Lisbon, the vibrant Portuguese capital sits on seven hills at the mouth of the Tagus river where it meets the Atlantic, we’ll get back to the hills later. Lisbon is also continental Europe’s westernmost capital city.
This often under-appreciated city is only a 2 and a half hour flight from the UK making it an ideal city break location.
We stayed in the Cais do Sodré area just above the infamous Pink Street (Rua Nova do Carvalho), formerly Lisbon’s seediest neighbourhoods, it is now the most happening nightlife district. Although our boutique hotel was very nice we would not recommend staying there unless you like the bass vibrations of dance music until 4.30 in the morning.
Baixa / Chiado
This is the downtown and shopping area with the large square Praça do Comércio. Most of this area was rebuilt in the 18th century after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
Chiado is the elegant neighbour of Baixa with its eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional shops and some of the best restaurants and is a great place to people watch.
Connecting Baixa to the Bairro Alto is the Santa Justa Lift, Elevador de Santa Justa. This lift was designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, a student of Gustave Eiffel and you can really see his influence.
High up the steep cobbled streets from Baixa is the Bairro Alto, get your walking shoes on as there are lots of very steep hills. For some reason, we always seemed to be walking uphill. The Bairro Alto is relatively quiet during the day but at night there are lots of bars which spill out onto the narrow streets and some good little restaurants.
The Alfama area is Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood and was originally the Arabic area. Winding, narrow alleys and steep staircases lead you up the hill to the Moorish Castle of São Jorge which overlooks the city.
This area is also the home of Fado and the location of the Fado Museum. ‘Fado’ is a style of Portuguese music dating back to the 1800s. Don’t expect to cheer yourself up and have a good dance listening to Fado. The melancholic songs are usually about the torments and realities of everyday life, you don’t have to speak Portuguese to feel the despair. We went to a Fado night and despite the incessant mourning, we had a great time.
Belém, a few miles west of the city centre and alongside the River Tagus, is the cultural district of Lisbon. Here you can find many of Lisbon’s landmarks such as the Torre de Belém and the Monument to the Discoveries.
The extravagant UNESCO heritage site, the Jerónimos Monastery and its cloisters are definitely worth a visit. It was constructed in 1501 to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama from India. The monastery does get very busy with tour groups so visit early, also it is closed on Mondays.
The one thing to taste when in Belém is the Pastéis de Nata, the traditional home of the egg tart. Originally created by the monks from the monastery the recipe has remained unchanged and remains a closely guarded secret.
We will definitely be returning to Lisbon and would love to combine it with a visit to Porto, the Douro valley and a visit to the Port houses.
Read more about our trip to Portugal and our trip from Lisbon to the beautiful Pena Palace in Sintra.
What is your favourite European city break destination?