Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, offers memorable tram rides along steep terrain, beautiful crafts and the freshest of seafood
Despite being one of Western Europe's oldest cities, predating Paris and Rome, Lisbon, the capital city of Portgual, does not feel old.
It has many charms: rickety trams, a dynamic creative and design scene, neoclassical architecture and a cuisine of robust flavours and fresh seafood.
Begin with a breakfast of egg tarts and espresso at Manteigaria, a little bakery with high stools and counter seating - front-row seats to the making of the tarts behind a glass panel.
Manteiga is the word for butter in Portuguese and the bakery was previously a butter shop.
Why do egg tarts and the Portuguese go together? It is said that in the past, egg whites were used to starch nuns' habits. The leftover egg yolks were used for desserts and egg tarts were then created.
After getting my fill of the tarts, I begin my walking tour with Singular Trips ( www.singulartrips.com) for a deep dive into the history, culture, food and design of Lisbon in the Baixa and Chiado districts.
Religion runs deep with the Portuguese and candles are a fixture at altars. Caza das Vellas Loreto (Rua do Loreto 53, 1200-086, tel: +351-213-425-387) is a candle shop that opened in 1789 and is devoted to making intricate traditional candles.
Choose from beautiful ornate candles for occasions such as baptisms and birthdays, or scented ones that look like fruit and vegetables from a still-life painting.
They are created by hand, with the wickers artfully made and positioned, which allows the candles to burn for many more hours than mass-produced ones.
Lisbon native Lenor Pinto Ribeiro, creative manager at Singular Trips, says: "As one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Lisbon is known for its seamless combination of ancient history with modernity."
Whether you want to buy handmade gloves or not, you must stop at what is possibly the world's smallest shop - Luvaria Ulisses (Rua do Carmo 87-A, 1200-093, tel: +351-213-420-295), which opened in 1925. The store stands at its original location with its neoclassical facade and very narrow doors - it is so small that only three people, including the shopkeeper, can fit in it at the same time.
Lisbon's steep hilly terrain is often compared with that of San Francisco. Apart from tramways, there is the Elevador de Santa Justa, an iron-wrought lift built in 1902. The architectural masterpiece by engineer Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard - a protege of Gustav Eiffel - is a tourist magnet for its unrivalled views of the Baixa district.
For lunch, head to the Time Out Market (Avenida 24 de Julho 49, 1200-479 Lisboa), where you can find a variety of Lisbon food under one roof. Check out two-Michelin-starred chef Henrique Sa Pessoa's casual outpost, which serves typical Portuguese fare, from sardines to octopus salads; or hearty meat croquettes from Croqueteria.
After lunch, go shopping at A Vida Portuguesa (Rua Anchieta 11 1200-023, tel: +351-213-465-073). It is a one-stop shop that curates the best of Portuguese design and crafts that have kept their original packaging.
For sundowners with lovely sunset views, enjoy cocktails with a panoramic view of Lisbon from the rooftop bar of Verride Palacio de Santa Catarina hotel (Rua de Santa Catarina 1, 1200-401 Lisboa).
Alternatively, have a pint at Cervejaria Trindade (Rua Nova da Trindade 20 C, 2715-311, tel: +351-213-423-506). Portugal's oldest brewery was converted from a 13th-century monastery in 1834. Every Wednesday, from 8 to 11pm, dinner is served with entertainment - fado: a traditional and expressive lyrical performance.
Have dinner next door alongside the city's well-heeled at Bairro do Avillez, the casual diner of renowned Portuguese two-Michelin-starred chef Jose Avillez.
Robust and rustic flavours bring out the best of the fresh seafood. Order the clams and shrimps. The meal is so good, I return for dinner the next day.
For a dose of culture and heritage, I recommend the National Azulejo Museum (Rua Me. Deus 4, 1900-312, tel: +351-218-100-340), housed in the former Madre de Deus Convent. The museum is dedicated to a colourful collection of Portuguese tiles from the 15th century.
No trip to Lisbon is complete without a ride on the 28E tram that passes through the tourist attractions in the districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela.
The yellow Remodelado trams introduced in the 1930s wind through the tight turns and steep terrain.
Tram 28E is always packed, so go early and start in the mornings. Beware of pickpockets in the tightly confined space.
For food souvenirs, stock up at Comida Independente (Rua Cais do Tojo, 28 em Santos-o-Velho, Lisboa, tel: +351-213-951-762). Oenophiles will be delighted to discover wines over local artisanal cheese, chorizo and cold cuts with proprietress Rita, who informs visitors of the depth and breadth of Portuguese produce, organic wines and cidres.
I love the laid-back bohemian vibe of Lisbon - a city that offers rich history, culture and artisanal crafts, and also celebrates local designers. It feels like a modern city of progress that has never lost its soul.
• Juliana Loh is a Hong Kong-based freelance writer, who writes about travel, culture, food and design.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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