They say that Lisbon is the new Berlin … Yes, with better weather, better food and a glorious outlook to life. Fierce rent control has enabled young people to live and work in its centre like no other; you can eat for half the price you might expect to in other cities in Europe. Coupled with being one of the most beautiful cities, right on the River Tagus, with more stunning buildings than is fair, it makes for the perfect summer city break.
You could follow the tourists and take Tram 28 on the picturesque city route (beware of the pickpockets), go see some live Fado (traditional Portuguese singing); or you can make like the locals and catch a football game in the main square (I can still hear “Ronaldo” chants ringing in my ears), climb the steps to the highest restaurant in Lisbon (Chapito) with views across the river and grab a bargain in the twice-weekly flea market in Alfama district.
Lisbon is famous for its light at all times of day, which makes it decidedly Instagrammable. Something to do with the city being on the right side of the river and its many buildings either made of limestone or covered in exquisite tiles. Whatever the reason, it is mesmerizing. The buildings and walls that aren’t covered in exquisite tiles are covered in graffiti and it’s everywhere – good and bad.
The Lisboans sure know how to party …. or maybe that is only in June. We arrived on 13 June, the night after the party of all parties. Even children had been up the night before til the early hours to celebrate Santa Antonio; as we arrived they were all sleeping it off. In fact the whole of June is Fiesta Lisboa; no square is without its party bunting.
There are two main areas of the city so it’s easy to navigate. Alfama is the very old district housing the castle, steep cobbled streets with a bar on every corner. It’s the ‘Covent Garden’ of Lisbon so very touristy but very pretty. Then there is Baxia, ‘downtown’, for serious shopping, eating and nightlife; the streets here are in stark contrast to Alfama due to some diligent town-planning following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1755.
Where to stay:
Santa Clara 1728
Luxurious bed & breakfast. Very much a home from home. What it lacks in outside space (a rather claustrophobic courtyard), it more than makes up for it with the rooms’ most extraordinarily beautiful views over the river. santaclara1728.com
The fabulous views from the terrace are reason enough to stay at this small, boutique hotel located in the Alfama district, close to the Cathedral and the São Jorge Castle. There’s also a slither of a swimming pool for cooling off after a day of sightseeing. memmohotels.com
Where to eat:
Chapito a Mesa
Taberna da Rua das Flores
Go for an evening menu of simple, yet delectable, flavours. No booking; go early. Rua das Flores, +351 21 347 9418, facebook.com
Uber trendy, small restaurant with a giant octopus hanging from ceiling. Pisco sours anyone? 129 Rua Dom Pedro V, Príncipe Real, +351 21 803 8815, facebook.com
No more Portuguese a spot will you find: strip lighting, surly (until you warm them up) waiters, lashings of vinho verde and seafood ‘any fresher and it’s still in the sea’. We had three types of clams and a huge crab. 1 Av. Almirante, Reis, +351 21 885 1024 cervejariaramiro.pt
What to do:
Castelo de Sao Jorge
The city’s castle dominates the city. You don’t need a ticket to go inside to appreciate its importance and drama. The shops nearby are far from the usual tourist fare.
Fiera de Ladra
Lisbon’s flea market in Santa Clara square. There’s a lot of tat here but some hidden gems too. We bought a mishmash of old (1920s) Portuguese plates and bowls.
LX Factory 103 Rua Rodrigues de Faria, Alcantara
Browse gift, clothes and art boutiques and then have lunch or drink on the terrace at Rio Maravilha, overlooking the suspension bridge and out to Lisbon’s Christ Redeemer (built 10 years after the Brazilian one).
Museo Nacional do Azulejo
The national tile museum is a must-see, housed in an 16th-century convent. R. Me. Deus 4
Torre de Belem and Botanical gardens
The 16th-century tower was originally built to defend the capital against invaders but it has also welcomed Portuguese sailors home since the age of the great explorers. Dip your toe in the sea before going to Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the Manueline-style architecture, all done in limestone over the course of more than 100 years.
Treat yourself with a Belem natas pastry after. There are a few but this one, Jardim Botanico d’Ajuda, near Belem completes a lovely city walk.
What to buy:
Marvel at the antique tiles, on sale in Solar, an Aladdin’s cave. They range in price from 10 euros to hundreds of euros depending on the age. Absolutely brilliant. Solar, 70 Rua Dom Pedro V, Principe Real
For linen and cotton; particular broderie anglais bedlinen. Paris en Lisboa Ria Garrett, 77
There are many copies but the original beautifully packaged soaps are by Claus Porto. A stunning shopping experience. Rua da Misericórdia 135
Coffee and snacks:
Stop at one of the many Copenhagen CoffeeLab’s for great coffee. Cool off with an ice cream at Gelateria Nannarella on Rua Nova da Piedade 64. Pasteis de nata – custard tarts – are a must and you get them all over town. It’s worth making the effort to get to Pasteis de Belem where the recipe was conceived by the monks for nearly Jeronimo’s Monasery in 1837. Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92. Manteigaria is another fabulous place to get natas – closer to the centre of town. Rua do Lorento 2, Chiado
The seaside town of Cascais and the hilltop town of Sintra are both worth a visit – only 20 mins by taxi.
The 500 Hidden Secrets of Lisbon by Miguel Judice is worth buying. £13.95, amazon.co.uk