Tag Archives: lisbon
May 29, 2012

Lisbon: Is this the world’s most romantic city?




I think of all the cities I visited last year, Lisbon was the one city that really seduced me.




Moment I took flight from the dreamy shores of the Tejo river, I was conjuring up a plan to revisit her again.


What is there not to love about Lisbon….



Walking through it’s winding travessas I soak in the city’s beautiful crumbling yet grand buildings, many which have stood the test the time , countless invasions and the mother of all earthquakes: the great earthquake of 1755 .




In the evenings I love the  banter with the locals and tourists alike on the well worn cobbled streets of the Barrio Alto sipping super strength Caipirinhas…



Before sunset , on a leisurely evening stroll through the city, I absorb the city’s stunning street art scene.



I drink in the eclectic sounds of the city’s street musicians.



I hear everything from Samba, Bossa Nova, Reggae, Latin, African, Jazz and Blues : all of which reveal the city’s rich diaspora.


For the ride of a lifetime: Tram 28, Lisbon


Kodak moment from Tram 28: Another Tram 28, with Se Cathedral in background


I walk the streets most of the time in Lisbon even though I love the trams here.

In fact nothing is better than watching the world go by from the backseat of the Tram 20- riding this tram, is one of life’s greatest adventures.


Pasteis de Nata : One is never enough


Walking up and down the travessas needs a lot of energy.

To refuel I often stop at the pasterlaria , enjoying the guilty sweet pleasures that Lisboetas take most pride in : the famous Pasteis de Nata: a crispy, cinnamon flavoured warm custard tart which is customarily washed down with a strong, powerful espresso aka Bica


4pm. Time for the hard stuff: Ginjinha


Or if I am in a more playful mood, I’ll sip on some Ginginha: a silky sweet cherry brandy at one of the city’s traditional ginginha bars.




There are a few better travel experiences in life than wondering aimlessly through the Alfama on a lazy afternoon, catching the melancholy strains of the fado at every twist and corner.

In fact drunk on the dreaminess of walking around the Alfama, feeling a bit fuzzy in my heart ( maybe the Ginginha had gone to my head ) on my recent visit to Lisbon I boldly declared on Facebook that I really do think Lisbon is the world’s most romantic city.

Paris, Venice eat your heart out.



What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Lisbon. Agree or disagree: what is in your opinion is the world’s most romantic city?


Next up on BudgetTraveller : If you love to visit Lisbon, I’ve got the perfect place for you to stay.

I’ll be reviewing two of the city’s star Luxury Hostels: Equity Point Lisbon and Oasis Backpackers Lisbon




April 18, 2012

Luxury Hostel Life: Forget the smartphone dinner & sample local cuisine with the guests

Traveling solo presents a range of challenges.

Like eating dinner by myself.


I remember the first time.

I was in Inverness, Scotland on a work trip, few years ago where I had decided to check out Hootenanny- a local bar that does great live music and also serves lip smacking Thai food.

Remember: These were in the days before social media, so no phone to fiddle with and try look busy.


Just an old magazine to flick through and a dull, boring holiday cottage brochures to get me through the meal.

It do not help that the place was packed – one family and a lot of couples.


Warning: I think Wednesday is date night in Inverness.


Food got served after what seemed an eternity.


Once I could not stand looking at the pictures of the cottages, I finally looked around and everyone seemed to be looking lovingly at each other.


I felt I had stumbled into in an orgy of happiness.

I passed some of the time, people watching.


I cannot lipread but….you know that feeling when you’re in a crowd on your own and everyone looks animated, silvery sound of laughter ringing in your ears.

Everyone seems to be saying something deeply funny or profoundly interesting.


I never remember eating dinner more quickly.


Spot the single one: Smartphone at dinner


Times have changed since.

Nowadays, I have a smartphone.

I’m such a social being :)


I read football news. Watch football. Read tweets. Edit pictures.

While eating.


You can tell who’s solo/single with the row of heads, embarrased,  craning down, looking at their smartphones, trying to look busy in a restaurant.

Thanks to the smartphone, we don’t feel that lonely or embarrassed eating solo anymore I guess.

We are anti-social and social at the same time.


However at some of the Luxury Hostels I’ve stayed in: Gallery Hostel in Porto and Oasis Lisbon thankfully you don’t need the smartphone excuse at dinner anymore.

They have the wonderful tradition of cooking dinner for the guests.

Cost: 10 euros with few glasses of wine included in the price.


Dinner at the hostel : Meet the hostel guests over great food and a glass of wine


The dishes , served are typical of the region and country.


Dinner at Gallery Hostel: Delicious Caldo Verde, perfect for a cold Spring night


At Gallery Hostel in Porto, on the first night I had Caldo Verde- a wonderful, earthy traditional Portuguese soup with spring greens and some chorizo for added flavour.


