I’ve recently got back from a trip to Lisbon and I think I’m in love! The city is not only just as charming as everyone makes it out to be; it has a fascinating contemporary edge, the result of a brilliant mix between the creativity of the local fashion scene and the ever-so-expressive youth culture.
Lisbon is a historical city with a youthful spirit where one moment you’re listening to fado, and the next, browsing through concept stores and sipping organic lemonade at some of Europe’s most hipster spots. Are you ready to pack your bags? You should be!
Lisbon is a unique city. Spread across seven hills overlooking the ocean, its landscape is mapped out by curvy, steep streets, lined up with quaint houses with ochre-orange rooftops, at the bottom of which the iconic yellow trams cheerfully swing by. Yes, it really is as idyllic as it sounds! To fully appreciate just how picture-perfect Lisbon is (excuse the cliché but it’s fully justifiable), make sure to visit the viewpoints. My favourites were Miradouro das Portas do Sol in Alfama, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara in Bairro Alto, and Miradouro de Santa Caterina which is a perfect spot to visit at night – the bar at the top of the viewing terrace is open till late and you can enjoy the stunning night views while sipping a drink!
Tiles, tiles, tiles (and more tiles!)
Lisbon is famous for ceramic tiles, or azulejos, which decorate everything from buildings and churches to fountains, and even park benches! The tradition of ornamenting architectural spaces with tiles goes back to the 15th Century and is clearly here to stay. In Alfama, the historical district, azulejos depict images of saints and are often placed above the entrance for protection, while many buildings in Bairro Alto, Chiado and Intendente area still have their whole facades decorated in tiles. These little pieces of art add to the city’s unique feel, making it even more charming!
Discover Lisbon’s contemporary edge in Bairro Alto and Chiado
You wouldn’t think that Lisbon, famous for the steep, winding streets and vintage trams would have much in common with a blooming youth culture and cutting edge fashion – well, you’re in for a surprise! From design and concept stores to hipster hot spots, Lisbon is a melting pot of fresh, creative energy where funk and retro styles meet contemporary design. The slightly grungy streets of Bairro Alto, filled with alternative concept stores, hipster cafes and retro bookstores transform into a boozy party district at night. A Bali-inspired lounge? A pharmacy-turned wine bar? It’s all here! Chiado, on the other hand, Bairro Alto’s more polished neighbour, is home to high fashion brands and prêt-à-porter studios, charmingly scattered along the narrow alleyways.
I cannot recommend visiting Sintra enough. It’s only a 40min drive from Lisbon, so if you want to go on quite possibly the most magical road trip of your life, now’s your chance! Small, quiet and famous for the Romantic architecture, Sintra is home to two architectural wonders – Pena National Palace and the less famous yet incredibly fascinating Quita Da Regaleira:
Pena National Palace
The best way to describe Pena Palace is that it looks as if someone has dreamt it into life. Or that it popped out straight out of a Disney film! Europe is filled with charming castles and palaces but Pena, with its curious looking, tile-covered watchtowers, brightly coloured domes and Moorish ceilings harmoniously combining Arabic, Renaissance and Egyptian motifs into a dream-like perfection, puts them all to shame. The Palace looks almost too perfect to be real!
Quita Da Regaleira
If Pena Palace is a dream, Quita Da Regaleira is a fantasy. The bewildering estate filled with enigmatic structures mixing Roman, Gothic and Renaissance styles with alchemical symbolism was created by Antonio Monteiro, an eccentric millionaire and alchemist. The palace and the surrounding park, an homage to Monteiro’s fascination with Masonry, the legend of the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucian Order, is a fairytale wonderland where fantasy and mystery mix with reality – you can almost see Brothers Grimm’s stories come to life as you’re walking down the myriad footpaths.
The slightly savage park, filled with exotic plants that I’ve never seen in any part of the world, spiral towers, chapels, moss-covered alcoves and decorative, stone-built benches holds many secrets. I loved exploring the hidden passages and underground walkways, connected by multiple entry points inside the grottos, waterfalls and wells scattered across the estate. Quita Da Regaleira truly blurs the lines between fantasy and reality – you simply cannot leave Sintra without paying a visit!
Pastéis de Nata
If you have a sweet tooth, you’re going to love pastéis de nata – the little pieces of heaven in a form of scrupulously crispy pastry nests filled with custard and topped with cinnamon. The origins of this delicious goodness sold in opulence across Lisbon go back to 18th C, when they were first produced by monks from Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, a Lisbon suburb. The monks’ pastries became known as Pastéis de Belém and their recipe remained unchanged until this day . To get your hands on the original pastéis de Belém, head to Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, located just a short walk from the monastery. As you might’ve guessed, the bakery is very touristy but for a good reason – their pastéis are known to be the best in town. They are sold still warm and complete with caster sugar and cinnamon packets so you can season them to your liking. The best way to enjoy them is at the nearby park!
Delicious (and cheap!) Seafood
Last but not least – the seafood! Given Lisbon’s location, it would be rude not to indulge in it! That being said, whatever you do, avoid the touristy places spread across Baixa’s main street where the waiters desperately try to usher you in and drug dealers dressed in secondhand suits attempt to sell you cocaine in broad daylight.
I had an absolutely fabulous experience visiting a small local spot, just minutes away from the Intendente station. The unassuming resturant, Marisqueira dos Anjos, welcomes you with a simple decor and a homely atmospehre; none of the staff speaks English and most customers appear to be regulars. The seafood is fresh, tastes heavenly and is well-priced – could you ask for a more perfect combination? Be sure to try their sapateira, a Portugese-style stuffed crab. If you can, try visiting on a Saturday night – this is when the restaurant hosts its weekly fado night. Forget the touristy nonsence and enjoy a truly authentic performance; if you’re lucky, you will even see the customers join in the signing!
Another great place, Cervejaria Ramiro, was recommended to me by a friend who visited it a couple of years back when it was still local. Now one of the hottest seafood spots in town with customers lining out the door, the restaurant managed to retain its authenticity. Cervejaria Ramiro is wonderfully chaotic and always jam-packed; the simple decor looks like it’s been unchanged in years; the waiters speak little to no English but are extremely friendly and happy to help (they may also get you drunk by filling your lemon sorbet with an enormous portion of Polish vodka if you don’t protest fast enough – you’ve been warned!). Their seafood is one of the best I’ve tasted and it’s well worth the price.
So, have I convinced you to visit Lisbon? Or perhaps you’ve already been? If so, what was on top of your list? Let us know in the comments!