Lisbon is a city I’ve thought about visiting for years, but for some reason, never have? So when my friend Bev asked me to organise a city break for a group of girl friends to celebrate her 40th birthday, her main criteria being “make it some where none of us have been” Lisbon seemed to fit the bill.
It’s a perfect summer destination for a short city break, being only 2 1/2 hours from the UK, warm & sunny but with an Atlantic coastal breeze, keeping it comfortable enough to sight see and shop and it’s also incredibly cheap compared to other European cities.
I found our apartment through Booking.com and it was exceptional in style, size and location, right in the heart of the Baixa district, close to everything. The photos on their website, although good, don’t entirely do it justice. On entering, it felt like we were walking into the pages of an issue of Elle Decoration, it had beautiful wooden floors, Scandi chic furniture and high ceilings and was fitted with every modern convenience you could want, dishwasher, air con and power showers in both bathrooms.
Above, one of the apartment bedrooms and the Street it was situated on
After arriving late on Friday evening, we dropped our bags and headed out for something to eat. The area we found ourselves in was going toward the Alfama area which is rustic and authentic, with a sense that this is where the locals eat and drink. The restaurants and cafes are cantina style, not designer at all but with good honest food and a friendly atmosphere. We explored this area again on the Sunday night when the city threw its biggest party of the year, in celebration of its Saints day. The area is not picture postcard pretty but it is a mix of faded grandeur style buildings with small twisting alleyways, climbing up to the top of the city. It had such a fantastic atmosphere, it reminded me of how travel to Greece and Spain first felt 30 years ago, when as a teenager, I made my first trips overseas. Lisbon has a real feeling that their true culture exists and that what you are eating and drinking are what the locals are too.
On Saturday we shopped, but first we ate breakfast in downtown Lisbon in a local bakers. As a coeliac this was a challenge,as pastries are the main breakfast staple, but after a salad of smoked salmon and Feta, with freshly squeezed orange juice and a strong coffee for €6, it did the job. We climbed up and up towards the Bairro Alto district, wandering past a viewing platform with an amazing Cityscape view, stopping to capture photos and drink home made lemonade from the street vendors. We carried on walking through a pretty park, which was the location for a local artisan market and found some beautiful clothes and interior shops.This is probably Lisbon’s most popular area for tourists but again its not aimed at tourists, it’s just a hive of activity, shops, bars, restaurants, markets & parks.
After a long rest in a small square, drinking chilled rose wine, we
jumped into a tuc tuc back down towards the sea front. This area is lined
with restaurants and bars and grand maritime buildings and colonnades
still decorated with the original cast iron street lanterns, which are
hanging from practically every building in the city.
On Sunday we took the No.28 tram up to Chiado. The number 28 tram is apparently the best tram ride to take if you take no other during your stay. It travels all the way up to the Estrela district and gives you a lovely scenic tour of the city. You can buy a 2 day ticket for just over €12 which includes any form of public transport which is much cheaper than the open top tourist bus, which is a one off trip. Many of the trams, which are all over the city, are the original wooden trams from the 1930’s. They look so lovely as the rattle up and down the hills of the city, painted yellow on the outside, with polished wood interiors. I can’t actually believe I didn’t manage to take a photo to add here of my own but you almost take them for granted while you’re there!
Chiado is another lovely old area above the city, full of beautifully tiled buildings and home to the oldest coffee shop in Lisbon, Cafe Brasilia where we ate breakfast on Sunday morning. It was originally the theatre district and still has a feeling of grandeur. I would have liked to have spent more time in this area, but we were only there for 3 nights, 2 days and the time went so quickly.
Cafe Brasilia in Chiada
After our quick visit to Chiado, we took the No.15 tram to Belem, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the location from which Christopher Columbus set sail to find undiscovered parts of the world. It is a lovely place to spend the day, particularly on a Sunday, when the area was full of families chilling in the surrounding park, riding bikes along the cycle path and sitting along the water front eating ice creams or sipping cocktails from the many retro vans selling street food.
We spent a few hours sitting in the sunshine sipping mojitos and had a lovely long lunch in one of the water front pop up restaurants, a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon with good friends. As well as the historical Belem tower, the area is the site of Jeronimos Monastery built in the middle ages, which is a stunning building.
The festival on Sunday night was exciting and crazy, the air was filled with the smell of sardines smoking, Portuguese Fado music played and bunting lined the streets every where. After about an hour of the mayhem we took a quick taxi ride back to Bairro Alto where the celebrations continued but in a slightly more relaxed environment. As we sat drinking cold white wine with a plate of tapas on our knees, watching the lights of the city below us, we all agreed we loved Lisbon and we would choose it over other Mediterranean city breaks such as Barcelona for it’s pure authenticity, lovely people and unbelievable value for money. But that’s our secret, don’t tell everybody for fear it will be spoiled 🙂