The best way to start a day of exploring in Lisbon is with breakfast in bed, and the only thing better than breakfast in bed is if that bed is in a luxury suite at Corinthia Hotel Lisbon.
Now, if that hotel suite happens to have uninterrupted views over a city gearing itself up for the day of Lisboetas driving to work through the arches of the Águas Livres Aqueduct (a masterpiece of 18th-century Portuguese engineering, not 3rd-century Roman), then you have the perfect start to your day.
Fuelled for the day and with a sensible pair of shoes on your feet – those seven hills really do mean business – head to the top of Bica and Bairro Alto. You can either get the blood pumping with a head-bowed march up the well-worn pavements, keenly observed by local vovós (grannies) who have nothing but time and perhaps some of the freshest market-bought crustaceans to kill, or glide past their windowsill perches on the Bica funicular.
Leaving Bica behind and wandering down into the former red-light district of Cais do Sodré, you’ll inevitably find yourself on the striking Rua Nova do Carvalho, known locally as pink street. The district’s wilder days might be behind it, but it’s still worth bearing in mind if you’re planning a night on the town.
Open on one side to the Tagus and surrounded on the others by grand white and yellow buildings, the Praça do Comércio was designed to welcome visitors arriving in the city by boat. Nowadays, the stretch of sandy shoreline offers hill-weary tourists the chance to cool their feet. On Sundays, a flea market fills every part of the marble-floored arcade.
The triumphal arch on the square’s northern side was completed in 1873, built in commemoration of the city’s return to glory after a catastrophic earthquake more than a century before. Pass through it and you’ll find yourself on Rua Augusta.
With a definite buzz but perhaps not an ambiance, Lisbon’s main pedestrian street isn’t for everyone, but the area does have some qualities that can be universally appreciated, chief among them the Santa Justa Elevator. This neo-Gothic wonder of iron and glass from the turn of the 20th century reaches above the surrounding apartment blocks, offering great views of downtown Lisbon as well as providing another crafty way to beat the hills.
Make another detour off the main drag towards Cerâmicas na Linha, a local-owned store offering a range of pottery that incorporates traditional symbols into modern design.
Wandering eastward will take you to the street-art-lined stairwells of Mouraria. Once a Moorish ghetto following the 12th-century Christian reconquest of Lisbon, it remains the capital’s most culturally diverse neighbourhood. As well as the flavours of Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Mozambique, it’s the place to discover the wonderfully mournful sound of Fado, the musical tradition Portugal is most proud of.
Take a moment in neighbouring Alfama, another formerly down-at-heel district that’s recently come up in the world, to sit in the shade a while. If you’ve mastered a few basic Portuguese phrases, don’t be afraid to try them out on your fellow benchers, and don’t be disheartened if the friendly response comes in perfectly flowing English.
As the afternoon turns into evening, find your way to Alfama’s Portas do Sol viewpoint to watch the shadows creep up the neighbourhood’s whitewashed walls and the light play across terracotta roof tiles.
Finish the day as it started in the comfort of your hotel. Grab a cocktail from the bar and head to wherever you can watch the sun dip into the Atlantic, painting the skies over Lisbon with oranges, pinks and purples as it goes. Bid it farewell, happy in the knowledge that the next time you see it you’ll be settling into a well-earned day of treatments at The Spa at Corinthia Lisbon.
If this looks and sounds like your dream day, start planning your city escape by booking a stay at Corinthia Hotel Lisbon.
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