When you think of Portugal, the hot summer months may spring to mind, however Lisbon is a city that makes for a rewarding travel destination throughout the entire year. In fact, winter has an extra-special appeal. For one thing, the summer crowds have long departed by the time winter rolls around in Lisbon, and the weather is still a comfortably sunny 15°C.
Lisbon is a city that’s best explored on foot, and even in winter, the fresh scent of the sea hangs in the air and its distinct neighbourhoods retain their unique laid-back, old-world charm. Visitors can stroll from the leafy Jardim Botanico Tropical through Belém and climb the staircase of the Byzantine and Gothic Torre de Belém fortress to enjoy impressive views out to sea. Scale the steeply sloping streets of Bairro Alto in the very heart of the city to admire the vibrant street art that lines them. At the top of the Santa Justa Elevator in the Bairro Alto is one of Lisbon’s very best views: from there you can survey a jigsaw of terracotta-coloured tiled rooves stretching out into the distance.
A wander through Lisbon may well culminate in a coffee at the grand Praça do Comercio in Baixa, with its yolk yellow edifices and grand old architecture, or in Alfama, the city’s oldest district. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the Feira da Ladra flea market—Lisbon’s most iconic—sets up shop in Alfama, and it’s worth browsing through the bric-a-brac to discover something quirky or vintage. It’s much quieter during the winter months, and a pleasure to linger a while to soak up the atmosphere.
Visit the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology before heading across the road for a pastel de nata at the famous Pastéis de Belém, which happens to be the most reviewed food establishment in the world. In winter, you’re guaranteed a seat, a privilege that’s certainly less likely in the summer months. This is the café that invented the famed Portuguese custard tart: during the closure of the convents and monasteries in the 1820s, someone from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos began to sell pastries in the shop next door. In 1837, that store became the lively bakery it is today.
With the throngs of holidaymakers dissipating during winter in Lisbon, there’s a palpable sense that the city’s beautiful sights and attractions are there just for you. But the most compelling aspect of visiting the city during the cooler months is that its usual laid-back atmosphere is amplified, its easy-going lifestyle is even more apparent. This aside, the weather is warmer here even than Athens, Barcelona or Naples, making Lisbon a winning contender for Europe’s most charming city in the winter.
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