The train raced through the English countryside, huge clouds of steam rolling past the carriages before dissipating in the damp air. Unseasonal showers pounded the windows, trails of water streaking across them like transparent worms. It was mid-afternoon and he was alone in his compartment as planned, having anticipated the calm before the evening commuter storm that would begin in a couple of hours. Well, not quite alone. His parakeet, Penelope, sat on the window ledge and preened herself, the bold, still colour of her bright feathers in sharp contrast with the blur of greys and whites beyond. His eyes were drawn to her, the gentle, methodical approach to grooming a welcome distraction from the letter he was reading. He’d already read it three times, but the words kept slipping through his comprehensive grasp like water. It explained, in terribly generic wording, why the results of the investigation into his father’s death would be delayed – again – and although this wasn’t a surprise to Oliver, it was nonetheless emotionally draining.
Further attempts at reading were broken by long spells of watching Penelope and short bursts of tiredness, so he gave in, folded the paper back into its envelope and leaned his head against the window. As the countryside rushed past outside, he thought back to the very same journey almost two years ago, when he’d returned from Portsmouth with a steely determination and a dream of entering the Race to Paris. How life had changed! He chuckled to himself as a timeline of memories swirled through his mind, until his father’s face appeared amongst them and he was overcome with emotion. It happened occasionally, although far less often than it used to, and he had learned to avoid some of the obvious triggers such as pictures, certain newspapers and even smoked salmon with scrambled eggs; his father’s favourite breakfast. But London was full of emotional triggers and was probably one reason he hadn’t visited in almost five months. Another was the project itself.
There was no doubting that Oliver was genuinely busy: in the past two months alone he’d visited Bordeaux, Lille, Cologne, Munich and Milan. He had developed several clients in Paris, including the three Renault brothers – Louis, Marcel and Fernand – whom he met once a week to help with their new motorcar company on the outskirts of the city. And there were, of course, several requests from companies within London that he’d …postponed; but he had definitely been avoiding the RAF project. Despite his prominent role in establishing it alongside Albert and Lee, he was more than happy for the two vastly experienced men to take the lead whilst he remained in Paris to focus on his own projects. But with the deadline for the first prototypes looming ever closer, he had run out of excuses to stay away. If he was honest with himself, he was also missing the city – and its people – a lot, especially Albert, Lee and Anderson, the crew of the Blanchard. But he also knew how intense his visits could be, which was why he’d insisted on taking the train from Portsmouth to London. He needed somewhere to prepare for the week ahead, time to note his thoughts and, most importantly, a calm space to decompress.
Eventually, the tiredness turned to the sleep that he craved, but not in the form he’d hoped. With so many things on his mind recently, Oliver’s moments of rest were usually filled with obscure and sometimes upsetting dreams, and today was no exception. He was in the dentist’s chair, his father standing threateningly above him armed with violent-looking tools and a disappointed face. He was shouting furiously at Oliver for not taking care of his teeth, though it felt like a metaphor for something else. “If you can’t manage this, Oliver, what hope is there for anything else?” He continued to repeat the question, moving closer and closer to Oliver’s face, a look of pure disgust etched on his face. Oliver shouted in protest, yelling his defence. It wasn’t his fault, he’d been busy, it had been a difficult and lonely year, but he would get better. ‘Please, Father, I need just a little more time…please…’
He woke with a start, his head pressed against the cold, hard glass of the window, his face wet and his cheeks flushed, his breathing agitated. Penelope was perched on his shoulder, nibbling his ear in her usual wake-up-call fashion but she had an unusual look of concern. The train was moving slower than he remembered and he soon understood why, the blur outside the window replaced with the clear and poignant buildings of south west London. They would soon be in Waterloo station.
Lisbon is rapidly becoming one of the most visited cities in Europe, if not the world. Which brings with it many positives and negatives.
Tourists will always divide opinion: they bring in much needed money and jobs, enabling entrepreneurs and business people to do what they do best. But it also brings crowds of people, litter, pollution and crime.
So there’s things you can do to avoid being seen as a “f*****g tourist” whilst embracing all that Lisbon has to offer, and seeing things through the eyes of a local.
Here’s my top tips and tricks for what to see and do in Lisbon; and what not to do
Do – Take a tram Don’t – Take the number 28
The number 28 tram is always mentioned as a great way to see the city: and that’s true, it is. Or at least it can be on the rare occasion that you’re able to find a seat by the window. The tram is now so popular that the queues for it are monstrous, the odds of seeing anything slim and the chances of getting pick-pocketed high. So, what are the alternatives?
First option: walk. Lisbon, despite the hills and steep streets, is a very walkable city. For starters it’s not that big: the centre of the city can be crossed in less than an hour, according to Google Maps.
