Bathed in the gilded lights of sunset, Lisbon strikes as a warm, welcoming city. It doesn’t take long, though, to learn there’s far more lying beneath its colourful surface. Like the flavour of pastèis de nata – Portugal’s mouthwatering egg tarts, the smell of freshly fished seafood and the distinctive, brightly-coloured, architecture coalesce into an explosion of the senses you’ll only experience in Lisbon.
Lisbon doesn’t mince its colours. From the orange and yellow arches of Praça do Comércio to the violet and pink of the pretty buildings in the city centre. You can spot azulejos, the painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles, all over the city. Despite the usual, famous blueish hues of those handmade tiles, they actually come in every shape and shade. And so much green….
Lisbon’s green wave extends not only to its parks but to some of its most historic buildings too. Located in a former complex of exquisitely quaint apartments, Hotel da Baixa gives green a whole new meaning. Emerald tiles cover the Insta-worthy façade of the four-star hotel, located a stone’s throw away from the beating heart of the city, the huge square Praça da Figueira.
As you step into the lobby, the scent of freshly washed bedsheets drying in the sun fills your nostrils. You’ll be able to spot the Tagus – the city’s river hurrying into the ocean – from the picturesque balconies of City Deluxe rooms. The hotel is strategically close to one of the Lisbon’s best and oldest bakeries, Confeitaria Nacional. Since 1829, the fragrant smells of pastries of all sorts lure people into this shop crystallised in time.
A stroll around the pretty, cobbled, uphill streets also feels like a temporal leap back to an undefined era. The melancholic vibe of buskers singing sad, sweet melodies only adds to Lisbon’s charm. Fado music grasps the burning, longing desire for something that is no longer there: a lover, a friend, a time.
Head to the super popular Club do Fado for a dinner of crispy fried cod bites and other delicacies accompanied by the best musicians and singers in town. When the light goes red, everything stops: no cutlery clinking, no giggles or chitchat: local and tourists are in awe of the performers. You better munch as silently as you possibly can if you don’t want twenty pairs of eyes to stare at you.
You can also follow in the footsteps of Lisbon’s most popular writers and artists, like Fernando Pessoa, the city’s very own author, on the famous cable car 28.
While in Lisbon, you can’t ignore the ocean’s call: the Atlantic is just a short car ride away.
Pristine beaches and greenish, capricious waves await on the other side of the 25 de Abril Bridge, a suspension bridge built by the same company behind the Golden Gate in San Francisco. If you’re feeling brave, several surf schools offer different classes. GoSurfLisboa will drive you all the way to Praia do Castelo for a rough, tough wave-riding experience.
Portugal has a long history of immigrants leaving to get to the other side of the pond. The Atlantic might offer endless possibilities, but Lisbon will always feel like a nest to fly back to.
The city is extremely open but also reserved, almost jealous of its own best-kept secrets. You need to work hard to access them. If you’re put off by fatigue, you won’t be rewarded easily. But if you’re willing to go the proverbial extra mile, Lisbon will give you the key to unforgettable, picturesque glimpses from its myriad of miradouros.
A prairie of colourful roofs lies in front of your eyes, slowly melting into the river and the ocean. Soak this sight in, you’ve earned it.