Chalkmarks: Living it up: Nightlife in Lisbon

HOLDING my pint-sized cocktail high, I carefully make my way outside. I step on to the cobbles where the night is well and truly underway. 

There are hundreds of revellers who have crowded into a nook of Lisbon to let their hair down and get their groove on

Yet despite the never-ending number of bars in the heart of Portugal’s capital city, the real party is in the street. And down the road, around the corner, the alfresco scene just goes on and on. 

It seems a bit odd to see these narrow streets from centuries past filled with throbbing dance music but it certainly makes history more fun. 

Chalkmarks: City break: Sun sea…and stunning street scenes in Lisbon
City break: Sun sea…and stunning street scenes in Lisbon

Nobody really shouts about this westernmost corner of Europe compared to the Algarve known for its beaches and energetic party scene. 

But Lisbon boasts a year-round Mediterranean climate, has its own stunning coastline and offers a nightlife that can be surprisingly sweaty, noisy and crowded. And for the full experience you have to stay up until sunrise. 

If you are looking for some great late nights with some daytime sightseeing thrown in, this is the place to come. 

After Athens, Lisbon is Europe’s second oldest capital city, located on the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean

Way before London, Paris or Rome, it was a centre for culture and commerce. And at one point it even owned much of the world with the first global empire. 

I’m staying at the Hotel Avenida Palace just a few minutes on foot from those bars and pubs in the neighbourhood Bairro Alto. 

Chalkmarks: Loving Lisbon: New art overlooking the 25 de Abril Bridge
Loving Lisbon: New art overlooking the 25 de Abril Bridge

This makes it the perfect location for day-time touristy outings but even better for getting back after a long night. 

Built in the 19th century the hotel doesn’t whisper, it screams old money with its glitzy chandelier, antique furniture, marble flooring and sweeping staircase. 

The best part for me is the breakfast buffet…it’s a feast. 

Chalkmarks: Distant empire: Monument to the Discoveries in Santa Maria de Belém
Distant empire: Monument to the Discoveries in Santa Maria de Belém

If there are three things that are going to blow away the hangover from last night it’s smoked salmon, followed by a fry up and then a croissant – a three-course, five-star extravaganza. 

I also grab an apple and waddle off to see the newly opened Lisbon Story Centre to catch up on what’s been happening over the last 2,000 years. Told in 60 minutes, this is a part-audio-part-interactive tour of the city’s history.

Back outside, getting around is a walk through history itself with wide grand avenues and squares. 

Praça do Comércio on the riverfront is the largest of Lisbon’s plazas – and known as the maritime gateway where ships would deliver food and goods from the newly discovered worlds of AsiaAfrica and South America

Chalkmarks: Ticket to ride: Lisbon’s famous yellow trams
Ticket to ride: Lisbon’s famous yellow trams

I rest up at the Confeitaria Nacional with its tempting display of cakes and pastries in the window. The cafe, which has been owned by the same family since 1829, is home to the national specialty Bolo Rei (King’s Cake) which is a sweet bread with dried fruits. 

I devour this. I don’t care. Delicious.

For more world-class sightseeing I go on to Sintra, just 40 minutes away by train. The Pena National Palace is a colourful, show-stopping fairytale castle perched on a mountaintop. 

It once was the summer home to Portugal’s last royals but today is a Unesco World Heritage site

To continue the dreamy theme, I take a bus along the stunning coastal drive back to Lisbon and stop at Cabo da Roca on the way. This is Europe’s official most western point – and I even get a certificate to prove I’ve made it to the end of the continent. 

Back in the city, it was time to think about dinner. 

Chalkmarks: Dream holiday: Taking a break
Dream holiday: Taking a break

Chalkmarks: Sweet treats: Confeitaria Nacional was once the bakery to the Portuguese royal family
Sweet treats: Confeitaria Nacional was once the bakery to the Portuguese royal family

I head to Cantinho do Avillez for steak and chips followed by a crème brûlée. 

The food leaves me speechless. One moment I was thinking I should have ordered the cod with “exploding olives” the next the meat arrived. I looked down and was in another world. 

The Michelin chef José Avillez opened this restaurant as a more casual setting to his coveted and high-end eatery Belcanto

Lisbon may no longer be the global master it once was but its food and drink is its future

As I leave, I come across a pop-up bar selling a sour cherry liquor called Ginjinha in small chocolate cups. You can find these stalls all over the city. 

They fill up the cup once and you sip the sweet liquid. They top it up again, and this time you throw the whole thing in your month crushing the chocolate cup. It’s a cheeky treat costing just a few euros. 

And it’s a great way to start a night out, and of course when in Portugal don’t forget the port whether white, ruby or tawny and even pink.

Chalkmarks: World-class sightseeing: The fairy-tale castle at Sintra
World-class sightseeing: The fairytale castle at Sintra

Everybody has a favourite and mine is all of them as they taste jammier than grannies homemade preserve. 

Having pootled from liquors to port, I end up outside Club da Esquina where my cocktail, the Brazilian classic the Caipirinha, comes served as in a pint glass. 

The nightlife on these medieval streets begins late in the evening.  And what’s best about being outside is that you can’t find yourself in the wrong bar or miss something going on elsewhere because the party is everywhere. 

Nightclubs, pubs and bars? They’re history. 

Chalkmarks: Welcome drinks: Ginjinha comes served in small chocolate cups
Welcome drinks: Ginjinha comes served in small chocolate cups

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