Did you know Portugal and the UK have an alliance that spans over 600 years? No battles, no wars, nothing! Well, I think now is high time for an invasion. Pack your bags, grab your Euros and set a course towards the Portuguese capital of Lisbon!
Lisbon, situated on the Atlantic coast, on the far western reaches of Continental Europe offers so much to the intrepid traveller – great sights, good food, a genuinely soulful party atmosphere and all topped off with some superb (good value) accommodation where you can rest your head! In addition to this, Lisbon is also well situated for easy to reach and spectacular explorations outside of the city.
SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS
Castelo de São Jorge – High over the Portuguese capital is St George’s Castle; an old, Moorish fortification with some fantastic views over Lisbon. On a clear day, you can enjoy a superb 360° view across this city of 7 hills as you watch trams work their way through the maze of narrow streets and Lisboetas make their way around this wonderful capital city. (http://castelodesaojorge.pt/en/)
Free Tour – A tour of Lisbon is a must; especially when it is free (as they so often are when offered by many of the city’s hostels)! The Lisboetas are rightly proud of their city and keen to show you its great sights. Also, being such a sprawling and hilly place means that the tour guides will be able to show you the best route through the winding streets and hopefully tailor the tour so you can take a ride on the famous ‘Number 28’ tram past some of the best sights in the capital including the Baixa and traditional Alfama district. (http://freewalkingtoursbylocals.com/lisbon/lisbon-free-walking-tour/)
Miradouros – In addition to the views from the castle, I would certainly recommend catching the views and some rays from the many miradouros across Lisbon. Here, locals gather to socialise, drink beer and generally have fun as they watch the sun set across the River Tagus and Atlantic Ocean. My favourite look out spot was the Miradouro de Santa Catarina with its cafe selling drinks and magnificent views over the 25 de Abril Bridge. The link below offers a guide to some of the other miradouros Lisbon has to offer. (http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/viewpoints.html)
EAT AND DRINK
Pastéis de Nata – If you eat only thing in Lisbon, it has to be the pastéis de nata (or Portuguese custard tarts). An import from the monks returning from France, the pastéis de nata (topped with cinnamon and some sugar) has come to be a defining foodie experience of any visit to Lisbon. The Lisboetas will direct you to Pastéis de Belém for the best tasting tarts in the whole of the city (http://pasteisdebelem.pt/en/).
Bairro Alto – The Bairro Alto IS party central. By day, it is populated by elderly women hanging out their washing or leaning out of their windows to share the latest gossip with their neighbours. By night, the previously closed shutters on the ground floor of the buildings come up and the place comes alive with music, drinks flowing and crowds of people out to have fun. It is a sight to behold and a truly unmissable Lisbon experience!
Cascais – 19 miles west of Lisbon is the beach town of Cascais. An easy train ride away, past the neighbouring beach at Estoril, Cascais offers a respite from the summer heat of the city and a place to cool off in the refreshing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The beach is backed by several bars and restaurants as well as a host of stylish shops. Time your visit right and you’ll be able to watch sailing events such as the Americas Cup World Series take place as you laze on the sands or sip coffee from the beachfront cafes.
Sintra – If you take a train from the beautifully fronted Lisbon Rossio station, 45 minutes later you’ll arrive at the town of Sintra; home to a pastel-coloured palace that sits atop a hill that would not look out of place in a Disney movie! The Pena Palace is a unique sight and surrounded by a complex of buildings and wall that is great fun to explore; as well as offering superb views across the countryside, and on a clear day, out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Never has hostelry been so well executed and so upmarket. Lisbon, more than anywhere else I have visited, understands the need of the budget traveller. It has a slew of boutique hostels that offer comfortable accommodation, clean showers and friendly staff who will cater to your every whim as well as organise nightly hostel dinners and excursions to bars where you can experience the Fado (traditional Portuguese music) or to the Bairro Alto for as many mojitos as your heart desires! You are literally spoilt for choice and, unfortunately for you, once experienced this will be the high bar to which all your future hostel stays will be judged!
Lisbon. More than just your average city break, but a culture. A place to party, soak in the views and gorge on delicious pastries!