Down in these streets it’s easy to get lost among the marble cobbles and tiled buildings (both Lisboeta trademarks), but you’re never far from a miradouro (viewing point), which are ideal for getting your bearings.
At the Elevador de Santa Justa, built in 1902 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, you can take a steel lift up 30 metres to the viewing platform. Then you’re only a spiral staircase away from a roof-top bar. On a sunny day, with a Sagres beer in hand, it doesn’t take much to notice the light particular to Lisbon that everyone raves about.
Before taking the lift back down walk along the platform to the gothic remains of the Carmo Convent, ruined by the earthquake of 1955. It’s been left in its skeletal glory as a testament to Lisbon’s ability to rebuild itself.
More evidence of this can be found at the Parque das Naçóes north east of the city centre. An area raised from the rubble for Expo ’98, it’s all shiny glass and concrete palm trees. For a closer look, you can travel each end of the vast, modern development in a cable car, passing the Vasco de Gama shopping mall to stop short of the Vasco da Gama Bridge (the great explorer is not short of fans here).
Back in the Barrio Alto – literally, high quarter – on a weekend night you’ll see kids opting for less wholesome highs, as students collapse in doorways and rush, gurning, to the merest hint of a camera lens. There are countless bars to escape to, with dangerously generous opening hours.
It’s worth heading back here by day to climb the hill to Princepe Real. Leafy and cool, it’s one of several parkland
oases in the city, and boasts a weekly organic market. Across the road is a botanical garden with yes, you guessed it, vantage points of Lisbon. It’s no urban rainforest, but once inside it’s hard to believe you’re in a capital city. This is the feel of much of Lisbon. In Alfamo and Barrio Alto districts, where the streets are narrow enough for balcony chat, it’s only when you climb up high that you realise where you are.
The district known as Belém is quite different, though. Mainly flat it’s like an open-air museum, exhibiting the Jerónimos monastery, Belém Tower and the Monument to Discoveries. As the name suggests, the latter commemorates the explorations of the Portuguese. It’s a tall, jutting grey slab, from which local heroes, including Pedro Álvares Cabral credited for discovering Brazil, climb into the air. Onwards and upwards they go, searching for new territories, or maybe just admiring the view.
• For more information on Lisbon contact the Portuguese National Tourist Office (0845-355 1212; www.visitportugal.com)
OUT AND ABOUT
Once through the tiled archway of this walled village, the 21st century recedes far into the distance. Cobbled streets separate terracotta-roofed houses, their whitewashed walls the perfect background for trailing bougainvillea. Head to the Ibn Erik Rex bar, where Ginjinha, a liquor made from local cherries, is served in delicate chocolate teacups.
Lord Byron was a big fan of this former royal retreat, calling it a glorious Eden. Now saddled with the more official title of Unesco World Heritage Site, the medieval village is magical enough to counterbalance the daily influx of tourists. After exploring the narrow streets dominated by the Palacio Naçional, make a trip up to the Palácio da Pena, a colourful, turreted wonderland.
Cabo da Roca
Just down the coast from Sintra, this windy headland is the most western point in Europe. Look out for the rose-coloured rock that according to legend is a bear turned to stone after it refused to migrate.
Praia do Guincho is the best surfing spot near Lisbon, and home to the world windsurfing championships. Those more keen to sun-bathe should head to the less breezy Praia da Adraga. With towering cliffs sheltering the stretch of golden sand it’s been voted one of the world’s best beaches.