Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Tag: city break

Priceless Lisbon

Museu Colecca Berardo, Bélem. Photo Credit: Wikitravel

Lisbon is a great city for those travelling on a budget. Food and drink is affordable and much of the experience of the city is in discovering its many miradouros, listening to the strains of fado in the backstreets of the Alfama and getting lost in the the Bairro Alto.

And, even better, many of the cultural sites that would come at a price in many other European cities are free. Here are my three favourite priceless cultural discoveries during our time in Lisbon. This said, with only three days to explore we couldn’t cover even a tiny percentage of what was on offer, so I know I’ll have missed some great sites here. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments. (NB. I will be covering the majority of Belém attractions such as the monastry in a separate post. Promise!)

Wine bottle tree, Museu Colecca Berardo. Photo Credit: Fat Pig in the Market 

Museu Coleccao Berardo, Belém
Open 7 days a week, 10am – 7pm (last entrance: 6.30pm)

This modern art museum is home to the collection of billionaire José Berardo. It features both permanent and temporary exhibits by new contemporary artists and renowned names such as Warhol, Picasso and Hockney. My favourite exhibit was Mappa Mundi, a temporary collection featuring artworks inspired by geographical maps, from collages to more political pieces.

There’s plenty here to keep contemporary art lovers entertained for hours. However even if you think that’s not your thing, it’s still worth paying the museum a visit if you’re in the area. After all, it being free of charge you can’t really go wrong. And it’s got really good air conditioning.

MUDE Museum, Lisbon. Photo Credit: Archdaily

Mude: Lisbon Design & Fashion Museum
Free of charge
Open Tuesdays – Sundays, 10am – 6pm (8pm in summer)

If our B&B host hadn’t recommended it, we would have walked straight past the Fashion & Design Museum. It’s not that it’s hard to find – with a huge sign outside of its central location it’s arguably harder to miss – but we just wouldn’t have considered paying it a visit. In fact, even then the only reason we did go in was because we were walking past and had some time to spare.

Actually, the Museum is worth planning into your trip, if only to catch a glimpse of the warehouse-style building in which it is housed, complete with exposed plaster and concrete. Its contents are pretty interesting too. Arranged by decades, they take you on a journey through the history of fashion and design by designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Yves St Laurent and Phillipe Starck. The decades are accompanied by a brief overview of history during the period, contextualising the designs of the time. , 50’s, 60’s and 70’s music plays softly in the background, growing louder as you approach those decades.

Fascinating and informative and full of lovely pieces to lust over, this museum is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re into vintage looks or design and fashion in general.

Roman Ruins, Lisbon. Photo Credit: Polewn

Núcleo Arquelógico da Rua dos Correeiros
Rua dos Correeiros, no 9, Baixa
Very limited hours, visit the website for more details

I’ll be honestI can only really half recommend this attraction. We did go in to the museum section, featuring a number of artefacts. But, unless you’re an archaeologist or ancient historian, this small space is unlikely to hold your attention for long, although the woman working there when we visited was extremely knowledgeable and definitely worth talking to.

However, what I really want to recommend is the Roman site – a critoportico – which lies under this space, offering an insight in Lisbon life before an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1755. The bank offers occasional tours of this area, some of which are conducted in English. We left it to late to enquire about when the next tour would be (unfortunately we had to be on a bus to the airport at the same time), so I can’t recommend it first-hand. However it’s definitely something I’ll make an effort to to try and arrange if I ever find myself back in Lisbon. Learn from my mistakes and investigate early on in your trip if you’re interested.

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Ode to Lisbon

View over the Alfama district, Lisbon

I bet you know someone like it. Someone so comfortable in their own skin that it doesn’t matter what they wear or believe. They liked knitting before it was cool and can throw a mean sprinkler on the dance floor (in fact, their moves often resemble Neil’s in The Inbetweeners Movie, but they make it look so good you want to join in). They don’t crave popularity or seek attention – they’re actually pretty grounded. But there’s just something about them – about their quiet confidence, their good nature, their refreshing view of the world – that draws you in.

