Praça do Comércio, Lisboa

Lisbon where ancients streets and contemporary cool mix beautifully

Lisbon is a beautiful city and for those in the know it has long been on the radar as a great destination for city breaks, cultural excursions, brilliant nightlife and beautifully hand crafted products.  Now the wider tourist crowd is discovering Lisbon, this has its obvious disadvantages: the crowds, the queues and the groups attracted by the cheap food and wine.  However, it also brings advantages as the International cool crowd put Lisbon on their must see and then must return to list, so the number of contemporary Portuguese bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries grow.  There are already a huge number of fabulous places that cater to the sophisticated Lisboeta, who has exceptional taste and exacting standards.  The Portuguese excel in chic, it suits their character, their designs and their natural sense of style and the increased demand for cool contemporary Portuguese style suites everyone well.  New bars, restaurants, clubs, galleries and boutiques are multiplying at a dizzy rate all over the city, reclaiming previously forgotten or rundown areas.  This makes Lisbon an exceptional travel destination and city to visit.

The city is a fascinating place, it is one of the world’s oldest cities, predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries.  Built on seven hills it has a stunning setting beside the sea and the picturesque neighbourhoods with their tiled houses, impressive churches and terracotta roofs spill down the slopes to meet the Atlantic coast at the month of the River Tagu.  It is Europe’s most western capital which means it is blessed with a pleasant climate and is bathed in sunshine and gentle sea breezes for much of the year.

Portugal once had exceptional wealth and the palaces, parks and monuments play tribute to its opulent past.  Its long history is reflected in the architecture and as one walks the streets there are examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, Modern and Postmodern constructions everywhere, which, at times, gives a sense of drifting through history.

However the country’s fortunes have been mixed and this is clearly visible on the streets where old and new, renovated and

Shopping in Lisbon A Vida Portuguesa
New meets old at the lovely boutique style shop A Vida Portuguesa

dilapidated, modern and traditional can be found side by side.  This is part of Lisbon’s charm, a traditionally tiled hole-in-the-wall cafe or bar can look out onto an uber modern design studio, a gorgeous old building can hide a contemporary restaurant and an old cobbled square can be lined with sleek ultramodern boutiques.

There are key attractions and sights that should not be missed too, but once these are done, strike out into the cobbled lanes and explore.  The beauty of Lisbon is that it has such a strong cultural identity, the international gloss of sameness that has taken over so many cities in the world is kept at bay.  Lisbon exudes its own character, its spirit is in everything and this is most apparent in the Barrios (neighbourhoods in English).  Each Bairro is different and expresses their individual character distinctively.  Below is a short series of posts that explore our favourite Barrios (neighbourhoods).  Over the coming weeks we will be adding more information about things we did and loved in each Barrio.  Once these are live you will be able to click on the Barrio name to open the post.

Alfama

Alfama is considered the oldest of neighbourhood and was the Moorish quarter before it became the fishing community.  It is still a residential area and best known for its traditional bars and restaurants.  It is here that you will find the biggest concentration of traditional Fado music venues.  Click here for things to do in Alfama.

Graça

Graça lies above Alfama and is famous for its pastry shops and cafes.  There are some excellent viewpoints in this Bairro, don’t miss the spectacular view from Graça e Senhora do Monte in front of Capela de Nossa Senhora do Monte.  From here you can descend via the garden to Lisbons famous Castelo de São Jorge, in the neighbouring Bairro of São Vicente.  Click here for things to do in Graça.

São Vicente

São Vicente has some of our favourite sights, the Castelo de São Jorge, the famous Panteão Nacional, São Vicente de Fora Church and Feira da Ladra (the thieves market).  The Feira da Ladra is next to the pretty square Campo de Santa Clara and is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Click here for things to do in São Vicente.

Bairro Alto

Bairro Alto is renowned for its nightlife.  It is full of small bars, restaurants and clubs.  During the day it has a sleepy feel to it and other than the bairro shops on Rua do Norte it can seem a little quiet.  But come evening all that changes, the bars and restaurants open and life spills out on the streets.  There are a couple of viewpoints here, don’t miss the Tagus River viewpoint (Santa Caterina).  Or head towards the Pharmacia Restaurant & Bar, next to the Pharmacia Museum, this has great views over the city and fabulous cocktails.

Baixa

Baixa is the heart of Lisbon.  The area was completely rebuilt in 1755 after an earthquake destroyed the whole area.  The Marques do Pombal created a grid like system with a series of pedestrianized areas and impressive squares.   Praça do Comercio is by the water’s edge and is home to the triumphal arch.  From here the streets fan out up to Rossio where there are some of the best examples of monumental neoclassical squares and parks. Finally, don’t miss the spectacular Elevator of Santa Justa that links Baixa and Barrio Alto.

Chiado

Chiado is one of Lisbon’s most charming Barrios.  It’s pretty cobbled streets are full of lovely boutiques, beautiful cafes and excellent restaurants, many hidden away on pretty squares or within grand old buildings. From Chiado you can easily walk up to Bairro Alto or down to Baixa.

Belem

Belem is Lisbon’s historic district.  Vasco da Gama and other explorers launched themselves on their voyages of discovery from here.  The Barrio has a great number of museums and monuments; by the water there is the elaborate Torre de Belem and the Discoveries monument ( o Padrao dos Descobrimentos).  Close by is the stunning the Jeronimos monastery and church; and Belem Cultural Centre which houses Lisbon’s finest contemporary art collection at Museu Colecão Berardo.  From Belem you can go up the hill through Calçada da Ajuda to the Royal Palace and the botanical gardens.

Alcantara & Santos

These Bairros sit beside each other at the water’s edge between Baixa and Belem in the western reaches of the city.  Here the old warehouses have been converted into restaurants and bars, making it a fun destinations  day or night.

Torre-de-Belém-Lisboa
Torre de Belém Lisboa
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