After often being overshadowed by larger, more glamorous and more extravagant European capitals, Lisbon finally seems to be getting the attention it deserves, by championing its wonderfully relaxed and friendly atmosphere, beautiful natural position and understated yet ample cultural offerings. Throw in the fact that prices are very reasonable and you’ve got yourself the perfect short break.
For those of you looking to escape frantic commutes and work schedules, Lisbon offers the perfect antidote, as it epitomises the Mediterranean easy going pace of life without losing out on its vibrancy. Rent a car in Lisbon to sample this jewel of a city on the Atlantic.
Pig out on pastries (and culture) in Belem
This suburb of Lisbon is renowned for being home to some of the city’s wealthier inhabitants, and is home to two UNESCO world heritage sites in the form of the Jeronimòs Monastery, and iconic Tower of Belem. The monastery boasts incredible gothic stonework best seen in the stunning cloisters, whilst the tower juts out onto the Tagus as an ancient sign for mariners.
Pasteis de Belem are a well known Portuguese pudding widely available around the world. If you’re a sucker for pastries you won’t want to miss out on trying one directly from their birthplace, with a perfectly brittle outside that crumbles away to reveal soft, delicious custard on the inside.
Fall for Fado in Alfama
If your preferred nightlife is delicious food accompanied by live music, you’ll want to head to Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama, close to the city’s historic heart and just a short drive from the seafront. As well as being home to many churches, Alfama also offers a wide range of fado bars. Lisbon fado is a traditional style of music, sung by a solo performer accompanied by Portuguese guitar with songs often having a melancholic feel.
Even if you choose not to stay for a drink, you are sure to hear the vocals spilling out into the ancient cobbled streets of the neighbourhood most evenings, making for a magically peaceful atmosphere.
Alfama also has some spectacularly narrow and steep streets, which you can experience by driving along the 28 tram route or by taking the 28 tram that rattles up and down the hills and gives you a great taste of the city’s history.
Reach new heights in Sintra
Alongside the Portuguese capital’s rich array of architectural jewels and infectiously laid-back lifestyle is some stunning natural scenery. The world-famous Sintra and Cascais Natural Park is just a short drive outside the city. Atop the green forested hills is the 19th century Pena Palace, with its coloured towers and imposing position giving it a distinctly story book feel.
A little further down the hill is the spectacular Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), the construction of which dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries. With its extensive walls still being preserved, it is possible to walk around the perimeter and enjoy far reaching views of the surrounding landscape, just don’t be put off by the wind!
Party in Barrio Alto
Often a feature on Lisbon must-do lists, this trendy and lively neighbourhood comes to life after dark. Its name translates as “Upper District” in English, due to its location atop one of Lisbon’s seven hills. This elevated position gives it added atmosphere, as you can enjoy a cocktail or bite to eat at one of the city’s many “miraduoros” (viewpoints), which offer stunning panoramas of the capital without having to stump up hefty prices.
As is often the case with hip areas, the secret is somewhat out of the bag and the streets are now awash with university students and tourists, due to the reasonable price for food and drink. Despite losing some of its bohemian edge, there are still plenty of great restaurants, cafes and bars to check out.
Wine buffs should head for The Old Pharmacy which has neatly filled old medicine cabinets with hundreds of exclusively Portuguese wines, served either by the glass or by the bottle. Meanwhile Solar do Vino Do Porto mixes snazzy interiors with an amazing setting facing one of the city’s viewpoints, and is great for dinner and socialising. Later on head to Park for beautiful night-time panoramic views over the city, soundtracked by the DJ booth.
Kick back in style in Cascais
If you’re looking to catch some sun then the classic seaside chic of Cascais is worth a visit, and is a mere 30 minute drive from the city centre. This wealthy suburb has long been a favourite retreat for Portugal’s rich and famous, and has grown in popularity with foreign tourists as a visit can be blended with a city break, due to its proximity to Lisbon.
Guincho Beach is an open and expansive sandy spot facing onto the Atlantic, with the Sintra Mountains in the background adding to its natural beauty. The oceanic waves are good news for water sports fans as they are ideal for surfing or body boarding, whilst there are a whole host of restaurants offering fresh fish daily at equally refreshing prices.
Portugal is not renowned for its public transport, with rickety trams and delayed trains being the order of the day. If you’re visiting the city, and especially if you’re planning on visiting the surrounding area, you would do well to rent a car in Lisbon with easyCar. This way you can see the best of the city and surrounding area at an extremely reasonable rate.