Things I love about summer in Lisbon

by Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho

1.  The light

Anyone arriving in Lisbon for the first time is always surprised by the singular crystalline quality of the city’s light.  Similar to Paris, the capital of Portugal has many white buildings, but it also benefits from a silvery light reflecting off the Tagus River just like Venice and its lagoon. Particularly in the summer, and from dawn to dusk, Lisbon has a very special aura.

2.  Sunsets on the riverside

By Ricardo Liberato (Sunset behind Lisbon bridge Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So with all the shimmers reflecting off the river, it is hardly surprising that I love sunsets by the riverside. There are many places to choose from, starting east of the city at Parque das Nações, to Cais do Sodré in the centre, or anywhere else along the riverside road that links Lisbon to the resort village of Cascais on the west, where the Tagus meets the ocean. The Marginal, as this road is called, passes some quaint and charming beaches along the way, that can also be reached by train from Cais do Sodré.

3.  Wearing flip-flops from May to October

Yes, the weather is that good! I have never quite mastered the art of wearing high heels and walking on the Portuguese “calçada” (cobblestone pavements) as glamorous Portuguese girls do; so a great Brazilian import comes to the rescue – it’s a huge hit in Portugal – “havaianas” (flip flops) come in an array of colours as well as in flat or platform styles, they can be found in shops all over the city and prices start at around €20 a pair, depending of course on the style one chooses.  Then I paint my toenails and I’m good to go!

4.  Free culture on Sundays

The Berardo Collection of Modern Art does not charge for entry and features a world-class collection of modern art. Many other museums in Lisbon are free on Sunday mornings including:

Chiado Museum - Portuguese contemporary art

City Museum - the history of the city

Ancient Art Museum - fascinating Oriental and European art and charming gardens over the river

Coach Museum - the world’s largest collection of royal coaches

The Tile Museum - an ancient art form in a lavish old convent

5.  June is a month-long party

As well as there being a wide choice of free and inexpensive live music concerts through the summer months, June in Lisbon is a month-long party! Throughout the month you’ll be able to participate in the annual “Festas de Lisboa” (Lisbon’s festivities) which involves much eating, drinking and dancing in just about every corner of the city’s historic neighbourhoods. It’s as if Lisbon becomes one big village with the main event being on the eve of the 13th June, Santo Antonio’s day (patron saint of Lisbon).  There is a yearly competition for the best sardine design (the symbol for these celebrations) with the winning entry becoming the official logo and Lisbon is then decorated accordingly.

6.  July Tall Ships 

The Tall Ship Races (promoting sailing for youngsters around the world) gather about 100 Tall Ships and a crew of more than 3,000 youngsters from every corner of the globe. In 1956, Lisbon welcomed the first edition these races and the Tall Ships will be back again in 2012, due to be docked between Santa Apolonia and Terreiro do Paço (Lisbon’s riverside) between 19-22 July for all to view, including the beautiful “Sagres”, a Portuguese tall ship built in 1937.

7.  August is OH so quiet!

Most locals go on vacation in August (many heading south to Algarve), so I do the opposite and stay in the city. And what do I do when I get hot under the collar? I spend a day at the beach or escape from the heat to the refreshing hills of Sintra to explore some its fairytale palaces – beaches and hills are both located within a short drive or train ride (20-30 minutes) from the city centre. Park life being another essential part of summer in the city, I also very much enjoy sitting under a shady tree, reading a book or listening to some music. Even better is an evening picnic with friends (tablecloth, glasses and tea lights included), as parks are open till late.

8.  Great value for money

Where else in Europe can you spend the summer with plenty of sun and nearby beaches, music and culture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Sintra) at your doorstep, plus all the urban attractions of a capital city without spending a fortune and without travelling huge distances?

Eating out in Lisbon is pretty reasonable too: my local “tasca” (cheap eating place) in the neighbourhood of Estrela serves lunch for just €6.50 (main course, drink and coffee) and it’s not the only one! A local delicacy in the summertime, and one of my favourite cheap and cheerful snacks as I come off the beach, is a nice cold “imperial” (draft beer) or two, with some “caracois” (snails) for approximately €15 shared between two.

But there are also world-class restaurants and Michelin-starred eateries to choose from, yet still at a fraction of the prices you pay in London, Paris or New York! You do the maths and work it out for yourself…


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