Ahh January - the weather is grim, it’s dark and we’re all suffering from the longest wait until payday… if you’re dreaming of warmer climes and something to look forward to, you’re not alone! We’re here to offer some inspiration - Katie Frade gives us an insight into her love affair with Portugal’s glorious Lisbon. Katie - over to you…
I’ve been visiting Lisbon for over 10 years now as I’m fortunate to have my in-laws family living just out of the City; allowing for many a day spent mooching along the wide boulevards of the Baixa or negotiating steep winding lanes higher up in the Alfama district.
The century-old trams, in particular Route 28 might be seen as the tourist equivalent of an open-topped red bus but it really does give you the best overview of the City to get your bearings and experience the chaotic vibe of the narrow lanes twisting around the hillsides.
Their vintage wooden interiors and rickety tracks make it an un-missable experience but they are still very much used by locals as part of the transport network and several funiculars are located on particularly steep streets, ready to hoist you to the top to help save your energy for all the impressive landmarks and shops the city has to offer. And with the plethora of Tuk-Tuks vying for business, the ride back down can be as equally thrilling!
Lisbon is famed for its Historic shops and fortunately there is now an initiative to protect a number of these specialty businesses, which offer anything from candles to leather gloves or medicines in the most beautiful settings. A walk around the Baixa, Chaido and Bairro Alto areas will reveal these little gems to you as you meander the streets (along with some of the main tourist landmarks), enticing you in through exquisite doorways from a bygone era. A visit to the Doll Hospital leads you through a number of charming rooms, stuffed high with every type and part of a doll that you could possibly imagine. Vintage display cabinets caught my attention. The overwhelming number of porcelain and plastic collectibles were a cause of desire for my girls. But “Don’t touch” was my cry.
As with any capital, the usual retail suspects line the main streets but if you are after destinations which offer original design in unusual environments, then I would urge you to visit the below:
The concept store Embaixada is housed in a restored Arabian Palace, which now is home to a diverse range of Portuguese design-led shops alongside several stylish bars & restaurants. The spectacular interior alone is worth the visit. The high ornate ceilings are bedecked with great lighting choices and the numerous big old decorative doors are an Instagrammers delight!
An old converted tile factory is my favourite outpost of A Vida Portuguesa in the Interdente neighbourhood. It stocks a celebration of all things Portuguese; from beautifully packaged soaps to colourful displays of sardine cans. Anything Household can be found here amongst the inspired use of vintage industrial fittings and creative use of the vast space. It’s a delight to wander around just to see hints of its’ heritage; the old tiles are left exposed on the walls and many architectural details remain intact.
A little out of the centre, in the Alcantara district is the LX Factory. It’s nestled beneath a highway and is an old manufacturing complex, which is now a lively community of retail, dining and creative enterprises. This is a place where you can wile away time; meandering around the various independent shops, admiring their crittall framed doorways and taking time to absorb the laid back atmosphere in one of the many cafes which line the alleyways around the main building.
Iconic images of Lisbon undoubtedly involve images of tiled facades (check out the beautiful National Tile Museum for tile designs through the ages) and Pastelarias piled high with custard tarts.
For the best Pastel De Nata’s, the original and tastiest are to be found at the celebrated Pasteis De Belem. Once you’ve indulged there, immerse yourself in Portuguese history by visiting the mighty Jeronimos Monastery and the famous Belem Tower.
If that leaves you wanting to learn more, a trip to the National Coach Museum will transport you into a world of past Royal processions. But if your inner princess still desires more fairytale action, then a day trip to Sintra is essential or the no.28 tram up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge are two places well worth visiting.
The nobility used to escape the heat of Lisbon in favour of Sintra’s cooler hills. The UNESCO World Heritage Site really is quite an extraordinary place. The drive up the hill from the Centro Historico to the Pena Palace is like something from Disney World. An overly ornate and brightly coloured architectural jewel tops the mountain and cannot fail to fire a child’s imagination or spark awe with it’s decorative interiors for those who love a bit of flamboyance.
But the best way to see the famed tiles and get under the skin of Lisbon is to dedicate time to just wandering around the various neighbourhoods, camera in hand to find your own treasures. Lisbon is a City that quietly captures your attention and leaves you wanting to see more. And there are lots more places to see than these suggestions alone. But every trip needs a starting point…