Lisbon is one of the hottest destinations for city breaks right now. And we’re not just talking about the weather. Here are 10 things you need to know before you jet in to the awesome Portuguese capital…
Lisbon is a very old city. It’s the second oldest capital city in Europe, actually, after Athens. The great earthquake in 1755 destroyed the town’s commercial centre of Chiado, which was rebuilt in a classical style with wide boulevards and mosaic cobblestones. Take a camera. You’ll want to capture all the tiled buildings and colourful higgledy-piggledy neighbourhoods. Being the most westerly capital city in Europe means Lisbon enjoys more hours of daylight than any other European city break destination – no matter what time of year you visit, there’s always plenty of time to explore the sights.
Lisbon was built on seven steep hills. Pack comfy shoes and don’t miss out on the chance to experience a trip on one of the antique wooden trams that happily rumble up the steepest and narrowest streets of the Alfama neighbourhood. Tram 28 takes in many of the city’s most popular attractions including the Castle of St. George and Miradouro das Portas do Sol, a panoramic viewpoint where you can chill with a coffee or get some selfies against the backdrop of the beautiful terracotta rooftops.
Lisbon is one of Europe’s best value cities. You can find beautiful accommodation in stylish apartments and guesthouses from around €20 per night and get change from a €5 note for a quick breakfast, sandwich lunch or cheeky sun-downer at one of the open-air kiosks. Scattered through the city, the wrought iron kiosks have long been a key part of Lisbon’s way of life.
Don’t leave Lisbon without trying a Pasteis de Nata: the most deliciously creamy, warm and flaky custard tarts. The best are to be found at the Pasteis de Belem, where they’ve been using the same recipe for 170 years. While you’re in the area, be sure to check out the beautiful Jerónimos Monastery and the waterfront Discoveries Monument dedicated to all those famous Portuguese explorers you’ll remember from your history books.
Panoramic views over terracotta rooftops materialise at every turn from vantage points called miradouros. My favourite vista is from Teatro da Garagem; the theatre sits on an unassuming street, and only until you venture down two flights of stairs to the cafe does it reveal its extraordinary view.
From the crowded hole-in-the-wall bars of Bairro Alto to the thumping clubs of Cais do Sodré’s Pink Street, Lisbon is a city that knows how to show you a good time. Pace yourself for a long night – the party doesn’t really get going until around 2am.
Lisbon has a wealth of incredible art collections from ancient treasures to the old masters and some remarkable collections of modern and contemporary art. Be sure to visit the Museu Gulbenkian, Museo do Chiado and the Museu Colecção Berardo. Art isn’t confined to indoor spaces – some of Europe’s most talented street artists have also made their mark on the city. Check out specially organised street art tours or take a casual wander around the Galeria de Arte Urbana, Lisbon’s dedicated street art gallery.
The Chiado and Baixa areas are wall to wall with high street clothing stores and small designer boutiques. Quirky concept stores are popping up all around the city – head to Chiado Factory in the Misericórdia neigbourhood for unique knick-knacks, shoes and accessories. For a local souvenir, pick up unusual trinkets for the home at A Vida Portuguesa and check out the incredible display of jewel-like tins of fish, each brightly illustrated and hand wrapped, at Conserveira de Lisboa.
Fado music emerged from the streets of Lisbon in the 19th century and is now an essential part of Portuguese culture. The traditional combination of a melancholic female voice and melodic guitars can be found in restaurants and Fado houses around the Alfama and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods.
The Timeout Market (Mercado da Ribeira) is bit of a tourist honey pot but a good place to get a taste of dishes from the city’s leading chefs. For a more cosy atmosphere, head to the nearby Petiscaria Ideal. Try the most delicious seafood tapas here or wander diagonally upwards to the narrow streets of Barrio Alto or Alfama and eat like a local at one of the many traditional family-run restaurants.
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- Hannah Frances