THE BEST AREAS
Lisbon is a city of clearly defined neighbourhoods, where just a short stroll can take you from the winding alleyways of ancient Alfama to the wide boulevards of modern Chiado; from the raucous heights of party-town Bairro Alto to the sketchy portside bars of Alcantara. Despite its steep hills, this is a compact city easily navigated on foot – though if walking doesn’t appeal, trams still run through many of the popular areas, plus there’s a metro rail system, and taxis and Uber are more than affordable.
Sprawled across a hilltop near the city centre, Bairro Alto is the heart of Lisbon’s nightlife, a neighbourhood whose cobbled streets are charming by day, and teeming with revellers at night. Drinking on the street is legal in Lisbon – the footpaths here as busy as the pubs.
Those craving historical charm need look no further than Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods – a place of narrow alleys and steep staircases, of small squares surrounded by brightly tiled apartment blocks. Grandmothers call out to each other from windows; kids kick soccer balls in the street. This is also the best place to see fado, Portuguese folk music, played live in a local bar.
Elegant, picturesque Belem has long been popular with travellers thanks to its water frontage, historic buildings and museums, and a little place called Pasteis de Belem – the pastry shop that invented the Portuguese tart. There are always long queues, but it’s worth the wait.
Think of Principe Real as Bairro Alto’s slightly more mature sibling, a neighbourhood that still has plenty of bars, cafes, restaurants and ginjinherias – shops selling traditional sour cherry liqueur – but they’re of the more laidback, local variety. Principe Real is also home to some of Lisbon’s best art and design stores.
Downtown Lisbon is a perfect grid of narrow streets and pedestrian malls that lead to the waterfront. This is where you’ll find most of the city’s hotels, as well as some large plazas in which to sit with a beer and enjoy the scenery. Baixa has a notable advantage, too: it’s dead flat, which is unusual in this undulating city.