Throughout my time at Cambridge, I have done my best to make Portugal known for more than simply Cristiano Ronaldo, the “Special One”, and Nandos. I’ve done this through endless monologuing about Lisbon, a strategy that after three years has decidedly failed. So consider these insider tips a last ditch attempt at influencing your holiday plans.
It is perhaps ironic that my first recommendation is a shop that sells Italian ice-cream. At this point you might think I’m failing to “answer the question” as so many of my supervisors would put it. However, the Santini’s self-proclaimed ‘best ice cream in the world’ is a tangent that cannot be avoided. All the eleven Cantabs that I’ve seen try this ice cream have succumbed to the Santini addiction. As if being their tour guide wasn’t bad enough, I had to constantly reassure them in my most soothing, motherly voice that we could certainly get some Santini after finishing today’s itinerary. Santini is to Lisbon what Aromi is to Cambridge: foreign but known by everyone.
Sintra is in a league of its own. Full of mysterious-looking tunnels, gothic architecture and fantastical gardens, Sintra defies categorization. The views of the Portuguese coast are also jaw-dropping and make for great candid-spiritual-profile-picture material.
On the matter of introspection-generating views, the rooftop bars in Lisbon are a great way to enjoy the summer sunset in style. However, these places get packed exactly when the sun is about to go down, taking away the chill and bringing back memories of the overcrowded bars and clubs you were looking to escape from. So don’t take risks; skip lunch, get yourself there at 3pm, order food every 1 hour or so, and by sunset you’ll be swimming in good vibes. As an added incentive, think of the Schadenfreude you’ll feel when everyone is looking at your table enviously, wishing they’d had the good sense you demonstrated.
Inter-railing left me with the useful life lesson that clubbing is probably the worst way to enjoy a country’s nightlife. Portugal is no different. If you want an authentic night-time experience, Thursday or Saturday night in uptown Lisbon, Bairro Alto, is where you need to go. The atmosphere created by thousands of people congregating on the top of a hill, with nothing but alcohol and chorizo bread to consume, is constantly buzzing. If you get bored in a club quite easily, Bairro is perfect for you. Just lean against the wall with your cheap drinks and watch all sorts of characters, like pseudo drug-dealers and Erasmus exchange students, come your way.
It’s easy to forget that aside from the monuments, nightlife, and food, Lisbon also has beaches to offer. If the sight-seeing gets too much, catch the over-ground train and in thirty minutes you’ll be in my hometown of Cascais. I suggest actually getting off at Estoril, two stops before Cascais, and walking on the path that runs across the three beaches between Estoril and Cascais. And if you’re feeling hungover from Bairro, take a plunge in the cold Atlantic water. The quaint, white houses, palm tree avenues, and cobbled streets make this beach outing particularly relaxing. The temperature might be similar to that of Ibiza or Magaluf, but that’s where the similarities end. Cascais beaches are middle-sized, quiet, and full of locals.
With these five ingredients, you’ll get a taste of everything that Lisbon has to offer. Very little effort is required on the part of the tourist. All the main sights are concentrated in pockets, minimizing walking time; beach days can be meshed with cultural outings; there is no shortage of panoramic views. It’s unsurprising that tourism has kept Portugal’s economy afloat. I now announce the end of this quasi-patriotic crusade, fully aware that my rather lazy outline of this city will have very little effect on anyone’s holiday plans. But wasting time is something I don’t mind, it’s the strongest connection that I have with the easy-going summer pace of Lisbon life.