Second option: take public transport for a specific destination. If you arrived by plane, you will likely have used the Metro system to get into the centre, and it covers a good span of the city with its four coloured lines.
There are also many tram lines, such as the 15E & 18E which both go from Lisbon to Belem (although again, the walk by the river is far more enjoyable than the tram, if you have the time / energy) and the 25E takes you to the wonderful and unexplored neighbourhood of Campo Ourique in the north west of the city.
There are extensive bus networks that can take you all the way north to the aquarium, or across the river to visit Almada, and there are regular water taxis from Cais do Sodré terminal. So, in conclusion, anything but the 28!
Do – Eat out Don’t – Wait ’til you’re hungry to decide where
As in any world city, the options for eating out in Lisbon are unreal.
If you’re in the mood for Sushi, Mexican cuisine, Indonesian street food or burgers, there are some great places. But, unless you do your research, you’ll pay for it. Below are a few recommendations to get you going if you’re not in the mood for Portuguese food.
However, a lot of people also fall into the trap of heading down to the streets near the Santa Justa elevator, in-between Rua dos Fanqueiros and Rua Áurea, in search of “local” cuisine. You know the type, the ones with the windows full of fading, laminated lobster pictures and fellas outside offering you a seat. Yeah, don’t go there.
The trick is to head into a small neighbourhood, of which there are many, and follow the locals between 11:45 and 12:30, or after 7pm. Where they go is where you should too. We’re talking soup of the day for €1.30, a main for €7 and, if you try to engage, at least a little, with the (guaranteed) lively conversation, you’ll find free shots of alcohol creeping into your coffee and a bill that’s often rounded down to an even €10 p/person…!
However, there’s also higher quality options and unique experiences that only Lisbon can provide. For that, head across the river from Cais do Sodré, turn right when you get off the boat in Cacilhas, and head to one of the restaurants surrounding the adorable little beach at the foot of the panoramic elevator of Boca do Vento. My suggestion would be Ponto Final but they’re all great for fresh fish and crisp wine. When you’re sat by the water, looking out on the bridge and Lisbon’s landscape, what more do you need?!
Portuguese recommendations: Ponto Final Churrasqueira da Paz O Aregos Verde Minho
Do – Have a drink or two Don’t – Go on a bar crawl
Drinking is embedded in Latin culture and it’s certainly important in everyday life in Lisbon.
Depending on why you’re visiting the Portuguese capital, there’s a good chance you’ll be visiting Chiado, a small and, some would say, seedy neighbourhood of dark, narrow streets, neon lights and cheap bars. And if you’re staying at a hostel and embracing a pub crawl, you won’t be able to avoid the area.
I would suggest staying away, but there are a couple of gems. Tasca do Chico is one of the best places in town, and therefore all of Portugal, to see Fado. It oozes character, with walls smothered in photos of visitors and performers, a suffocatingly low roof and, when the required hush descends on the crowd before the performance begins, you could literally hear a pin drop: the performers are also consistently excellent.
The other gem is at the opposite side of the spectrum, as alluded to by its name: The Madmen and Dreamers’ Association (Associação Loucos e Sonhadores). Excellent Caipirinhas are less than a fiver, tables are filled with students playing board games and cards, the soundtrack is Latin jazz and the air is filled with lively conversation and cigarette smoke. Whilst that last part might not be for everyone, small beers are only one euro, so why not grab a drink and head back onto the street?
Aside from Chiado, most neighbourhoods are excellent places to grab a drink. Time Out Market, for example, is a little pricey and touristy but offers excellent quality, especially wines and spirits, and Campo de Ourique has it’s very own indoor market that is also worth checking, especially around lunchtime.
But if it’s wine you’re after – well, you are in Portugal after all – then a great stop on your way to one of my recommended viewpoints north of the castle is Graça do Vinho, an ultra cute wine bar with a great selection of bites as well.
Failing all of that, head to the top of Rua da Bica from around 10pm and, making sure to avoid pickpockets and drug dealers, grab a cheap beer or Caipirinha at one of the tiny bars lining the cable car route and enjoy the bustling atmosphere.
Do – Embrace the culture attractions
Lisbon is not as famous as the likes of New York, London, Madrid & Paris in terms of museums and art galleries, but it doesn’t mean there’s not great options. And some of them cannot be found anywhere else.
First up is MAAT – the Museum of Art, Architecture & Technology – which is worth visiting just for the building outside, and the great views from the roof. But it also houses modern art exhibitions by very well known artists, plus local work covering most genres.
If you’re a fan of art, it’s also worth checking the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, an epic collection of ancient Portuguese art in a beautiful 17th century palace in an area surrounded by great cafes, restaurants, bars and the wonderful views of the Jardim 9 de Abril.
