Travel

Lisbon: an overlooked destination

Teetering on the steep hillsides which surround the Rio Tejo, Portugal’s capital city waits patiently and unassuming to charm and captivate its guests. Often overlooked as a European city break, Lisbon is home to stunning architecture, a dynamic music scene and a labyrinth of ancient streets unchanged by time.

Wandering the backstreets is the best way to get to the heart of this medieval city and discover how the life of the Lisboêta has changed little over the centuries. Negotiating the narrow, cobbled lanes of the old quarter with ease, they trade gossip or plan the next neighbourhood festival at the public baths or over a glass of wine at a tiny patio restaurant.

A less strenuous way to explore the city is by catching a ride on the tram. These trams are the perfect way to climb to the top of one of the seven hills in the city, the most impressive being home to the Castelo de São Jorge which offers commanding views, particularly at sunset when the fading light bathes the red-tiled roofs of the city in a warm glow.

Wandering down from the castle through the streets of the Alfama district is the perfect way to get a snapshot of the city’s Moorish past. Mid-June plays host to the Festa de Santo António where pastel coloured streamers explode over the streets and the delicious aroma of grilled sardines satiates the air.

Fado is synonymous with Portugal and was born in Alfama, but is best enjoyed in Bairro Alto where tourists are scarcer. This melancholic, bluesy music fits in among the jazz, indie and reggae bars which come alive at night in Bairro Alto. This youthful spirit fuses well with the historic side of the city, with many bars setting up home in old mansions or shoebox-sized brothels.

You cannot leave the city without seeing the view worth a million dollars. The ferry trip to Cacilhas on the other side of Rio Tejo reveals Lisbon’s ever-changing skyline, best admired whilst walking along the tranquil riverside at sunrise or feasting at a rustic restaurant with a table overlooking the water.

Lisbon is home to some quaint museums, but an unusual way to learn of its long history is to keep an eye out for the azulejos (blue tiles) which cover buildings throughout the city and add to the colourful cityscape. Often extending past the walls and onto the streets; the intricate designs which snake across plazas and patios have a tendency to inflict mild disorientation if stared at for too long. For an amusing and funky shopping experience Feira da Ladra, or Thieves Market, plays host to the city’s biggest flea market. Aptly named, it’s easy to grab a bargain browsing through old jewellery, clothes, vinyl and an array of intriguing odds and ends.

Nowhere does pastries quite like Portugal and nowhere does them better than Doce Real; a real treasure in a city brimming with gems, this patisserie is a secret worth sharing. The sweet smell of fresh bread drifts through the door enticing all who gaze in temptation at the perfect muffins, cream tarts and warm brioche sandwiches which adorn the windows.

Lisbon is one of Europe’s oldest cities and is steeped in history, and despite the arrival of bars and nightclubs, it has reassuringly lost none of its character or authenticity.

04/12/2012

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