With our hearts set on a music festival, seven friends and I booked a week in July to Lisbon. Liberdade was our area of choice for its proximity to the venue; but there was a catch, it was ‘save- a- year-ahead’ expensive.
Being Portugal-virgins we had unwittingly booked accommodation in its premier shopping district. So bedraggled from the plane, we did the walk of shame past Gucci to reach our hotel foyer.
Since none of the group was shopaholics, our motive for choosing NH Lisboa Liberdade was simple, it had a pool. The thought of a city break in 30 degrees heat was too much for my Scottish soul so, like a prima donna, I pushed for a pool.
Having assessed the competition, we decided that Lisboa Liberdade had not only the best pool (for our budget) but best balconies. However, we soon realised not all balconies were created equal (two of our crew hit jackpot with room 803’s huge terrace).
Contending with balcony envy, the hotel staff consoled us with travel advice and charm in excellent English.
This charm extended to the rooms, which had spacious interiors, comfy beds, decent bathrooms and mini bars.
Mini bar prices were enough to make us shudder, but the hotel’s surrounding shops had surprisingly cheap fare to substitute.
Cheap prices continued in Lisbon’s pubs and bistros. With a beer around three euros, bottles of wine for ten, and cocktails for five; Lisbon’s bars were a joy.
To digest both drinks and cityscape we headed to Bairro Alto (an alfresco area). On Bairro Alto’s plaza we chose the further of two open-air bars, to enjoy sugar cane cocktails while listening to buskers. The music perfectly complimented the plaza’s fountain and vantage point.
Across the road from the plaza we found The Decadent a bistro that, despite its name, was a reasonably priced. Its earthy interior provided respite, along with tasty cornbread, cocktails and seafood.
Seafood also stole the show at Pinóquio, a restaurant across the road from Restauradores Metro station. With packed tables, Portuguese dialogue, and tanks full of crabs it provided perfect taste of local life.
Another local treat surfaced near Cais do Sodré Metro, where we tracked down Mercado da Ribeira: Lisbon’s fab food fete. Here deli, drinks and dining units offer visitors a choice of global cuisine at cafeteria tables.
With a huge range of stalls as well as desert, wine and chocolate shops, we enjoyed post- dinner shopping.
High spirits continued at Nos Alive music festival, which filled three of our seven nights in Lisbon. Situated in Passeio Marítimo de Algés (a 15 minute drive from Liberdade) the festival had four stages, indoor toilets, food, bars and walking beer tenders.
With headline acts including: The Prodigy, Muse and Mumford and Sons, Nos Alive 15 tickets were surprisingly cheap (costing £90 for all three nights). Each night ran until 3am, providing miles better value than a UK festival.
The only disadvantages of the festival closing at 3am was fighting competition for a taxi home; and suffering a post- midnight fare hike.
Aside from post-festival fares, Lisbon’s taxis were by large cheaper than those of the UK. As were its trams, buses and trains. While only the taxi’s had working air conditioning, each mode of transport had its appeal.
Aero-buses acted as punctual transfers from Lisbon Airport to the districts, while trams offered a vintage view of Lisbon’s ‘seven hills’. For travel outside of Lisbon centre, the trains offered quick and spacious speed.
To escape the city, my boyfriend and I boarded a train to Sintra, Lisbon’s neighboring old town.
With regal buildings, museums and cliffs, the area had plenty to see. But we bee-lined to the Quinta da Regaleira, a World Heritage Site complete with chapel, underground tunnels, grotto and Gothic mansion. It really was the stuff of dreams.
The mansion house offered Portuguese history briefs, as well as drawings from the architect’s restoration. With multi-coloured tiles, intricate wooden paneling and fresco painting, signs explained that António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (Monteiro the Millionaire) bolstered the manor’s splendor, as testament to Portugal’s golden age.
After two hours of exploring my boyfriend and I resigned ourselves to the journey home, but not before scouring Sintra village’s crafts and wine shops.
As the trip drew to an end the group reflected on all we had done and all that we would have done, had we booked more time. Turns out a week isn’t long enough to see all Lisbon has to offer.