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City Guide: Lisbon
City guide: Lisbon
Clubbers looking for a city break are likely to opt for an obvious European party hotspot like Berlin; foodies automatically book Paris and shoppers hit Milan. But they’re all making a huge mistake by overlooking Lisbon.
For a start, it’s considerably cheaper, with bargain bars and reasonably priced hostels around every corner. Cobbled streets, quiet old churches and the iconic Cristo Rei statue give the impression that Lisbon is a place of old-fashioned moderation. In reality, the city is full of opportunities for even the most hedonistic holidays.
What to do
Packed with culture, character, art and history, Lisbon demands attention, time and comfortable shoes.
While it’s tempting to see Lisbon from the window of an old cable car straining its way up the hills (and you should at least once), you’ll be rewarded if you explore on foot.
Walk the maze of streets through the Portuguese capital and appreciate the small details that make this city so wonderful – flower-filled balconies, colourful tiled buildings, art-drenched alleys and stunning panoramas. In the downtown area of Baixa for example, take a walk down Rua Augusta to see its arch and the majestic Comercio Square.
Lisbon’s equivalent to London’s Big Ben and Paris’ Eiffel Tower is the World Hertage-listed Belem Tower. The 16th-century fortress used to guard the city’s harbour entrance and has some impressive stonework depicting saints and animals, including an exotic-looking rhinoceros.
The Belém neighbourhood is famous for two things: museums and egg tarts. The Number 15 tram from the city centre will drop you within walking distance of several museums and galleries.
Lisbon’s hills may tire your legs, but they also offer countless vistas, or ‘miradouros’. The views from Miradouro das Portas Do Sol, Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro da Graça are worth the hike and free to enjoy. One of the best views in the city, though, is found at Saint George’s Castle. Some of the remains date back to the 6th century, although the castle was heavily damaged by the earthquake in 1755.
Bertrand bookshop is enough to make a book lover weak at the knees - stepping inside the oldest bookshop in the world. Livraria Bertrand opened in 1732 and holds the Guinness World Record as the longest-running bookstore. It’s been at its current location on Rua Garrett since 1755.
Eating and drinking
Because of Lisbon’s closeness to the sea, it’s not surprising that fish and seafood appear on practically every menu. Look out for grilled sardines and sea bass, which you can often spot being cooked over a fire in the street.
One local favourite is bacalhau, which is dried salted cod. Lisbonites swear it’s delicious. Finally, don’t even think about leaving Lisbon until you’ve scoffed down a box full of the infamous pasteis de nata – the rich, custardy egg tarts that are probably Lisbon’s most famous export.
You can get stuck in to some authentic Portuguese food at the cosy 100 Manieras where there’s no list of dishes to choose from; you’ll get a set tasting menu of Portuguese culinary greats.
Have a lunchtime break to sample some Portuguese cafe culture at Cafe no Chiado – a quiche or hearty sarnie and one of those tarts.
For a few cheeky drinks before dinner, Barrio Alto is a good spot to get to know. It’s the easy-on-the-eye working class quarter where the graffiti-covered facades give way to bars and restaurants.
Settle to a long dinner at Rua Atalaia’s gallery-cum-restaurant Imperio dos Sentidos which serves up international cuisine such as cod, prawn and spinach lasagne and tempura prawns with chilli sauce.
For Portugal’s trademark spicy chicken, try Bonjardim, just off Praca dos Restauradores. Also known as Rei des Frangos (the King of Chickens) this rustic eaterie is famous for its spit-roasted chickens.
Most beer drinkers get stuck into the local draught, Imperial, but cocktails are also popular and relatively inexpensive here. There are also plenty of tasty regional Portuguese wines to try, such as Dão reds, Vinho Verde from Minho, and of course port.
Ginginha, is a traditional liqueur made by infusing ginja berries in alcohol and is served in a shot glass with fruit at the bottom.
Where to party
The main drinking and clubbing area is downtown Bairro Alto, where traditional taverns are clustered alongside restaurants and chic cocktail bars.
It gets really raucous here at the weekends, and because of the party vibe and low prices, the area is becoming increasingly popular for British stag and hen dos. You have been warned.
Capela is a favourite for electropop clubbing until the small hours.
For something more traditional, there’s Portuguese folk music at a one of Lisbon’s many Fado Houses. The most authentic is Senor Vinho, owned by top Fado performer, Maria de Fe.
Where to stay
If on a tight budget, you can retreat to the Lisbon Old Town Hostel or the popular Oasis Hostel.
Near the river in Alfama, Sweet Lisbon River Guesthouse is a homely place to stay or, if a bit more luxury is what you want, there’s the super-stylish Hotel Lisbon with its chic wooden floors and colourful, trendy furnishings.
Lisbon is a convenient base as you explore more of the country, with towns such Coimbra, Tomar, Porto, Aveiro and Batalha possible to visit in a day.
Just a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, Sintra is the most popular day trip from the capital but a few hours will not be enough to see all the impressive sites including the Sintra National Palace, Palace of Monserrate, Moorish Castle, Quinta da Regaleira and the colourful Pena National Palace.
A bus (the 403) runs regularly from Sintra or from Cascais to Cabo da Roca but there’s not a great deal to see except an information centre and a plaque acknowledging you’ve gone as far west as you can without getting your feet wet.
If you’re into surfing, Ribiera d’Ilhas, near the village of Ericeira, can be reached by bus in half an hour from Lisbon’s Campo Grande Terminal.