Guest Traveller Simon Robinson hosts murder-mystery dinner shows through his company Bare Elements Productions in Melbourne and Sydney. In the month of August, during the height of the Northern summer, Simon travelled with a friend to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. They saw the sights, imbibed some local delights, and discovered many of the reasons Lisbon is on Europe’s hottest-destinations list right now. Let’s hear from Simon about the highlights from his trip, and his tips for getting the most from this western-European hotspot…
Our arrival into Lisbon set the scene for an amazing visit. Taking the train from the south you arrive into Lisbon over the vast suspension bridge Ponte de 25 Abril crossing the River Tagus which presents a stunning view of the city to one side, and the Sanctuary of Christ the King, a Catholic monument, to the other.
A friendly driver took us safely to our fantastic apartment, slap-bang in the middle of the amazing Bairro Alto or upper district area; essentially, the old town. Set amidst narrow, cobbled, winding streets with minimal pavements clearly designed and built in an era well before the car – it was a charming backdrop for our stay. It really felt like you’d stepped back in time.
The area seems sleepy during the day but don’t be deceived; it comes alive at night. The area supports many small bars, cafes and restaurants which all spill out onto the street. This leads to a very vibrant nightlife in Bairro Alto. The locals all eat late and party even later. Its enormously friendly and certainly, in August, Lisbon is full of tourists so everyone is up for a chat.
The city is steeped in history. You can wander for hours around the old town discovering stunning squares and ornate buildings along the way. I always find those tourist buses, if a little naf, a great way to quickly get your bearings and see many of the main sites. You can then decide which sites you might like to visit again later.
You never know what gems you may find as you go. One of the most curious was the bizarre sardine shop. It sold only tins of sardines in a range of colours displayed beautifully. The most surreal display being the sardine merry-go round.
You can find restaurants to suit all tastes but the local speciality is fish and, oh boy, is it good cooked the Portuguese way. I’d recommend eating at a Portuguese restaurant as they’re not common around the world but, as you’d expect, certainly are in Lisbon.
O Forcado on the Rua de Rosa was a culinary and entertainment highlight. Fado is a music genre that can be traced to the 1820s in Lisbon, but probably has much earlier origins. Around the city you’ll find several Fado restaurants. I confess, we went along with our tongues very much in our cheeks expecting it to be dull or even worse, but one of those things you have to do when in Lisbon. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The food was excellent but the entertainment provided by several different Fado singers and dancers was incredible. We had no idea what the songs meant but they were haunting, melancholic and memorising . The dancing was both electric and at times athletic. Put a Fado experience on your to-do list. Highly recommended.
Lisbon firmly planted itself into our hearts and minds. So many adjectives spring to mind to conclude. Its certainly vibrant day and night but especially at night. Its architecture stuns. Around every corner there seems to be yet more gorgeous buildings or a breath-taking square, even the railway station looks amazing. Its long and chequered history leaves behind so much to discover and learn. Lisbon is now in our top-five favourite cities in the world.
Simon’s Top Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of Lisbon:
- Go see the fairytale town of Sintra – just a short drive from the city of Lisbon.
- Allow plenty of time to buy train tickets. The lines in summer can be horrendous.
- There are some steep hills and challenging steps in parts of the old town so if you have any difficulty walking, check out where you’re staying.
- Stay in the Bairro Alto area, full of bars, cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the street.
- The open-topped tourist buses are a great way to quickly get your bearings and see many of the main sites.