Located at the far western edge of Europe, Lisbon feels blessedly removed from the turmoil of current events. And despite tourism’s having increased in recent years, the distinctive character of the city remains strong. Stylish shops in azulejo-clad buildings give pride of place to Portuguese-made merchandise, and restaurants take full advantage of local produce and seafood, pairing them with excellent wines made from indigenous grape varieties.
Strolling through the neighborhoods of the historic center — Bairro Alto, Chiado, the Baixa and the Alfama — is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures of a visit. Each has its own distinct personality and geography. White cobblestones pave many of the streets, giving the city a strangely luminous quality. And along important routes, wood-paneled streetcars still trundle past.
Lisbon owes much of its current appearance to the massive earthquake and tsunami of 1755, which destroyed most of the city. The reconstruction gave Lisbon an appealing architectural harmony, but it obliterated the medieval street plan in favor of a grid. Since then, the wealth of Portugal’s empire slowly faded, and until the last decade or so, Lisbon, like Venice, seemed condemned to a sort of exquisite decay. The country’s recent economic troubles should have only exacerbated this state of affairs, but thanks in part to financial support from the European Union, the city now bursts with fresh energy. Travelers have rediscovered its beauty, and several stylish new hotels have recently opened to cater to them.