Sometimes when you visit spectacular European cities, you feel like one in a million suckers who’s going to be ripped off at every opportunity – taxis will ramp their fares up just for you, a bottle of water on a hot day will cost four Euro because you’re in a tourist zone and some establishments will serve you awful food in the knowledge that they will never see you again anyway so it doesn’t really matter. Lisbon, however, is different. Business is business and people need to make a living, but you get the feeling that they’re glad you came and it would be nice if you came back again some time.
Good food is served at good prices and people aren’t constantly on the make. There are exceptions, of course, but with a bit of research and preparation you will dine very well at affordable prices and experience a city that has retained a distinctive charm and has not been invaded by cafe chains and international franchises – yet.
What to do and see there
Bring walking shoes and be ready for the hills. Lisbon reminded me of San Francisco with its quaint trams and steep hills. Catch no. 28 tram which takes you up to Alfama and Castelo district, the castle, and some incredible views. Don’t be afraid to get lost in Alfama as well. It’s full of twists, turns, hidden gems, quaint backstreets, cafes and restaurants. While in the neighbourhood, make it your business to eat in Chapito a Mesa, a restaurant attached to a circus training school, no less. The food – Mediterranean, seafood, Portuguese – is excellent and the views of coast and city are phenomenal. They also have a garden setting which has a lovely ambience. You WILL need to book ahead though. Tel: (00) (351) 21 885 55 50 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Make time to go on one of the funiculars: Gloria, Lavra or Bica. Their uphill journeys are very short but good on novelty value and a chance to take some cute photos.
Chiado is a stylish downtown neighbourhood and it’s where I stayed on my last trip. It’s home to the Bertrand Bookstore, allegedly the oldest bookstore in the world. It’s also where I fell in love with the tiled facades of Lisbon. It’s great for shopping but it’s definitely more than just a chic neighbourhood and is just a stroll from the seafront. You can take the Santa Justa Elevador there as well; yet another opportunity to photograph panoramic views of the city.
Bairro Alto is where you go for the buzz, the nightlife, bars and restaurants. It’s very touristy (jello shots on sale for a couple of dollars) but it can be good fun. There’s lots of Fado to be heard but some of the Fado joints/restaurants are a bit low on quality so, personally, I wouldn’t plan my night around catching a performance.
A unique dining experience at Farta Brutos
While there, if you are feeling adventurous and are VERY good are navigating a maze of narrow backstreets, you could have dinner in the unfortunately named Farta Brutos. We went armed with the full address but it was incredibly difficult to find – none of the locals had heard of the street which is hardly a street at all. Undaunted, we got there and almost turned back because our directions took us to an obscure little door behind an iron gate. We were sure it was somebody’s home – well, it kind of is. The family owners took us inside, welcomed us and seated us in their tiny little rooms. They don’t speak English but it’s fine – where there’s a will there’s a way. The food was wholesome and traditional and the overall experience was truly memorable and different; if you like hidden gems, seek it out: Travessa Espera 20 Tel. 21 3426756
Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, Castelo San Jorge.
A drink or two: Bar Pavilhao Cines, R Dom Pedro V, no. 89/91; Cafe Brasileira for Ginginha, cherry liqueur.
Day trips from the city: Cascais fishing town and beach. It’s quite saturated with tourism but it is still a nice day trip if you want to spend time on a beach with very good facilities. The beachfront cafes are pretty decent for food but if you want a special meal in a more formal setting, try Albatroz Hotel. Pergola tea house with its tea garden is also really lovely.
Sintra UNESCO world heritage site for stunning palaces and castles set among the hills. Make time for Sintra. It’s beautiful and was a real highlight of my trip.
As always, there’s more to Lisbon but I’ve been totally subjective and focused on the places and experiences that I loved most!