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A Romantic New Year’s Eve in Lisbon

Fireworks seen from the Halcyon I yacht on the Tagus River on New Years Eve.

You can feel Lisbon’s romantic charm on any day of the year, but the city’s allure intensifies on New Year’s Eve. Hotels add extra sweet touches. Restaurants offer multicourse meals. And at the stroke of midnight, a spectacular fireworks display begins over the Tagus River. 

There is a Portuguese saying, “Don’t light the fireworks before the party.” So before I share details on what we consider the best way to take in the phenomenal fireworks display, I should tell you how The Emerald House Lisbon, Curio Collection by Hilton spoiled us and how our multicourse Portuguese meal at Restaurante Drogaria delighted us. 

The Emerald House Lisbon

In our spacious, upgraded room in the Emerald House, a card wishing us a “Happy New Year!” from the Emerald House Team greeted us. A frosted sugar cookie and a small bottle of Beirao – a popular Portuguese liqueur made from a variety of herbs and seeds, including eucalyptus, cinnamon, cardamom, and rosemary — sat next to it. There was also a small plate with two pastéis de nata, a small donut, some grapes, and a few dates with chocolate drizzled over them in the room. As Diamond Level Hilton Honors Members, we received an invite to have a complimentary traditional Portuguese cocktails,  Amarguinha sours, at the hotel bar. The drink is sweet and tastes of almonds and citrus. They gave us chips and bar nuts to go with. We clinked glasses to our good fortune, our romantic New Year’s Eve celebration underway. 

Restaurante Drogaria

At Restaurante Drogaria,  sparkling wine was served soon after we were seated. During the evening, through six splendid courses, our glasses were never empty. We drank whites and reds, whatever seemed right with the course. The service was top-notch, and the place felt low-key, romantic, not touristy despite its proximity to the river. 

The 6 splendid courses:

  • A mushroom dish with organic egg yok and Iberian ham. 
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna tartare with avocado.
  • Red mullet with celery purée and caldeirada (fish stew) sauce.
  • Wagyu Steak with black truffle and grilled lettuce. 
  • Queijo de Sao Jorge. 
  • Chocolate mousse. 

Time for the Fireworks Over the Tagus River

When it comes to watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Lisbon, there are plenty of options. You could book a table at a rooftop restaurant with a good view of the Tagus River. Or, join the crowd gathered at Praça do Comércio, where you can enjoy live music before (starting at around 10 p.m.), during, and after the fireworks. There are other viewpoints. Lisbon is, after all, the city of seven hills. We chose to take in the fireworks while touring the Tagus River on a yacht with a handful of strangers. 

As we floated along aboard Halcyon I, we noticed boats perfect for every sort of New Year’s Eve celebrator, from rambunctious revelers to those of a certain age and a more quiet demeanor like us. The most boisterous boats were the most noticeable – the ones that, regardless of size, had loads of people dancing to loud music and cheering into the dark night. I’m almost positive someone fell into the river at some point during the night, but I have no proof. We chose the just right boat for us, the Halcyon I. Our captain and guide was the owner, who lives on the boat full-time. Bottles of sparkling wine and traditional sweets were offered. It was like an elegant after-dinner party. We had room for the wine, but we couldn’t take another bite of food – dinner had been too indulgent. Conversations flowed as if we’d all known one another rather than having just met. Then, there were the fireworks to watch.    

A Note on New Year’s Eve Traditions in Portugal

Chris and Melissa taking a photo of themselves with help from a mirror. They are wearing new outfits as part of a Portuguese NYE tradition.
Here we are in our new outfits bought especially for celebrating New Year's Eve in Portugal.

I must mention the New Year’s Eve traditions in Portugal, because the country has a number of them. 

The only New Year tradition Chris and I have had over our years together involves eating and drinking well with family and friends whenever possible. We did our best to incorporate a few Portuguese traditions into our New Year’s Eve:

  1. Wearing an entirely new outfit. It’s said to bring good luck. Chris’s new outfit was from Timberland’s. While I did purchase cute shoes at Timberland, I bought my outfit for the evening at Massimo Dutti and my jacket from Guess.
  2. We put money in our pockets for wealth in the New Year. 
  3. We saved a cork from a bottle of sparkling wine that was popped on the Halcyon I. It’s said to renew a person’s strength. I’ve kept track of the cork ever since Chris asked me to tuck it into my purse. 
  4. For luck, another tradition is to eat 12 raisins while making a wish at the stroke of midnight – one raisin for each month of the coming year. While we tried, this one was a bit of a fail for us. We’d left our raisins in our hotel room, but midnight and the fireworks happened while we were on the yacht. So, we did our best, and each ate 12 raisins while making a wish as soon as we were back in our hotel room. Is it bad that I cannot remember what I wished for at all?

Did following the traditions help us? I’d say the results have been mixed. We’ve had a lot of good times and perhaps even some good luck throughout 2023. I was sent on assignment by Travel + Leisure magazine for the first time and enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to Finland. It was definitely a dream come true. While the weather didn’t always cooperate with us on our adventures, we didn’t fall off Skellig Michael when we went on a perilously windy and rainy summer day. I only almost did. It could’ve been worse. Unless something drastic happens before we ring in 2024, I don’t think the money we put in our pockets did us any favors.  

We made a New Year’s resolution that I can now say we will not be keeping. Our resolution? Visit 10 countries in 2023. We only managed to spend time in seven over the past twelve months: Portugal, Spain, Finland, Ireland, the United States, Iceland, and Switzerland. To be fair, it’s the most countries either of us have gone to in any single year. 

We haven’t decided what to do on New Year’s Eve this year. I think we’ll stay in Porto. But it’s us I’m talking about, so who knows?

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