Do you know of the five best neighbourhoods in Lisbon?

Exploring Lisbon’s best areas…

An unmistakable Mediterranean-ism and a wild Atlantic coast! Europe’s westernmost country literally has the best of both worlds. Voyage-driven history, staggering landscapes, Moorish roots, and a unique culture that changed the face of its colonies for posterity. Certainly a destination to redefine your vision of the continent. So give in to the pull of Portugal. Submit to the lure of Lisbon. With my rundown of the top five most atmospheric neighbourhoods in the capital.

Baixa: Dressed to impress

Baixa in Central Lisbon makes a powerful statement with its wide tree-lined avenues and rows of elegant neo-classical mansions adorned in intricate tile-work. Portuguese statues in spacious squares stand as proud symbols of victory. Stares guaranteed all along its most important grand boulevard, Avenida da Liberdade, mimicking the Parisian Champs Elysees. Perfect curtain-raiser to the grid-like Lower Town, the first example of urban planning in Europe and hub of all action in the capital.



Quintessential curiosities: Flashback to the times of executions, bull fights and royal proclamations in Lisbon’s Town Square, Rossio. It is still a much-loved public space with its baroque fountain, black-white Calcada floor design and iconic art deco Café Nicola. No shortage of sights in the area, from the Elevador de Santa Justa, to streets named after traditional crafts (Rua da Prata or Silversmiths’ Street and Rua dos Sapateiros or Cobblers’ Street) to the main shopping drag, Rue Augusta, ending in the large Placa Commercio. Waterfront, wind and wonder whisk into a delightful froth, in the mellow light of the evening. Amplified by the cheerful yellow buildings of the large square buzzing with tourist activity.

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Eye-candy alert: Don’t forget to look down at the white, polished limestone square patchwork pavements, shiny and slippery with millions of footsteps over the centuries. Dozens of black-and-white wavy or geometric patterns, completely unlike each other. Never-ending amazement!


Chiado: Trendy chic

The aura of quiet sophistication envelops you with the first few steps into Chiado’s wide streets. Slip into your prima-donna avatar and match up to the the harmony of mansions on both sides. Steal glances at theaters, browse in classy boutiques, linger in artefact galleries, gape at jewellery stores and stare at design houses…follow the mandate, forget the map. Stop by statues of literary greats like Fernando Pessoa, Luis de Camões, and Eça de Queiroz and listen to their wordless accounts. Because even a 20th-century fire couldn’t burn away Lisbon’s intellectual heart.



Quintessential curiosities: Prowl around the ruins of Convento do Carmo, an old Gothic convent, and famous icon of Lisbon. Think about Chiado’s survival instinct at the São Roque Church…standing strong even after the 1755 quake. Order genuine Brazilian coffee at ‘A Brasileira’, the most historical café of them all (circa 1905) or marvel at the interiors of the city’s oldest restaurant, Tavares Restaurant (from 1784), as you savour shrimps in herb sauce.

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Eye-candy alert: And while you’re still wondering if lineage is the unwritten code of conduct in Chiado, stumble upon the world’s oldest bookstore, Livraria Bertrand. No cobweb corners or dusty piles here, despite being in business for 300 years. 95% books are Portuguese, but why should that stop you from gloating at the shelves?


Bairro Alto: Bohemian rhapsody

The original bohemian haunt of artists and writers in Portugal’s capital has a vibe unlike any other. Traditional tile-decorated buildings and graffiti-ridden façades, shabby-chic shops, steep, tram-lined streets of Bairro Alto (High Town). Quiet and calm of the day morphs into vibrant nightlife with the many international restaurants, lively bistros and crowded bars sprinkled all over the area.

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Quintessential curiosities: Igreja de Santa Catarina is a gilded baroque wonder dating 17th-century with lovely stucco rococo ceiling and delicately sculpted figures of St Catherine, St Paul and St Anthony. Spend some time absorbing in the peace and prettiness from the pews. Later, melt into the night with a bar-hop in Rua Diário de Notícias, the neighborhood’s central street. The protocol, as part of the neighborhood’s trademark image, is to stand outside with a drink in hand. Bottoms up? Time to move to the next bar.

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Eye-candy alert: Go vista hunting in the narrow downhill alley-ways and create  your own mind-map of the Lisbon’s raw appeal. And when you’re seeking iconic, venture to two of my fave spots with magical views of Sao Jorge Castle…Calçada do Duque street and Miradouro De Sao Pedro de Alcantara. Gasp. Breathe. Repeat.

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Belem: Back in time

Pretend to be a sardine-in-a-can on the Tram 500 from Figuera Square to Belem. Lisbon’s most historical neighbourhood, located at the mouth of the River Tagus was the point from where Portugal’s celebrity explorers launched their famous Voyages of Discoveries.


Quintessential curiosities: 15th-century Jeronimos Monastery, one of the most important monuments in Lisbon and Unesco World Heritage, built by King D. Manuel I, with gold loot from Portuguese discoveries, is worth a couple of hours of gawping for its Manueline architectural details…spires, gargoyles, vaulted corridors,  cloisters, azulejo murals, massive cathedral and Vasco da Gama’s tomb. Soak in as deep as you can. Get inspired by the adventurous spirit of the real travellers of yesterday at the Monument of Discovery. Twirl uninhibited on the glorious Calcada-tile world compass and map, marking places they found. Take a windswept walk to the 16-century Tower of Belem, which was once an island in the river, when Tagus reached Jeronimos Monastery. Enjoy views of the bridge and harbour before heading back.

