Portugal is a fascinating country that, unfortunately, has been hit by the economic crisis resulting in high unemployment and fearful citizens. But don’t let that stop you from going at least once in your life. Lisbon, the most known city in Portugal really is a lovely place and the people are attentive and helpful. But beware: there are areas that are not safe after sundown and never, ever, forget where you are and remain aware of your immediate surroundings.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of hotels worth noting in Lisbon. Of course, all of the chain hotels are here, but they are all located near the zoo and relatively close to the airport, and really offer nothing that is Portuguese culture. And, most importantly, none of these hotels are anywhere near the things that you really must see when in Lisbon. So I would suggest that you stay at the York House (http://www.yorkhouselisboa.com/).
The York House is a lovely boutique hotel within walking distance to the tram, the old town and even the convention center if you are there on business. The rooms are like having your own apartment and vary in size, style, and ambiance. When I checked in – quite early as I arrived from the States – they kindly gave me a room right away. But being the workaholic that I am, there was no desk. When I went back to the reception desk, the woman said “you don’t like the room?” to which I replied, “not really and I’d love to have a desk.” In the States, I would have been met with attitude. Here, the woman just said “come back in a few hours and I will have a new room for you.” And boy did she! The room had a separate room with a desk, a sofa, and windows that looked out to the courtyard. Stunning! So stay here when you travels next take you to Lisbon!
Lisbon is peppered with little restaurants that are seemingly tucked in to alcoves on every street. I must admit that I have never tried one of these restaurants, and probably never will, but if you go, I suspect it is typical Portuguese culture. But fear not: I can definitely recommend a few restaurants that are well worth seeking out.
Roughly 10 years ago, I went to Al Cantara Cafe and loved it and was pleased to see that it still exists in all its glory (www.alcantaracafe.com). Go here for a visual experience that can’t be beat! And the food is divine, the cocktails outstanding, and the wine list fantastic (but don’t go for the local wines; they really aren’t worth it).
Relatively new to the scene is Kais (www.kais-k.com) which is another large, open venue much like the Al Cantara Cafe. Absolutely stunning and fabulous food!
If you are in a bind, I would suggest Sacramento which is in the heart of the shopping area and a bit on the touristy side. I don’t think they have a website, but every concierge that I asked for recommendations wanted to send me here so I think everyone knows this restaurant. They have food for everyone, even this vegetarian, so you can’t go wrong and the prices won’t kill you.
And for those of you vegetarians, I found the most amazing restaurant run by the sweetest people: Jardim das Cerejas (www.jardimdascerejas.com). According to their website, they are vegetarian but I think they are vegan actually. The food was amazing! But be warned: it’s buffet style which I personally don’t like, but when I saw a vegetarian restaurant in Lisbon, I had to try it. Truly amazing food, with everything you could want (except desert which was extra), and it was ridiculously affordable. Seek this restaurant out and enjoy this little hidden treasure.
Lisbon is a walking city. Yes, there are trams that go everywhere and even a “subway” that appears to just go in one big circle (thus why it’s in quotes), but to really experience the city, just walk. And a great word of advice that was shared with me: if you feel like you are getting lost, just follow the tram tracks. If there is a tram line near your hotel – which there is near the York House – you will make it home.
The Bario Alto is an amazing place with gorgeous views over the city. Although most Lisboans live outside the city center, this is the closest thing that you will get to old Lisbon. I could wonder for hours here, just getting lost and people watching.
Another great experience is to traipse up to the Castle overlooking the city. Its a hike: whether you walk up the stairs or follow the tram line up, it’s all uphill! But the views, again, are stunning and quite honestly, you’ll feel good about yourself for doing this uphill hike!
If shopping is your thing, Lisbon really isn’t your place. The glass and china that you can find can be a lovely addition to your travel mementos, but other than that, there really isn’t much worth saving room in your luggage for. Well, perhaps you should save a little room for a non-traditional port wine from Oporto! But I’ll leave that up to you.