Living Like A Local In Lisbon, Portugal – a city of cobbled roads and colourful tram rides.
A place of allure with its unique charm, symmetrically laid Portuguese pavements, brightly painted buildings and viewpoints that reveal layers of terracotta rooftops intermixed with tall church steeples, you can lose your heart to this European city that effortlessly blends traditional heritage with modern design and progressive thinking.
Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital city sits on the Tagus River with the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge linking its banks. Its beauty takes on all shades of wonder, intrigue, architecture and history and it is famed for its many viewpoints, the most impressive being from São Jorge Castle.
Long-drawn to see the city, I recently bought an air ticket, booked an apartment and spent a month living like a local in the historic Alfama district, and once familiar, in more residential Santos. Arriving with no plans other than to immerse myself into the local living, that is exactly what I did.
Among the attractions discovered were the National Azulejo Museum displaying five centuries of decorative ceramic tiles. In trendy Belem, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) is where these three areas intertwine within a space of debate and dialogue. I took time to listen to Fado music and learn more about its origins, visited the Museu do Aljube that showcases Portugal under dictatorship and the country’s subsequent struggle for freedom and democracy, spent time in the impressive Maritime Museum and lingered in art galleries.
From the imposing São Jorge Castle – which is worth walking up to – the view encompasses the old city’s pastel-coloured buildings and Tagus Estuary. Be sure to take a trip across the river to see the Cristo Rei statue – you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Rio – as well as a closer look at residential Almada.
Just outside Lisbon you’ll find a string of Atlantic beaches, from Cascais to Estoril and further inland the charming royal sanctuary resort town on the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains, Sintra.
I spent much time at the LX Factory, a regenerated creative island that is home to fashion, food, fine arts, music, and one of the best bookshops I’ve ever seen. I walked for hours to familiarise myself with the lay of the land seeking out the best examples of Calçada Portuguesa pavements and photographing street art. I lingered in restaurants and cafes, shopped at local markets and ate more pasteis de nata than I care to admit to.
Views across the city from the top of Elevador de Santa Justa in the heart of the city are unbeatable. On the popular Praça do Comércio you’ll find the iconic Rua Augusta Arch, a historical building and visitor attraction built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. Built to resemble the shape of a caravel, the massive, the angular Monument to the Discoveries is a prominent feature of the Belem waterfront well worth seeing.
I’m already planning my return trip for more, and could quite easily join the half a million lucky ones who get to call Lisboa home. This is a city to live in, no matter the length of your stay, make it your home for those days and pretend you’re a local soaking up the old-fashioned laidback of this inviting European city.
The Essential Details for booking your visit to Lisbon
Getting there: There may not be direct flights to Lisbon from South Africa, but that shouldn’t deter as many European airlines service the Lisbon Airport, and you can get there from Cape Town or Johannesburg with just one connection. Alternately, the very affordable TAAG Angola Airlines offers easy access via Luanda.
Visas: South African passport holders require a Schengen Visa to visit Portugal.
Accommodation: A wide variety of accommodation options exist, be it for a luxury hotel, or Airbnb apartment. The best areas to base yourself are historic Alfama, Rossio in the heart of the city, Baixa for shopping and the charming Bairro Alto.
Don’t miss: Arguably the best pastéis de nata in the city can be found at the small bustling Manteigaria, Time Out Market Lisboa.
*** I travelled by my own account on a personal visit, all opinions are my own.