Pretty, petite but very lively, Lisbon has all the bustle of a capital city but with a laid back charm that makes this city a place of contradiction. The perfect collaborator in any weekend escape plan.
From the vibrant Bairro Alto district with its boozy bars, to the historic Alfama, this is an old city with a little bit of edge. You’ll find a great vantage point everywhere you look, in this capital famously built on seven hills. We love the brightly coloured tiles, fresh sea air, cobbled streets, iconic yellow trams, salted codfish and sardines. What more could you ask for?
WHERE TO STAY
A hidden gem in the heart of the Alfama district, just below the Castelo de S. Jorge, and with the famous Number 28 tram running right past the door. It’s a sleek and chic hotel that has been converted from one of the capital’s oldest convents – although the occupants don’t wear anything starchy these days. The courtyard is a delightful oasis for resting tired feet after a long day treading the cobbled streets.
If you like something high tech hotel that places you right in the bullseye of all the action, this is your boy. You’ll find the best shopping, attractions, nightlife and restaurants right on your doorstep. The rooms are characterful and include a handy little kitchenette, useful for champagne storage, or so Mr Auree can make you a cup of tea in bed before breakfast.
If you’re lactose intolerant this may not be your joint. But we aren’t, so there. This boutique bed and breakfast is located in the trendy Santos district. You’ll find contemporary yet homely decoration. Oh, and then they go and seal the deal by providing Portuguese cheese and wine tasting on arrival. Triple tick.
WHERE TO EAT
Go to H10 Duque de Loule hotel and dine at the elegant Azul e Branco Restaurant for Mediterranean fayre that mixes Portuguese and Spanish cuisine. Before you do, make a trip to the 10th floor to enjoy great views at Limao. You won’t be capable after dinner. This is one of the best roof-top bars in the city with its colourful blue tiled terrace (shh, those in the know are trying to keep it a secret).
You will be surprised to hear that you don’t have to be a legal beagle to attend this one. When you want your food and surroundings, to be as exquisite as the view, head here. Dinner seamlessly blends into dancing. Enjoy some sushi and then head up to the roof-top bar and club to round off the night with a cocktail or two and some beats to dance to.
Another bar with another spectacular view. This secret spot is a little hard to find if you didn’t know it was there…but thanks to us darlings, you now do. Selling tapas treats, it’s the perfect spot for a relaxed, late afternoon lunch. Stick around and admire the sunset whilst you sip on a pitcher of fruity champagne sangria. Just make sure you’ve chosen wisely on the footwear, the cobbles will keep you on your toes.
WHAT TO DO
Take a street art tour
Forget scribbled walls proclaiming that “Scott was ‘ere 1998” Lisbon is a city with a strong street art culture. Even their bus shelter graffiti has flair. Some of the best artists in the world have left a signature piece for you to spot. Clever, humorous (and often with a side dose of politics) the urban street art scene is powerful and will keep you busy for hours. A nod to the edgy side to this city where modern twists sit happily side by side with the traditional. If you’re the organised type then take a tour for a thorough initiation, or if you prefer you can go solo and spot plenty yourself simply by wandering around.
You can’t come to Lisbon without seeking out Fado. Well obviously you can but we just think you should. Fado is the soul of Portugal. This traditional folk music literally translates as “fate” and there’s an undeniable passion and longing in this song that you need to experience for yourself. Let’s face it no one quite does longing like the Latin. Chances are that you will easily stumble on a club in the Alfama or Bairro Alto districts. For the ultimate experience head over to Adega Machado. Founded back in the 1930’s a powerful performance at this restaurant will have you weeping into your wine over every ex that ever broke your heart. So if it’s a first date, steer clear, it might be a bit awkward.
Think more cardigan than tie and jacket, beards fit in here. This place is the creative hub for all things arty in the city. From fashion, fine arts, architecture and music, you’ll find it all right here. Since it’s now home to so many artists, design companies and galleries there is always something going on. With flea markets, retro stores, trendy coffee shops and restaurants there is no getting away from the distinctly hipster vibe.
This may be a city guide but one of the best things about Lisbon is its beach location. This country has sun, sand and surf at its core. When the weather is good everyone flocks to the beach to enjoy this beautiful coastline and get all Point Break. The moody Atlantic ocean makes for world class surf and you only need travel 20 minutes outside the centre to find “boas ondas” (good waves). There are numerous (attractive) instructors offering lessons lasting anywhere from a couple of hours to a full days adventure, with all the gear provided. Just don’t blame us when you get hooked and give up your job to become a full time surfer. And no we don’t sell surfer beads, so don’t ask.
The perfect place to try out those pocketless trousers. Pick pockets are prevalent on the trams, especially the tourist routes like Tram Number 28.
Don’t leave without eating many many many pastel de natas (ridiculously tasty custard tarts). It’s ok you’re not being greedy…it’s a cultural experience. Just book with Pablo the Personal Trainer when you’re home.
Leave the high heels at home. Cobbles + hills + bars = broken ankles and break ups. Lisbon is so hilly you’ll be cursing the decision to wear them after 30 minutes walking around.
Contributors: Traveller Louise Jackson
Image credits: urbanadventures.com; golisbon.com; brownsdowntown.com; myboutiquehotel.com; thefork.com; welovelisbon.net; Park Bar Facebook; streetartnews.net; photolisbon.com; wheretwogoto.com; surfinn.travel