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The Lisbon Travel Guide: The Explorer’s Outpost

By Mark Southern on 11th February 2016

For the eternal optimist, there is always something positive inhabiting the ethos of every city on this blue planet.  In the same way The Beatles’ influence still looms over British music nearly half a century later, the founding fathers of a city imprint a philosophy upon it, which will permeate its core forevermore, creating the aura around its future.

Paris rightly earns its label as ‘city of love’, not because of modern values but because of the passion of the Revolution, and the romance of centuries of poets and artisans long since parted.

New York’s unbridled energy and sense of purpose is unique not because of any recent phenomena, but precisely because its defining citizens held the unshakable belief in its power to change the lives of those within its limits. It takes just one step into the Portuguese capital, Lisbon to feel a similar sense of identity, and it’s evocative, exciting and intoxicating; Lisbon is the spiritual home of exploration.

The great explorers from human history, who mapped the world we now know, saw Lisbon as their home, and many of the greatest voyages were planned and sailed from this historic yet contemporary town on the West coast of Europe.  And how it shows.

A sense of mystery and magic fills the air of the cobbled streets, with expensive boutiques crammed in next to each other along its vertigo-inducing hills, whilst museums of science and sea-faring stand magnificently amongst its memorials to the men who made history.

lisbon
Lisbon, Portugal’s hilly capital, is a coastal city known for its cafe culture and soulful Fado music. Image credit: FreeImages.com/Jonathan Teh

Columbus learned his craft in this town, and used its location to strategic effect throughout his legendary life, and these days the world’s cruise liners have followed in his illustrious footsteps, with many cruise ships moored in the medieval harbour at any time.

The very best explorers combined both bravery and a sense of destiny, and the city in which they made their name still pulses with these instincts.  If you feel like you need more adventure in your life, and let’s face it, who doesn’t, then this is one exploration you won’t want to miss.

Stay

Lisbon’s a relatively big city, but it’s not the size that makes it tricky to get about on foot; it’s the hills.  Even Edmund Hillary would be daunted by the incessant inclines around every corner, so choosing a central location is by far the best bet.

Fortunately, located in the perfect location is the best hotel in town, the Tiara Park Atlantic Lisboa, and it’s a dream destination in its own right.

Perched towards the top of one of the many vertiginous slopes, the hotel surveys the entire city from its lofty position, and lives up to its billing as the only place to stay in Lisbon.  In fact, so grand is its position, and so spectacular are its views, that if your holiday snaps aren’t dominated by photos taken from various viewpoints around the hotel, we’ll, well, we don’t know what we’ll do, but we’d be surprised.

From the large open lobby, to the spacious rooms and suites, classic decor combines with a tastefully modern edge in every corner.  Indeed, the hotel simply oozes charm and excellence, and it’s not surprise its where visiting dignitaries and A-listers stay.

Service at the hotel finds the right balance between attentive and relaxed, and the restaurant is first class, with a fine dining menu to rival anywhere in town.

5ball
The main square in Lisbon. Image credit: FreeImages.com/5ball

Make sure you book one of the outstanding suites on the top floor for the very best views, and exceptional spacious luxury.

Food is also something of a speciality here, and the fine dining restaurant offers food of such high quality that it’s tempting to not venture out of the hotel.

A wonderful hotel experience, and one not to be missed.

www.tiara-hotels.com

Eat

Despite recent assertions by ubiquitous fast-food chains, Portugal isn’t all about cheap piri-piri chicken.  In fact, and with good fortune, the dubious joys of Nando’s are a long way from authentic Portuguese cuisine, which is good news for diners, but bad news for plastic novelty chicken manufacturers the world over.

Instead of cheap chicken, fish rules the waves in Lisbon, with fresh seafood the order of the day everywhere.  And we mean fresh.  Indeed, with fishing boats coming in 24/7, it’s likely the fish on your plate was swimming in the sea just hours before, and restaurants pride themselves on the quickest boat to plate times.  Some claim just ten minutes; see, we said it was fresh.

The very best place to eat in town is Bocca, which serves up a truly sensational tasting menu that has to be tried to be believed.  From mackeral to suckling pig, and from pineapple to tangerine, the menu traverses the flavour spectrum, creating explosions of pure joy on the palette.  The excellent complementing wines eke out every last drop of deliciousness, and it’s the kind of place you’ll feel a genuine sense of sadness at leaving.  Utterly bewitching, and an absolute must-do.

www.bocca.pt

Party

Portugal is a party country, and Lisbon takes its role as the capital of nightlife very seriously indeed.

The Vasco da Gama Bridge
The Vasco da Gama Bridge is currently the longest bridge in Europe. Image credit: FreeImages/Attilio Lombardo

The tight, winding streets of Bairro Alto lend themselves perfectly to become the stage upon which the nightly partying throbs and thrives.  Cafe culture bars spill out onto the streets, with locals and tourists mingling in a happy bustle, creating a great vibe of positivity and joyful fun, whilst music of all tastes soundtrack the setting.

For those of more calm disposition, the marina has wonderful restaurants set back against the calm sea and spectacular bridge, and shouldn’t be missed.

Culture

Lisbon is a city with some pretty major history, and it’s no surprise that it rates highly on any cultural scale.  Museums jostle with Baroque architecture for prominence, whilst music flows out from every window into the cobbled streets. It’s a job keeping up with it, to be perfectly honest.

The magical history of the place is intoxicating, and it seems unfair to cherry pick just one must-view place. However, the Castle of Sao Jorge is the crown upon the city’s head, and it really shouldn’t be missed.

The castle gazes out across the ocean with an impenatrable air of supremacy, and its medieval origins provide a suitable grandiose garland on top of the white-washed buildings below.

It’s worth taking the time to do the guided tour, as the personal stories are plentiful and eye-catching, but be warned; you will almost certainly want to build a turret on your own house once you leave.

www.castelodesaojorge.pt

Getting About

One thing you will learn very quickly in Lisbon is that those hills are not meant for walking, and so taxis and trams are your friend.  However, the very best way of seeing the city from the ground is found on just two wheels.  Two, segway wheels.

The exceptional segway tour takes segwayers around the old town and the new, on its high-tech gadgetry.  The clued-up guides delve into the city’s real history, to provide insight into its past, present and future, and you’ll see everything you need to aboard the magic machines.

Don’t miss out on it.

www.lisbonbysegway.com

Something Different

In 1998, Lisbon hosted the World Fair, leading the city to open their Expo Park. Like many such events, the regeneration of the area created a bit of a vacuum once everyone had packed up, but the area still holds a must-see museum for anyone with a hint of aquatic curiosity.

Lisbon at night
Lisbon at night. Image credit: FreeImages.com/Konstantinos Dafalias

The Lisbon Oceanarium is a truly remarkable science project, that houses, amongst other water zones, one of the largest aquarium tanks in the world, holding 5,000 cubic metres of water, and playing host to over 100 species.

The tank is split into four glass zones, each replicating a different habitat, from Antarctic coast line to Indian coral reefs, and offers fascinating insights into the evolution of the seas.

www.oceanario.pt

Get There

Fly First Class with British Airways from London Heathrow.

Make sure you arrive at T5 early so you can sample BA’s wonderful hospitality in the First Class Concorde Lounge – one of the top five airport lounges anywhere in the world.

www.ba.com

Main image above (top of article) credit: FreeImages/jamesfarfa