Tag Archives: Featured
February 6, 2016

The most authentic souvenirs: A Vida Portuguesa

“Do you remember this?” “I haven’t seen one of these in years!” Visiting this store was a walk down memory lane for my Portuguese husband… Which is exactly what makes it the best place to shop for authentic souvenirs.

With all the little lojas (stores) around the city selling the same postcards, magnets and bric-a-brac, it can be hard to find truly authentic souvenirs in Lisbon. A Vida Portuguesa (A Portuguese Life) is a lovely shop in the Bairro Alto, Mercado da Ribeira and Intendente (as well as in Porto). They feature a range of goods made and beloved in Portugal, including many that are a “blast from the past”. Some of their things are beautiful, some are more jokey, almost gag gifts, but all of them have some specific connection to Portuguese history or pop culture.

I was especially happy to visit their store in Intendente recently. Just a few minutes walk from our houses, this is an area of town that used to be sketchy–especially at night. But the Lisbon city government has made a significant effort at rehabilitation, and it’s working. So much so that the area was featured in a recent New York Times article!

A Vida Portuguesa - authentic souvenirs

A Vida Portuguesa – Intendente

The Vida Portuguesa store is a cornerstone of the plaza at the center of the rehabilitation. Sitting next to the Fábrica da Viúva Lamego, a tile factory that went out of business some years ago–leaving behind a gorgeous building (on the right in the picture), this store was considered the “prettiest shop in town” by TimeOut Lisboa.

Bringing new life to an historic part of town, showcasing the old and the modern side-by-side: this store gives you a real glimpse of Portuguese Life. And could there be a better place to shop for authentic souvenirs than one that the Portuguese themselves thoroughly enjoy?

November 28, 2014

Portuguese Music that isn’t Fado: Cante Alentejano

Don’t misunderstand, we love Fado: it’s beautiful, and it speaks so well to the Portuguese soul. But sometimes it seems like Fado is the only Portuguese music around, which just isn’t true. In fact, Cante Alentejano has been named a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Cante Alentejano

Cante Alentejano

Cante Alentejano is acapella, polyphonic folk music, similar in style to Sacred Harp singing in the Southern United States. Originally sung by agricultural workers in the fields, the songs tell of the beauties and hardships of life in the Alentejo, of hard work but also the importance of family, religion, community and love.

The songs normally begin with a “ponto” who sings a solo (or a duet with an “alto”, singing in a higher register) and is then joined by a choir of voices filling in the melodies. The origins of Cante Alentejano are not fully known, but it shows influences of both ancient Greek and Arabic traditions.

During Portugal’s dictatorship, Cante Alentejano was used as propaganda, since it was supposed to show how wonderful it was to be a simple, unschooled peasant. But the singers wrote lyrics filled with double meanings, undermining Salazar’s scheme. “Grandola, Villa Morena”, a famous piece of Cante, was used by the Movimento das Forças Armadas as a signal to launch the 25th of April Carnation Revolution.

Currently, groups dedicated to Cante Alentejano keep the tradition alive, both in the Alentejo itself and in whatever part of Portugal–or of the world–that they live in.

As of November 28th, 2014, Cante Alentejano is considered a part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, meaning that efforts will be made to preserve this important style of folk music for future generations.

To learn more about Cante Alentejano, watch the video that was submitted to UNESCO, which explains the history of Cante, and also what makes it unique:

July 2, 2014

Lavra Tram – Ascensor do Lavra

Save steps on your way home to our holiday apartments by taking the Lavra Tram (Ascensor do Lavra) instead of walking.

Lavra Tram, top station

Lavra Tram, top station

Running from the Largo da Anunciada to the Rua Câmara Pestana (which is just off the Calçada de Santana, and only moments from our vacation rentals), the Lavra Tram allows you to ride, instead of walking up the hill. And it’s an interesting piece of Lisbon history, too.

The Lavra Tram is the oldest Ascensor in Lisbon. It has been in near-continuous operation since it first opened on April 19, 1884, and was declared a National Monument in 2002.

Interior of the Lavra Tram

Interior of the Lavra Tram

The tram’s antique interiors will make you feel you’re riding a piece of history, although all the ascensores in Lisbon have been modernized on the inside. Originally, they worked using water-weights and a pulley system: a tank in the car at the top was filled with water, making it heavier than the car at the bottom. When the brake was released, the heavier car would slide downhill, pulling the lighter car (which was attached by a cable) up as it went. Then the tank of car that had just gone down would be emptied, while the tank of the car now at the top of the hill would be filled. Over time, water shortages led to the modification of the system, and the Lavra Tram now runs on electricity.

