Falling in love with Lisbon

As someone who grew up in a country where the next capital city is a 12 hour drive away—and the biggest cultural difference is which footy team the locals support—I always found the idea of a continental city break nothing short of a dream. 

Shamefully though, after three years of living in the U.K, I hadn't been on a single one…well... not properly, at least. Sure, I've travelled. But not in the way of how I envision a true city break to be—little sleep, some sights, and a lot of enjoying it like a local. 

So when my boyfriend, Tom, and I decided to spend a week on the Algarve with some friends, a quick detour to Lisbon felt only too right. 

A distinct departure from my teenage self, today I am now nothing if not a planner—and with just a couple of days to squeeze in as much as we could, an itinerary was essential.  

Whilst I love a lonely planet guide as much as the next girl, these days Pinterest, believe it or not, tends to be my number one source of travel inspiration and advice. I love following links to blogs or articles written about the experiences and opinions of those who have visited my would-be destination from all walks of life, and corners of the world. 

Of course, there were always going to be more places to visit, delicacies to sample, and things to do than time would allow, but as we set off in the early hours of Thursday morning, I was content with my plans for our two-day escape.

Belém Tower

Drawing the eye of anyone visiting the northern bank of the Targus River, Belém Tower, which was constructed in 1519, truly is a sight to behold—although, admittedly, I can only speak of its external allure.

For me, an ideal holiday wouldn’t be about clambering to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but finding a nearby rooftop to sip wine and admire it from. After waiting in line for 45 minutes and moving very little, we decided that Belém Tower, albeit beautiful, was not quite worth it. What we were really craving was a stroll in the sunshine, not stationary standing.

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As it was (almost) midday and we were on holiday, we decided to compliment our walk along the river with a lovely glass of Portuguese red… and then a sangria—our first taste of the indulgence to come. 

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Pasteis de Belem

When I was at school I worked in a supermarket bakery, where my guilty pleasure was always the Portuguese Tarts. You can imagine my excitement then, as we made our way to the most famed producer of them, Pasteis de Belem.

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Once you’re close enough to the beautiful blue and white shop front, you certainly won’t need a map—just look for the queue spilling out on to the street.  Top tip for anyone planning to visit (and you really, really should), don’t bother jumping in line. Instead, head inside and follow the signs to be seated; in no more than five minutes you’ll be sitting, menu in hand and ready to order.

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Ahead of our trip a friend told me that the unofficial rule of Portuguese Tarts is that you can have two a day without feeling any guilt, so two tarts each it was—and they most definitely lived up to expectations.

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LX Factory

For want of a more exciting word, Lisbon is, quite simply, cool. Amongst it’s gorgeous roman and gothic architecture lay industrial beauties that have been transformed by the city’s creatives. Nowhere is this more evident than LX Factory.

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What was once home to some of Europe’s most fruitful fabric producers has been transformed into a hub of art, culture, eating and drinking. Amongst the PR agencies, graphic designers and tech entrepreneurs that call the space home are some of Lisbon’s most exciting coffee shops, bars, furniture stores, independent clothing retailers, and event spaces. Think Shoreditch, only sunny.

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My only regret about our time spent wandering through LX Factory was that we didn’t have more of it.

Lisbon Wine Bar

In what could almost perfectly summarise our relationship, whilst I was eagerly awaiting the taste of creamy custard tarts ahead of our trip, Tom was yearning for port (in every variety). So I decided to book a little surprise for him at Lisbon Winery, a beautiful tasting centre nestled atop of Barrio Alto.

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In our two-hour sitting we were lucky enough to sample 5 vey generous glasses of port, as well as share perfectly paired local cheese, meats and olive oils.

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Our passionate and friendly guide talked us through the history and localities of each one, as well as the nuances of port production as an industry; but also gave us the perfect amount of space to experience the delicacies in our own time and enjoy our international date night.

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Throughout the evening I learned that I really like port, and that it’s a sin that pumpkin jam isn’t a worldwide pantry staple!

Park

Just like LX Factory, Park is a perfect example of something industrial and functional being transformed into something stunning. 

Atop a seven storey functioning carkpark, this bar offers some of the best, most breath-taking views of Lisbon. To experience it in all it’s glory, we arrived before sunset, giving us the chance to nab some of the best seats in the house. The cocktails are a little on the pricey side, and the service can be slow—but it’s well and truly worth it.

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Alfama

The oldest district in Lisbon, Alfama is a maze of colour, cobblestone, and cafes. We headed to the area with no real plan other than to wander, people watch and soak up the sun—and that we certainly did!

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Time Out Market

What we’d intended to be a flying visit for a quick late lunch/ early dinner turned into a 10-hour trip, filled with local delicacies, new friends and much merriment.

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On the menu is everything from Portugal’s iconic sardine tins to Azeitão sheep's cheese, and marinated mackerel with gazpacho to Aloma’s award-winning tarts; with more than 35 stalls to choose from, an empty stomach and open mind are essential when visiting the market.

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Visually the market is stunning, embodying the classic lines and colour scheme the Time Out publications are known for. The consistent look of the stalls means the local sellers are on an equal playing field to the Michelin star retailers, and the large tables encourage the meeting of new friends from every corner of the globe—we were lucky enough to share three (or more) bottles of wine with a couple from the Netherlands and meet a lovely American exchange student living in France.

Rumour has it a Time Out Market will be opening in London in the near future, and if the Lisbon one is anything to go by, I’ll be first in line.

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The entire point of me shifting focus to smaller city breaks over one or two large holidays a year was to be able to experience many different places—however I’m already itching to get back to Lisbon. There’s a reason it’s been included in every ‘must-visit’ travel guide in the past year, and I imagine it’s only going to get more popular as the fusion between classic and cool creative continues.

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