If you prefer modern art, be sure to check out Calouste Gulbenkian Museum Modern Collection, a superb collection of 20th century art from all over the world housed in the ultra-modernist buildings within 7.5 hectares of beautiful park.
If art isn’t your thing, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, a museum dedicated to the beautiful tiles adorning many Portuguese buildings, is very popular, as is the huge National Museum of Natural History and Science and the equally large Oceanário de Lisboa, an aquarium visited by more than 1 million people every year: it’s one of the most visited cultural attractions in Europe!
And if all of that still isn’t enough, the Castelo de S. Jorge is as popular as ever, offering great views of the city and an interesting insight into the rich and varied cultures that have been a part of Portuguese society over the centuries. But, it’s incredibly busy and there are better offerings in terms of things to see and do, so bear that in mind.
Do – Hang out and watch a sunset
There’s no excuse for not doing this. Free, easy and as popular with locals as anyone else, Lisbon is arguably one of the best places in the world for providing viewpoints over it’s city. In fact, if you want to know where to go, read my blog post.
And anyway, who needs to be told to go and watch a sunset?!
Do – Take photos Don’t – Be invasive
This is an important one, not just for Lisbon but whenever you’re travelling and exploring.
We all like to take photographs, me more than most; as you walk around Lisbon you’ll find a lot of people going about their daily life in the most photogenic of settings, and you’ll desperately want to grab a photo. But there are caveats.
In certain parts of Lisbon, especially Alfama and Bairro Alto, you will see a lot of tiny houses and apartments that look derelict and abandoned, but they are in fact still lived in; rent control and long periods of inaction and poor funding have lead to thousands of people living in very questionable conditions, but paying very little rent. It’s a vicious circle.
You must bear this in mind when trying to take a photo of someone hanging washing from a tiny window of a crumbling building. And you will often find people shouting at you not to take one, especially in the aforementioned areas, so please be considerate.
At the same time, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, if not the world. So snap away, just do so with a thought for what, and who, you’re capturing.
Do – Cross the river Don’t – Take a taxi
With so much going on in Lisbon, it’s easy to forget that there’s so much on offer on the other side of the river Tagus
Whether it’s paying a visit to Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei – the epic Christ the Redeemer-esque statue – for wonderful views back towards Lisbon, a visit to Ponto Final for the unique dining experience on the shores of the river or a visit to one of the many wonderful beaches that line the western coast around the busy town of Caparica, you won’t be disappointed. But why not make the journey part of the experience?
Taxis, especially Uber and similar services, are still surprisingly cheap in Lisbon, and Portugal, so I’d certainly recommend using them for airport journeys when you’re carrying lots of luggage and whatnot. But public transport is excellent in Lisbon, and if you’re visiting Cacilhas, Almada or anywhere across the bay, head to Cais do Sodré terminal and hop on one of the boats for a short and cheap journey across the Tagus. And on the way back, why not hop on a bus and enjoy the journey across the bridge for views of Lisbon as it basks in the light of the setting sun.
So, as you’ve read, and I hope you’ll get to experience, Lisbon has loads to offer and a lot to do. And the best way to see it? Just get out and do it.
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Lisbon, or Lisboa, is not only known for being the vibrant capital city of Portugal; it’s also called the City of Seven Hills. And if you’ve been before, you’ll certainly vouch for this.
To explore Lisbon means to embrace tired legs at the end of every day: you’ll spend considerable time traversing the thousands upon thousands of steps that wind their way up and down the narrow streets of the city perched on the slopes of the Tagus estuary as it slides into the Atlantic Ocean.
But whilst the hills of Lisbon make for an energy-sapping day of exploring, they also make for wonderful views, especially if you can find the right viewpoint, or miradouro. Below are my recommendations of the best views in Lisbon.
Jardim do Rio
To ease into things, let’s start with a viewpoint of the whole city, and one you don’t need to climb; in fact, all you need to do is take a boat from Cais do Sodré ferry terminal to Cacilhas, then turn right, past derelict old warehouses primed for renovation, until you reach this wonderful garden at ground level. If you can, bring a drink or two and head there for sunset, jut like the locals. Boats run into the night so don’t worry.
LX Factory – Rio Maravilha
I’m easing you in gently here. Because this one also requires neither hiking boots nor trainers to reach. In fact there’s even an elevator!
LX Factory, if you don’t already know, is a hipster-friendly collection of restored warehouses that are now boutique shops, bars & restaurants. And on some days, including Saturday mornings, the small streets are lined with a market selling handmade jewellery, vintage clothes, food, drink and many other things beside. But whilst you’re visiting, be sure to check out the roof top at Rio Maravilha, order an Aperol Spritz or whatever tickles your fancy, and enjoy the epic view of both the bridge – Ponte 25 de Abril – and the famous statue Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei.
