In this travel special, our fashion blogger reveals why Lisbon is top on her list of stylish cities and shares her holiday wardrobe picks.
When you think of fashionable cities perhaps Paris, Milan or London spring to mind, but on my first trip to Lisbon recently I realised I’d found a new style capital. You won’t find Prada bags on every arm but Lisbon has its very own brand of effortless chic; it’s in every delicately tiled wall and splash of colour, every amazing view, and in the architecture that tells the city’s story.
One of the best ways to start getting acquainted with the city is by heading for one of the seven hills (yes, a distant cousin of Sheffield it seems!) to check out the incredible view. If you don’t fancy walking, hop one of the city’s traditional trams to the hilltop village of Graça. From the viewing terrace, or miradouro, you can admire the stunning panorama while you rest your tourist-tired legs with a coffee. Hazy in the heat, terracotta rooftops and glinting white walls seem woven into a centuries-old patchwork of the city’s history. In the Moorish Alfama district the houses huddle together along winding streets but beyond this the city skyline seems more precise, where the wide tree lined roads of the Baixa shopping district criss-cross in orderly blocks. This contrast can be traced back to a catastrophic earthquake of 1755. Alfama more or less survived intact, but most of Lisbon was destroyed and a huge rebuild completely changed the face of the city beyond the old Moorish town.
Alfama’s streets are all pedestrian only, so it’s a blessed relief from the chaos of high season traffic in the rest of the city. Take a look at any map and you’ll see straight away that Alfama is also like a wonderful maze, which means you will definitely get lost at least once! But that’s all part of the fun, and with each wrong turn there’s another charming café, beautiful doorway or another wall studded with Lisbon’s iconic tiles, or azulejos. You’ll see them adorning everything from townhouses to churches, park seats, the inside of shops and railway stations. Portuguese royalty introduced them to the country in the 16th century after noticing ornate tiles used in Spain to fantastic effect, and their popularity took hold until they were being widely produced and used across Portugal. In fact, they’ve become a national art form, and there are some stunning examples in Lisbon – designers or creative types need look no further for some of the most authentic inspiration.
As you wander through Alfama, you’ll also find courtyard cafes with tempting menus; tapas including delicious bacalhau – cod – are common here, and you might even be lucky enough to hear some traditional music as you eat. Portuguese Fado music is unmistakable in its simplicity: impressive vocals with beautiful classical guitar accompaniment.
So it’s a creative city, with a musical soul and an eye for incredible colour. And in fashion terms, the vibe is laid back, individual and quite bohemian – in summer, at least. Anything goes, but people watching reveals that people make the effort here, so style inspiration is everywhere.
Our Lisbon suitcase
I took plenty of cool comfortable dresses which goes without saying in the summer heat. They’re versatile enough to mooch round in during the day or for a cover up on spontaneous beach trips, but they can easily be smartened up with a necklace for dinner. And in any season, Lisbon demands comfortable shoes. Public transport is good, but to really get the most out of the city you’ll need to get on your feet. I love Hush Puppies sandals because, unlike a lot of comfortable sandals, they are also quite pretty and they go with everything.
For guys, chinos look summery and smart in Lisbon for everything from shopping to eating out. James got some great ones from French Connection, and some great Hollister shirts that don’t crease up.
This vintage shirtwaist dress from The Front Parlour was lovely and cool for our day trip to Sintra (see below). Halfway round our tour of the beautiful Pena Palace, I realized my dress matched the walls perfectly (I really didn’t plan it!) Handy if you need camouflage.
Exploring beyond the city
There’s no shortage of things to do in and around Lisbon.
Take a day trip to one of the many beaches within easy reach by public transport; we went to check out the Costa De Caparica about an hour’s journey from the city. First, take a ferry over from Cais do Sodre ferry port in Lisbon to Cacilhas and then a bus to Costa da Caparica. From Caparica beach, walk along beyond the beach bars and you’ll find an amazing little beach train in high season. It winds its way down between sand dunes along the coast, stopping at all the beaches along the way, and takes about half an hour end to end. Stay on to the last stop for the quieter beach, Font De Telha.
If you’re in Lisbon for a few days, prioritise a trip to Sintra, a stunning Unesco heritage site an hour’s train journey west of Lisbon. You’ll find it nestled high in the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra and you need much longer than just one day at this incredible place if you want to take in all it has to offer.
Sintra dates back to the eleventh century but from the 1600s onward, the country’s royal family favoured the resort for summer vacations. Generations of royalty built a succession of dreamlike residences with lush private gardens where they could escape the heat of the city. The standout property in the estate has to be the astounding Pena Palace. The vivid reds and yellows on the walls and turrets conjure an atmosphere of sunshine and spice, and it’s thought that King consort Ferdinand II of Portugal, who had the palace built in the late 19th century, designed it with the country’s strong Moorish culture and influences in mind.
It’s quite a climb to the entrance of the Pena Palace, given that it was built into natural rock formations around the structure of an abandoned of a monastery. King consort Ferdinand II ordered the palace’s construction in the style known as Romanticism, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. It’s part Disney palace, part exotic fortress. Lush forests stretch to the horizon from all sides and you really feel transported to another time.
You can take a tour inside the palace too, where the Portuguese royal family’s luxurious accommodation is displayed exactly as the royal family left it when they went into hiding before the revolution of 1910. So there’s a sombre story behind the colourful façade.
We only touched the surface during our week in Lisbon, but it was enough time to see that it’s full of surprises. It may be busy, chaotic even, but there’s always an injection of soothing colour or somewhere to sit and relax with an incredible view. Sat with our guidebook planning our next move in Graça, neither of us really wanted to leave our shady spot watching the sun go down over the city. But we drained the last of our coffee and began to wander back down into the bustling streets.
In recent years, a burgeoning fashion industry including shoe manufacturing has put this city on the sartorial map, but for me, Lisbon’s originality and flair are what make it truly stylish. There’s no shortage of things to do, but if you get tired of trawling round with the other weary tourists, just find a bench or a beach with a beautiful view and take it easy. How very Lisbon.
City guide resources
Vintage 70’s shirtwaist dress from The Front Parlour
300 Sharrow Vale Rd, Sheffield
Open Wednesday & Friday 11-5, Saturday 10-5
Iconic Poplin shirt, Hollister