provide opportunities for visitors to engage with authors, artists, and like-minded individuals, fostering a sense of community and creative exchange.
Historical sights in Lisbon
In Lisbon, known as Olissippo in Roman times, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to sights and attractions dealing with the fascinating and long history of this fabulous city. São Jorge Castle and Jerónimos Monastery loom large, but don’t forget these three tips for more insight, two of which you pretty much have to yourself.
Palácio Nacional da Ajuda (National Palace of Ajuda)
The Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, competing with a staggering amount of sights in Belém, stands proudly on a hill overlooking the Tagus River. It’s a good uphill walk, perfect after having devoured Pastéis de Nata at the famous Pastéis de Belém. Built in the 19th century, the stunning residence combines elements of neoclassical and baroque styles where you cross from one opulent room to another. Marvel at the lavish decorations, intricate tapestries, and priceless artwork that reflect the grandeur of Portugal’s royal past. The Ajuda often hosts official ceremonies for the Presidency of the Republic. Because of its location away from the major attractions in Belém, it gets less foot traffic, but take our word for it; this luxurious palace is worth the trek.
NARC (Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros)
Unearth the ancient roots of Lisbon at the NARC, a fascinating archaeological site beneath the bustling streets. You have to book a free guided tour to access this underground museum, found underneath the Millennium bank in Baixa. The guide takes you on a captivating journey through time, revealing the layers of history that have shaped the city. It’s all made accessible via an impressive augmented reality display that lightens up and animates the finds in the dark. Explore the remnants of Roman and Moorish civilizations as you wander through the carefully preserved ruins, including dwellings and intriguing artifacts like wine amforas and Roman fish sauce. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially since we had the guide to ourselves and could ask a thousand questions. Highly recommended!
Ok, so the Pantheon is a tourist hot spot, but a tip is to pay the entrance fee (bring cash) and head to the rooftop, a favourite of ours. On a sunny and cloudless day, the views of the Targus River and the city are sublime. And the best of all, you get 360 view, all the way around the church dome. To our surprise, very few people go there compared to the crowds below; busy learning about Portuguese heroes afforded a burial in the grand neoclassical Pantheon building.
We’re always hungry for more of Lisbon, and suspect you are as well. Last time we spent a month there in the off-season and strongly recommend you the same. It allows for a deeper journey into the heart of the city and supports its transition towards sustainability and the battle against overtourism. Through continued efforts to preserve its heritage, engage in responsible tourism practices, Lisbon promises to remain an alluring destination and a place to call home for current and future generations of travellers and Lisboetas.
Have you been to Lisbon? What are your favourite spots? Leave a comment below. Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel coming your way.