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Eye-candy alert: Join the queues under the blue canopies of the legendary Pasties de Belem to experience the original 1837 recipe of Pasties da Nata, the iconic olden-yellow tartlet filled with deliciously rich, creamy, baked egg custard. This is food heaven for the taste, aromas and sights of delicious goodies filling the fast-emptying counters. Remember to find the azulejo tiled-wall on the inside parlour. 

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Alfama: Gritty glam

Ride the Tram 15 to Puerto Sol and set foot into the city’s oldest core, Alfama (from Arabic ‘Al-hamma’ or ‘hot baths’). Inhabited by fishing folk in the days of yore,  and neighbourhood of the underprivileged till today, Alfama’s grunge factor is hard to ignore.

Quintessential curiosities: Head to the medieval Castle of São Jorge, the royal residence until the early 16th century to admire remnants of the Moorish city walls, and various terraces (Miradouros) for glorious birds-eye views. Stop by the Lisbon Cathedral (12th–14th centuries), the oldest of the city before trace out hidden delights in the narrow streets that meander off in different directions. There’s even a Jewish Quarter to tempt you along the way. The obligatory? Reservations for a Fado dinner. Recommendations? Clube de Fado. Melancholic music to feed your soul, while your tastebuds feed on typical Bacalhau a braz in an intimate setting. And shhh.. no talking, please.

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Eye-candy alert: Alfama’s labyrinth of narrow streets and small squares is replete with endless photo-opportunities. White-washed old houses, twisty and crooked flights of steps, unexpected views, modest churches and leftovers of ancient structures to amaze you. Crying babies, snoozing cats, chatting women, quirky street art and shoes drying outside doors to capture your heart. Intruding into personal spaces was never so rewarding.





And when you wave goodbye to the ‘City of the Seven Hills’, you will know…one visit was not enough.


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Soak in the splendour of the Royal Palace of Madrid

Inside Madrid’s Royal Palace…

You turn a final corner and there it is in front of you…the grand 18th-century Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid). Protecting the largest royal palace in Western Europe is an elegant, gilded decorative iron fencing in bold black and gold, offsetting the purist white of the magnificent structure beyond.

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My first impressions of the lovely French city of Lyon

Lyon, France’s second city, is my first choice…

Taking a train from Provence through the peaceful countryside into the bustling train station of Gare de Lyon Part Dieu can be a jolt of sorts. There’s a buzz in the country’s second-largest metropolitan area, home to over 1.6 million people…and you can feel it even as you hail a cab. At 7.30, people are already on the roads, driving to work, waiting at bus stops, opening their boulangeries and coffee shops. The laid back, relaxed atmosphere of Southern France is behind you…this is city life, busy and bustling…after all, you’re closer to Paris. Ready up to discover the country’s gastronomic capital.

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Dwell on the delights of beautiful Barri Gotic in Barcelona

Simple charms of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic…

There’s a different Barcelona behind Las Ramblas and you wouldn’t believe it until you stride a few feet down a side street into the city’s old Gothic Quarter, Barri Gòtic. This vast area stretching between Las Ramblas and Via Laetana is where Romans had developed their early settlement in 133 BC. Remnants of the fortifications they built to protect their city can still be found. A slice of ‘Barcino’ still exists in ‘Barcelona’. Devote a day to dwell on its delights.

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In the quest for peace and pines at Palampur

Palampur makes an ideal, offbeat hill destination

It is a dream. You’re walking down a lovely, long mountain road, shady with a thick cover of graceful, tall pine trees rising from mysteriously plunging slopes. Even without touching the deep green leaves, you can sense their velvety softness. Again and again, you reach out to steal a fistful of the elusive mist, in vain. Its a gentle glide on undulating waves of serenity as the pines whisper sweet-nothings.

Melt dreams with reality. Choose Palampur, an offbeat hill destination in the Kangra valley, at the foothills of the majestic Dhauladhar mountain ranges. Its claim to fame is that its the only tea-producing region of North India. But more importantly, you’ll have it all to yourself.

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15 Turkish delights in Istanbul worth travelling for

Iconic symbols of Istanbul, beyond the mega sights…

Its a city straddling two continents. Its skyline of ancient mosques and pencil-thin minarets is a photographer’s dream. Its imperial history is the stuff dreams are made of. And it boasts of some of the most sought-after mega sights on the planet. But for me, the real magic of Istanbul lies in its everyday scenes, its people, its streets, its waters, its very air. Unveiling my list of favourite Turkish delights in Istanbul. Icons in their own right, one and all.

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An ode to the most eternal of Paris experiences (Part 2)

Classic experiences on the Right Bank of Paris…

Its the pulsing heart of art, culture and fashion, where the creme de la creme has lived for decades. The buzzing commercial center of the city, and home to a majority of big businesses and banks. Overflowing with grand boulevards, manicured gardens, symmetrical squares and majestic monuments. Also too many people and too many cars. How can anyone resist the sparkling vitality, exuberance and indomitable spirit of the Right Bank of Paris? Dive right in with these all-time favourite experiences…

Continue reading “An ode to the most eternal of Paris experiences (Part 2)”