by Luc O Cinnseala
The fact that Lisbon is the least expensive capital city in Western Europe is just one of many reasons to visit this enchanting destination, notable for the cobbled streets ambling up and down its many hills. The lively capital of Portugal is famed for its hopping nightlife, abundant activities and stylish boutique hostels, making it a dream destination for a city break.
We dare you to try not to fall in love with this highly underrated city after doing everything on this list!
1. Ride the 28 Tram
This is one of the most enjoyable ways to get your bearings in Lisbon and at €1.35 the Eléctrico 28 is a steal. Climbing and descending improbably steep hills over 45 minutes, the retro carriages rattle and clang down streets so narrow you can touch the buildings from the windows. (That’s a fact and not a recommendation)
You’ll find the terminus on the eastern side of Praça Martim Moniz close to the south-eastern corner, and occupied by a small handful of tourists wondering if they’re in the right place.
When the tram rattles up, pay the driver in cash or use your metro card and find yourself a window seat if you can. Then take in cross sections of this diverse city, including Saint George’s Castle, Lisbon Baixa (the busy lower town), the infamous Bairro Alto bar district, Portugal’s magnificent neoclassical parliament building and finally Cemitério dos Prazeres.
2. Travel over the Ponte 25 de Abril to visit Cristo Rei
Where else can you say you crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer up close? It’s all possible in Lisbon, where you can witness Portugal’s own versions of San Francisco and Rio’s world-famous landmarks, both icons in their own right in this city and visible from many spots of the hilly metropolis.
The Ponte 25 de Abril, which spans the Tagus river, is just 460 metres shorter than its American version. Meanwhile, the statue of Christ the King, standing 103 metres tall, dwarves its South American cousin two and a half times over.
Standing at the base of monument gives you postcard view of the bridge and a panoramic view of downtown Lisbon. For an extra €4, you can take a lift up the 82-metre-high pedestal and maximise the breath-taking views.
Getting to the statue takes from Rossio Station downtown takes around 45 minutes but if you have a half day to explore it’s easily worth the journey. Take the train towards Sintra as far as Campolite then hop on the Setubal-bound train over the bridge, getting off at Coina. From there, the statue is a 20-minute walk.
3. Drink Ginjinha
Nothing says ‘holiday’ like tasting the local offering of liquor. Ginjinha sour cherry liquor is precisely that in Lisbon. The drink is available throughout the city, often in small bars selling just the one drink.
Get your fix in Ginginha de Carmo, the charming but easy-to-miss micro bar situated in a doorway next to the steps climbing the hill immediately to the south of Rossio station. For €1.65, you’ll get a shot of this very Portuguese drink served in a chocolate cup. If you can resist eating your cup straight away the friendly staff will give you a second shot for free!
4. Party on Cais do Sodré
It would be nothing short of a miracle if you spent any amount of time in Lisbon without someone recommending that you go for drinks in Bairro Alto, with its abundance of trendy bars—and you should take them up on this advice. But if alcohol, curiosity and gravity get the better of you, you may inadvertently find yourself following your feet down Rua do Alecrim, the hill that connects Praça de Luís de Camões to Cais de Sodré on the river front.
Until the start of the decade, this was where you’d find the city’s sailors, strippers and call girls. It’s now home to the iconic live venue Music Box and plenty of dive bars which, once seen as part of the sleazy fabric of the neighbourhood, have found a new lease of life post-gentrification.
5. Get a haircut in Figaros (if you’re a guy)
There’s a lot to be said for popping into a barbershop while you’re abroad; it’s a chance to connect one-on-one with local tradespeople and take a well-deserved rest from a busy day of sightseeing. Nowhere is this sense of escape catered for more than in Figaros at the foot of the aforementioned Rua do Alecrim, on the edge of Cais do Sodré.
Customers can expect to get a meticulously styled, old school haircut by incredibly cool staff in a quirky and cavernous room. Walk-ins are welcome but customers can expect to wait an hour or more—hardly a problem when complimentary whiskey and beer are on freeflow. This is a barbershop that caters to male clientele only—though if you’re a lady looking to get a skin-faded pompadour we say go for it! When David Beckham dropped by in 2015 he described it as ‘possibly the best barber shop ever’. Hardly a bad review from one of the world’s leading style icons. Prices start from €25 for a classic haircut that you won’t forget.
6. Eat at Mercado da Ribeira food hall
Deciding where to eat while on holidays is a struggle which has been known to test friendships and end relationships. That shouldn’t be an issue for anyone who’s lucky enough to know about this trendy food hall; it was opened by Time Out magazine in the city’s largest fresh food market in 2014, across the road from Cais do Sodré station.
This unusual space has 35 kiosks ‘bringing together some of the city’s favourite food shops and restaurants’, serving everything from cheese to wine, from steak to seafood and everything sweet. Aim to hit the food hall outside of standard Portuguese lunch and dinner times as it can get VERY busy, with seats being tough to find.
But where to stay?
Destination Hostels is stylish chain of hostels with three locations across Lisbon—two of which are ideally suited for the above outings.
Lisbon Destination Hostel is located inside Rossio Train Station itself, boasting a garden theme and bar in the industrial space in which it’s situated. The train to Cristo Rei is literally downstairs, while the 28 tram’s terminus is a five-minute walk away.
Situated in Cais do Sodré Train Station, Sunset Destination Hostel is another modern hostel whose décor, consisting of retro wallpaper, vintage suitcases and gramophones makes guests feel like they’ve stepped into the golden era of rail travel. It’s also got a roof terrace, complete with small pool right on the banks of the river.
Lisbon is famous for the incredibly high standard of its boutique hostels offerings tons of extras, from in-house art galleries to free bike rentals to home-cooked three-course meals. Check them all out here!