10 things not to miss in Lisbon, Europe’s trendiest city

Easily accessible from both the UK and the US, and still much cheaper than other European capitals, Lisbon has been the city on everyone’s lips for a while now. Its popularity has especially exploded in recent years, with the rise of millennials posting preset-edited photos of themselves in front of a sea of tiled walls and terracotta-roofs. While Lisbon is an undeniably beautiful city, the filtered images you see on Pinterest do tend to hide the rougher edges of the city, which isn’t short of a decrepit building or two covered in sprawling graffiti. (Street art is a huge part of Lisbon’s culture, as the first spot on this list shows!) The recent rise in popularity also means that Lisbon is busy. Seriously busy. Don’t expect to stroll into a famous brunch spot after 10am and be seated without waiting outside in a long queue, and most restaurants don’t take bookings so dinner is often a case of waiting to be seated.

That being said, Lisbon is an incredible city, infused with an infectious energy and youthfulness. Visit with an open mind and you’ll fall in love with its vibrant streets, delicious food and friendly locals.

Here are 10 things you absolutely must do on a trip to this happening capital!

 

1. Hang with the hipsters at LX Factory

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Cute boutiques stock retro brands
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On Sundays, the market is in full swing and the whole area is buzzing and lively
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Street Art around every corner

 

Undoubtedly Lisbon’s hottest spot, the LX Factory should be at the top of your itinerary. Often dubbed ‘the Shoreditch of Lisbon’, this stretch of disused textile warehouses, full to the brim with awe-inspiring street art, hipster cafes and pop-up shops housing quirky souvenirs, has a uniqueness all its own. Visit on a Sunday when the market is running and the area is buzzing and you’ll discover a real feast for the senses. Wander past stalls selling local cheeses and wine, handmade ceramics and jewellery while mellow music plays in the background. There is an abundance of delicious food options here, especially if you have a craving for something sweet. Pop into the popular Wish Slow Coffee Shop for coffee and cake, or head to LXeesecake by Madame Cheeselova for quite possibly the best lemon meringue cheesecake of your life. Spots not to miss are the famous bookstore, Livraria Der Levagar, and Showu for indie labels and quirky garments.

 

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Don’t miss this quirky installation at Livraria Der Levagar
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Veer off the main path for drinks in the sunshine in this colourful back street
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Some of the street art is a little too real…
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Colour poppin’
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Perfect spot to take in the art with a beer in the sunshine
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Spot Lisbon’s ‘Golden Gate Bridge in this mural’

2. Take a Day Trip to Sintra and Pena Palace

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Queen of the Castle

 

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Sintra, as we had done 0 research about this mountain town, other than spotting a few pretty pictures of technicolour castles on Pinterest. So instead of checking the best way to get there (hint: take the train!), we decided to take an Uber all the way to the top of the mountain. This was great as we skipped the walk up and had a good long chat with our friendly Brazliian driver (who couldn’t speak a word of English but did show us some lovely Youtbe videos of his hometown!). What was not so great was the traffic, which snakes its way up the one-way mountain road at a snail’s pace, taking us an hour and a half to reach the top.

At the entrance to Pena Palace, there are fairly long queues to buy tickets and then another queue to enter the palace grounds. We decided not to go inside the palace itself, instead opting for cheaper tickets which granted access to the exterior and the huge park. I would not recommend buying tickets to actually enter the palace as the queue is ridiculously long, (a minimum 2 hour wait in the scorching sun) and the real beauty of this place is its colourful exterior! 

The castle is like something out of a fairytale, or a Super Mario game, with its bright yellow walls and turrets poking out all over the place. If you can nab a table, be sure to stop for a while at the outdoor seating area. The views over the lush green landscape and ocean in the distance are incredible and we ended up sitting here for over an hour, taking in the view and drinking ice-cold bottles of Super Bock.

