City Guide: Lisbon, Portugal

It's hard not to be charmed by Lisbon. Sprinkled over seven hills on the bank of the River Tagus, the city is one of Europe's oldest and most beautiful. It vibrates to the echoes of history while thrusting into the future with infectious optimism.

Its hills, trams, thriving gay scene and Irving Morrow-designed bridge earn comparisons with San Francisco, yet Lisbon's soul is uniquely Portuguese. A stroll will take you from medieval ramparts through cobbled alleyways lined with family-run restaurants and drinking dens, and past crumbling buildings adorned with street art three storeys high. You'll find the Praça do Comércio, the size of five football pitches, ringed with monumental architecture. Finally, you'll reach the riverside clubs where revellers dance all night, energised by the prospect of a prosperous future.

The undulating mosaic streets that weave through Lisbon have never been so popular. Portugal's battered economy has bounced back from the Eurozone crisis, and foreign investors are flocking here, transforming neighbourhoods such as Intendente, Mouraria, Alfama and Marvila into the city's hottest quarters.

Yet among all this impending change, the luminosity of old Lisbon still flickers. Look up from those pretty pavements and you'll see the last abandoned floors crowning some of the shabbier Pombaline buildings. Wake early and you'll ride the canary-yellow Tram 28 without much of a queue. Wander long enough through the labyrinthine streets and you'll find serene squares and benches lined with Lisboetas of all generations.

Exploration is a pleasure as the sun shines more often than not here on the edge of Europe (a Lisboeta would say the centre), illuminating vistas from rooftop bars and miradouros (public viewpoints), encouraging dining, drinking and dancing outside, and warmly nudging you to peek around just one more corner.

What you find in Lisbon may reveal the sense of the Portuguese word "saudade". There is no direct translation but its essence is of a bittersweet longing, like that of a woman who marries a man who goes to sea. Whatever you're yearning for, Lisbon is a good place to come and find it - or have so much fun that you'll forget you ever wanted it.

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As Janelas Verdes

Lisbon, Portugal

Once home to 18th-century realist writer José Maria de Eça de Queiroz – one of the nation’s greats – this mini palace has a rooftop library in his name and 29 beautiful rooms decorated classically to reflect its rich history: think sumptuous fabrics, elaborate adornments, wooden furnishings and stern oil paintings. From the roof you can see the Tagus, the stretch of wide, leafy streets below and the Ancient Art Museum next door.

Address

Rua das Janelas Verdes 47

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LX Boutique

Lisbon, Portugal

Modern, artsy, chic and popular among a fashionable 20-30-something crowd. Each floor is themed by a feature of the city, rooms are light and airy with the front-facing ones enjoying glorious views of the river. The restaurant serves great sushi.

Address

Rua do Alecrim 12 1200-017

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Casa Oliver

Lisbon, Portugal

For the ultimate no-fuss but frills stay, look no further than this super guesthouse, set in a neoclassical townhouse with walls that seem a metre thick and incredible views of the botanical gardens. By midnight, staff have left the premises so there’s no late-night room service or concierge; instead, there’s complete tranquility and a homely feel. Wake up to birdsong from the gardens, throw open the shutters of your well-equipped (vintage radio, flat screen tv, extra king bed, marble shower room) suite, and head down to a simple continental breakfast with great coffee and the friendliest, most helpful owners.

Address

Praça do Príncipe Real 25

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Memmo Alfama

Lisbon, Portugal

Alfama is Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood and one of the few to survive the calamitous 1755 earthquake. This 19th-century factory has been reimagined as a stylish but relaxed four-star hotel with roof terrace, wine bar, infinity pool and “one more drink” views.

Address

Merceeiras 27 Alfama 1100-348

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Torel Palace

Lisbon, Portugal

Complementing Lisbon’s effervescent energy and reflecting the city’s historical density, Torel Palace comprises of two historic mansions – one cerulean, the other salmon – dating back to 1902 and 1904. The passion project of Barbara, Ingrid and Joao (two Austrians and a Portuguese) sits at the end of a tiny sliver of a street, tucked away from the bustle below. Perched on one of Lisbon’s seven hills, namely the Colina Sant´ana, Torel Palace remains something of a hidden gem, despite its central location.

