It’s easy to see why Lisbon tops the European-city-to-visit list
Fall in love with Lisbon
1. MEMMO PRINCIPE REAL
As a general rule, one should be wary of any district sold as having become ‘lively’. Depending on who’s saying it, it’s a term that can mean anything from ‘there is officially now more than one café’ to ‘the mugging will be worth it, we promise’. Yet when Memmo Príncipe Real hotel claims to be situated in ‘an area slowly becoming one of the liveliest in Lisbon’, it’s hard to argue.
Just north of Bairro Alto, Príncipe Real – meaning ‘Royal Prince’ in honour of Queen Maria II’S firstborn – was once a part of the Portuguese capital marked by its beautiful 19th-century mansions, sleepy squares and botanical gardens. Then it became known for gay bars and antiques shops. Today, though, it has all those things and the rest: a rash of independent shops, rowdy late-night fado (traditional music involving a guitar player and a melodramatic singer) bars, a thoroughly decent restaurant scene and a clutch of small art galleries. In a few decades, it has gone from stuffy to cool, without sliding into pretension.
As a base for exploring the steep streets, Memmo Príncipe Real is as good as any. The hotel is perched on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, meaning views from any of its stylish, sleek rooms – or cocktail bar, or restaurant, or swimming pool – cover almost the whole city. It is a treat at any time, but you’d be wise to take your port and tonic (complimentary on arrival to all guests, thank you very much) on to the terrace for sunset, then head out to enjoy the neighbourhood’s nightlife.
Lisbon is more popular than ever, particularly with British tourists looking for a cheaper weekend away than much of northern Europe offers, and almost every part of the city is jostling to be the place to visit. For now, Príncipe Real is winning. It’s certainly lively.
2. ALMALUSA BAIXA/CHIADO
A 15-minute stroll south towards the River Tagus, Almalusa Baixa/chiado sits in one corner of Praça do Município square on the border of the Baixa and Chiada neighbourhoods. Tucked away in an 18th-century building, which once stored Lisbon’s cannons and other weapons destined for the ships of departing Portuguese explorers, this great little hotel looks across mosaic cobbles to the neoclassical city hall. Being a listed building, its vaulted ceilings, weathered flagstone floors and wonderful moss-green tiles have been left just as they were and no two bedrooms are alike. The interior design style is contemporary Portuguese, with fresh whitewashed walls, muted earthy fabrics and local artisan products. On the ground floor is Delfina, a laid-back seasonal Portuguese brasserie-style restaurant. In warm weather, be sure to snag a table outside on the square, order a plate of bacalhau and a chilled glass of white and watch the world go by. — Francesca Syz