The town of Sintra itself is small but picturesque, with narrow winding streets filled with bustling shops and cafes. We stopped for lunch and a couple of glasses of sangria after the long walk down from Pena Palace, before heading back to the city with a few Pastel de Nata in our pockets for the journey.

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Those views..!
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Princess Peach.. are you in there?

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3. Brunch with the cool kids

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Flora & Fauna
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Comoba

 

Over the last 5 years, tourism has exploded in Lisbon, especially among the younger generation and the city has done well to keep up with the demands of millennials desperate for instagrammable cafes and hip brunch spots.

There are several places that fit the bill dotted around the city, mostly within the Bairro Alto district. Queues can be long, as we discovered on the first day when we naively assumed we could just stroll into Hello, Kristof at 11.30am and be seated immediately. Most cafes open at 9am, so get there early if you’re after a table. Alternatively, later in the day is a quieter time to pop in, after the lunch rush has subsided. Flora and Fauna was my favourite place, with friendly staff and  foliage covering every surface. The açai latte is delicious, and this place also does cocktails so it’s perfect for a late afternoon pit stop!

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3. Stroll up the ‘Elevador da Bica’

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Low key risking my life for the gram
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Colourful corners

 

Bright yellow trams are an iconic Lisbon attraction. Have you even visited the city if you haven’t watched them trundle up and down the steep cobbled streets while sipping sangria at a cheap and cheerful quiosque? The best place to snap a picture next to this national icon is at the top of the steep and colourful Elevador da Bica. Here, you can also snap a selfie with the graffiti tram, which is giving old yellow a run for its money in the popularity stakes. Most tourists visit just to see the trams before heading elsewhere, but if you linger until early evening then you can grab a drink at one of the cheap and cheerful bars that line the sides of the street. Barbica is a small cafe right at the bottom where you can sit out on the terrace and watch the trams go by. Further up, Let’s Rock is a tiny local favourite that pumps out rock music and sells pints of Super Bock for only €1.50. Win.

 

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4. Eat at TimeOut Food Hall -but get there early to avoid the lunch rush!

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‘Can you see a spare seat anywhere…?!’

 

Lisboa locals love their food, which is unsurprising given the plethora of tasty options available. The famous TimeOut Food Hall, housing 32 restaurants and 8 bars, is a right of passage for any foodie. This place gets absolutely rammed at lunchtime (are you noticing a theme here?) and you’ll need to be eagle-eyed and quick on your feet to nab an empty seat at one of the long trestle tables. Don’t be overwhelmed by the crowds though, start with a drink at a bar and take it all in, before heading to Henrique Sa Pessoa for Portuguese fare, such as the delicious suckling pig burger.

 

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Suckling Pig Sandwich 

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5. Experience the nightlife of Pink Street

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A cockroach may or may not have scuttled past my feet after this picture was taken

 

I’ll tell you right now to avoid disappointment, Pinterest lied. Pink Street is not pretty. It is a grubby strip of tarmac that runs under a bridge and is lined with seedy bars filled with raucous backpackers. But it it pink? Yes. And it’s worth a trip; if only to see Bairro Alto’s party side which comes alive after dark. Pink Street is infamously known as Lisbon’s bygone Red Light District and, fittingly, its most notorious bar is Pensao Amor. This former brothel, housed in a creaky old mansion and spread across several floors, is a somewhat surreal experience. Swing by during the afternoon to avoid the nighttime queues and have a drink in the dimly lit main bar, while erotic images play out across the wall on a giant projector. It’s a unique experience, but maybe not one for a family trip!

 

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Risqué artwork covers the walls at Pensao Amor

 

6. Eat all the Pastel de Nata you can get your hands on

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I’ll take all of them, please

 

I don’t know what they put in these little custard tarts that make them so damn tasty, but they make a perfect little breakfast or mid-afternoon snack with a coffee. These tarts originated in Belem, but if you don’t have time to make it out that far then the next best thing is served at Manteigaria (there’s a stall in the TimeOut Food Hall). Be careful though, these things are addictive and you might want to brig a box home with you as the cheap custard tarts you get in Tesco just aren’t the same!

