There’s nothing quite like eschewing your responsibilities and disappearing on a plane in the middle of the semester. My escape from Hurricane Ophelia and deadlines into the surprisingly sunny Lisbon exceeded my expectations and showed the city to be ideal for students.
Lisbon is one of those cities that feels like you’re living in a postcard, the ones that you can wander around endlessly, meaning to do all the big tourist things but getting hopelessly sidetracked. Every few metres or so you come across a square with a beautiful fountain, bordered with hundred-year-old cafés and painted buildings and you simply have to stop and examine each and every one.
The city’s unique style of architecture results in beautiful tiled buildings, giving a mosaic effect to cathedrals, antique tailors, cafés, sweet shops, etc. The fact that I saw a total of two Starbucks during the entire week shows that Lisbon is clearly a city that has maintained its history, and whose culture has withstood mainstream commercialisation. The century-old wooden trams and the more modern buses will help you navigate Lisbon’s hilly terrain, but in truth this is a city that you want to explore on foot to get the most rewarding experience.
“The Monastery is a fantastic feat of architecture that you simply cannot leave Lisbon without seeing”
When you do get around to the tourist attractions, you’ll find no shortage of rich historical and cultural landmarks and museums to visit. The highlights include the Jerónimos Monastery, Sao Jorge Castle, and Chiado Museum. The Monastery is a fantastic feat of architecture that you simply cannot leave Lisbon without seeing. Once populated by monks, then used as an orphanage, it is now the site of internment for Vasco de Gama and a number of influential poets and historical figures. It boasts Portugal’s first Renaissance woodcarvings, intricate naturalist stone carvings, gargoyles, and spectacular gold painted shrines.
Sao Jorge Castle is the perfect destination for the sunniest days of your holiday, standing high above central Lisbon with a gorgeous view. With kiosks serving wine, sandwiches, and ice cream there is no more idyllic place to relax in the sun. The castle dates from the Moorish period, having survived crusades and earthquakes, and strengthened by the successive Kings of Portugal. Touring it is a warp-speed history lesson, and a beautiful one at that.
Chiado museum is a modern art gallery located in central Lisbon. From sculptures to portraits to installations it has incredible engaging collections that immerse you in contemporary Portuguese culture. Best of all, the attractions mentioned, and most others, usually have half price entry for students with a valid student card.
“Best of all, the attractions mentioned, and most others, usually have half price entry for students with a valid student card”
When it comes to dining, Lisbon is a foodie’s paradise. It’s home to a huge selection of reasonably-priced seafood restaurants, food markets, vegan and vegetarian options along with cafés specialising in breakfast food, ice-cream, and of course the infamous Pasteis de Nata, which can only be described as baked and flakey custard heaven.
As difficult as it is to narrow down, my top picks for food in Lisbon would have to be the Time-Out Food Market, Moules and Beer, Manteigaria, and Nanarellas. Time Out is a glorious modern food hall, with a high ceiling and low-hanging bulbs. It’s lined with high-quality restaurants serving everything from octopus salad, to gourmet sausage, to square Sicilian pizza slices. Time Out is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, with options for everyone and a wonderful atmosphere.
Alternatively, Moules and Beer are a series of restaurants serving only mussel dishes, unassuming, affordable, and frequented by locals. Although it’s a bit niche, it’s definitely worth the visit.
For dessert or just to satisfy sweet-tooth cravings, the best options are Manteigaria, which exclusively sells Pasteis de Nata for a euro each, made in new batches in the same room as the cash register every hour or so. Another strong option is Nanarellas, an award-winning ice-cream parlour serving their premium ice cream with a dollop of cream, to be enjoyed in the nearby park after braving the inevitable daily queue.
When it comes to accommodation in Lisbon there are a number of really great hostel options, but I’d recommend looking into the city’s guesthouses. A guesthouse differs from hotel and hostels in that there are very limited services provided by the hosts, and they’re usually small with only a few rooms to rent out. Guesthouses will offer you access to a kitchen to store your own food if you want to save money and expect you to mostly look after yourself. Although they are usually geared towards couples, they’re ideal and more affordable in general if you’re travelling in a small group with traditional hostels being sufficient for larger groups.
Lisbon is an exciting and beautiful city, perfect for a cheap and action-packed holiday, or a week of lazily exploring the nooks and crannies of another city and absorbing its culture.