Lisbon: an ancient city that breathes with new life
Lisbon’s steep hills are steeped in beautiful history waiting to be discovered in 2017. Not far from the Algarve, the ancient city of Lisboa, considered the oldest in Western Europe, boasts fine architecture, iconic views, and some of the best beaches a city break in Europe can offer. With inexpensive flights and reasonably priced hotels, not to mention the cheap beer and food, a holiday to Lisbon makes for the perfect long weekend away. You might find that a weekend getaway isn't long enough, in a week you can cram in the beautiful beaches in the surrounding coastline regions of Estoril, Serra de Sintra and the Costa de Caparica, and take a trip up the coast to the city of Porto.
Stay over the weekend at a hotel in Baixa, the heart of Lisbon, a short journey from the best attractions. Wander the narrow streets of Alfama, climbing from the river up to the São Jorge Castle, by foot or by Tram 28, which offers one of the best views of the sprawling city. The Alfama district, the oldest in Lisbon, is transforming quickly into the gentrified core of a buzzing European city. Visit Bairro Alto and the surrounding areas of Bica and Cais de Sodre to experience some of the city’s best rooftop bars, jazz clubs and street bars where you can enjoy a beer in warm, Mediterranean air. Lisbon is set across several hills, and the Miradouro de Senhora de Monte is the highest miradouro (viewpoint) in the city, offering beautiful views of Lisbon’s old town, especially at nighttime. Take a trip to the gorgeous Jeronimos Monastery and explore the surrounding picturesque Belem. Chiado is Lisbon’s most sophisticated district, right in the center of old town, and you’ll find theaters, book shops and cafes in an area where people come to dine on Lisbon’s finest gastronomy.
Wine and Dine
Portugal claim they’ve got one of the best cuisines in the world, and we think they’re not just tooting their own horn. There’s a lot to fit into a weekend break. Lisbon is at the center of the reimagined Portuguese cuisine boasting a hip restaurant scene, with a focus on bringing Portugal’s cuisine up to date with 2017. In Lisbon, you can find traditional tascas and tabernas serving the classics next door to gourmet restaurants plating up fresh pesticos – Portuguese tapas – with exotic culinary flair. Alongside the formal eating, Lisbon’s padarias – a French style of patisserie – offer a place to enjoy the classic Portuguese custard tart, a Pastel de Nata (you can try the original Pasteis de Belem at its bakery, but expect a long queue!) with a classically delicious (and strong) Portuguese coffee. Once at the heart of the Portuguese empire, exotic cuisines from far-flung locations have always played their part in the city’s gastronomy. There’s Brazilian, Goan and African delights available in Lisbon, representing the old colonies in trendy settings. Beer is affordable and ice-cold, and Belem and Chiado offer wine bars and jazz bars selling wine, spirits and any other alcoholic treats you expect from a modern, European Lisboa.
One of the fundamentals of Portuguese life is family. Lisbon is very welcoming to those travelling with children. Restaurants will welcome children and there are plenty of hotels with family rooms. There’s also a lot of attractions for families on a Lisbon holiday: whether it be exploring the lovely streets of Alfama, visiting one of Lisbon’s close beaches, such as the Praia de Carcavelos, (sandy, easily accessible and supervised by lifeguards), or spending an afternoon in the Oceanarium (considered one of the best in Europe) or Lisbon Zoo (a modern zoo with clean facilities and healthy animals), kids will be kept entertained all holiday long. Many of Lisbon’s streets are cobbled and hilly which can make walking up and down the streets with a pram tricky, but Tram 28 offers an easy and fun alternative, all the way up to the Castelo São Jorge. During summer, it can get very hot (35c!) so make sure to pack sun-cream and plenty of water. If you’re here for a long weekend break, we recommend an afternoon exploring Lisbon’s coastline, it really is ideal for families.
Action and Adventure
Cycling in Lisbon is arguably the most exciting way to scale the city’s hills, with emphasis on the race down the other side. Lots of tours are available, or you could take up the gauntlet and rent out a bike yourself, meaning you can explore the city at your leisure. Watch out! The narrow streets can get busy, we recommend heading out early in the morning for the best stretches of hassle-free cycling. Lisboetas have found many ways for tourists to explore Lisbon, from vintage side-car tours, to scooter rental and smart car hire, you’ll never run out of exciting ways to uncover Lisbon’s hidden gems. Head to the coast for several surfing opportunities, such as the attractive Praia das Maçãs or the Serra de Sintra, which both boast big surf and flat beaches. There’s also your typical coastline activities, such as jet-skiing, boating and wind-surfing rental if any of these things take your fancy.
