/ / / /

Where to Stay in Lisbon: A Beginner's Guide

Where: Lisbon, Portugal
August 22, 2008 at 9:00 AM | by | ()

Monica Guy has been dutifully rounding up the best boutique hotels in Lisbon for the past two weeks. Now, she's telling you where to stay in the city. Like actual neighborhoods. Enjoy.

Lisbon is such as spangbankingly excellent place that you're unlikely to spend much time inside your hotel. But it does matter where your hotel is - the city is built over seven hills and if you choose a hotel on the wrong side of one, you'll have a long, hard, trek home.

A hotel's location also matters in Lisbon because each area has its own personality. If you're a hardcore clubber, you'll want to crawl (a short way) back to your bed in the early hours of the morning. If you're a tranquil book-lover, you'll want to escape the clubbers crawling back in the early hours. If you're a culture vulture, you'll want to be close to the museums. Etc.

After the jump, our beginner's guide to choosing a hotel in Lisbon

Bairro Alto
This is where the action is. Bars, clubs, streetlife galore. 'Bairro Alto' means 'High District', because that's what it is - high up on top of the hill. The graffiti-covered streets look pretty scruffy by day, but by night (like a werewolf) the place comes alive. Who should stay here? Young trendies, couples, groups out clubbing. The ones who make all the noise at 2am, rather than the ones who complain about it.

Where to stay in the Bairro Alto: Rich cats always stay in the Bairro Alto Hotel, but this isn't a favorite of ours. A cheaper alternative just over the road is the Hotel Borges. Okay, so it's very basic, but at least you can afford it.

Baixa & Rossio
Downtown - that's what 'Baixa' means in Portuguese. Unlike the curly wurly streets of the rest of Lisbon, it's laid out in a grid shape that vaguely resembles the road layout of US cities. That's because an earthquake in 1755 toppled 90 percent of the buildings in Lisbon, and the forward-thinking Marquês de Pombal rebuilt the place with wider streets and earthquake-proof buildings.

It's cheap, cheerful, and full of shops and restaurants to keep you fed and happy. Reports of drunks and prostitutes roaming the streets at night are overstated, but that's not to say untrue.

Where to stay in Baixa: The Lisboa Tejo is probably your most decent choice - an attempt at a design hotel but with more attractive 3-star prices.

Alfama & the Castle District
The hilly Alfama district is a maze of twisting road and dark alleys, lined with seedy clubs and family restaurants. On top of the hill is the Castelo São Jorge, Lisbon's no.1 tourist destination.

Where to stay in Alfama: If you can afford it, the Solar do Castelo has the most fantastic location within the castle walls itself. If you can't, but still want a view and a hotel with some style, head a few steps down to the Solar dos Mouros.

Avenida da Liberdade
Lisbon's Champs Élysées, lined with posh boutiques, mirror-glassed office buildings and roaring traffic. It runs from downtown north to the Marquês de Pombal roundabout, which has (if possible) even more traffic. Hotels here are x-rated expensive, mostly 4- or 5-star and mostly fairly unimaginative.

Where to stay on Avenida da Liberdade: If you have the money to pay for it, you're spoilt for choice - hotels line this street. For the pick of the crop, try the Lisboa Plaza or the Heritage Avenida Liberdade hotels. For a decent, traditional 4-star with good service, we highly recommend the Hotel Aviz.

West Lisbon
Quiet, quiet, wonderfully quiet. Come here if you don't like the noise and bustle of Lisbon's city centre. You can still catch buses and trams into town, but this area is best for older couples and those after some peace and tranquillity.

Where to stay in Western Lisbon: You'vea hard choice between two top boutique hotels on the same street: the As Janelas Verdes and York House. Or if you're really splashing out on your lover, go for the deluxe Lapa Palace - you'll be tempted never to leave the hotel and its luxury spa, but no matter.

Museum and monument city. Here's where you'll find Lisbon's famous Jerónimos monastery, the monument to the discoveries, the Belém cultural centre, countless art and history museums, and more. It's right next to the river Tagus, a 20-minute tram ride from Lisbon. You're not close to the centre but there's plenty to do during the day - pick a hotel with a good restaurant if you can.

Where to stay in Belém: Jerónimos 8 is Lisbon's first design hotel, and to be honest, it's the best of a rather sparse bunch in the area. If we were you, we'd stay in Lisbon and just catch the tram out in the morning.

Parque das Nações

Top tip: Nações is pronounced 'nasois', while pinching your nose.

A few years ago, this place was an industrial dump where nobody except grease- and grime-covered workers dared to go. When Lisbon hosted Expo '98, the magic wand of investment waved over it, and the newly built Parque das Nações is now a bright, shiny leisure park complete with casino, huge aquarium, city-sized Vasco da Gama shopping centre and several events pavilions. Again, it's a way out of town - 20 minutes by bus, train or metro, and unless you're into casinos the nightlife sucks.

Where to stay in the Parque das Nações: You'll need a bit of cash in your pocket to pay for a night here - most hotels are big chain 4- and 5-stars with accompanying high prices. Get your boss to pay if you can. Try the Tivoli Oriente for its 16th-floor restaurant.

PS We've heard rumours that the Torre Vasco da Gama, Portugal's highest tower at 142m, is being converted into a 5-star luxury hotel with a revolving rooftop restaurant. But no-one seems to know who it's being converted by or when it will be open. Anyone have any tips?

Any questions about where to stay in Lisbon? Fire them over and we'll try to help.

[Photo: Dsevilla]

Archived Comments: