A couple of weeks ago, I spent an absolutely blissful few days in Lisbon. Escaping from grey and drizzly London to the blue skies and bright sunshine of Portugal was such a treat, and I was completely enchanted by the beauty of the city, which is built over seven hills and tumbles scenically down to the water’s edge in a cascade of colourful and historic buildings.
Unusually for me, I did very little planning or preparation before going away, and had nowhere in particular that I wanted to visit. I just wanted to walk the streets and soak up the atmosphere, and rather than making a beeline for specific sites, I wanted the spontaneity of stumbling across places that attracted me as I made my way around the city. This worked perfectly at making it a fantastically relaxing and fulfilling trip, as I found so many wonderful things that I would never have come across in a guide book. I loved the architecture of Lisbon; the streets are lined in genteelly dilapidated, very Italianate buildings, often covered in beautiful patterned tiles, there are dozens of extravagantly decorated churches, and there are also some very interesting examples of modern architecture, such as the impressive bridge that spans the Tagus river, and the lively LX Factory complex of shops and restaurants that wouldn’t have looked at all out of place in Shoreditch.
My favourite spots in the city were the impressive Ler Devagar bookshop in the LX Factory, which is a huge space filled from floor to ceiling with books and features a wonderfully whimsical collection of automatons that whizz about above your head, the National Pantheon in Alfama, which was right behind our apartment and a former church turned into a mausoleum with a magnificent roof terrace that offers brilliant views across the skyline and over the water, and the Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem district, which is an absolutely breathtaking piece of very Islamic influenced medieval architecture that I spent several happy hours wandering around. I also loved getting the commuter ferry across the river to the other side of the bay, from which you get spectacular views of Lisbon. I went over just before sunset and watched the sky turn a glorious coppery pink, bathing the city in a golden hue that was truly breathtaking. It was a sight I would not have missed for the world.
Just outside of Lisbon is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra, a historical town and wooded mountainous area that features dozens of 19th century palaces and villas as well as an incredible 9th century castle. I took the 45 minute train journey out to Sintra and had a wonderful day exploring the sites, particularly enjoying the incredible, far reaching views across the countryside and the glimpses of fairytale castles and palaces as the road twists and turns up the mountain. It is a magical place, that feels completely unreal; I don’t think a visit to Lisbon would be complete without a trip to see this magnificent piece of Portuguese history.
I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more in Lisbon; the people are so friendly and hospitable, the food is wonderful, and incredibly cheap for someone used to London prices, and the prettiness of the city, clustered around its beautiful piazzas and parks and waterfront, was a wonderful surprise. If you’re looking for a location for a relaxed European city break, Lisbon should definitely be at the top of your list!