At the seafront, Lisbon: people and trees share a seat

When it comes to Western European cities, Lisbon is the equivalent of that person. It’s not many people’s first choice for a place to visit though. It’s not as hip or historical as Berlin or Amsterdam, as renowned for its culture and romance as Paris, as fast-paced and multi-faced as London. But Lisbon doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t need you to think of it as beautiful or historical or party central. For a city built on seven hills, it’s incredibly laid back. And for that reason, it’s more exciting and relaxing and intoxicating than any other European city I’ve visited.

Graffiti/wall art and pavement tiles near central Lisbon
Library wall art

Lisbon’s not needing to conform is immediately apparent in its appearance. It is not typically beautiful. It doesn’t have an equivalent to Barcelona’s Gaudi architecture, it’s not as elegant as Paris, it isn’t as picture-perfect pretty as Bruges. But there is something about it that is undeniably attractive. It features ‘wall art’ that may be graffiti but might not be. It has cobbled streets and narrow backstreets and traditional yellow trams. Blue and turquoise and yellow tiles (azulejos) adorn walls and doors and streets; it doesn’t matter that they’re sometimes chipped. And then there’s the viewpoints, or miradouros. Looking out over the sea, or the city, or both, each offers a different perspective and every one takes your breath away. They’re best enjoyed with a glass of sangria of beer from the kiosks selling food and drink you will often find at these spots (it’ll be well deserved once you’ve trekked up the steep hills). Or, even better, from the (usually cheaper) newsagent down the road.

View from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara

 

Also, the city’s cultural sights might not be as renowned as the Berlin Wall, the Louvre or the Sagrada Familia, but there is still lots on offer.&nbsp I’ll discuss specific attractions in more detail in another post, so for now I’ll just use the old cliché: Lisbon has something for everyone, from Design Museums to Bélem’s monastry to the modern attractions of the Parque das Nacaoes. What’s more, many of the museums here are free, making this a perfect city break for those on a budget.

Mahjong bar, Bairro de Alto. Photo Credit: What Katie Does

But the best experiences in Lisbon are often those you just
happen upon. Although hilly, the majority of the city is quite small and so easily walkable for most people (there are trams on hand however for those with mobility issues, or just tired feet). I’m always an advocate of exploring by foot if you can, and in Lisbon this is truer than ever. Not only does is walking the best way to explore the crooked backstreets, but it also enables you to soak in the this city. So for me, Lisbon is the smell of sardines barbecuing in the Alfama. It’s watching older Lisboetas challenge one another at chess in the afternoon sun at the Jardim de Principe Real and drinking sangria with the backdrop of the ocean and the soundtrack of locals playing guitar in the Placa de Santa Catarina. It’s meandering through the streets of the Bairro Alto as they fill with high-spirited drinkers, before entering a bar to find its lights are modelled on pak-choi and the standard bar snack offering is popcorn. It’s eating warm pasteis de nata (custard tarts) in a park in Belém and licking cinnamon from my fingers.

Famous Pasteis de Nata in Bélem. Add cinnamon and eat hot.

Lisbon is hardly undiscovered. Tourists aren’t rare and, as in most cities, there are areas in the centre that feel designated for them, such as the street lined with restaurants featuring men clamouring for your custom stood
outside or, for different reasons, the majority of Bélem. After coming second in Lonely Planet’s ‘must-visit cities of 2012’ pole – beaten only by Reyjavik – it is only going to grow in popularity. Nonetheless, it still feels
like you’re able an insight into the heart of local life in the city, much more easily than in any other cenral European capital. It just seems much more accessible and welcoming to visitors in that way. And regardless of how popular it becomes, I think Lisbon’s the sort of place that will be able to retain that charm.

Placa de Santa Catarina during one of its quieter periods

Perhaps this is because Lisbon is small, making it easy to unintentionally stumble upon the less touristy areas. But it could also be due to the Lisboetas. They’re friendly, they’re unpretentious, they’re happy. They
all seem exude the spirit of those aforementioned people who are just quite happy to be them, just
living their life how they want to do so. And with a city like Lisbon to live it in, who can
blame them.