Europe’s best kept secret: Lisbon. The Portuguese capital has been collecting travel awards over the last three years, including Europe’s Leading City Break Destination and European City of the Year 2012. Founded by the Romans and with 2,100 years of history, this old medieval city will surprise you with its unsettling attractions, incredible views and delicious food.
Things to see and do
Curiously positioned over seven hills and embracing the river Tagus, Lisbon has great weather throughout most part of the year – feeling like running away from London already? – and remarkable historic quarters to explore along its charming, narrow streets, filled with unexpected hairpin turns. On the top of the highest hill, you can see the 16th century São Jorge Castle, from where you have a breathtaking panoramic view of the entire city and the river. Consider seeing the Atlantic Ocean a big, unexpected treat for your eyes as well.
Close to the historic centre of the city, there is Belém, famous as the place from which many of the great Portuguese explorers departed for their conquests of discovery in the sea. Don’t worry if you get slightly intimidated by the imposing, ornamented monuments that are spread along the margins, such as Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower. It’s a natural reaction even for the Portuguese.
While enjoying the view, make yourself a big favour and remember to stop by the best pastry shop in the city, Pastéis de Belém. It has the best pastel de nata, a heart-warming, extra thick cram pastry, amazingly crunchy, that slides down your throat perfectly with one – or two for coffee lovers – espressos.
For cultured lovers, there is one mandatory stop. Considering that you’re still in Belém, the cream of the crop in terms of contemporary art is the CCB (Centro Cultural de Belém). The building strikes you with its modern architecture and it has been the host of several international exhibitions, cultural events. One of its most acclaimed collections is the Berardo Museum, assembling works of Warhol, Picasso, Magritte and Miró.
The museum is open daily from 10am to 7pm with free admission price.
Cool Sintra: According to Lord Byron it’s “the most beautiful village in the world.” Sintra is a small, lovely town within Lisbon, spread in green landscapes. It’s seen has one of the most secretive and romantic places in the city, inviting many to uncover places like the amazing Pena National Palace or the Castelo dos Mouros.
Want to know a little secret about it? Don’t leave, without trying the Sintra queijada. You’re in for a treat.
Night life – The bohemian neighbourhood of Bairro Alto is the place to go for the nightlife. Keep in mind that you’re now in Latin Europe, meaning that the Portuguese have a soft spot for all-night socialising in the streets. Inexpensive drinks and a wide range of quirky bars that you can hop for the whole night are important factors that you can tick off your list.
For party animals, you can enjoy the night in clubs like Lux, Skones and Plateau. All three of them are central and easy to find. The music varies as well, but it’s mostly house and techno.
Typical food: We’ve introduced already some Portuguese delicatessens, but if you want to dig deeper in terms of gastronomy, you must try Cozido à Portuguesa (a rich stew with different meats and vegetables), Bacalhau à Brás (a popular cofish dish with onions, thin fried potatoes and scrambled eggs) and Arroz de marisco (a flavoured, creamy dish, filled with thick fish fillets and fresh seafood). Their fresh fish, juicy meat and rich soups make way for a mouth-watering journey.
Have a look at visitlisboa.com/Gastronomy.aspx for more information on where and what to eat in Lisbon.
The easiest way to see Lisbon is indeed, walking! You do it for free and even though it has a lot of ups and downs, that’s what gives it its special vibe. Although, quick tip for girls: high heels? Avoid them. Unless you’re a catwalk model that can easily master the art of walking in a tricky, mischievous pavement.
There are also the famous trams that allow you to visit most old town tourist attractions and Tagus river viewpoints. Eléctrico 28 is the legendary tram that is a tourist attraction itself. It ends up being easy, characteristic and considerably cheap (around 2€) and you can hop on and off whenever you want.
Blame it on the economic crisis if you want, but the truth is it’s cheap to fly to Lisbon where all flights land at Lisbon Portela Airport. During summer, you can go for £90-£100 and enjoy the most remarkable blue sky and 30ºC temperature. It makes you hate rainy London a bit, doesn’t it?