Lisbon - The Light Fantastic
Lisbon - one of the world's must-see cities and a personal favourite. Throw in wonderful people, a stunning location, superb architecture, incredibly reasonable prices and a weekend bar-crawl like no other and you've got a city-break to be reckoned with. You're probably dead if you don't have a blast in Lisbon.
Top-5 & Travel Tips at the end...
Situated on the brink of the Atlantic Lisbon is a city from which to discover and conquer – which is, of course, exactly what the Portuguese did. From Henry the Navigator, to Vasco da Gama, to the first global circumnavigator Ferdinand Magellan, it seems Portuguese sights were firmly set on the horizon. Indeed, many a modern traveller simply uses Lisbon as a gateway to the beaches and resorts along the coast, such as Estoril, Cascais and Setubal.
PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO is a great first stop on day one of your visit, a place from which to get your bearings, but not to be done until you have sampled uma bica or two and the breakfast, or indeed anytime, snack of choice for Lisboetas – the delicious pastelnata. Pastelerias, or pastry shops, are everywhere. The half million or so city dwellers dart in and out of them from early morning until late at night fuelling and refuelling on bicas – fiendishly strong espressos – and pastries of all shapes and sizes both sweet and savoury.
No matter how many trams or elevadors you take there’s going to be lots of walking as well. A word to the wise from my wife on that score – high heels in Lisbon are for the brave-hearted. The beautiful polished cobbled streets, though glorious to look at, are a visiting fashionista’s nightmare. This rule, however, does not apply to the native twenty-something female population, who quite literally take everything in their stylish stride.
Before hoofing it around too much, take the time and treat yourself to the best tram ride on the planet – the glorious hair-raising bone-shaking roller coaster that is Tram 28. If you’ve bought your Lisboa Card just hop on. My advice is to take one that’s not too full. If the first you see is jammed just get to the front of the queue and wait for the next. Believe me, you’ll want a window seat to appreciate the full-on experience.
Hotel Britania. Rua Rodrigues Sampaio/00-351-213-155016/heritage.pt.
Serene art deco hotel centrally located on a quiet street just off the Avenida da Liberdade. Dating from the 1940s, stylishly
updated and modernised, yet retaining its original charm. There are 30 spacious beautifully decorated rooms. The bar is a modernist treat. Doubles from about €200.
Brown’s Apartments. Rua daVitória/00-351-218-874128/brownsapartments.com.
Modern self-catering studios in a historic building in the heart of the Baixa area, close to the Rua Augusta and a two-minute
walk from Baixa-Chiado metro station. Excellent location with loads of coffee shops and restaurants nearby. Bang in the middle of Lisbon’s shopping district. Rates from about €100.
Bairro Alto Hotel. Praça Luís de Camões/00-351-213-408288/bairroaltohotel.com.
The building dates from the late1700s, but the hotel is brand new, ultra modern and chic. The roof terrace is a lesson in
decadence, boasting exquisite views over the city down to the Tagus and Ponte 25 de Abril. Location couldn’t be better,
situated as it is at the meeting of the upper district, Bairro Alto, and trendy Chiado. Boasting excellent food, and a
gym - a place to switch off from the world. Prices range from about €250 to €650.
York House. 32 Rua das Janelas Verdes/00-351-213-962435/yorkhouselisboa.com.
In the London Times “Hot 100 best hotels in Europe 2010” this is an affordable gem in a former convent dating back to the
1600s. Located close to the Tagus near the Museu de Arte Antiga in the area of Lapa, York House boasts a four-star
rating and has the feel of an authentic hideaway in the city. Room rates from about €140 to €250.
VIP Executive Suites Eden. 24 Praça dos Restauradores/00-351-213-216600/edenaparthotelvip.com.
Located a stone’s throw from the azulejo-adorned metro station, this is about as central as you can get. Art deco heaven
is the best way to describe the building, and roof pool. Décor is clean and functional – definitely consider this one if travelling with kids. Right beside the Gloria funicular which takes you up to the beautiful Mirador São Pedro de Alcântara. Studios start about €70 per night, apartments from €110.
