Lisboa is one of those popular travel destinations that many people I know either have been to or have it on their bucket list. Hence I earned some meaningful nods when I told friends where we were headed for the Easter weekend in March. We decided to visit Lisboa on short notice but afterwards it kept me wondering why I didn’t feel attracted by this European capital earlier.
Our hotel was located in the heart of the city at Praça do Comércio, close to the ocean and most tourist attractions. I didn’t manage to find out the original purpose of our hotel-building but the contorted floors and staircases reminded me of monasteries. Our room was tiny but chic and the space was smartly used and offered every comfort we could have asked for.
We only had to leave our hotel for a nice selection of bars and cafés that were nestled against the walls of Praça do Comércio.
City and atmosphere
The atmosphere of Lisboa is complex and difficult to put into words. Due to the age of the city one finds many old buildings or monuments as a reminder of the wealth and former glory of the city during the time of the portuguese explorers and seafarers. Pompous monasteries and cathedrals, marble floors and tiled house walls show how spectacular Lisboa once must have been. Especially the detailed tiles of facades and tiled scenes that stretch across walls are landmarks of the city. However the glory of past times seems to be a burden at the same time because it is obvious that the best times lie in the past. On me Lisboa made a sleepy and melancholic impression because the ravages of time took their toll on buildings and tiles and I saw many broken windows and roofs that were inhabited by plants.
While the city is fighing against decay, the Portuguese make a carefree and friendly expression and contribute greatly to the laid-back atmosphere of Lisboa. The moment we left the tourist trail the town was characterized by clotheslines and chats made among streets and balconies.
By the by we were surprised how international Lisboa is and how easy languages were juggled in hotels and restaurants. The same waiter that talked to us in English, served the table next to us in fluent French and talked to the other guests in Portuguese. Maybe that is another advantage of a port city whose seafarers once sailed the world, looking for gold and spices and that still carries traces of Moorish occupation.
I don’t recall any enthusiastic reports about the Portuguese cuisine prior to the journey. Luckily our experience was positive without exception. Around every corner are little cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating, most of which are nicely decorated and offer a varied cuisine. Especially who likes seafood and tapas finds what their heart desires but there is also a wide range of international and crossover kitchen.
Since I like food markets a place that stood out for me was the bustling Mercado da Ribeira food hall. The selection of food stands is so big that we spent more time browsing the selection of dishes than eating here. What makes this place special is that many known restaurants run smaller branches inside the market hall and contribute to the quality of foods.
The other shore
The shoreline on the other side of the bay is mostly industrial but worth a trip to see the skyline of Lisboa and try one of the fish restaurants that are popular spots for anglers and tourists looking for a sundowner.
30 kilometers west of Lisboa lies the small city of Sintra, a rewarding excursion, easily accessible by train. Sintra has an extremely high density of attractions with the national palace and old Moorish castle and some other castles and palaces, each of which has its own distinct architecture. We were most intrigued by the Quinta da Regaleira, an eccentrical park that features lakes, grottoes and wells and that is extremely fun to explore and to get lost in. Afterwards we climbed up to the Moorish castle for a nice view over the region.
On our flight back home we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Alps during the golden hour.