Lisbon captures the imagination like few other European cities. It can also capture your heart.
Head for historic neighbourhoods like Alfama and Castelo and you’ll quickly become enamoured by the picturesque quality of these ancient districts. Venture further and you’ll discover a maze of winding streets, hidden alleyways and cobblestone squares that could illustrate a 19th-century novel.
Alfama is particularly alluring, and the spot to pause for a “together forever” moment is on Largo das Portas do Sol – the aptly named Doors to the Sun Square. The lofty riverfront panorama from this popular viewpoint (called a miradoura in Portuguese) embraces the higgledy-piggledy collection of terracotta rooftops and whitewashed chimneystacks that characterise the skyline of this, Lisbon’s oldest quarter.
Early evening is the best time to linger when the sun is setting and customers at the terrace bar are likely to be serenaded by an Afro-Brazilian band with voices like a nightingales. Grab a table, order a couple of cold ones, and soak in the atmosphere.
On the other side of the city is Jardim da Estrela, one of the few green spaces in Lisbon that offers refuge from the rattle and hum of everyday life. This verdant little park lures with its meandering footpaths that snake past sub-tropical flora and a small lake where ducks and geese paddle and preen in blissful peace. The lake is overlooked by a handy café but it’s more fun, and so much more intimate, to pack a picnic and spend an afternoon under one of the oaks that loom over the well manicured grounds. Don’t forget the wine!
A fairytale romance is something most of us yearn for, but what about that fairytale location to make that dream come true? Well, good fortune shines down on those visiting Lisbon, although they’ll have to make a detour to Sintra, a 30-minute train journey inland from the city’s Rossio railway station. This achingly pretty hill town is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and among its historic landmarks is the spectacular Palácio da Pena.
Set on the highest peaks of the Serra de Sintra, this 19th-century summer palace was built for the husband of the young Queen Maria II, Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Teutonic connotation goes beyond the German name – the Palácio da Pena is modelled on Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the so-called “Walt Disney” castle. The Portuguese version is just as enchanting and the views from the pastel-hued battlements are truly remarkable.
Lisbon is famed for its captivating nightlife, but not all of it is the hectic, crowded, dance-till-dawn scene that is often advertised. There are quieter and far more cherished ways to spend an evening. If you’re looking for that intimate dinner for two, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Lisbon though you can’t go wrong by booking a table at Largo, in the city’s elegant Chiado quarter.
The restaurant is housed within the cloisters of a former monastery and sits under 18th-century vaulted ceilings. The menu offers traditional Portuguese cuisine with a modern twist, and the wine list is equally inspiring. It’s the perfect place to end a romantic day… or begin a romantic night.