Short city getaways can prove wonderful pockets of holiday heaven, as long as you know how to get the most from them; they can offer a brief period of joy or simply a change of scenery. Whether it is a break in Britain or abroad, 48 hours may seem short, but it’s enough to see some sights, experience the local culture and enjoy a little downtime.
I visited Lisbon, Portugal, on a mid-term city break / ‘couples’ getaway, booking through an online discount website (check out Groupon or Wowcher). Though these sites can be difficult to navigate and can often have hidden surcharges due to last minute changes and terms and conditions, you can find a cheap break. If, like me, the majority of your student loan income goes on rent, then this holiday option could be perfect for you. Though a word of advice, always read the small print!
The holiday was all-inclusive with local flights from Bristol (hand luggage only) and two nights’ accommodation + breakfast. The accommodation was only rated three stars, but was clean, had all the basic commodities, the staff spoke good English and were friendly. The room also had a balcony view over a suburban plaza in the city, and was just a 10 minute walk from the central district.
After flying out midday, and with hours to spare before the hotel check-in, I wandered down the Avenida da Liberdade (Lisbon’s tree-lined boulevard leading down into the bustling centre) to explore. The backstreets and the cosmopolitan open squares were surprisingly easy to navigate. The nightlife is relatively chilled; many dine out late and enjoy a few drinks alfresco on the table-lined streets. Although beware that by glancing at the menu you will be encouraged by an eager waiter to come in and grab a seat.
It’s good to have an idea of the type of food experience you’re after before heading out for dinner. There are supper and stage shows, old-fashioned film theatres, and quaint outdoor cafes. If you prefer to stick to what you know, there are a handful of chain restaurants scattered around: McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and Starbucks, but when in Rome Lisbon, as the saying goes, why not seek out the local restaurants and small cafes, which have delicious pastries and deli snacks? On our travels my partner managed to bag a pastry, glass of fresh lemonade (I mean real lemonade) and a shot of complimentary coffee for just €2 – bargain! Lisbon has been known for its exceedingly low prices.
After some rest and a good night’s sleep, the following day was spent exploring the colourful streets and rocky heights of this eclectic city. Getting lost among the winding hills and back alleys gave a real insight into the architecture and local culture. We then headed towards the seafront to see the Ponte 25 de Abril – a bridge that could be easily mistaken for that of the Golden Gate in San Francisco.
Not long after admiring the tramways by the bay, we took in a lift-top view from Santa Justa Elevator and saw clear blue skies over terracotta rooftops. On our descent, we dined in an upmarket food court after stumbling across the local mall for something substantial and a bit of a rest. Lisbon, without a doubt, is a city that involves a lot of walking (especially if you want to save the pennies and avoid the trams).
Then came the longest trek in a bid to find the historical Castelo de São Jorge. While visible from the ground, if on foot and alone it can be difficult to find the entrance; however, taking the initiative to follow a tramline up, we finally stumbled upon it. The panoramic views from this picturesque relic were the highlight for me.
You will also find peacocks and feline companions quietly residing in the grounds, and the peaceful atmosphere under the fading afternoon sun was exquisite.
After a long descent from the rock face, it was time to relax in our hotel before hitting the Hard Rock Cafe along the central boulevard. The staff were friendly, which made up for the expensive prices, and the atmosphere was lively in a chilled out way. Note: it gets busy after 11pm as live music continues well into the early hours.
The following day was short as the flight out was around midday. With an early start and a sunny farewell to the Portuguese capital, we were keenly planning our future return, but not first without enjoying a traditional custard tart (locally known as Pastéis de Nata) in the airport.
On a more serious note, always be aware of airline luggage restrictions, we got into an argument with airline staff who tested the validity of our hand luggage on return to UK, despite the green light in on our departure from Bristol. It turned out we were allowed it on and perfectly within our rights, but the additional stress caused unnecessary concern and worry with limited funds.
Traveller’s Note: The currency is the Euro. Most locals speak English fluently enough; however some understand less, so try not to get stressed over miscommunication. Attempting to speak just a few words of Portuguese shows effort and gets you much further. In comparison to other European cities, I felt very safe as a young women; that said, it’s always wise to store any valuables carefully when travelling.