 

7. Join the queue for ceviche and pisco sours at A Cevicheria

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For a little taste of Peru, and possibly the most photographed foam octopus in the world, head to A Cevicheria. This tiny restaurant is famous for its ceviche, but as there was (yep, you guessed it) already an enormous queue outside when we arrived we decided just to stay for a quick Pisco Sour from its ‘hole in the wall’ bar. We queued for around half an hour for our drinks, (!) but it was worth the wait for the atmosphere of other people waiting outside and when they arrived they were incredible! (Next stop: Lima! Seriously though, the Peruvian capital is next up on our travel list so stay tuned!)

 

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Pisco Sours with a smile!

8. Take in the tiles!

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Tiles for miles

 

When you think of Lisbon, there is one thing that springs to mind: tiles! The city is covered in them, from the classic Portuguese blue and white to terracottas and pastels with intricate patterns, flanking almost every vertical surface. The best way to find your favourite tiled wall is to start in Alfama and just keep walking, along the winding streets, through narrow alleys and up and down secret stairways. And if you consider yourself a tile super fan, be sure to stop in at the Tile Museum and become a true tile connoisseur.

 

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Miradoura Views

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9. Drink outside with the locals at a ‘Quiosque’

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A quiosque at the Portos do Sol Viewpoint in Alfama

 

What I first assumed to to be lots of little magazine stands dotted around the city, actually turned out to be mini bars or ‘quiosques’, where you can stop mid-exploring for a quick drink al fresco’. Great for people-watching and brushing up on your Portuguese by chatting with the friendly locals over a glass of Ginja. Saúde!

 

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11. Finish the day with sunset drinks at Topo Chiado

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Round off a long day spent roaming Lisbon’s hilly streets with a bottle of wine at Sunset Bar ‘Topo Chiado’, which is tucked away behind impressive Carmen Convent and has gorgeous views over swathes of orange-roofed houses. If beer is more your thing and you’re not fussed about catching the sunset, then Crafty Corner is a great place to try some local craft beers. (And their burgers are fantastic!)

 

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Beer barrel stools at Crafty Corner

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So there you have it, 10 things not to miss on your next trip to Lisbon! Have I missed anything? I’d love to hear your suggestions on what I should add to the list below! I’ve also created a handy check list of some of the most insta-worthy places to eat, drink and snap pics of dotted around Lisbon! Print it out, grab a pen and your camera and book a flight! 😉

lisbon checklist for wordpress copy

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One Day in Amsterdam

A mere 30 minute plane journey from London, the picturesque city of Amsterdam with its tall, narrow houses overlooking countless canals appears to be the perfect destination for a quick weekend break. Despite being just a hop across the water, somehow I had never visited this cultural capital. So I braved the groups of rowdy lads on stag dos and caught a flight from London Southend, to see if I could squeeze the best bits of the city into just one day.

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From the airport it’s only a 20 minute train ride to Amsterdam Centraal and from here the city hotspots are all within walking distance. Amsterdam is the perfect city to walk around and photograph; the higgledy-piggledy houses, the serene canals, the cosy waterfront shops and cafes. Just remember, cafes sell coffee and coffee shops sell weed. Confusing, I know. But you get used to it, like you get used to the faint but pervasive smell of marijuana that seems to cling to the air. And to your clothes.

It is perhaps due to the city’s tolerant attitude that the locals are so laid back and friendly.  (Although this view is possibly biased by the fact that I work in London where everyone is a miserable wanker.) Yet despite the uber trendy vibe of this capital and its hoards of tourists, everyone is just so bloody nice. People wander at a snail’s pace (literally the most irritating thing ever in London), yet here, no-one ever snaps. I didn’t hear a car horn or a bicycle bell once, a far cry from other European capitals where hardly a second goes by without a long, angry toot of a horn. Even when there are oblivious tourists wandering into the bike lanes and in front of trams. This is a relaxed, easy like Sunday morning kind of city and it’s an infectious attitude. This is reflected in the fashion here, which is casual and almost grungy, which works when you’re the right side of 25. Amsterdam is undeniably cool, an arty student city filled with young, unfairly attractive people.