According to the Carris website, on its first day in service the Lavra Tram offered free rides to all passengers. By the time the Ascensor finally closed on that day, it had been running for 16 hours straight and had transported over 3.000 passengers!

Lavra Tram Schedule

Schedule, click to enlarge

Currently the Ascensor do Lavra runs from 7:45am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 8pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The on-board fare is 3,60€ (which buys 2 trips), but if you purchase a VivaViagem card in advance, a ride on the Lavra Tram costs only 1,20€. VivaViagem cards are available in any metro station.

Lastly, if you enjoy riding the Lavra Tram, you should look at the self-guided walking tour of Lisbon’s Ascensores and Elevadores (pdf) published by Carris (the company that operates and maintains them).

July 3, 2013

5 things to do in Lisbon when it’s HOT

Average summer temperatures in Lisbon are only about 28C/85F, even in August. But an average is just an average, and there are always a few days, or even a week or two, when the city broils in 30+C heat (mid-to-high 90’sF). So what is there to do in Lisbon when it’s hot?

  • Take a siesta: Because of the sea breezes and proximity to the water, mornings and evenings in Lisbon are often cool and comfortable, even when it’s sweltering at mid-day. If you know it’s going to be hot out, take a leaf from the Spanish: get up early and do your sightseeing in the morning, then rest after lunch, when it’s hottest. If you’re close enough, come home and take a nap (all our houses have air conditioning). If you’re farther afield, plan an indoor activity. After things have cooled down again (often around 5 pm) head outside for a drink at one of Lisbon’s outdoor cafe kiosks or any esplanada. The city comes alive on summer nights, with whole families out past midnight, so stay up and join the fun. Who needs a bedtime when you’re on vacation?


  • Spend the day at the Expo: This area on the east side of Lisbon was built for the
    Visit the Expo'98 when it's hot in Lisbon

    Visit the Expo’98 when it’s hot in Lisbon (photo: Filipe Rocha)

    1998 World’s Fair (Expo’98), and is the perfect place to practice your mid-day-rest planning. The large park, with bike rentals, a riverside promenade and a “sound garden” for the little ones, is perfect before the temperature starts to soar. Then after lunch, while it’s really hot, hide indoors at the Oceanario, Pavilion of Knowledge Science Center, or even the Vasco de Gama Shopping Mall. End your day enjoying the beautiful views of the river Tejo from one of the many cafes and bars that stretch along the bank.


  • Escape to Sintra: Sintra’s microclimate means it almost never gets too hot. It also means that
    Visit Sintra National Palace when it's hot in Lisbon (photo: fulviusbsas)

    the whole area is lush, green and shady, even on the warmest days. Forcenturies Lisbon’s royalty   escaped the heat of the capital by spending their summers in Sintra. Testament to this are the many palaces there (including Pena Palace, Sintra National Palace, the Moorish ruins and the Quinta da Regaleira). Many of these palaces are (at least partially) air-conditioned as well. Do expect crowds on hot days, as the natives flee the heat with you!


  • Go to a museum: All that artwork has to be tempurature-controlled, which means that museums are kept at a comfortable temperature all year ’round. Take advantage of the days when it’s so hot you don’t want to be outside to see some of the many, many museums Lisbon has to offer. From art to fashion to electricity to science, Lisbon has something to help everyone beat the heat!


  • Go shopping: If you’d like to do some shopping while you’re in Lisbon (shoes, for example, are often a good deal), take advantage of a day that’s too hot to handle, since you’ll be indoors most of the time. The Colombo centro commercial (shopping mall) is impressive in its size and variety, with small local stores mixed right in with the global brands.  Along with the stores, the mall has several small indoor play structures for children, a food court and a movie theatre. Colombo is situated right over the the Colegio Militar/Luz metro station, making it very easy to get to. (Amoreiras mall is a more upscale option, but you’ll need to take a cab to get there.)


What’s your favorite thing to do in Lisbon when it’s hot?

October 22, 2011

Where should we eat in Lisbon?

Check out our interactive Googlemap of our favorite local Lisbon restaurants and cafés!


VisitingPortugal Lisbon Restaurant Recommendations


And 6 Vegetarian Restaurants, too:

VisitingPortugal Vegetarian Recommendations


Plus a map of Lisbon’s Best Ice Cream, 8 shops in/around the Rossio. (Per TimeOut, July2010):

Lisbon’s Best Ice Cream

… Enjoy!