Portuguese Duck- 'Arroz De Pato' was amazing


On the second night there we had ‘Arroz De Pato’ – Portuguese Duck Rice, where the duck is baked in a bed of rice with some chorizo and local goats cheese grated on top for flavour.


Not only was I eating some great food, the evening dinner offered a great opportunity to meet other guests within the hostel.


Over a few glasses of excellent port wine that was served with the meal, many new friendships were formed.


In the end, one of the lasting memorable impressions I take away from these hostels is the people, characters you meet and moments like this.


Stella: Architect, great chef and a woman of many expressions...


For example, I met Stella in Oasis Lisbon: An Puglia native who is an architect in Lisbon but comes along 3 times a week to cook in the hostel kitchen.


She cooked for us a dish of bacalhao (salted cod) in a béchamel sauce with pasta.

Was a great meal.

Given that she has a secure, well paid job, I was curious to know why she cooks in a hostel kitchen. Definitely not for the money.


She replied it was the pleasure of cooking and sharing food with the people in the hostel.

For her, cooking the meal was a social outlet and a great way to meet people.


For me food has always been about sharing and bring people together.

When you’re away from home, having a wonderful meal with lots of wine with lots of happy travellers in an a beautiful city….

If that is not luxury……..



In Porto, I stayed at the Gallery Hostel where you can get bed in a 6 bed dorm for as little as £20 per night, or a double (ensuite) for around £50 per night.

Oasis Lisboa , a 18th century mansion converted into a hostel, you can stay as little as £20 a night in the 6 bed dorms or get yourself a double room


January 10, 2012

Ginjinha, Pasteis de Nata +Tram 28 – Lowdown on Lisbon







As excited I am about 2012, I am already missing 2011.

Maybe it’s the onset of winter in Edinburgh that is bringing about this wave of nostalgia.

I can’t argue.

2011 was an amazing year in travel for me, visiting places that I had read only in history books since I was a kid.


Lisbon was one such place that loomed large in my imagination since I was 10.


My first encounter with Lisbon was via my school history text book.

We learnt about a certain bold (pretty ruthless too, I later learnt) Portuguese explorer called Vasco de Gama.

De Gama was the first Westerner to sail past the Cape of Good Hope ( murder, pillage towns along the east coast of Africa along the way) and make his way to India.

Visiting Lisbon, one of the first places I naturally wanted to visit first was the haunting  Belem Tower from where Vasco De Gama started his fateful journey all those years ago.



Belem Tower, Lisbon. Courtesy of ‘LifeinMegapixels’

[ http://www.flickr.com/photos/27649557@N07/]


The place is very evocative and standing there you can feel the weight of history sending a chill down your spine.


Looking out into the wide expanse of the Atlantic on a sunny yet tranquil spring afternoon, I feel the thrill of the unknown and can’t wait to discover the rest of Lisbon.


I saunter back into Belem.

Belem is home to one of Lisbon’s famous pastelarias- the Antiga Confitaria de Belem [84 Rua de Belem] where I managed to sample Lisbon’s best sugar fix- the famous Pasteis de Nata.


Pasteis de Nata : One is never enough


These flaky, silky, creamy custard tarts [ warm, straight from the oven sprinkled with some sugar and cinnamon-wow] are the best afternoon-pick-me-up tonic.


Warning: It is uncommon to just have one but at least 3 or 4. Bare minimum. Otherwise locals will be offended.


Cost: 90 cents each. Bargain.


I head back into town on the tram 15.


BudgetTraveller’s Tip

For 4 Euros invest in a 24 hour Lisbon travel pass. The pass is valid for trams, buses and the subway – represents brilliant value.

Of all modes of transport, the tram is THE way to see Lisbon.

I’ll expand on that a bit later :)


Instead of the traditional cup of tea or coffee,  Lisboans at dusk congregate on the sticky cobbled doorstep of A Ginjinha in Largo de Sao Domingos to drink their favourite drink- Ginjihna.


Ginjinha is basically cherry brandy. Like marmite it’s something you will either love or hate.


The drink was invented by local monks who fermented the sour ginja cherries in the brandy.


I wonder what is it with monks and making liqueur?  

Trying to drown their sorrows of their celibate lifestyle through alcohol maybe?


4pm. Time for the hard stuff : Ginjinha



Whatever the reason, the result is stunning: Ginjinha is very potent and gives you a nice warm buzz.


At just one euro a ‘shot’ and with it’s strong sweetness you can easily down a few before it ‘hits’ you.


It’s all very civilized mind you.

No drunks crawling around. They can hold their drink here.

I can’t imagine a place like this existing back home.



For the ride of a lifetime: Tram 28, Lisbon


So if you’re feeling a bit lightheaded after your Ginjinha session and need the antidote quickly:  I recommend the ride of a lifetime.

