Lisbon is Europe’s Best Weekend City Break Destination

Weather forecast for Lisbon and other European capitals

You’ve probably already read that Lisbon is Europe’s sunniest capital (and this weekend’s weather forecast sure does prove that, as illustrated above). But even during those darker, rainy weekends, Lisbon is the best choice in Europe for a quick city break. Not only do most of the low-cost airlines connect the Portuguese capital to most other major European cities, but as it was revealed earlier this year, Lisbon has the cheapest average hotel rates in Western Europe and its hostels rank among the best reviewed by guests. Also, where else can you see Picasso, Warhol, Bosch, or Rembrandt for free?

Until the end of this year the Berardo Museum’s acclaimed modern art collection is free to see every day of the week, while every Sunday morning (until 2PM), most of Lisbon’s museums (including the Gulbenkian and the Ancient Art Museum) offer free entrance to their permanent exhibitions.

If you’re also looking to party, you won’t find a bigger bar hop than in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto neighborhood, where every Friday and Saturday night there is a street party with all kinds of tribes going from bar to bar and standing outside their doors with a caipirinha or a beer in hand. From there most move on to a riverside club, until the sun rises and it’s time for brunch at one of more recent cafes in the city, be it Deli Delux, Pois Café, Kaffeehaus, or Royale Café (see our cafes page for more details about them).

We don’t recommend it for these autumn and winter months, but from about late April until October you can always sleep for the rest of the day at the beach before returning to your hotel to shower, pack, and head back to the airport.

Really, do you know of any other European capital that offers free culture, such affordable accommodation, a contagiously vibrant nightlife, has a better climate, such a beautiful riverside setting, vast sandy beaches so close by, and such a variety of attractions to be enjoyed over one weekend?

Your 15 Million Dollar Home in Lisbon

Partial view of the garden of Palacio São Vicente, Lisbon

It was reported this summer that the most expensive house ever sold is found in France’s Côte d’Azur and that it was bought by a Russian millionaire. The price was 500 million euros (close to 650 million US dollars), and the mansion is isolated by 20 acres of trees.

For those who prefer urban settings and have some extra millions in their pocket, there is a much better bargain in Lisbon! A private 17th century palace in the historical Alfama neighborhood is selling for just 12 million euros (around 15 million dollars).

It has an austere or discreet façade and stands right next to São Vicente Monastery (from where you get a partial view of the gardens as pictured above). It has been the setting of parties and meetings for high society over the centuries, and was fully renovated in 2000.

I have been inside and the ornate ceiling frescos, tiled walls, and lavish furnishings can feel a little intimidating, although I could easily picture turning the library into my office and that modern indoor pool does look tempting. Still, 700 square meters of museum-looking space is not my ideal living environment and I predict the building will end up being sold to serve as an embassy or to be rented for special events.

But if that sounds like your dream home, remember that the price is 12 million euros, take it or leave it. Offers of 9 and 10 million euros have been made, but for the current owners that price is just not right.

Lisbon in New York

Alfama, New YorkThere have been fewer posts on this blog in the past couple of weeks because I haven’t been in Lisbon. I returned to New York for a few days, but still found the Portuguese capital in several places around the Big Apple.  If you’re in that American metropolis before you cross the Atlantic to Lisbon, there are a few places to get you acquainted with Portuguese flavors and history before your trip.

Get a taste of Alfama in Greenwich Village at the appropriately named Alfama Restaurant. You’ll admire a tile panel on a wall depicting the Santa Luzia Viewpoint and the Alfama rooftops as you wait for your refined version of a traditional Portuguese dish.  If weather permits, you may also choose to sit outside, a great spot to enjoy a good Portuguese wine as you dine.  Sample the bacalhau (cod), the chouriço (sausage), the seafood, and everything else that you just may find in a real Alfama restaurant.

Earlier in the day, try some Portuguese pão (bread) at Pão! It’s a cosy, simple place on Spring St. (walking distance from all the main action in SoHo), Pão!, New York where you can order a caldo verde (perhaps the most famous of all Portuguese soups), an octopus salad, or the obligatory bacalhau dish.  There’s Portuguese wine too, and just like at “Alfama,” outdoor sitting.

Pão! is more casual while Alfama aspires towards finer dining. If you choose only one, go for Alfama. I didn’t dine at either during this last visit to New York, but I did try them when I was still living there.  If I was to introduce anyone to the flavors of Lisbon in New York, Alfama would be my choice.

Elsewhere, as you walk down Central Park West you’ll find a synagogue founded by the first Jewish settlers in North America. They were Portuguese and Spanish Jews who fled the Inquisition. Today it’s known as the “Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue” and it will be an introduction to that dark period in the history of Lisbon, when the Inquisition took place in Rossio Square.

Almost across the street you’ll find the Strawberry Fields in Central Park. That’s home to the tribute to John Lennon, made with stones creating a reproduction of an old mosaic from Pompeii, Italy but that as you’ll confirm, uses the same technique and style of Portuguese calçada, the traditional pavements you’ll step on everywhere in Lisbon.

Another connection between Lisbon and New York is the borough of Queens, named for Portugal’s Catherine of Bragança, as GoLisbon Blog told you about here.  Then there’s the fact that Lisbon is the closest European capital to Manhattan, further making you want to hop on a plane to see the real Lisbon for yourself.

 

Portuguese and Spanish Synagogue, New York

Lisbon Selected Top City for 2009

Admiring Lisbon

Last year it was the New York Times that named Lisbon a top destination for 2008. This year it was Lonely Planet to select Lisbon as one of the top 10 destinations for 2009 on its “Best in Travel” list.

It was announced yesterday that Lisbon, the “seductive” Iberian city, was selected for having “scored points” in the last few years, turning itself into a sophisticated destination, a gourmet paradise, where antiquity and charm meet a young population always willing to party.

The ”Santos Populares” feast every June is highlighted as the experience not to be missed in the Portuguese capital, now a destination for those who love culture and fun.

The other emerging top tourist cities for 2009 include Glasgow, Antwerp, Shanghai, and Zurich.

A Lisbon River Cruise

Lisbon

If you’ll be in Lisbon until the end of this month, take the opportunity to see the city from the river.
Operating from April 1st to October 31st, a sightseeing cruise lets you admire Lisbon’s skyline and riverfront monuments from the Tagus just as the city’s famous explorers saw them in the 15th century. Sure most of the views have changed since that time, but many of the towers and rooftops you’ll look at are those that Vasco da Gama and others saw as they departed for their voyages.

Cruise past Belem Tower (itself rising from the river), under Lisbon’s Golden Gate Bridge twin, through the central waterfront with the triumphal arch in Comercio Square, all the way to Parque das Nações, where the city’s modern architecture brings you back to the 21st century.

The boat departs from a terminal by Comercio Square at 3PM, and the entire trip takes about three hours. A multilingual guide explains the sights which you may then explore closer when you’re back on land.
For additional information or to book your tour, click here.