Some cities you travel to, you fall for straight away. Others are slow burners which take you a while to understand it. Having spent a weekend in Lisbon, it was definitely the latter. I honestly believe that if you judge a city on its centre then you'll never love it. London, Copenhagen, New York; the centres are bustling but it's really Shoreditch, Vesterbro and Brooklyn that have its true character.
So at first, whilst I enjoyed wandering Lisbon and taking in the ornately designed buildings, I didn't fully get how it was amazing or any different than a standard Spanish or Italian city until I left the centre and the main tourist attractions.
As a lover of architecture, Lisbon really set the bar high for any other city I ever visit as the famous tiled buildings were beautifully ornate and unique, with intricate designs that meant I never once saw the same pattern during my exploring. Sure, some of them were slightly run down and falling apart but it made the city feel authentic and rustic as opposed to destitute and crumbling.
All the paths were tree lined to provide some shade from the surprisingly hot April weather, with huge Whomping Willow-esque trees that provided a gothic fairytale vibe with the pretty balconies interspersed. However even some of the tourist spots, such as Belem Tower, the Santa Justa lift (designed by the Eiffel Tower's protege) and Parque Eduardo VII which were at either end of the long roads and the history of the buildings was just as stunning as the attractions themselves.
However it was by heading out of the main tourist trap that changed my view of Lisbon from just another European city. Having read a few blogs sing it's praises, I headed to the LX factory market an hours walk out of the city. It wasn't too busy, it had the cutest stalls of cheeses, gluten free granolas, tea shops and cafes and everywhere you went has great music blasted out and people are drinking in the streets. Spending hours there isn't hard and you feel it's slightly more authentic than the main strip.
It's the markets that make Lisbon, and it had a musical mix of Latino and something resembling New Orleans. You always find some great live street performers every few blocks with stalls of sweets (the pastéis de nata of course), sangria and trinkets with vendors who aren't pushy or overpopulating the city, but in tucked away areas, usually with a great view of the city to relax at.
In fact have I mentioned the pastéis de natas? Lisbon food was too amazing to not fully throw myself into (and will be writing a whole other post dedicated to the best spots I frequented) but the pastéis de nata (creme brûlée like pastry tarts), rich creamy gelato, delicious cod in tasty sauces, and of course lots of red wine! And with the long days, finding a cute coffee shop for an early morning latte is never too far away. And if you can't pick between which of these to go to, discovering the Time Out Market, a collection of pop ups with the cities finest chefs, means you can get them all in one industrial building on the edge of the centre. Whilst not strictly Portuguese, I had one of the best buckwheat, pepper and poached egg salad I've ever had...
However the city won be over, because despite being touristy, the people where so kind, with everyone saying good morning, laughing at my attempts to speak Portuguese and go about their life with an ease you'd expect from a hot, vibrant city. So grab a pastéis de nata (or five), and walk through the historical city and beautiful buildings.