A trip on the iconic tram 28.


Dressed in a garish, bright yellow the tram 28 is a rollercoaster ride offering a magical, mystery tour of Lisbon’s greatest landmarks.


Kodak moment from Tram 28: Another Tram 28, with Se Cathedral in background


A thrill a minute.

I love seeing the whole city fly by me.

The wind tousling my hair and lulling me into a peaceful slumber almost.

I marvel as the rickety tram hisses, groans its way further up the Alfama and then comes into sight of the towering stone edifice of Se Cathedral.

Cue everyone leans out of the window desperately to get THAT in motion shot of the place.


As much as I would like to stay on the 28 , I hop off at Miradouro Portas do Sol.


Rooftops of the Alfama: Mesmerising


At day turns to night, the terrace of Portas do Sol is the place to have a cocktail and soak in the mesmering panoramic vista of the Alfama rooftops.

It’s the perfect place to lose track of time and immerse yourself amongst the locals.


In Part 2, I’ll share with you my experience of Lisbon’s nightlife with a few tasty, budget friendly treats along the way.

My thanks to York House Lisboa who kindly sponsored my stay in Lisbon.

If you missed out, here is my earlier review of this chic, boutique hotel.


How to reach Lisbon

It’s cheap and easy, thanks to the steady surge of budget airlines flying to Lisbon like easyJet.

For as little as £80 return, I visited Lisbon direct from Edinburgh last April with easyJet.


August 23, 2011

We ask the budget travel experts: Q&A with Sean O’ Neill


Every month, we’ll be interviewing the best and leading budget travel experts from across the world on the BudgetTraveller.

This month’s on the hotseat is the Mr Budgetastic Sean O’ Neill , contributing editor to the brilliant Budget Travel magazine.

Say hello to Sean on Twitter: http://twitter.com/sean_oneill


How would you define Budget Travel?


Budget Travel, for me, is a mix of two things: scoring deals, which is fun in and of itself, and truly immersing yourself in a foreign culture, which you can’t do if you’re sitting on 300-thread-count sheets in a generic international chain hotel.

The thrill of the hunt for deals can be a point of pride: why pay more than you have to?

I also find I have a much easier time getting to know a place and making friends if I’m visiting the hangouts and restaurants and galleries that locals actually go to, instead of the places that tend to be featured in glossy magazines like, say, Tatler or Vogue.


What is your favourite destination in Europe and why?


Dreamy Streets of Rome. Courtesy of Pedro http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroqtc/



London is the city you marry, Rome is the city you have an affair with.

London is the centre of global culture and has the world’s best museums and restaurants. It never disappoints me in revealing fresh ideas about how life might be lived and business might be done.

Yet Rome is an illicit lover, and the world’s most talented at that. I’ve visited Rome 11 times in the past decade. Yes, it’s partly for clichéd tourism experiences, but sometimes the clichés are a lot of fun:

Four-hour lunches in piazzas.

Wolf-whistling from Vespas.

Admiring world’s best ancient and modern art, architecture, and opera.

History echoes more loudly in Rome than elsewhere in Europe, given that the ancient city is a template for so much of our lives, from its houses of worship to its aqueducts (which are still carrying water 2,000 years after they were built).


What’s the hottest Budget Travel tip that you’ve recently discovered and dying to share with our readers?


Tripping.com is an awesome way to set up a homestay with locals in about 130 countries, and homestays are a great way to truly immerse yourself in the local culture, make friends, and stay within your budget.

Tripping stands out for having a stronger vetting system than other sites that try to be the “Facebook of Travel.”

It offers to arrange for a face-to-face Skype call to ask users to hold up their passport and prove their address before validating their accounts.


Where can you get the best value in Europe this summer? Your top three spots.


Tallinn may have a reputation as Stag Party Central these days, but it’s a large enough city that you can avoid the obnoxious tourists, who tend to stay in small district.

Tallinn is Europe’s Capital of Culture this year, so there’s a ton of free, worthwhile events this summer.

While you’re there, be sure to try Cafe V, an Indian restaurant in a nightclub. http://cafevs.ee/

Dublin’s on sale. The online travel sites say it has the lowest nightly rate of any capital city in Europe.

The Irish are Europe’s friendliest people, hands down, if you treat them right.


Lisbon has an amazing nightlife and it’s also affordable: an all-day transit pass goes for 3.50 euros, and easyJet set up a base there recently, so there are lots of cheap tickets. Fascinating architecture, great food, and a vibrant nightlife scene.


What is worst piece of advice you’ve been given on your travels?


“Bring your computer.”

It interfered with my ability to experience the place I was visiting.


What’s the next stop on your travels?



For its ace pubs and the “craic,” which is an untranslatable word for enjoyable good times