Advantages Nowhere better in Europe for a city break
Disadvantages Hides its problems almost too well
Lisbon is a city of contradictions. It is both modern and rustic, welcoming yet impenetrable, but quintessentialy Iberian. With the advent of budget flights (I recommend Go! from Stansted), Portugal's capital is a mere hop away, and an affordable one at that.The city centre is typical of Lisbon, or Lisboa as it known by the locals. Shunning western boutiques to a large degree, it is a mish-mash of pavement cafes, street artists and over-priced leather goods retailers. Hard to pick up a bargain, but ideal for an expresso and a great opportunity for some people-watching.
A great place to visit is the Instituto de Vinho du Porto, or The Portuguese Institute of Port & Wine. Be sure to take Tiago Olivera's taste challenge after being instructed in the taste, hue and aroma of Portugal's finest alcoholic export. I still to this day cannot distinguish the smells of cigar boxes and oranges in the deep red liquid, but perhaps that's not surprising coming from a lager drinker with a penchant for Southern Comfort.For eating and drinking, head for the Bairro Alto district of the city, where a plethora of bars, cafes and restaurants await. Catering for every taste and every budget, cram yourselves into a local eaterie or indulge the senses with a slightly more intimate culinary experience, the choice is yours. Many of the bars are gay-friendly, but the Portuguese are a tolerant bunch, and those in the minority are they who find this uncomfortable, rather than those who dont.
Lisbon couldn't be further removed from the tourist hell to be found in the Algarve. It is, like anywhere else, subject to the twin evils of globalisation and Americana, but still retains its own very unique identity, beauty and intrigue.
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