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A tram in Lisbon | © 2109DSGN/Pixabay
A tram in Lisbon | © 2109DSGN/Pixabay

Books to read before visiting Lisbon

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 17 May 2017

Enjoying the coast, the sun, and delicious, budget-friendly gastronomy doesn’t require much planning; but Lisbon is so much more than a mouthwatering summertime hotspot. The city’s charisma and identity can only be truly appreciated by spending quality time with the locals and learning the city’s history, but reading a good book is a great way to prepare. Here are a few stories that will help any traveler understand the Portuguese capital a little better.

Night Train to Lisbon

This could well be the most popular book to take in before heading to the city. Night Train to Lisbon was published at the turn of the 21st century and is set in modern times. A thriller by Pascal Mercier, it follows the lead character, a middle-aged Swiss teacher called Raimund Gregorius, as he leaves his life behind to embark on an adventure in Lisbon. He makes this decision on a whim, after discovering a book by a Portuguese author that contemplates the decisions people make in life. Raimund uses the book as a guide as he learns about both modern Lisbon and pre-Carnation Revolution Lisbon.

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier | © Atlantic Books

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier | © Atlantic Books

The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet was written by one of the greatest Portuguese writers and poets of all time, Fernando Pessoa. He was so well loved that his home and his office have been turned into tourist attractions, and his statue appears throughout the city, the most famous sitting outside Café A Brasileira in Chiado. This book, which was discovered and published after Pessoa’s death, is a dark type of biography that questions everything, including life, other people and even our subconscious selves. Although it was originally written in Portuguese, it has been translated into other languages, including German and English.

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa | © Penguin Classics

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa | © Penguin Classics

The Portuguese: The Land and Its People

How does a country fall from its exalted position as one of the most influential in the world? This literary one-stop-shop will award its readers with all the information required to understand Portugal’s turbulent and exciting history, and will make visiting Portuguese landmarks in real life all the more interesting. From the invasion of the Moors to the Age of Discoveries right through to modern times, Marion Kaplan’s The Portuguese is a travel guide and history book in one.

The Portuguese: The Land and its People by Marion Kaplan | © Penguin Books Ltd

The Portuguese: The Land and its People by Marion Kaplan | © Penguin Books Ltd

The Anarchist Banker: and Other Portuguese Stories

This is a compilation of short stories written by Portugal’s most notable writers, including Fernando Pessoa (who penned The Anarchist Banker) and Eça de Queiroz. These short stories will keep the pages turning as readers delve into one adventure after another. Reading the words of several different writers within one book will help to introduce readers to the country’s famously melancholic way of thinking.

The Anarchist Banker and Other Portuguese Stories by Irene Lisboa, António Patrício, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queirós, José Rodrigues Miguéis | © Carcanet Press Ltd

The Anarchist Banker and Other Portuguese Stories by Irene Lisboa, António Patrício, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queirós, José Rodrigues Miguéis | © Carcanet Press Ltd

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

This interesting novel was written by José Saramago in 1984. Saramago went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis centers around a man named Ricardo Reis, who returns to Lisbon after more than a decade in Brazil, and wanders the streets of the city, contemplating life in conversation with his dead poet friend.

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by José Saramago | © Harvill Press

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by José Saramago | © Harvill Press

A Small Death in Lisbon

A Small Death in Lisbon is a political thriller that bounces back and forth between two time periods, World War II and 1999, in order to show how the past never really leaves us. It follows two men, a German named Klaus Felsen who is sent to Lisbon on behalf of the German Nazis, and Portuguese Inspector Ze Coelho, who is trying to uncover the motive behind a murder mystery. The story encompasses history, murder, adventure and intrigue, and it won the UK’s Gold Dagger Award in 1999.

A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson | © HarperCollins

A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson | © HarperCollins