City tripping and toe dipping

A tram climbs one of the many steep hills which define the city of Lisbon.
A tram climbs one of the many steep hills which define the city of Lisbon. / Daryl Finch
  • The city has undergone a massive transformation in recent years, with the revival of entire districts and the creation of new public spaces

There are very few cities in the world as recognisable from the air. Flying into Lisbon's Humberto Delgado Airport, if you're lucky enough to do so during the day, you can already get a glimpse of the city's defining monuments: the 25 de Abril bridge, Christ the King looking out across from the southern side of the Tagus, the São Jorge castle, but also the seven hills on which the city was built... and which will also take their toll on your knees and ankles over the course of your stay.

Lisbon wasn't built for the unfit, though with the influx of tourists have come numerous adaptations to make the city more accessible, with a thoroughly reliable tram and metro network, as well as a number of purpose-built elevators to cut out some of the rather more perilous staircases and climbs through narrow alleys.

Alternative Lisbon

Those who have visited the city before will undoubtedly have fallen in love with the charming narrow streets of Moorish Alfama or the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Bairro Alto, but with such widespread regeneration in the city, there are whole new areas you may never have considered visiting before.

One such area is Intendente, which until very recently was almost completely dilapidated and known mostly for its problem with drug addicts and prostitutes. However, when city mayor António Costa, who is now prime minister, took the bold move to relocate his office and his staff to the main square, things started to look up.

Now this area, dotted with art nouveau and art deco buildings, is considered one of the most desirable and authentic locations not only for locals to buy, but also for visitors to stay. What's more, it's home to some of the most highly-acclaimed restaurants, including Ramiro, as well as a vast array of foreign tastes - especially in so-called 'Bangladesh town'.

This is a story repeating in a number of neighbourhoods. The Cais do Sodré district at the base of the iconic Chiado neighbourhood has always been the best spot for a night out (rivalled only by Bairro Alto), but its reputation preceded it and visitors would always steer clear. Close to the docks, this was an area where delinquency was rife. However, it has now been transformed into a trendy night spot, filled with hipster bars and restaurants.

The epicentre of this overhaul is the old Mercado da Ribeira, now sponsored by Time Out, which brings together the great and the good of Portuguese cuisine under one roof. While undoubtedly a tourist trap, this is the ideal starting point for any 'foodie'. With almost all of the city's major restaurants present under one roof, you can sample as many types of food as you can imagine, before shortlisting your favourites to visit later in your trip.

The prestine white sand at Carcavelos.

The prestine white sand at Carcavelos. / Daryl Finch

Sun and sand

With the hills and cobbles the city's defining features, it's easy to forget that Lisbon is at the mouth of one of the continent's major rivers as it spills into the Atlantic. However, the city's recent urban development seeks to create an all-new relationship with the water, bringing it quite literally onto the doorstep.

The new city sea promenade has opened up a space that had been completely untapped until very recently. Previously land occupied by governmental buildings and shipping companies, now, from the centrepiece Praça do Comércio, the bustling city ambience can come right out to the waterfront. Food trucks, green spaces and even spots for dipping your toes bring an all-new cosmopolitan vibe that extends through the aforementioned Cais do Sodré, but also along the seafront to the 25 de Abril bridge (which many say resembles the Golden Gate bridge but was in fact built by the company which constructed the nearby San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge), an area that has been converted into a hub for the evergrowing community of 'digital nomads' in the city.

It doesn't stop there, with fantastic train and tram links Lisbon can also offer the beach holiday you have been craving. In little over half an hour, you can trade the busy city streets for total relaxation in a number of beach towns along the coast. The historic fishing village of Cascais is the standout destination, and Belém (known for the famous 'pastéis de Belém' custard tarts and some of Lisbon's most famous monuments, including the Jerónimos monastery and Belém tower) is on the same route, but if you want to get off the tourist trail, get off the train in the small town of Carcavelos.

Here, city life is just a distant memory when you're sipping refreshing caipirinha and enjoying a massage on the vast white sands, or equally take advantage of the perfect conditions to catch the waves.

This ability to combine city break and beach holiday really does make Lisbon the all-round destination.