When you visit a new city, it can be all too tempting to hop on the local public transport to get from place to place. Trams, buses and underground trains offer cheap and efficient ways to see as much of a city as possible in a short time period. During my recent trip to Lisbon, despite the steep hills I opted out of public transport, choosing instead to walk around the city. I may have returned home with blisters on my feet and aching legs, but my experience of the Portuguese capital was much richer.
For me, one of the great pleasures of exploring a new city is wandering around its streets, getting my bearings and discovering all the hidden nooks and crannies that lie far away from the usual tourist trails. The best way to unearth a hidden restaurant or to stumble upon a beautiful building is by simply walking around.
In Lisbon, it’s easy to be thwarted by the steep hills when meandering around the cobbled streets. Staircases seemingly go on forever and the different districts are more widely spread than you first realise. Yes, you’ll clock up plenty of steps and work up a sweat, but you’re doing wonders for your fitness at the same time.
My favourite neighbourhood to wander around was Alfama. You can cheat and take a tram part-way up the steep hills, but then you would miss out of pastel-hued facades, ornate azulejos and the sight of colourful washing being strung out of windows. Lisbon’s streets themselves are one of the highlights of the city for visitors, providing all the intricate design, history and art that one would expect from inside an art gallery. The vibrant street art juxtaposed with the crumbling traditional architecture is the heart of the city. This beautiful decay is best viewed when climbing steep staircases and teetering across cobbled streets.
If you only have a short time in Lisbon, the two neighbourhoods that you simply must explore by foot are Alfama and Bairro Alto. Both located at the peak of steep gradients, your route will take you down to the flattest part of the city in the middle of the two, before enticing you back up another steep flight of stairs. On your way uphill, stop to admire the little details of the walls that surround you. Decorations from festivities loom overhead, creating a carnival atmosphere all year round. At night, Bairro Alto erupts into life as restaurants and bars spill out onto the street, providing an atmospheric place to wander around even when the sun sets.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.