Address

Rua Câmara Pestana 23 1150 078

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1908 Lisboa Hotel

Lisbon, Portugal

Set in the hip and historic Intendente neighbourhood, this sleek and buzzy design hotel offers a popular bar and restaurant along with on-site art gallery showcasing some of Lisbon’s up-and-coming contemporary talent. Rooms from £100/night

Address

Nº6 Largo do Intendente Pina Manique 1100-285

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Casa das Janelas com Vista

Lisbon, Portugal

With its laid-back vibe and cool and cosy style – this 12-bedroom guesthouse is more like your dream apartment than bonafide boutique hotel. What’s more, with the most charming staff to help guide your meanderings – you’ll be feeling like a local in no time. Rooms from £70/night

Address

Rua Nova do Loureiro 35 1200-293

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Micasaenlisboa

Lisbon, Portugal

Tucked away down a cobbled street in one of Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods – Graça – this boutique B&B boasts charm in abundance. Only recently reopened after extensive renovations, each of the nine rooms has been individually designed with real care and creative flair by owner Maria. Rooms from £65/night

Address

Calçada Do Monte 48 1100-362

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Casa C’Alma

Lisbon, Portugal

With only a handful of rooms and plenty of cosy corners to curl up in, there’s a decidedly intimate feel to this hidden gem. The design has a crisp and minimalist Scandinavian vibe and the hotel has a philosophy of ‘slow living’ – inviting you to just kick back and unwind after a hard day’s exploring. Rooms from £144/night

Address

Praça das Flores 48 1º 1200-464

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Almalusa Baixa / Chiado

Lisbon, Portugal

Housed in a beautiful 18th-century building – the capital’s former arsenal – there are original features aplenty in this 28-bedroom boutique. What’s more, set in the heart of downtown, you couldn’t be better placed to explore. Rooms from £120/night

Address

Praça do Município 21 1100-365

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York House Lisboa

Lisbon, Portugal

Tucked away in the peaceful Lapa district, the historical feel of this converted 17th-century convent has been sensitively and tastefully preserved. Arriving up the impressive, plant-lined stone stair case – the leafy courtyard beckons for a sit down and a glass of something chilled. Rooms from £120/night

Address

Rua das Janelas Verdes 1200-691

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The Lumiares

Lisbon, Portugal

Set atop a hill in the buzzing Bairro Alto neighbourhood, this elegantly renovated 18th-century palace is a class act. With a cool Art Deco vibe and many of the furnishings made bespoke – the building’s original features are offset beautifully by more contemporary design. Rooms from £145/night

Address

Rua do Diário de Notícias 142 1200-146

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LX Boutique Hotel

Lisbon, Portugal

Housed in a century-old building smack-bang in the heart of town, the classical facade belies a fun and modern boutique hotel within. Pick the right room, and you’ll get lovely views out to the River Tagus. Rooms from £105/night

Address

Rua do Alecrim 12 1200-017

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As Janelas Verdes

Lisbon, Portugal

For something a little more traditional, this Neo-Classical 18th-century palace might just be the one for you. With one of Portugal’s greatest writers, Eça de Queiros, said to have lived here – there are nods to his work throughout giving the hotel a rather romantic, literary feel. Rooms from £120/night

Address

Rua das Janelas Verdes 47 1200-690

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Baixa House

Lisbon, Portugal

With 13 apartments set across a lovingly restored 18th-century building in downtown – this hidden gem is a rather special spot. Offering that perfect blend of old and new, the individually designed apartments are unfailingly cool and boast a plethora of original features and vintage pieces that will have you wishing you could pack the whole lot up in your suitcase and take it home. Rooms from £130/night

Address

Rua dos Fanqueiros 81 1149-092

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Hotel Britania

Lisbon, Portugal

While art deco tends to bear connotations of grandiose structures, Hotel Britania has delivered the same opulence on a boutique scale just off the Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon’s main drag, since 1940. Step inside the intimate, marble-clad lobby and get an eyeful of Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco’s handiwork.

Address

Rua Rodrigues Sampaio 17 1150-278 Lisbon Portugal

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Casa C’Alma

Lisbon, Portugal

With only a handful of rooms and plenty of cosy corners to curl up in, there’s a decidedly intimate feel to this hidden gem. The design has a crisp and minimalist Scandinavian vibe and the hotel has a philosophy of ‘slow living’ – inviting you to just kick back and unwind after a hard day’s exploring. Rooms from £144/night

Address

Praça das Flores 48 1º 1200-464