While there is a huge selection of museums and galleries to choose from, with only a day to play with I had to be choosy. At the most popular spots, the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Heineken Experience, the queues can be enormous unless you’ve booked a ticket online, so instead I headed to The House of Bols, the oldest distillery in Amsterdam, if not the world. Bols was an early equivalent to gin and the base of many a cocktail back in the 1800s. The 16 euro entrance fee gains you access to the museum and a drink at the bar. We are handed a token and a small bottle of unidentified red liquid and told to drink it only when instructed to do so. Very Alice in Wonderland-esque. This time comes when we reach a dark room and a row of cubicles. Inside each one, a camera films you as you drink your alcoholic concoction while the cubicle vibrates and flashes. It’s a pretty odd experience to say the least.

The tour finishes at the bar, where your token can be exchanged for your desired tipple, various tasty Bols versions of classic cocktails. You can even try your hand at flair bartending in a secret booth. (Be aware though, that while you are flinging plastic bottles around and doing your best Tom Cruise impression, your efforts are being played on a screen outside for all the bar to see.)

From the House of Bols we amble around the town; visiting the floating flower market, to pick up some obligatory tulip bulbs, and the grounds of the famous Rijksmuseum where the i amserdam sign is mobbed by people clambering all over it. Our next stop is the Anne Frank Huis, (buy tickets in advance here to avoid the queues) perhaps the most famous of Amsterdam’s museums. An audio tour guides you around the cramped, dark rooms where the family hid in silence from the Nazis before they were discovered and led away to their deaths. It is an eerie tour, especially at dusk as the light is fading outside, throwing shadows into the corners of the tiny rooms. It’s a sobering visit, but an unmissable experience.

From here we stop at Cafe Schuim, an arty hipster hub in the heart of the city centre, for dinner and drinks. With the feel of an open-plan living room filled with a mish-mash of chairs, the impressively stocked bar dominates the left hand wall, while an enormous disco ball spins in the centre of the room. This is a great spot to sit and mingle with the locals and the food is delicious and reasonably priced.

Our next stop is a hidden gem, touted as the only speakeasy bar in Amsterdam. Door 74 is almost impossible to find, unless you know where to look. The unmarked entrance sits unassumingly between nondescript doorways, tucked down a causal side street. Inside, the friendly bartenders will whip you up any cocktail of your choosing with a healthy dose of flair and banter. The website marks the address as ‘On a need to know basis’ yet despite it’s secret location, this is a popular spot and you should book a seat ahead via their text message service. You’ll have to find a way to locate this place yourself! 😉

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We couldn’t spend a day in Amsterdam without visiting its most notorious area; De Wallen, better known as the Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, yet it is still a strange experience to walk past half naked women beckoning from the windows. In order to understand more about the practice of prostitution here, reputedly the oldest profession in the world’, and to feel less like we have come simply to gawk at the women, we head inside Red Light Secrets, the Museum of Prostitution. This is a strange yet revealing experience, in places both funny and uncomfortable. An audio tour guides you around the rooms, which can be privately rented for around 150 euros per day, and lets you experience the view from the other side of the window. You can perch on a stool in a room bathed in red light, while passers by stare up at you from the street below. This experience sheds light on the reality of the prostitution business in Amsterdam which, although legal, is still a risky profession with tales of trafficking, exploitation and even murder.

There is a huge amount to see and do in this vibrant capital, there are enough museums and galleries to keep culture vultures entertained and for a laid-back weekend of ambling along the canals, people-watching and bar-hopping into the small hours there is no better place. It’s impossible to see everything in just one day, but with this intriguing city so close to home, I have a feeling I’ll be visiting again, and again to discover more of what Amsterdam has to offer.