Suprises all the way

Stephen Bellingham on 26 October 2019
Lisbon is a city I have long wanted to visit, and I was not at all disappointed, though there were a few surprises!

The saying that Lisbon is built on seven hills may be an exaggeration for advertising purposes (in reality, our walking tour guide told us, it’s built on seven hillsides, which is not quite the same as seven hills!) but gosh, you will know it once you start exploring! With its steep cobbled streets, stairways and elevators, public lifts and funicular trams you won’t be in any doubt that you are travelling up and down hills!

The city is very pretty with its buildings clad in colourful tiles, its many squares with their beautifully patterned mosaic floorings, numerous delightful gardens and green spaces with kiosks where you can sit and watch the world go by with your favourite drink or coffee. The spectacular views can be seen from several viewpoints on the hillsides. If you don’t fancy a climb on foot, take a tuk-tuk tour (around 40 Euros an hour) to reach the higher points, and also to see the sights and sounds that the trams and buses can’t access.

My main surprise was that the iconic images I had of the city - the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) and Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem) - are not located in the centre of the city as I had thought. They are in fact in Belem, a lovely suburb of Lisbon. Belem is a 20-30 minute tram or bus ride from Lisbon city - a 24-hour travel card, at around 6 Euros, gives you travel all day on most of the trams, buses and the Metro. Belem is well worth a visit for it boasts a wealth of historic and modern gems such as the Santa Maria de Belem Church, Jeronimo’s Monastery and the amazing new art museum, Museu Colecao Berardo.

A highlight for me was a sunset yacht trip on the Rio Tejo (Tegus River) from Belem which lets you see the sights in one of the easiest and most pleasant ways. I loved the Time Out Food Hall - if a company is good it gets into the magazine but if it’s great it gets to sell its food in the hall! All the food was amazing - you order your meal, which is freshly cooked, and are given a buzzer to let you know when it’s ready. The only difficulty might be finding a seat - it’s so good, it’s busy all day! Located near the central station, and with regular food market stalls as well, the Time Out Food Hall is easy to get to and definitely worth a visit. Another favourite day out was to the Parque das Nacoes (Park of Nations) a modern and new part of the city built for the 1998 Expo, now described as ‘the centre for corporate Portugal’. Here you will find Europe’s longest bridge and second-largest aquarium; a cable car ride over the river bank allows you to see the modern sights in style. Parque das Nacoes is just two stops from the airport on the Metro and only half an hour’s Metro ride from the historic city - it makes for a great day’s outing for a contrast from the ancient centre.

I discovered the delights of Vinho Verde (green wine) and the famous pastries (pastel de nata). People were queuing for hours to get these from well-known ‘tourist’ patisseries, but this wasn’t necessary - I took a walking tour and was shown by a local guide where to find the best spots for coffee, pastries, port and seafood…wonderful!

I spent a week in Lisbon and would still happily return to explore it further - a great destination, and great value too.