There are few things that are more European than waking up in a cosy apartment on a cobbled street and wandering down to the local patisserie to grab breakfast. This was something I’ve barely experienced during my travels. My visits to Europe in the past have been fleeting and Asian pastries just don’t pack that same punch. For the first time in a very long time, waking up in Lisbon I finally felt as if I was experiencing Europe.
Our visit to Portugal was mainly to satisfy my mother’s craving for some autumn sunshine. I was astounded at how cheap the flights to Portugal were in October, given its climate is great and the temperatures are a damn sight higher than in the UK. For some reason, Portugal’s never quite reached the heights of neighouring Spain but, after this visit, I fail to see why not.
Admittedly, it was raining when we landed in Lisbon airport and my mum looked as if she was ready to up sticks and go back home. However, the next morning we woke up to blue skies and, whilst there were occasional showers during the day, the weather in Lisbon was by no means bad. We found plenty of time to sit out in the sunshine, then retreat to shops or cafes if the drizzle began. Seeing as most of our exploring usually revolves around eating anyway, this made sense.
With its windy, cobbled streets and relatively quiet roads, Lisbon doesn’t feel like a capital city. This means it retains its charm without having the annoyances of a sprawling capital. With our apartment on the outskirts, once we got the metro into the more central area of Lisbon, everything was in easy walking distance. In the centre, there are plenty of easy-going squares such as Praça do Comércio, surrounded by cafes and bars, whilst buskers wander round. One man appeared to be playing a guitar with his chin at one point.
Everything just felt quintessentially European, almost like a film set. You had flashes of Spain and Germany mixed in with the distinctly Portuguese vibe. A slightly blustery walk along the Tagus River, which sits just by Praça do Comércio gave the city a bit more openness. I always like cities which sit along rivers as it makes a welcome change from wandering rounf building-congested streets.
However, if you’ve got a thing for building-congested streets, Lisbon certainly delivers on that front too. Alfamas is a famous neighbourhood which is basically a maze of windy roads, traditional buildings and brilliant views. You can take the tram up there but we opted to walk… or, rather, we missed the tram so were forced to walk. It’s a cliched traveller line to say that there’s no feeling like just getting lost in a city, but it’s true – and Lisbon is a perfect place to do this in.
When you reach the top of Alfamas, you get fantastic views over the pastel buildings of the city with their vivid, orange-coloured roofs. And if the walk knackers you, there are loads of quaint bars and cafes dotted all around. I don’t think I could live in Lisbon – the abundance of pastries would just finish me off.
We were shocked at just how cheap the city was too. My mum and sister enjoyed indulging in some clothes shopping while they were there, whilst everyday items such as food and beer were much cheaper than other places in Western Europe. It wasn’t quite the rock-bottom Bulgaria prices, but it’s pretty easy to remain budget conscious.
Overall, we probably could have done with an extra day in Lisbon before moving south to the Algarve. It’s unfairly overlooked but a combination of cheap flights, a pleasant climate and a healthy dose of good old European charm makes this an ideal city break. I’m aware I say this all too often, but I’m sure I’ll be back.