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Over the Easter holiday this year, I was lucky enough to go to Lisbon with my family for a week. This was a trip we had been planning to take for quite some time. As a student of modern languages including Portuguese, it was a fantastic opportunity to put my knowledge of the language and culture into practice as well as explore one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
We decided to spend our time exploring each neighbourhood of the city. Every corner has its own unique character and attractions. One of my favourite moments of the whole trip was our meal at a restaurant down the street from the apartment we had rented. It was small and comfortable, run by an elderly couple who were used to a group of regular guests rather than a family of tourists. There were wine bottles, all of them local to Portugal, on display behind the bar and in the window. Nevertheless, we ordered our meal and thoroughly enjoyed the authentic atmosphere.
Alfama and Alta
Out of the neighbourhoods we walked through, my personal favourites were the Alta and Alfama areas. Here there were magnificent views of the city and key attractions such as the Castelo de São Jorge. I also felt that these areas had the most character, with the Azulejo tiles on the walls that tell the story of Lisbon's rich past, as well as the traditional tram that still goes up and down the hill.
One of the aspects that makes Lisbon unique compared to other European cities is its location by the sea. This helped to establish Portugal's position as an imperial power in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with connections to the new colonies in Angola, Mozambique as well as Brazil. The Portuguese explorers reached lands as far afield as Goa in India. The Praça de Comércio was once a bustling square filled with merchants' shouts as people traded goods from all over the world.
Belém is a neighbourhood mentioned in every tour guide about Lisbon. The most well known tourist attraction here is the Torre de Belém, which had various functions as a lighthouse and a prison. The Jerónimos Monastery, dating back to the late fifteenth century, is also worth a visit. Belem itself, like other areas of Lisbon, was very green and is a great location for a simple stroll through the city.
Lisbon itself offers much more than the typical tourist attractions. Portuguese food is wonderfully diverse in taste and colour. A typical dish is the Francesinha, essentially a fried sandwich in a rich sauce with a secret ingredient. Due to its location by the ocean and local rivers, seafood is also commonly found on the menu. No trip to Portugal would be complete without a try of Portugal's typical dish, as well as the Pastéis de Belem, a sweet and creamy custard tart. Whatever your taste, there is surely something for everyone to try in Portugal's capital city.
Lisbon's cheap and reliable public transport makes it the ideal location for several daytrips to other locations. One particularly attractive location is Sintra, with its fairytale castle and the Castelo dos Mouros, which tells the story of a time when the Moors dominated the Iberian peninsula. Other places, such as the city of Setúbal, about 30km south of Lisbon, have their own monuments and attractions to explore.
Overall, Lisbon and its combination of culture, friendly people and attractions make it a fantastic holiday destination. I would thoroughly recommend Lisbon to anybody who is looking for inspiration for their next European city trip.