Read the article
First came the tribesmen of the Neolithic age, then came the ancient Phoenician seafarers. Afterward, the Carthaginians and the Romans fought it out for control of this corner of the Iberian Peninsula, gilding old Lisbon with crenulated walls and bulwarks and baths and grandiose necropolises galore. North Africa wasn’t finished here though, for the Moors and the Berbers came later, stamping their mark on the city between the tight-knit lanes, dusty alleyways and arabesque arches of Alfama, before being ousted out by the Reconquista crusaders, raising the likes of the majestic Jeronimos Monastery in their wake. But the story of Lisbon’s seven hills doesn’t end there even, for subsequent centuries were to see the rise of the Age of Discovery, when cumin and cloves and sugar flooded the Tagus estuary from India and the East and the likes of Vasco da Gama trod the city’s harboursides, followed by the Spanish Habsburgs and their eye for all things Baroque.
In fact, the truth is, Lisbon’s story is still being written: Glowing like a marble gem on the edge of the great Atlantic, this handsome capital now booms as one of the continent’s most alluring, touting wondrous galleries, museums and oodles of fascinating architecture alongside throbbing student districts, lively boho neighbourhoods and the wonderful backdrop of the Sintra Mountains.
The character of your holiday in Lisbon is likely to change dramatically depending on where it is you stay in the city—such is the divergent diversity of neighbourhoods and barrios here. For a taste of real and authentic Portuguese life at its liveliest and most enthralling, be sure to bed down amidst the tight-knit lanes of the Bairro Alto, where street parties erupt ad hoc after hours and oodles of earthy eateries spill onto the squares and plazas. Some of the top accommodation picks here include the tersely-named Bairro Alto Hotel and the Oasis Backpackers' Mansion for the more budget minded. Opting to stay in the weaving, labyrinthine maze of old Moorish streets that is the Alfama district is the perfect choice for historical immersion, and hotels like the Memmo Alfama Hotel and the gorgeous Palacio Belmonte offer the height of boutique service here, while for a taste of Lisbon’s five-star luxury, head to the Baixa area, where the Altis Avenida, the Valverde and the Hotel Fontecruz are all worthy choices.
To experience the best of authentic Portuguese cuisine, be sure to avoid the international eateries of the much-trodden Baixa area. Head instead for Chiado or the boho Bairro Alto, where folksy fado music joints abut acclaimed restaurants like 100 Maneirads—where all the ingredients are sourced locally from the city’s Mercado da Ribeira—cool and collected Decadente, swish Largo—with menus courtesy of celebrated chef Miguel Castro e Silva—and Sea Me, complete with those salty, uber-fresh fish cuts.
From the majestic Gothic tops of the Belem Tower to the crenulated fortifications of the St George Castle, this city is so packed with sights that it’s possible to spend a whole week weaving between the major attractions and not get them all ticked off. To ensure you get the most into a short stay, hop aboard one of the town’s rattling trams and move through the streets of Belem and Baixa, before heading off to Alfama for some more sightseeing on foot. After dark, Lisbon’s Bairro Alto transforms into one of the headiest nightlife spots in the country, booming with jazz bars and blues clubs and underground music venues, while super-clubs like Lux on the dockside here make this one a veritable mecca for hedonists. It’s also worth leaving behind the heart of town for a short spell, to hike through the wild ridges of the Sintra Cascais Natural Park or drift along the waterways of the Tagus from the harboursides of Alcantara.
Unsurprisingly it is summertime when the largest crowds descend on the streets of Lisbon, with temperatures in the high 20s tempered by the soothing breezes of the Atlantic and the many al fresco bars and eateries of the town in full swing. Spring and autumn are also both fantastic choices for a holiday here, when milder days dominate and the package tourists are nowhere to be seen.