While growing up, the stories and photos of friends who had spent their summer in Spain or Portugal have long inspired me to visit when I had the opportunity. When I finally visited Lisbon in Portugal with some friends last year, I was thrilled it lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Here are just 10 reasons why:
1.Riding the number 28 tram
Trams have been in operation in Lisbon in one form or another for more than 100 years. From the original horse drawn cars to the five electric tram routes of today, jumping on the tram is a fantastic way to travel around the city and see the main sights. Line 28 is the longest and the most popular with sightseers, making a loop travelling east through Baixa, Graça and Alfama before heading west to Estrela and Campo de Ourique. It has the feeling of being on a bus tour of the city, with the advantage of being able to jump on or off wherever you choose. Buy tickets onboard from the driver, and try to travel early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the crowds.
2. Eating custard tarts for breakfast
The Portguese are geniuses in my eye, with freshly baked custard tarts known as pastel de nata filling the counters in bakeries throughout the city. These little pastry bundles of joy are served commonly with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on, warm out of the oven. Pastel de nata were actually invented in Lisbon itself, by Catholic monks in Belem in the early 1800s to use up left-over egg yolks. Today, you can still visit the shop set up with the recipe of the monks in the mid-1840s, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém.
3. Delicious food by the body-weight
From fried octopus, rich and tender livers in a wine sauce, to piles of patatas bravas with lashings of sauce, one thing you will not be short of in Lisbon is incredible food. One of my favourite memories from my trip was eating platefuls of delicious tapas at one in the morning, sitting on some steps in Chiado listening to live music. Can’t decide which restaurant to head to? Make your way down to the Mercado de Ribeira, an indoor food court which has outlets from some of the city’s best restaurants, producers and bars. It’s easy to pick and choose dishes and work your way around a variety of gourmet delights.
4. Beaches right on the doorstep
For those who like the idea of combining a cultural city break with some time to flop on the beach, Lisbon is the city for you. A short train journey hugging the coast takes you from beach to beach, ranging from wild surfing beaches, to wide expenses of golden sand. We took the train to Caiscais, just 30km outside of the city. This seaside town has a fantastic beach, with plenty of boutiques to explore and restaurants serving the fresh seafood caught just off of the coast. A great day trip!
5. The chance to extend your wine palate
Red, white or rose? Add a new choice to the list with the opportunity to try green wine, also known as Vinho Verde. Not strictly its own colour, it is instead young wine of any colour which is drunk soon after bottling. The wine is very light in flavour and actually has a slight fizz to it, which is refreshing in the Portuguese heat. Order a bottle to accompany your seafood or tapas for something a bit different and let me know what you think.
6. The architecture
The genius that decided to tile buildings in Lisbon deserves a round of applause: around every corner there is another beautifully ornate façade, carefully carved stonework, all linked by cool tiled pavements and ancient cobbles. It’s a gorgeous city, so far removed from the big mid-20th century tower blocks you see in so many other places.
7. The in-land escape to Sintra
The picturesque mountain town of Sintra is less than an hour’s train journey direct from Lisbon, and the cooler climate is a refreshing change when Lisbon is scorching. Home to two palaces, a ruined castle and grand houses, it attracted nobility and today retains an air of grandeur. The cobbled side streets are stuffed full of restaurants and shops, and it is a perfect place to spend a day trip from the city. The intricate The Quinta da Regaleira is a 19th century gothic mansion built by the once richest man of Portugal. If you have a torch handy, then explore the network of tunnels and caves throughout the garden.
8. The fact there is always a new rooftop bar to try
For a city built on a slope, the tiers of buildings often a brilliant variety of rooftop bars and clubs from which to enjoy the skyline. From the quirky Indian influenced Lost In, to the chic bar of Bairro Alto Hotel, there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. Make sure you visit PARK rooftop bar, hidden at the top of a multi-story car park in town. It’s a fantastic point from which to watch the sun set over the city.
9. The life-saving tuk tuks
If you have ever visited South-East Asia you will be familiar with the ubiquitous tuk-tuk. These small, speedy machines are the perfect mode of transport in Thailand etc. but also so it proves Lisbon. A city known for its hills and small side-streets, these turn out to be ideal for navigating Lisbon, saving your feet and in the heat – your sanity.
10. It’s my new favourite European city break
If the above hasn’t persuaded you of the allure of Lisbon, then please do visit if you are looking for somewhere new: the views are beautiful, the food is delicious, the culture is captivating and the weather (in the summer at least) is superb. There is a reason everyone seems to be singing Lisbon’s praises recently!