Trail of the unexpected: Lisbon

Portugal's undulating capital can be tiring to explore – but not in a 4x4. Will Hawkes enjoys the ride

Rome is famous for being the city of seven hills – but it's got nothing on Lisbon. Visitors to this most beguiling of European capitals would be well-advised to work on their calf muscles before arriving, or at least bring extra cash for taxis. It's no joke: this place makes the Eternal City look as flat as an Opus Dei comedy night.

All in all, it is the sort of town where you could do with a 4x4 to get around. Lucky, then, that an enterprising local already has had that idea. Bruno Gomes, 31, started running his "King of the Hills" tours in a former Portuguese military vehicle this year, having spent the previous couple of years ferrying friends around this intricate city.

Gomes' motivation was simple: he wanted to make sure visitors experienced the authentic Lisbon. "People were leaving not having seen the best of the city," he says. "I want people to get a real feeling of the city."

Gomes' company is called We Hate Tourism Tours. Clearly, this is no ordinary tour. How could it be, when you see the city whilst bouncing around on the back seat of a 4x4? There are no seat belts here. Locals stand and stare as the boxy matte-green vehicle whizzes past. "I don't need a Playstation, this is the real deal," Gomes says. "It's like Grand Theft Auto, racing through the city."

The traffic in Lisbon is certainly chaotic. Most streets are narrow – the Portuguese capital's own Baron Haussmann, the Marques de Pombal, had only a limited impact on the city's geography. When we parked to take in the view at Largos das Portas de Sol, which overlooks Alfama (the old town and the spiritual home of Fado) the screech of brakes and a female scream from behind us suggested a near miss. "It's normal," Gomes, says.

The tour covers all of the central districts of Lisbon, but with the added benefit of the sort of juicy local information denied those sitting uncomfortably on sweaty coaches. Take the illegal pastry shop in Bairro Alto, the part of town where young natives go to drink away the weekend. "It's like you're buying drugs," Gomes says. "They pass the pastries through a hole in the wall. Sometimes the police turn up to bust them and a queue builds up because they refuse to serve. People are like, 'Go away! Someone is getting attacked at the bottom of the hill!'"

Or there's the Thieves' Market in the east of the city, where the tour stops on Tuesdays and Saturdays. "We say that if you have something stolen, it will turn up at the Thieves' Market the next time you go," Gomes says. Wandering through the market, you can't help thinking that some of this stuff must have been nicked in 1950. Still, it's like the best car-boot sale you've never been to. The Thieves' Market has been around since the 13th century.

Gomes' tour also takes you past any number of crumbling apartment blocks that would fetch millions in Paris or London.

Lisbon is a city of views, and perhaps the best can be experienced at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte (Our Lady of the Hill viewpoint), one of the last stops on the trip. Our Lady – trapped in a glass box, peering out over the city – has it made. A bit off the beaten tourist track and a distance from any public transport, this is a tranquil spot to soak in Lisbon's idiosyncratic splendour, as long as you can shake off the Goan man trying to sell you tiny paintings of trams.

And then, finally, there's A Ginjinha, the hole-in-the-wall cherry brandy bar in the Largo de Sao Domingos. The drink itself is sweet but not cloying – in that respect, it's not overly dissimilar to its English equivalent, Grants Morella. It's unlikely, though, that you would find groups of Englishmen standing outside a cubby hole on a Saturday morning drinking liqueur.

But this is not London. The pace of life is slower and, as Gomes has found to his advantage, laws are there to be broken – or at least bent. "I have a licence to park illegally," he says. "Sometimes I arrive somewhere, there's a cop there, he looks at me, I look at him. 'Five minutes,' I say. And it's cool."

It's no wonder he can take liberties with the law: Gomes is a natural with people. He thinks this has a lot to do with his background. "My father has a shoe shop," he says. "The way that he deals with the public, I think I have that in my genes."

And Gomes' engaging manner means the tour doesn't end when he races off. "Sometimes I don't know things, but if I can't answer someone's question, I email them when they're back home and I give them the answer."

This good nature is as unwavering as the city he so clearly loves. "Lisbon doesn't really change," he says. "We like to have the things that we have always had. It's bad in a way, but also nice."

Travel essentials: Lisbon

Getting there

* From the UK the widest choice of flights is offered by easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com), with services from Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Liverpool and Luton. Portugal's national airline TAP (0845 601 0932; flytap.com) flies from Gatwick and Heathrow; British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Heathrow.

Visiting there

* We Hate Tourism Tours (00 351 911 501 720; wehatetourismtours.com). 'King of the Hills' costs €20 per person and lasts three hours.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map