Lisbon is a city of colour and texture. At first glance, the city can seem run down. As you walk along the skinny, uneven roads towards the city centre, you begin to take in all that surrounds you and see all that is unique and quirky about it.
Lisbon has been on my travel list for as long as I can remember. Always looking at photos and dreaming of the day I get to explore the tram lined, skinny streets always. Seeing splashes of colour in every glance and taking in all it has to offer.
My Airbnb was a perfect apartment in the Belem district of Lisbon. Overlooking the MAAT and a 20-minute walk from the LX Factory.
Belem is a district in Lisbon that is very relaxed, there is much less hustle and bustle than Lisbon city centre. You can find parks of greenery with statues and park benches to rest. Groups of people playing and lots of seafood restaurants and museums. You will also find an extravagant Monastery in the centre over from Belem Tower. The tower stands by the waters edge, but the two attractions separated by a lush, well-manicured park and tram lines.
Jeronimos Monastery is large and spectacular. Its exterior a pristine and it interior just as striking. Large columns scattered through the space and marked with incredible detail that intertwined from the floor and extended up to the column to the ceiling. Although the ceiling was insanely high you could see every bit of detail. The building also decorated with stain glass windows, paintings and a humble, yet lavish, amount of gold.
In Belem the Ajuda Palace can also be found. Home of royalty. The palace is open to visitors and you can follow the royal red carpet through each room. The many bedrooms and bathrooms, the banquet hall and the unnecessary amount of dining rooms. You can also see the throne room where large paintings hang and two grand red and gold chairs stand. There is even a pool room, that in the 21st-century terms would be “the man cave”. It was real classy.
Lisbon is a complete mix of historic and modern. You can see history at every turn and in every building, the history going so far beyond our time. But Lisbon’s history blends so spectacularly with all the modernisation and eccentricity that has since been tucked in the lanes and open space. LX Factory is a perfect example of modern surrounded by history. This is where I spent my first morning in Lisbon. Exploring one of a kind lanes, art and a whole lot of quirkiness that surrounded me. The space is an industrial area turned into hipster hang out. Factories and warehouses turned into restaurants and shops and my absolute favourite of all, an unparalleled book shop.
The most distinctive bookshop I have ever entered. Books surrounded me; Lining all the walls, placed in the centre of the room and a staircase that takes you to the second level to get a closer look. The second floor was more like a balcony that allowed to look down onto the first floor but still able to wander scan all the books. Thousands of books from floor to ceiling. Old and new, different genres for all interests. As I climbed the industrial stairs I came to not only more books but a funky abstract art exhibition. Placed smack bang in the centre of this balcony, second floor, temporary of course. To see the exhibition, you must walk up a very skinny staircase, clutching tightly to the handrails and once you’re at the top you must squeeze between the pieces to see it all. As I continued along the balcony like walkway down on the second floor, I came to a room that, at the moment is a photo gallery.
The windows were open, and a cool breeze flowed through. I walked the room looking at the pieces before checking the view from the window. Seeing a full view of LX Factory and the coastline of Lisbon.
After LX Factory, I went into the city centre of Lisbon for the first time. It was everything I had imagined. The colours were everywhere and purple flowers on trees were in full bloom contrasting beautifully to the blue sky.
The buildings not only different colours but textures as well. Beautiful tiles are used for exterior detailing. Whole buildings tiled with tiles we would only think to tile a bathroom or kitchen with. Perhaps even nicer. Bright colours and incredible patterns and textures. Walking the streets there was so much to see, one minute it was the architecture and the next, street art to gaze at. In Lisbon, there is never a moment that you have nothing to look at.
My senses were in overdrive each moment I was not in my apartment; smells, sound and sights.
Everything about Lisbon had me bewildered. The skinny roads and paths that lead to more roads and lanes. When you think you couldn’t get any higher above sea level you come across another steep incline or a staircase that leads to another road higher above the last. Some so steep there are escalators or trams for the single road to get you to the top.
The escalator thing I didn’t know about until I had walked up what felt like the biggest incline that ever existed. This was my walk to get to Castelo de S. Jorge. Not so much a castle but more the ruins of one. The walk up was a long one, but the view was delightful. In Lisbon you really don’t need to worry about missing leg day at the gym because every day is leg day. My thighs are solid, and my glutes and calves are sore. I had done an incredible amount of hill climbing, most attractions are uphill, and Lisbon seems to go up and down a lot. One minute you’re going up and when you get up, you can either decided to up some more or go down. If you go down it will later, likely result in going back up.
Although you’re going uphill, and there is a burn that comes with it, there are lots of hidden wonders that make the walk bearable. I came across a few markets, where I would buy the freshest fruit to fuel my journeys and look at the hand-crafted pieces on offer; clothes, accessories and paintings. I also found some interesting one of kind stores.
On a climb I did, I came across Church of Sao Roque. A simple white building from the outside, nothing too flashy. It was so understated that it was the reason it stood out. The inside was just as understated as the outside, well not really, only if you compare it to other churches around Europe. Otherwise, it is a beautiful interior of dark wood and exquisite paintings and touches of gold. Still, very little gold compared to so many. It had a feeling of calmness when I entered. The walls blocking out the sound of the trams, buses and cars that crowd the roads outside.
Some of the inclines are so steep they have trams that will take you up and down the one road. These were possibly my favourite of all the roads. The tram to go up cost 3euro but if you ask me you might as well just walk it. It can be exhausting and tight when the tram goes past but it’s not exactly high speed. You go are practically going the same speed and on the walk up, you can discover so much. You come across new lanes with something captivating and the buildings that line road were almost always covered in graffiti. So were the trams. But it’s not your average graffiti with pointless tags. Well some of it is but most of it is colourful and large and eye catching. It made for awesome photos and there is a lot of it around Lisbon. It is one of the many things that take the streets from boring to brilliant.
Lisbon like many places has a main strip that I feel like is always dedicated to tourists. Restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Artist trying to sell their art or show off their talents. Lisbon main strip spreads over a few roads and depending on where you start you will either begin or end at the Arco da Rua Augusta and Praca do Commercio. Lining the strips are incredible buildings; texture and colour. Buildings out of a completely different time.
Lisbon has got to be one of my top three places I have visited on this trip. Portugal has so much to see and Lisbon is only the beginning and I can’t wait to see it all. This is not the last time I will be visiting Lisbon or Portugal; I guarantee it.