Miradouro de Santa Catarina
Now we’re starting to climb, but I’m easing you in gently. This miradouro sits to the west of the city centre, halfway between LX Factory and Cais do Sodré, and is one of the most peaceful or raucous viewpoints in the city, depending when you visit.
You can sit here with a book and a beer when it’s quiet and listen to the gentle grinding of the trains as they roll into the train station down by the waterfront. However, if it’s a Friday evening or the day before a national holiday, it attracts a very large crowd of locals armed with bottles of wine, beer and guitars keen to bid farewell to the sun, before the party really kicks into gear.
It’s also in a great neighbourhood for cafes and restaurants and only five minutes walk from Chiado, Lisbon’s famous party neighbourhood. It’s chocked full of bars and cheap drinks and, as public drinking is legal – and very popular – you can grab a drink, head outside and keep exploring!
Jardim 9 de Abril
This might be my favourite viewpoint in all of Lisbon – big statement I know – perhaps because it combines the tranquillity of a small local park with the energy of the city and port below: trains, trams and cars rush past whilst tall cranes move containers between huge ships ready to head out into the Atlantic for distant lands, all only a stones throw from where you’re seated.
Situated a little further west again, it’s also less than three minutes from the wonderful riverside foot and cycle path that goes all the way from the centre of Lisbon to Belém, so it’s well worth stopping off for a visit if you’re walking between the two hotspots. Just don’t tell anyone I told you 😉
Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
The next miradouro is in the heart of Lisbon’s Chiado neighbourhood and is especially popular with late night drinkers who gather here to finish their drinks, when the clubs finally close, and enjoy the beautiful sunrise over the castle –Castelo de S. Jorge – and Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood and where Fado originated.
Miradouro da Senhora do Monte
And now we have the miradouro that’s going to leave you breathless, having taken your breath away both on the ascent to reach it and when you glimpse the view for the first time.
There are several ways to reach this viewpoint, one of the highest places in the city, but the best way is through the charmingly old neighbourhood of Bairro Alto, working your way up the hillside past traditional pastelarias and restaurants, before reaching another view point, Miradouro da Graça that is also worth a visit. From then, it’s another fifteen minutes walk, pretty much all uphill, but it’s worth it. Trust me!
That’s it for now. There are, I’m sure, many more places for great views of this wonderful city. And the joy of visiting new places is to get out and get lost, find your own spots, but be sure to check out at least a couple of the ones above if you get a chance, and explore the surrounding areas whilst you’re there.
This is my first blog post since something very strange happened to the website, and despite the loss of all my hard work and all the new hair-pulling – ahem – moments I’ve been experiencing, I’m strangely grateful because I have no idea how I’d be coping in isolation if it wasn’t for the odd and ever-changing world of WordPress. But I’m not going to talk about the obvious, because everyone else is. Instead, I’m going to focus on afterwards, when it’s all resolved.
So the first thing that everyone is going to get back to, I hope, is socialising. We’re animals, beneath everything else, and we’ve come this far as a vast collection of animals because we’re a collective, and because we’re great at working together. Only God worked alone.
And once we’ve become accustomed to not buying 16 bags of 8-pack toilet rolls every time we visit the supermarket, along with 14 litres of milk and enough bread to feed the five thousand, what, if anything, have we learned?
I’ve heard and seen a lot of people proclaiming the lessons we must take from the clean waters of Venice and the reduced air pollution in Wuhan. And as lovely as that idea is, it’s vastly unrealistic. We’re a global world becoming closer and closer by the day, and as it becomes quicker and easier to traverse this wonderful planet of ours, tourism and travel is only going to increase. However there are ways to travel sustainably, and some countries have had limits in place for a while (Dubrovnik being the most famous).
In the same way, I expect the vegetarian and vegan movement to gain even greater traction once the dust has settled, considering the origins of this latest version of the coronavrius…damnit I wasn’t supposed to mention it. Anyway, what is important to mention is that we, as a world, have a habit of jumping on bandwagons, which makes whatever we choose quickly unsustainable. Avocados, coconuts, almonds and quinoa have seen stratospheric rises in popularity, such that Mexican agriculture is losing considerable verstaility, the world is losing a huge variety of coconuts as more farmers strive to grow the most productive kinds for their milk, and Peruvians can no longer afford to eat quinoa due to its popularity in the Northern hemisphere.
I’ve been using the time to get back to basics, re-focus a little more on a healthy routine of morning exercise, healthy eating, work and photography, interspersed with the occasional glass of wine or choccy biscuit. In conclusion, if we’ve learned anything from this ongoing isolation from reality, I hope it’s the importance of moderation, something we have certainly abandoned in recent years.