Don’t let the sad strains of the fado songs fool you – Portugal’s capital is more focused on hedonism than heartbreak. With new life breathed into its oldest, seamiest neighbourhoods, there’s never been a better time to lose yourself amid its winding streets.
Lisbon is a city that really comes alive when the stars come out. During the day it’s pleasant to stroll around the grand, sun-soaked squares or browse the designer shops in the elegant Chiado district, but it’s only in the evening that the action really hots up.
Today’s hottest hood, the riverside Cais do Sodré, used to be the city’s red light district. These days you’re more likely to bump into hipsters and burlesque dancers than sailors and strippers, but the neighbourhood still retains a few of its rough edges. The Pensão Amor (Guesthouse of Love) doesn’t hide its former incarnation as a brothel – in fact, it revels in it. Now hosting everything from art exhibitions to club nights, it’s one of the city’s coolest venues, so be prepared to queue to join the fun.
For a slightly more chilled scene, explore the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Barrio Alto. Here, in one of the oldest parts of the city, the party spills out onto the streets from dozens of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants. Sagres in hand, cynical suits mix with wide-eyed foreign students, gays with straights, locals with in-the-know holiday makers.
This is also one of the best places in the city to catch authentic fado – the local version of blues that’ll have you sobbing into your vino verde. Don’t be surprised if your waitress whisks off her apron and takes the mike. The smaller fado joints are often family affairs, with everyone pitching in.
A word of warning: If you’re not used to late nights, you might be in for a shock. As in many Latin cities, the bars don’t get full until well past midnight. The best advice? Siesta like the locals, so you’ll have enough energy to party until the sun comes up over the Tagus River.