Once described as ‘Europe’s answer to the third-world’, Lisbon defies what it means to be “old school”, seamlessly blending the ancient and the modern in a delicious cocktail of contradictions.
From Arab relics adorning the skyline, to baroque Portuguese architecture populating the inner city – Lisbon has been the melting pot of differences for thousands of years.
Today, it is keeping up the tradition with a steady influx of citizens from its abandoned colonies; Brazil, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome, Mozambique, Angola, Macau, Goa and East Timor.
Until recently, Portugal had adopted an open-door policy for it’s post-colonial inhabitants, with many immigrants using it as a gateway to gain access to member states within the European Union. However, with increased pressure from other EU states, tighter restrictions have been put in place that now make immigration more difficult. Nevertheless, Lisbon remains reluctantly multicultural and the mix of languages and ethnicities on the street makes it an exciting and richly textured city.
Lisbon – and Portugal to a larger extent – is suffering from what could only be described as a colonial hangover, but that has not stopped the party.
Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s bar and nightclub district is wedged firmly in the centre of town and boasts a cornucopia of options to suit every taste. A ramshackle grid of tightly packed laneways crammed with live music and revellers overflows onto the street every night of the week as partiers drink and cut loose until the crack of dawn.
Cuban salsa, Brazilian samba and Western pub-classics jostle the night air with traditional Fado, a style of music indigenous to Lisbon that is simultaneously melancholic, dramatic and camp.
For one of the best Fado experiences, make sure you head to the Clube de Fado in central Lisbon; regarded to be one of the birthplaces of the Fado tradition. The cost of entry and drinks is around cheap and is a good launchpad for undercover tourists wishing to assume a Lisbonetta lifestyle. Cry over a drink while mourning your ex, or simply relax and soak up the atmosphere.
If you’re looking for of a more PomoBoho ambience, throw on whatever’s lying around your wardrobe and head to Associação De Loucos E Sonhadores (Association of Fools and Dreamers) at number 2, Travessa do Conde de Soure in Bairro Alto. The sign on the door declares; “free help to all travellers”, and clearly all are welcome. This dimly lit bar is stuffed with books, fascinating trinkets, bohemians, lovers and thinkers. It plays an eclectic mix of laid-back music ranging from The Beatles to Bob Marley. Drinks are cheap and the crowd is friendly.
Fancy cutting a rug to some live Brazilian music? Then ramble down to Apollo XIII at number 8, Travessa da Cara. Here you will find a live band smashing out Latin classics to an enthusiastic and energetic audience. The crowd is mostly Brazilian, however I struck up a conversation with a lively Afghani regular named Mohammed Ali Khan who proceeded to regale me with various Bollywood hits and his rendition of Aqua’s Nineties pop-runaway, Barbie Girl.
There are close to a hundred different bars vying for your attention in Bairro Alto, so the best bet is to grab a bunch of friends and discover them for yourself.
On the stumble home, make sure to pick up freshly baked some paun con chorizo (bread and traditional sausage) from one of the hole-in-the-wall bakeries. Still warm, it is delicious and cheap, costing only Euro 1.20 and is seriously not to be missed.
Travel tip shared by MegaMondo