Lisbon: Queen of the Sea

To help beat the January blues, Roisin Guyett-Nicholson suggests a possibility for your summer trip.


MOST students embarking on a whistle-stop tour of Europe often opt for Amsterdam, Paris or Berlin. However, if you’re thinking of trying somewhere a little bit different this summer, give Lisbon a try. Tucked away in the corner of the Iberian Peninsula, this relaxed city is definitely worth a visit.

An old city like most European capitals, Lisbon is definitely the most relaxed. Settled by the Roman and Muslim empires, the city has numerous archaeological sites, hidden beneath buildings. A lot of these have only been discovered in the last 30 years.

The oldest and most picturesque part of town is Chiado. Right beside the river, the area has the most museums and cafés, though is a magnet for tourists. This is where you will find the beautiful winding streets and in the summer, all the restaurants will have their tables outside.

This area is also home to the world’s oldest operational bookshop. The Bertand bookshop, now a chain across Portugal, opened in Lisbon in 1732. The store has only moved once, following an earthquake in 1755. To fulfil all your Harry Potter fantasies, you really should visit. The shop only has a small collection of English language books, but it does offer a selection of works by Portugese writers translated to English if you want to soak up some of the local culture.

“To get the best view across all seven hills visit Castelo de São Jorge.”

Within the city, there are countless panoramic views. Most tourists flock to the Elevador de Santa Justa, which offers up close views in the heart of the city. However, to get the best view across all seven hills visit Castelo de São Jorge. The old settlement contains the ruins of a castle and wide open courtyards, with their own population of peacocks. Concession tickets are offered to students and there’s also a restaurant within the grounds, so you can eat your dinner while enjoying the breeze.

The food is delicious all over the city and surprisingly cheap. Being so close to the sea there’s a huge choice of fish, which is usually barbequed and unbelievably tasty. For desserts too, there are cafés with pastries on offer, but for the best choices visit Pastelaria Casa Brasileira in the old town or Pasteis de Belém in the nearby seaside town of Belém.

Here you can sample the local Paistéis de Nata, a small custard tart. They’re perfect for breakfast or a small snack during the day, especially with coffee.

If you like your caffeine hit, you can’t go wrong with the coffee in Portugal. Espressos are served in every café and you won’t get anything like it here. Avoid the bland coffee machine in your hotel room and opt for the much better options in any of the cafés across the city. Like pubs in Dublin, you can’t cross Lisbon without seeing a café.

Most of them will also stay open late into the night, including along the city’s main thoroughfare, Avenida da Liberdade. Based on the Champs-Élysées, the Lisbon alternative is much calmer and more relaxed. Take a seat in one of the many café’s along the tree-lined avenue and you’ll feel like you’re in a Hollywood version of Paris.

“If you like your caffeine hit, you can’t go wrong with the coffee in Portugal.”

It opens onto the Eduardo VII park, a long and uphill area, popular with locals on weekends and in the summer. At the top of the park the largest Portuguese flag in the country is normally flown.

On the bank of the large river Tagus, Lisbon boasts a beach in the heart of the city. However, it is small and being by the main square it tends to be busy on hot days so for a quieter atmosphere you would be better to travel outside the city for a breeze.

The town of Cascais is only 30 minutes away by train and has a fantastic beach, as well as similar feel to Lisbon. A bit on the quieter side, the town is mainly a holiday resort but does have the same blend of architecture.

If you were to a bit more adventurous you could take a day trip to Nazaré or Óbidos. Both places are about an hour away from the city and most tour companies will combine the trips. Nazaré is a small seaside town but it’s high cliffs over a fantastic view of the Atlantic ocean. You can walk up the cliffs if you feel particularly energetic. There’s also a cable car for those of us less determined.

Óbidos is an old Roman fortified city, on a hilltop. The town is tiny, with only 3,000 people still living there today. Visiting is like stepping back through time, as all the buildings have the same aesthetic. For the best experience, you can walk around the walls and see the area for miles around.