Express Guide to: Lisbon, PortugalBy Claudine Levy
I got to thinkin’: is there any feeling better than walking down cobbled streets with someone you love? I’m going to say something bold; if you choose the right place to stay, (and make time for a trip to Sintra), Lisbon is possibly just about the most romantic place you could go for a city break. (Paris? Pffft.)
It seems I’m not the only one who thinks so. Lisbon is this year’s hottest city destination, and with seemingly good reason. It’s hard to quantify a city’s unique atmosphere without throwing down wild Carrie Bradshaw cliches, but Lisboa has a special energy which is hard to explain.
Lisbon: What to Expect
Imagine the gesticulatory exuberance of Rome, mixed with splash of Moreish Istanbul and a few drops of Jerusalem’s old city charm, all topped off by the liveliness of a city which has rebuilt itself from the ashes (the city was all but destroyed in a 1755 earthquake), and you’ll be close. To get the best sense of the city, we massively recommend that you go on the walking tour ran by Chill Out Tour By Locals – which was possibly the most anthropological walking tour I’ve ever been on. You will be guided through the city’s various districts by a local, and get a flavour of the culture which throbs through Lisbon’s veins in a way you just wouldn’t get on your own. Watch out for the guys in yellow t-shirts who meet at Luis de Camoes Square everyday at both 10am and 3pm. And try to do the walk on your first day there, to give some delicious context to the rest of your trip.
There are countless other things you must do while you’re in lisbon, but for now I will elucidate just two more: 1. Go to Balem. Take the tram, or the bus. Look out of the windows and watch Lisbon’s old ladies go about their days, doggedly trudging down streets holding countless carrier bags. Queue at Pasteis de Belem for as long as it bloody takes to get your hands on their pastel de nata. Don’t modestly think one or two will be enough. Get six. Each.
And 2. take the train to Sintra. You must, you have to, you can’t not. Sintra is like something plucked from an enchanted fairytale – it sort of doesn’t feel real. While you’re there, buy a tourist bus ticket; yes, I know it sounds vom, and far from ‘authentic’, but it’s handy AF, and allows you to jump on and off at all the good spots. You’ll also need a ride up the mountain to the palace. Oh, did I forget to mention? There’s a palace on top of a mountain. It’s like Disney World on crack, accept not artificial and gross and hollow. Instead it is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see – voted the “best castle in Europe” – and it will fill your soul with a sense of wonder. We recommend going at sunset, when the place takes on a particular type of glistening golden magic in the dying of the day.
Lisbon: Where to Eat
To Eat: Go to Cervejaria Ramiro. Possibly the most famous seafood joint in the city, this place is teeming with tourists, but you’ll get over that small niggle. It’s worth it. Expect to queue for a table (you can use the beer vending machine while you wait in the bustling courtyard). We recommend trying the classic portuguese clams cooked with a gargantuan quantity of garlic, and the whole crab – which comes replete with a hammer and is just so much fun to eat. Also make time to dive into one of the many hip-hop-happenin’ restaurants and bars in Bairro Alto – the city’s rowdy hub after dark.
Lisbon: Where to Stay
Now, to sleep. This place is one of those rare places that I want to message all my friends about, like a great book you just need to share immediately with everyone you care about: Casa Amora. The guesthouse lives in the fashionable and trendy Praça Amoreiras, and backs onto the pretty little Jardim das Amoreiras, where locals drink their coffees and beers sitting outside a little kiosk, sometimes accompanied by a casual live band of an evening. Casa Amora has that cosy quaint feel that you dream of; imagine the best Airbnb experience you’ve ever had, then x that by 10 and add a dollop of 5* luxury. There’s a little breakfast room where you can help yourself to fruit, homemade biscuits and port throughout the day, a little terrace where you can spend your mornings grazing on fresh coffee, croissants, cured meats and local cheeses, and an array of gorgeous rooms (11 in total), ranging from the basic double, to the Duplex Suite.
Like opting for the second cheapest wine at a restaurant, we suggest you do the same with the rooms at Casa Amora, and go for the Double Room over the Basic – which feels just slightly cramped by comparison. The Double has a kind of Beauty and the Beast vibe, in that you feel the furniture could spring to life and burst into song at any moment – so beautiful and warming the furnishings feel. The room comes beset with a spectacular and huge bathroom. I’m not usually one to gush over a matching suite, but there’s something so luxurious about having a cavernous marble-clad bathroom at your feet. Not to mention the little balcony which looks out over the little cobbled street and its walls covered in beautiful tiles – it’s a room you will mourn leaving.
If you fancy something a bit bigger and have a little more cash to splash, opt for the Studio Duplex. It’s house away from the main building, just around the corner and closer to the square of Jardim das Amoreiras. It feels like having your own pad in the city, as you’ll walk in to find a large light living area with enormously high ceilings, with a small sofa and kitchenette (which is hidden behind chic shutters). Stairs will take you up to the mezzanine bedroom, replete with lush textures of velour and silk. There’s something special about feeling at home in a city that’s not yours, and if you generally like that Airbnb feeling of having a home away from home, then the Studio will be perfect for you.
Now, what are you waiting for? Book a room.