A personal reflection of my travels to the city of seven hills.
For years I had wanted to visit Lisbon, drawn by the raw authenticity that is so rare in European cities today. A destination firmly in vogue, I wanted to get there before it potentially changed for the worse. After trawling through the hundreds of properties on Airbnb, we finally found this gem: a small converted brush factory hidden away in a little courtyard in Anjos. The perfect base.
I'm not going to pretend things always go to plan for me, our trip got off to a rocky start. We missed our morning flight from Edinburgh airport, having to take a later option and spend 5 hours in the Madrid terminal before arriving in Lisbon 10 hours later than initially planned. As you can imagine arriving in an unfamiliar place at near enough midnight while dragging a heavy suitcase through the metro system and up the hilly cobbled pavements was not ideal. A lesson learned if nothing else.
When it comes to city breaks, my first port of call is always the old town and so we spent our first day in Alfama, a labyrinth of narrow streets and historic buildings with a few juicy viewpoints scattered throughout (one of our favourites being the Miradouro de Santa Luzia).
As we explored this area we noticed a lot of makeshift stalls and bars being set up in the streets, choosing to return that evening to see what all the fuss was about. Little did we know, we had arrived the day before the Alfama street party (unofficial name), one of my favourite travel experiences to this day. The atmosphere was like nothing else, a large cup of sangria was about 2€ which probably explains why. Everyone was just having a great time. Stripped of our inhibitions we even joined a giant conga at one point. You may have seen this on IG stories at the time, it was crazy. I almost lost Katie in the crowd but thankfully did not.
On the second day we ventured out towards LX Factory in Alacântara, an old textiles factory and now creative hub for Lisbon's artistic community. Covered in a wealth of incredible and poignant street art with galleries, bars and shops aplenty it would be easy to spend a whole day here. One of my favourite shops was Ler Devagar (translating roughly to "read slowly") - a place I would boldly consider one of the most beautiful book shops in the world. We picked up a few pieces and enjoyed coffee and poffertjes (these dope little pancake things) at Wish Slow Coffee before heading back towards the city.
Being our first time in Lisbon, we of course had to visit some of the "attractions". First on the list was the Santa Justa Lift, a 19th century lift transporting passengers up the steep hill from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo and the ruins of the Carmo church. Amazing views were had. The queue was short. I would definitely recommend it.
What I noticed as we wandered the streets was that there were so many characters, mostly older gentlemen, that dressed so uniquely. You can see a few examples below, Lisboans coming with the killer fits.
One of the highlights of the day was definitely Park in Bairro Alto, a rooftop car park turned restaurant and bar. An almost secret spot, with no real indication you have arrived, we took a leap of faith and entered the car park closest to where Google Maps would take us. Reaching the top we were met with an oasis of potted plants and spectacular views towards the Tagus River. It was not overpriced either as you would expect, very reasonable. We spent a while up here, taking in the views, sipping cocktails. Lisbon life was exactly what I had hoped for.
Our third day took us out towards Cascais, a coastal town about 19 miles west of the city. Being so close to the sea Lisbon offers the best of both worlds when it comes to the city vs beach conundrum. We found a spot on one of the towns picturesque little beaches and set up camp. Frequent trips into the water were a must with temperatures pretty much stuck at 30 degrees (being Scottish, my tolerance to heat is relatively low).
Later that day we travelled over to Sintra, a real life fairytale situated in the foothills of Portugal's Sintra Mountains with thick forest surrounding its many pastel coloured villas and palaces. We arrived at dusk, perfect timing (or so we thought). We realised very quickly that everything had closed for the day however all was not lost. The town itself, just to look at and photograph was a delight and with everything being closed we now had a good excuse to come back to this wonderful place on another visit.
Despite our trip being cut a little shorter than we'd expected I felt that we made good use of the time we had in this great city. A place filled to the brim with charm and character - a step away from the homogeny of some European cities we have visited in the past. A straight 10/10 on my unscientific trip rating scale. We'll be back for sure.