Cervejeria Trindade. Rua Nova Trindade, Chiado/00-351-213-423506/cervejeriatrindade.pt.
Fresh fish and shellfish of all shapes and sizes, fabulous tender steaks, great range of beer, a good selection of wines, free entrées – all in an ancient monastery turned brewery turned restaurant. The prices are reasonable as borne out by
the restaurant’s consistent popularity. Get there early in the evening to avoid the queues.
Sol Dourado. 19-25 Rua Jardim do Regedor/00-351-213-472570/restaurantesoldourado.com.
Handy first night eating place if staying in Baixa/Chiado, close to Rossio. Friendly service and very reasonable. Entrée of
a huge plate of shrimps was free, the sea bass was very fresh and great value. Not the most picturesque location but
central, just off the main tourist drag. House wine at €4 per half litre.
Bonjardim. 10 Travessa de Santo Antão/00-351-213-427424.
If you’re on a budget or just want to grab an inexpensive plate of nosh this is the place. No frills hearty Portuguese fare – roast chicken highly recommended. Décor is simple and homely, and there are tables outside.
Tavares Rico. 37 Rua da Misericórdia/00-351-213-421112/restauranteavares.pt.
Spectacularly stylish chandelier and mirror-filled Michelin-starred restaurant boasting the title of being the oldest in Portugal. This place will put a dent in your wallet but worth the splurge. Opt for either a la carte, three-course lunch menu for€35 per person or seven-course lunch or dinner menu at €90.
Royale Café. 29 Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro/00-351-213-469125/royalecafe.com.
A very cool modern café/restaurant in chi-chi Chiado. Organic ingredients are used to create Mediterranean dishes and their
own take on fish, steaks, hamburgers and gourmet sandwiches. The courtyard is especially pleasant.
Castelo de São Jorge (St George’s Castle). Alfama.
Originally a Moorish stronghold, from here you get the best view in Lisbon. Hop off the tram at Rua de Santa Justa
and walk up the steep alley and steps. Once there take a wander around the battlements and drink in the vista. When
you’ve finished with the castle and gardens grab the chance to get lost in the winding streets of Alfama below.
Monasterio dos Jerónimos, Belém.
Impressive enough in sheer scale from the outside, once you enter the monastery it's easy to see why this is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The cloisters are breathtaking, particularly when viewed from the upper level. Vasco da Gama’s tomb is here, as is that of the 20th-century writer Fernando Pessoa.
Torre de Belém.
Dating from1515 and built to defend thecity, it has become synonymous with Portugal’s seagoing past. Take the time not only to scale its heights but also venture into the dingy dungeons below for a taste of medieval incarceration.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), 9 Rua das JanelasVerdes, Lapa.
Portugal’s biggest museum set in a palace dating from the 17th century and housing priceless masterpieces by artists such as Hieronymus Bosch.
Elevador de Santa Justa. Rua de Santa Justa.
When you first see the elevador, or lift, you may think something is vaguely familiar about it. It is unique but was designed by Gustav Eiffel’s pupil Raul Mesniér. More fantastic panoramas wait at the top as well as a cafe. No better place from
which to see the terracotta roofs of Rossio. Go early to avoid the crowds.
Gen-up on a few basic words of Portuguese. If nothing else it stops you falling into the trap of uttering the occasional bit of Spanish, which tends to go down like a lead balloon. Otherwise stick to English. Grab a Lisboa Card at the airport or when in town. They range in price for one, two or three days and give free public transport, free access to most museums and discounts into many others.
Join the biggest bar crawl in Europe every Friday and Saturday night in the Bairro Alto. Pick a bar, start there and see where you end up. The Miradour São Pedro de Alcântara is a good final resting place – the bar/cafe serves mean mojitos amongst other drinks while young and old carouse until early morn. Word of advice - don’t do this the night before you leave.
I was born under a Wandering Star was my favourite song when I was three. Nothing's changed.