There is a city by a bay…
with some of these… that climb half way to the stars…
where is it? Lisbon…
The parallels with another city far away cease there, however the bridge was designed by the same architect in both instances.
Lisbon is also known as the White City, and for obvious reason; it really is very bright. Apart from the lightness of stone used for the buildings and the paving of the streets; the nearness of the Atlantic gives a brightness and airy freshness enjoyed by all places near to large expanses of water.
Lisbon sits on seven hills, despite this it is quite a low level place – and feels friendly and manageable. All of the central areas are accessible on foot or via short trips on the numerous trams, for longer trips the the metro system is better.
All trips in the central zone (which covers most of what you will want to see, including the airport) are a flat fee (currently $1.35).
Where to go
Downtown there are 5 main areas that flow into each other; from East to West:
Main nightlife part of town, restaurants, bars and clubs all around this area – plenty of choice so you will easily find places. There are some ‘trendy’ shops in this area, but during the day this is not a particularly busy part of town, although it is residential.
For Fado: A Tasca do Chico, Rua do Diario de Noticias – no cover charge or Clube de Fado, Rua S Jao de Praca 94.
More mainstream shops and places to eat and drink, including the must visit Cafe A Brasileira – all old world wood paneling and engraved mirrors – the clientèle is however not old world, early evening (meaning from 10pm onwards) this is a pre-club meeting point. The main road through Chiado is Rua Garrett which terminates in the shopping centre of Armazens do Chiado; this has fairly mainstream (Bodyshop) type content, but is a useful link down to the next area as it has a lift to take you down the 6 levels to…
Baixa and Rossio
5 or 6 parallel streets seemingly designed for shopping… laid out after the last great earthquake. Quite a pleasant area to wander around and lots of cafes and restaurants making use of the mainly pedestrianised streets.
The strange looking structure in the picture below is a lift, to carry pedestrians from Baixa to Bario Alto/ Chiado. Designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel. It still works, but the queues can be horrendous, so either walk or use the lift in the Armazens do Chiado shopping centre.
Slightly to the north of Rossio is Avenida de Liberdad, this huge thoroughfare (think Champs Elysees), has mid market branded outlets – OK if you are after something specific and a pleasant place to wander in the shade, but not particularly interesting.
Final call, on the eastern side of town (for this postcard) is Alfama. Moorish would sum it up; this is one of the oldest parts of Lisbon and characterful if a bit dodgy in parts. Lots of late Fado bars in the area and places to eat – although I didn’t spend any night time here (lack of time).
It is very pretty in this area and you can take lots of those photos of doors with cats sitting in front – you know the kind of thing.
The above 5 are all quite close together and you could cross from one to the other easily in an hour – but; better to wander and take in the atmosphere of each part. You might need some help with the drop from Barrio Alto/ Chiado and the rise to Alfama; that’s where the trams come in.
A note on the use of trams: whatever you do follow the rules or else: you get on at the front, paying or zapping your travel card with the driver and you leave via the rear door. I saw a driver mercilessly throw some tourists off when they got on through the wrong door, he made them walk round and get back on at the front, all the time shouting ‘get out, get out’.
There are of course other areas – but as usual if you want more detail buy a book – key ones include:
Heading out to the west of town this suburb has lots of warehouses down by the shore that have been turned in to large eateries and night clubs – favoured by the youngish apparently. Again; I didn’t have time to visit, but passed through and there is a lot of stuff there, so would be worth a look.
Further west again along the coast (about 5km from town) is Belem. This is the home of the monuments that you always see when a photo of Lisbon is required; the Torre de Belem and the 500 anniversary monument – both associated with Vaso de Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India.
Belem also has a selection of museums: Maritime, Modern Art (featuring many 20th C classic design pieces Starck, Alessi, Eames), a Planetarium a Monastery and finally, overshadowing all of the above: Portugal’s most famous tart shop. A baked custard tart, with a puff pastry base is almost the national dish and La Antiga Pastelaria de Belem is the most favoured one. They really do shift thousands of these every day; the record being 55,000 in one day. Given the size of the place this seems unlikely; but given how busy it gets; quite possible…
To the north east there is a modern sector of town developed for the 1998 expo, the whole complex goes under the name of Parque das Nacoes. There is an aquarium here and a large hall for rock concerts etc, the main attraction is a shopping centre (Vasco de Gama), its all rather mainstream and not worth the trip unless you have some spare time. The station is dramatic – Santiago Calatrava design.
Not really fair to comment too much from such a short trip, but I will…
Bit plain really, and some of it frankly strange, especially where they are trying too hard. Lots of baked cod as you might expect, I had some served with what was described as a spiced cabbage cake – bloody awful, and the fish was stone cold – sent it back, otherwise was a nice place and probably worth a try despite my experience (Lauro & Sal, 53 Rua de Atalaia, Bario Alto).
Next day had a dish that sounded like a risotto/ paella type thing with shrimp and prawns, everything was there as described but all swimming in a very thin tomato sauce – not horrible, just not what was expected (Alfaia, 22 Travessa da Queimada, Bario Alto).
There is another activity in Portuguese restaurants that you should know about; they bring lots of appetizer plates (olives, cheeses, bread basket etc), these are not free… if you touch them you will be charged. If you don’t want them leave it and they will be taken away and not billed (makes you wonder how many visits they might have made prior to yours).
The most enjoyable meal I had all weekend was at Oriente (28 Rua Ivens, Chiado), macrobiotic vegan restaurant – about €9 for a help yourself hot and cold buffet, bit more in the evenings, but great value and excellent food.
A great place to visit for maybe 3/ 4 nights. Easy to get around and whilst small enough to feel familiar quite quickly, there is plenty to do and lots of night activity without repeating yourself.
Hotel Florida – 50′s retro – web site here
Jeronimos 8 – Belem Hotel
Lisbon Hostel – recommended
LX Boutique – recommended and good prices