I can only speak for where I’ve been
When you think of nightlife in Europe, your mind probably goes first to somewhere like Berlin. But hold on a minute, Berlin? Pill-popping, warehouse sweating, alternative pumping, 24-hour-raving Berlin? Is it that obvious I’ve never been there? But I have been to Barcelona and I’m with you there, Barcelona rocks, until the moment you need to go home. Barcelona is a nightmare to get a taxi late at night. There is no Uber and the hotels aren’t allowed to call you a cab. Whaaaaa…?
Chicas De La Calle
On my hen do I found myself stuck in Barca at 6 am, shivering outside in the cold for over an hour in high heels that felt like walking on hot coals. In these situations, I always look for the nearest hotel to call me a taxi while I wait inside, safe and warm. Don’t tell the taxi you’re not staying here, they said. Weird, I thought. Once inside the taxi, the driver starts a game of 50 questions, asking where I was going and where I was really staying. Eventually, drunk and bored of his Spanish Inquisition, I admitted the truth. Immediately he calls the hotel, furious at them for making him pick up chicas de la calle “girls off the street” and threatens them to never do it again. To add insult to injury, he wanted to drop us off 5 minutes from our stop. No, take us to the door, I said, it’s cold. Cold? He asks me, it’s 16 degrees.
Lisbon Nightlife = Awesome
Everyone’s had a bad experience somewhere. It happens. But I love Europe. It’s amazing, and you’re right, it has loads of great party cities. But London, expensive, Paris, dangerous, Oslo, freezing cold, Rome, far too many dudes. I could go on. So let me tell you why I think Lisbon is the best.
It’s cheap, like stupid cheap
A cheap night out in London is about equal to an expensive night out in Lisbon. For many tourists, the prices will seem incredibly low. €1 beers €6 mixers €7 cocktails €70 bottles. Compare that to £5 beers £12 mixers £15 cocktails and £150 bottles. You can’t argue there.
But there’s another element. The Portuguese, regardless of how much money they have, don’t like to spend a lot on going out. They generally prefer being among the people, deep in the crowd enjoying the party, spending as little as possible, so that they can go out as often as possible.
It doesn’t matter how new, fancy or happening the place is. You won’t convince your Portuguese friends to go there with you (unless you’re paying, sucker). Your Portuguese friends will always prefer to drink the cheapest booze possible while standing outside on some road because that’s just what we do. Street drinking is the shizzle in Portugal. You can do it anywhere, any time, any place.
Behold the quirky bar
That said, bars know that if they want to get the Portuguese inside, they need to make it pretty special! For years Bairro Alto was the favoured drinking neighbourhood until somewhat recently overtaken by Cais do Sodre. But the area is still home to a few classics, such as the Pavilhao Chines, an incredible bar full of world war era memorabilia. The hundreds of toy soldiers and random collectibles make this bar one hell of a place to get drunk in. The waiters are old school, formally dressed, while the clientele is a strange yet interesting mix. There’s also a pool table if you got the hustle.
Down the road in trendier Cais do Sodre, one can find another quirky classic, Pensao Amor. It used to be a love hotel, situated above the former red light district, which has since been made over into the popular Rua Cor-de-Rosa or Pink Street (official name is Rua Nova do Carvalho). Although you can no longer rent their rooms by the hour, they’ve kept the sexy theme in the decor, burlesque shows, and even has an erotic bookstore. It’s the sexiest place in Lisbon and definite first date material.
The hilly nature of Lisbon means that you can enjoy incredible views from almost anywhere in the city. There are many great hotel rooftop bars, such as are Epic Sana, Tivoli Hotel, Hotel Mundial, Hotel Chiado, and Hotel Bairro Alto.
Another special place to enjoy the views is at the natural ‘balconies’ of Lisbon called miradouros. My favourite is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, another popular one is the Miradouro de Santa Catarina.
Until recently that was it. But several awesome places have since opened up, such as the super cool rooftop-esque bar PARK, found at the top of a seven-story carpark. It’s a funny thing walking up the car park ramps to get to this place, but it’s worth the hike.
Now I know I said the Portuguese don’t do fancy, but there are exceptions to every rule. If you decide to break away from the pack and have some money you want to get rid of, go to Silk or Sud Lisboa. Both fancy-pants venues have amazing views. If this is you, you’ll already know who, and how to get in.
When you pass the age of 25, it’s a real pain deciding which nightclub to go to and making the arrangements to get in. I hate planning a night out in advance like that. It should be spontaneous! Here’s the good news, you won’t have that problem in Lisbon because there is only one club you need to know about: LUX Fragil. It’s the best club for so many reasons that I decided to list them.
- Beautiful three-storey superclub with a basement dancefloor, elegant first-floor bar with wrap around balcony, and rooftop terrace
- The best DJs, the best sound system, the best lighting
- Ham and cheese toasties, in case you’re hungry or a friend needs something solid
- The allusive stuffed giraffe. It’s in there, an actual stuffed giraffe neck and head inside the club, but for some reason, so many people have never seen it
- It used to be part-owned by John Malkovich, or still is, who knows
- It’s a well-oiled machine that’s been churning out epic nights for years
- No guest-list, no queue-jump, no dress-code. Just one queue, one standard, affordable price for everyone and in you go
- And when you’re done, there are always taxis waiting outside to take you home, happy face
That’s the good, now here’s a bit of the bad.
- If they tell you it’s €240 to get in, it’s their way of saying, not today buddy. Chances are your group is too big, you’re too many dudes, you’re already f***ed, and/or you’re dressed like a douche. It happens. Don’t pay it, just go somewhere else. Lisbon has plenty of other clubs. If LUX won’t take you, Urban Beach probably will.
- While there is no formal dresscode, they prefer casual dress (but no flipflops). Someone I know once got in wearing jeans and trainers covered in mud coming straight from a festival (you know who you are). It’s a beautiful, classy club, but they reject more girls in heels and bodycons than they do jeans and trainers. Same goes for men. Suits and shirts are something of a no no.
- Lastly, don’t try to negotiate on the door. Don’t try jump the queue (you’ll get sent straight to the back) and don’t try to arrange to buy a bottle or anything that you think will give you any kind of preferential treatment. When it comes to the door, it’s non-negotiable. Simply queue up, say hello (preferably in Portuguese) and pay your €12 ticket. Only once you are inside can you make arrangements for a table and bottles. This is handled on the spot, no need for advance reservations or anything.
Pace yourself, nap often
The Portuguese are definitely night owls. Even after waking up past 2 pm, there is still plenty of time for an afternoon nap before dinner at 9/10 pm. Drinks in a bar start from 11/12 and it’s usually time to hit the club around 2 am, once the bars close. Before heading home at 6/7 am, the Portuguese often grab some breakfast before slipping into a comatose sleep. And repeat. Other than that, Lisbon has great weather, uber, almost no mosquitos and you won’t go to jail for smoking a doobie.