With the supercharged Euro dominating the world market, Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is seeing major changes in growth and tourism, yet it is still one of the best travel deals when it comes to affordability. So when I recently had the chance to travel to this city rich in history and hipness, I packed my bags and headed for the airport.
The city of Lisbon has the feel of a place that’s rediscovered itself. With a population close to three million, the city of ancient alleyways is meeting the chic traveler. From new business towers, world class shopping, and a rich, night life, Lisbon is becoming a must place to visit. The city sits on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal where the Tagus River flows into the Atlantic. The weather is comfortable year round but September to November or spring, is the best time to visit. Portugal has a rich history and much of the architecture in Lisbon is a snapshot of that rich past. A city built on seven large hills, it reminded me of San Francisco – trolley cars and all – but that’s where the similarity ends. It seems every street in Lisbon holds some vast secret of its past, and every ancient alleyway whispered to me to climb down the steep steps to the little shop on the corner.
The center of Lisbon is compact enough that walking and riding the colorful trolleys that crisscross the city is the way to go. No matter where you stay, there will be a trolley car near by. Yes, some may be a hundred years old (mostly for tourists), but the sights from the trolleys are breathtaking at times, and they go slowly enough to take in the views. And you haven’t lived until you descend one of the steep, winding cobble streets by trolley. A must trolley ride is the number 28. It passes many of the major sites worth seeing. A day pass costs three Euros, which allows one to get on and off as many times as one wants to. The subway is also clean and safe. For a few Euros, you can travel the entire city. Cabs are metered; the best way to get to and from the airport.
Where to Stay
Of course where you stay depends on what you want to pay. From hostels to 4-star hotels, Lisbon offers a wide array of options. The Oasis Backpackers Mansion located steps from the very hip Bairro Alto area with its cafes and stores is a favorite of serious backpackers and those trying to get the most out of their Euro. It offers excellent showers, 24-hour Internet access, Wi-Fi and complimentary breakfast. I stayed at the very hip Jeronimos 8. Located in the historic area of Belem, it is steps from the famous Jeronimos Monastery and in walking distance to many of the historic monuments and museums of Lisbon. With a chic European design, the rooms were comfortable, the complementary breakfast was excellent and the bar was a great place to grab a drink with friends – free Wi-Fi, as well. If you really want to explore Lisbon in true fashion and stay in one of the finest inns in town, get yourself a room at the newly refurbished Sheraton Lisboa. Dignitaries, rock stars and foodies love it. (The chef, Henrique Sa Pessoa, was selected as the Portuguese chef of the year for 2005).
Things to Do
Walk the Alfama District. With its narrow streets and Moorish influence, it’s the perfect place to explore Lisbon and get a true feel for its history. The St. Jorge Castle built by the Moors is located there; offers a great view of the city and the Tagus River. To really know Lisbon, one must visit the Fado Museum. The history of Fado music is documented there and the sad melodies of this beautiful music is the heart of this romantic city.
There are many restaurants to experience Fado, but if you want to feel it up close and personal, have dinner at the Sr. Vinno Restaurant, a true Fado institution where some of the top Fado singers perform. Fado is a late night experience. Most times the shows get started around 10:00 p.m. No talking while the singers are on stage; the Portuguese take this music very seriously. The recently opened Berardo Museum, located in the Belem District, offers a world class collection of modern and contemporary art – from Picasso, Miro and Warhol, to a private collection of 500 hundred years of Portuguese tiles. It’s a must see.
Nightlife in Lisbon is also a great way to capture its ambiance. The party doesn’t even begin until 11:00 p.m. One can find a great bar or disco in any district, but one of the hottest areas is the Santo Amaro Docks. Located in the dock area under the 25 de Abril Bridge, this newly developed waterfront is a favorite of locals and tourists looking for good food, hip music and a beautiful atmosphere.
Getting outside of Lisbon proper is another way of taking in the charm and history of Portugal. One of the most fun things I got to do was a day trip to the seaside towns. From the Cais do Sodre train stations, a 30-minute ride will transport you to the charming seaside towns of Estoril and Cascais, both glamorous and historical, offering hi-end pampering, great beaches and a hip night life. The group I was traveling with stayed at a brand new seaside resort called Villa Italia in Cascais -a five-star resort. Portugal continues to build world-class resorts; Villa Italia is one of the finest. Whatever you do, don’t forget to try the grilled sardines, the pastries and the local wines. A trip is worth that alone.
I flew out of Newark, NJ on TAP Airlines, the national airlines of Portugal, part of Star Alliance, voted best airline company in the world for 2007. Even flying economy, the food and service was good. In seven hours, I landed at Lisbon Portela Airport located five miles from Lisbon.