Life's a Beach
Venture out of the city and visit the surrounding coastlines because the hidden gems of Lisbon are its beaches: Estoril and Cascais are popular with families and can get busy during peak season, whereas the Serra da Arrábida is quieter, and arguably offers the most beautiful beaches in all of Portugal. It’s further away from central Lisbon so a rental car is a must for this trip. In Estoril, the Praia de Carcavelos is the most favoured beach with tourists, and the nearby fishing village of Cascais is picturesque. Both areas are serviced by an inexpensive train from Lisbon, making it a perfect destination for a day trip out of the city. Serra de Sintra is more difficult to reach, and therefore is unspoiled by tourist development and offers a rugged coastline protected by natural park status, perfect for surfing. Its most popular beach is Praia de Guincho and the resort area of Praia das Maçãs offers a place to catch-up with a few more creature comforts. Costa de Caparica is a 15km stretch of golden sands with ideal surf, crisp beaches and a fashionable bar scene, centered around the resort town of Costa de Caparica.
Lisbon’s nightlife is varied and distinctly separated into districts. The Bairro Alto is one of Lisbon’s two most iconic drinking locations, with dozens and dozens of bars and restaurants jammed into a small area. Bars here don’t close until 3 or 4 am at the weekend, and a night out in Lisbon generally lasts well into the morning of the next day. It should be noted that there’s no clubs or discos here, only bars. Another prominent destination is Cais do Sodre which boasts a similar plethora of bars and hang-outs. Portuguese are a friendly people, and won’t hesitate to offer recommendations on the many restaurants and hot drinking spots around the Belem, Alfama and Baixa districts, and it’s not difficult to find places on your own if you’re willing to explore the winding streets. You’ll notice drinking on the street: this is perfectly legal and can make a nice change from a regular bar. During the summer months the street becomes the party-place. If you’re looking for your more typical nightclubs they’re a bit more spread out. Urban Beach is a top destination, but its further from the center of the city, and most of the other nightclubs are spread out along the river.
Lisbon has a number of romantic hotels, and when you're ready to venture out of your hotel, explore the crisscrossing alleyways together before bursting out onto a stunning view of Lisbon from the Santa Luzia miradouro and bask in the delight of viewing the city lights by night. All the way down to the Tagus river, you’ll see the many sprawling rooftops and the elegant dome of the Panteão Nacional. Lisbon is a tranquil city: the subtle hum of traditional fado music, mournful and beautiful, tumbling down the cobbled streets, plenty of quaint, candle-lit restaurants to spend the evening sipping wine from a carafe and enough old-world romanticism in the Alfama district to cast you far back in time, to the grandeur of the old empire. Don't forget the delicate, intertwining stone-work of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the shabby-chic buildings crammed together in colourful ranks, they’ll make your heart melt. Lisbon is an ideal romantic destination: let love bloom in hotel room with views of the Praia de Carcavelos, fall desperately in love with delicious Portuguese cuisine (food is the route to the heart, never more true than in Lisbon) and get lost in the sights of Belem and Baixa.
Lisbon is Western Europe’s oldest city. Although most of the ancient town was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, the Alfama district remained untouched by the quake and the resulting devastating fire. Venture out in the early morning to experience the city in its traditional attire, where you’ll find street-hawkers out on the street before the tourists arrive, and unearth hidden gems and quaint little cafes. Take a ride on the trembling Tram 28 and trundling funiculars up the hill to the Castelo Sao Jorge, an old Moorish castle providing an excellent viewpoint of the Tagus river. Lisbon boasts museums that are a little less stuffy than other European counterparts, and instead offers a vibrant and colourful take on its history and art. Visit the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian with a wide range of art on show, which is stood alongside the Centro de Arte Moderna in idyllic gardens. Next door to the stunning Jerominos Monastery is the Modern Design Museum, representing the stark range of cultural delights to feast upon in Lisbon, from the ancient to the exciting and innovative. Cheap rent and lots of open spaces means exhibitions pop-up all over Lisbon, don’t forget to do your research, or instead discover them ad-hoc!