Lisbon: Europe's coolest city or a load of arty garbage?

Have you been to Portugal? Of course, I would declare … many, many times. Where have you been? Well, I’ve been to Faro, Vilamoura, Albufeira, Carvoeiro, Vale Do Lobo, Praia da Luz, Quinta do Lago …. I know Portugal very well! Where haven’t I been?

Portugal until recently was a place I thought I had experience but was limited to the Algarve. Despite a well-trodden path by most event planners, two critical cities on my bucket list included Lisbon and Istanbul. Now wholly in charge of my event destiny, I’m on a mission to catch up on these missing gems.

Thanks to a consultancy collaboration, I relished a chance to discover Porto in late 2017 as a guest on the luxury MICE event inVOYAGE. Interwoven with the hotel networking experiences, we savoured stunning, classic buildings, spellbinding dinners, a river cruise.  It was a quaint city oozing fascinating appeal for the delegation. The experience whetted my appetite, beyond sardines and custard tarts, to experience more of Portugal.

While Portugal would feature in many good incentive brainstorming sessions, the power of the traditional ‘sun, sea & sand’ formula would typically draw us to the Algarve, and it was hit & miss depending on the client and group profile.

Historically, Lisbon, with excellent air access, would often rank high as a city destination but widely perceived as a more conference biased destination. The lack of significant brand hotels and limited education on event possibilities, Lisbon was a gateway to the resort and coastal offerings of Cascais and many repeated proposals to Penha Longa!

Undoubtedly, Lisbon is enjoying great press as a very fashionable destination.  Conde Nast Traveller voted it one of the ‘hottest destinations in Europe’. Last year, it won the Worlds Leading City Break Destination, at the World Travel Awards. Reportedly, it is one of the least visited capital cities? Intrigued if this is marketing spin or a reality, I selected Lisbon to include in a client shortlist for a May celebration event, and the proposal won over other destinations.

I tasked my DMC partner to give me a 24-hour blitz to help me discover the classic essentials of Lisbon but with a focus on what’s new and hot for both my client event and future eveology projects.

I only scratched the surface but as I’m a giving sort of guy, happy to share some personal highlights without giving away all the hard worked secret bits …

Hip or Classic Hotels

From waters edge cool at Design Hotels Altis Belem Hotel & Spa to big brand Four Seasons Lisboa, I whizzed around in my tuk-tuk (or was it the Beetle?) to discover as many excellent hotel options I could cram in. With many hotels undergoing renovation, and whispers of big brands coming, Lisbon is playing catch up I sensed on the hotel front, but I unearthed some gems mostly suited for the smaller groups. Whatever size, location is always crucial, especially as you want to be as near to the action and district which suits your event profile.

Rooftop Style

With a roof and view, bars and hotels are capitalising on premium space to create spectacular settings with views of the city to the Tagus. One top area is the on the ninth floor of the 1930s five-star Hotel Tivoli on the glamorous Avenida da Liberdade. With breathtaking views of downtown and towards the river with DJs, live music and regular themed parties.

The Liberty Vibe

The Avenida da Liberdade is Lisbon’s main boulevard and the location for designer shops, expensive restaurants and trendy bars. Between the luxurious and exclusive decadence, there are beautiful examples of classical 19th-century Portuguese architecture and the two central plazas contain lovely water features and grand statues. Most events are likely to be within proximity and loved the numerous jaunts up and down in a tuk-tuk, vintage Beatle and an excellent limousine over my 24 hours.

Urban Art ... love it!

Pesky scoundrels, I thought as I initially noticed the amount of city ‘tagging’.  But then this gave way to real urban art masterpieces dotted around the city. An art form which is both perplexing and engaging. Unique city experiences can be created by discovering these great works; I was ready to zip up my hoodie and hit the town with some cans.

Beguiling Belem

While marvelling at the stunning sights from my Beetle (or was it a tuk-tuk?) in Lisbon’s cultural district of Belem, I had one secret mission … to scoff the finest ‘pastel de nata’ AKA custard tart! Born in 1837 in Belem, this delicious Portuguese pastry is soo good; it’s on every tourist’s mission. Seeing the big queues, I hid my disappointment as we passed. But then, on the water’s edge in the shadows of Belem Tower, fresh warm tarts magically appeared!! Oh – and don’t miss the sightseeing too if you get there but I stayed put for another pastel de nata!

Take Time Out to Market

A vibrant spot in Lisbon with 24 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops and a high-end music venue, all with the very best offerings (the best steak, the best hamburger, the best sushi and the best live performances, amongst others); plus home to some of the city’s best known (and longest-running) market vendors of meat, fish, fruit and flowers. The creation of the market and its immediate surroundings and the whole Cais do Sodré neighbourhood into a huge attraction for visitors, day and night.

Lisbon's Trendiest Quarter

For a moment, I was in a cool, hip San Francisco arts quarter with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But actually, no less cool, I am whizzing through the warehouses, galleries and uber trendy LX Factory located close to 25 de Abril Bridge. I wanted to meander through this area and be an old trendy and soak up the atmosphere. Alas, no time – flight beckons.

Images © eveology

As you can see from the photos, most without filtering, the city is light and bright! Whether the sun is lighting up the scattered urban artwork, the colours of the city and River Tagus or a cocktail or two high above the roofs on a terrace, Lisbon is cool. So cool, they even make their garbage bins into art!

A great city!

A big thanks to my local team and DMC partner Events by TLC – for introducing me to Lisbon and their continued support and collaboration. A class act!