If you’re going to Lisbon anytime soon, then let me give you one unconventional tip.
Throw away your map. Who said there were rules to adoring one’s eccentric soul? Get lost in it.
We checked into the stylish and contemporary LX Boutique hotel facing Tagus river, perfect for a relaxing weekend walking around Libson’s vibrant neighborhoods. Located in Cais do Sodre that only a few years ago was known for its decadence and whisky drinking inhabitants, it has converted into one of Lisbon’s hippest neighborhood. Why? Bairro Alto’s hilltop presence.
LX Boutique is a 10 minute walk up the slope of Rua Alecrim to Bairro Alto. As we avoided twisting our ankles by getting our heels stuck in cobblestones, we could see remnants of Sodre’s squalid past out-shined by striking murals and graffiti over asymmetric buildings lining narrow lanes. Unlike the old city’s unorthodox network of roads that rekindled infatuation every time we hit a corner and discovered more lanes, staircases, and squares, Bairro Alto’s streets are uniform and easy to navigate. We feasted our eyes with embedded colorful mosaics into buildings, some faded, and intricately designed balconies, that nevertheless enriched our imaginations of the past.
Brought to life by Pombaline style buildings that were almost left untouched by the 1755 Great Lisbon earthquake, Bairro Alto’s youthful atmosphere is what makes it a great place to experience the nightlife in Lisbon. Pockets of bars and restaurants are spread all over the area that warms up by 11pm. Unless you feel blue and want to stress over your first world problems, swing by a restaurant with a melancholy Fado show, otherwise go out an enjoy the night. I know, I know, Fado is a UNESCO cultural heritage music genre blah blah about the sea and not getting over your broken heart . You wanna have fun? SKIP!
So, you can either work your glutes and continue walking up the slope to Miradouros de Sao Pedro de Alcantara and gaze at the castle from the park, or turn East to Chiado, hop on the 28, and head to the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Although restored after the great earthquake and a fire in 1988, Chiado goes back to Julius Ceaser and successive captivation by Moors, Christians and Arabs. It was not until the GLE (Great Lisbon Earthquake) that Bairro Alto was considered a different city and outside “the gates of Chiado”. I guess King Fernando didn’t think it would be nature and not a crusade that would alter his plans when he built the wall in the 1370s. Don’t let the shops fool you in Chiado. Keep walking. Walk the labyrinth of cobblestone lanes, up and down slopes and stairs as the gleaming river flirts with you in between alleys in Baixa Pombalina. It ain’t a mirage. Walk towards the waterfront, buy some ice cream and wile away.
We bought a one day tram ticket from the local news stand in Chiado. Locals and foreigners slowly filled up the tram as we headed to Alfama, Lisbon’s aesthetic old district, while we tripped over each other as the tram went up and down steep slopes with sweeping turns. Filled to the brim, we grabbed on to each other until we got off at the Lisbon Cathedral. Oh! What a view! Throw out your tram tickets (actually don’t throw it out because I don’t know how old you are) and put on your hiking gear because exploring the neighborhood by foot will blow your miiiiiind!
Alfama refreshed memories of pop up fairytale books I read as a kid. If I dig out them old dusty books, it would smell like Alfama’s sweet scent of nostalgia.Thousands of stories unfold as you walk by architectural gems predominately contributed by Moors and Arabs still populated with fishermen and sailors like it once was; hanging laundry, bright tiles and miscellaneous facade patterns prevail.
We headed to the medieval Castelo de Sao Jorge which satiated our thirst for ancient gems. Not gold bracelets, but the fact that locals are keeping at simple routines of the past. Like a massive art gallery without admission charge, limited timings and “do-not-touch” threats, we conceded to Alfama’s charming dichotomy of old and new. It had the whole city at its feet.
Unfortunately, the old quarter may be a victim of capitalism and distasteful renovations. But like, with a fragile economy and insane bond yields, I wouldn’t worry. Lisbon’s a Miradouros kinda place, and as for me, I can never get enough of red tiled roofs.