The Sleeping Beauty on the Tagus, Lisbon is steeped in the irresistible charm of times past. Magnificent palaces and monasteries bear witness to colonial riches; picturesque alleyways and staircases, pretty corners and sleepy squares enchant visitors. That’s not all though: the melancholy capital on the southwestern edge of Europe has another side that is dynamic, modern and cosmopolitan. Young hipsters party in the smart riverbank clubs and restaurants or get their kicks from bar-hopping in the party neighbourhood of Bairro Alto – and increasingly around the port of Cais de Sodré.
Lisbon, once the capital of a large chunk of the world, today represents a melting pot of cultures. Lisbon – Lisboa (pronounced ‘lishbóa’) in Portuguese – is both metropolitan and provincial, multicultural and open to the world, welcoming and relaxed. ‘Live and let live’ is the motto here. The city and its inhabitants are imbued with a certain spirit of laissez-faire, which accompanies the much-referenced saudade. Considered the key to the soul of the Portuguese, this melancholy way of being is difficult to capture in words.
Here are our top tips for unique experiences in Portugal’s vibrant capital!
Terraces with a view
Lisboetas, like tourists, are forever hunting the best view of the city and Tagus river. One of the finest vantage points is the Miradouro São Pedro de Alcântara looking across to the Old Town and Castelo.
Students and office workers, elderly ladies and Atlantic coast surfers: they all share one habit – stopping for a coffee at any opportunity. The most famous and atmospheric place for this is the Café a Brasileira in Chiado.
Happy to be sad
You’ll hear fado, the ‘Portuguese blues’, with its undertones of melancholy and longing, on every corner in Lisbon. Don’t miss a live performance in one of the atmospheric fado venues.
A Streetcar named Nostalgia
The old-fashioned yellow trams are used by tourists and citizens alike. The No. 28 offers the best ride in town, rumbling up through narrow alleys, inches away from the houses.
Stay on the ball
Everybody knows that the people who brought us Figo and Ronaldo are football-mad. At the local derby between Benfica (red) and Sporting (green) things get pretty heated. But even ‘regular’ league games are always worth a party.
Lisbon’s famous calçada, pavements laid by skilled craftsmen, occasionally take on fabulous shapes and forms. Cast your eyes over the wave patterns on Rossio square or the phallic representations between the Brasileira café and the Benetton store in Chiado.
Up the town and down the town
One of Lisbon’s icons are the elevadores, funiculars and lifts that have been transporting people up to Chiado and the Bairro Alto for over 100 years. Don’t miss being whizzed uptown in the cast-iron tower of the Elevador de Santa Justa!
Buy the Lisbon Marco Polo Guide.