Contributed by John Donnelly from The Little Book of Lisbon Blog
There are lots of reasons as to why Lisbon has become my favourite city and it’s not simply because of its exterior beauty. A thriving community lives in the city centre which feeds into the heartbeat and provides its magic. Just off the main through fares you’ll find narrow residential streets, tiny shops and modest cafes which all serve the local residents.
Lisbon is an inclusive city. The locals are genuine, friendly and polite and in almost all restaurants, bars and shops people will do their best to communicate with you.
Lisbon is an exceptional venue for your wedding and mine wasn’t just a wedding day, it was a ‘wedding experience’ born out of my own and my wife’s love for Lisbon and wanting our family and friends to share all that love with us.
The districts within the city are quite different and I’ll explain them to you so that you and your guests get the most out of your wedding experience too.
Preparing for your big day
I’m a frequent traveler to Lisbon but I made sure to add in an extra trip a few weeks before our wedding just to make final preparations and tick all the boxes. When planning your wedding in Lisbon make sure to take a couple of trips there before your big day rather than relying on a third party to do all the organizing. There are now flights from Cork, as well as four daily flights from Dublin and if you book early enough you can get great deals so take advantage of some early planning.
Choosing your venue
Lisbon is built on seven hills and although at first the city looks quite complicated, it’s very easy to navigate once you get your bearings. After you settle into your hotel or apartment I always recommend that people take a Tuk-Tuk tour.
Your Tuk-Tuk guide will give you a basic history lesson on Lisbon, explaining the influence and impact of the Moors, earthquakes, tsunamis, Kings and Popes. It is a good idea to do this tour on the first day as it is a whirl wind guide to the city and will give you a perspective of the scale of Lisbon and sights you may wish to revisit. The tours cost about €40 - €50 for an hour up to four people.
Miradouro – Look out points
Perched on the hills you’ll find several look out points, these are called ‘Miradouro’ and many of the views over the city from these vantage points are stunning. If you think a little outside the box you can use these Miradouro to form the backdrop for your wedding album. It was ‘Miradouro Santa Catarina’ which inspired our own wedding venue.
There is an abundance of fantastic hotels & restaurants which can host your event, way too many for me to go through but my advice is to go with a location with a view over the city roof tops or even better, the River Tagus and the April 25th Bridge.
My choice was in my favourite district in Lisbon which is Santa Catarina and I found a true gem of a venue in an historical building owned by the Portuguese Pharmacy Association.
We had a small wedding party of 35 people and managed to find an historical room to host our ceremony in a truly wonderful building. The building also happened to host one of Lisbon’s best restaurants which is called Pharmacia and is owned by a Portuguese celebrity chef…. The gated garden with spectacular views over the River Tagus was an incredible bonus.
The day went as perfectly as the planning. Five courses of amazing seasonal food chosen with the chef ‘Felicidade’ and wines to complement each dish. Topped off with a Champagne reception on the lawn…. It was our perfect day!
In my experience, you will create your perfect day by embracing what’s in front of you in Lisbon…. Find a location which you genuinely form a bond with and trust your instinct. Search for hotels, restaurants and bars where you love the location, food, atmosphere and staff… these are the components which will make the entire Lisbon experience memorable an fuss free for you, your family and friends.
Lisbon has some very distinctive districts which may influence the style of your wedding day.
Alfama forms an ancient part of the city with winding streets, interesting cafes, bars and restaurants, all cut through by the infamous Tram 28.
Here you’ll find Cathedrals, Castles and Miradouro with views abound and photo opportunities which leap out at you.
Principe Real is the on-trend district in Lisbon, chic shops, cool folk and interesting restaurants. Just down the main street is Miradouro São Pedro de Alcantâra with views across the valley which is Rossio to the far side where you’ll see Castelo de São Jorge. This is a great location for those memorable snaps.
Chiado is a very central point in the city and you will surely pass through here on many occasions. There are numerous hotels in this district which may suit your wedding day and some can cater for larger numbers and yet hold onto their genuine style. Check out the Barrio Alto Hotel, it also has a roof top bar which is ranked in the top 10 in the world! Also, check out Hotel Chiado with its Roof Top Garden and Oyster Bar.
Praça do Comércio
This is the main square in Lisbon a is incredibly impressive. Some of the main shopping streets flow from here but as the name suggests it’s a very commercial district in Lisbon and has turned its focus on the tourist trade. If you wander far enough you’ll find Avenida da Liberdade which is Lisbon’s version of O’Connell Street or Patrick Street but on an entirely different scale. This avenue hosts many flagship hotels but to be quite honest, it’s more suited to briefcases than bridal dresses. Choose a better district than here to host your wedding as it is charmless but it’s a good central area for your guests to stay and has plenty of good quality and value hotels. If you want to splash some cash on cloths, you’ll find all your cat walk brands on Avenida da Liberdade
You may consider Praça do Comércio for photos.
Santa Cartarina is a lovely residential area just meters off the beaten track of an inner-city bustle. The Miradouro at Santa Catarina boasts wonderful sunsets over the River Tagus. On the way here you will most probably see the Bica Funicular (Tram). The street it rides is the most photographed street in Lisbon and the Funicular stops at the top of the hill on a street called Calçada do Combro. It really would be a great place to take some wedding photos as it stops here for a few minutes before descending again and the drivers won’t mind you taking advantage.
Bairro Alto is Dublin’s version of Temple Bar with the added bonus that it has a little more class. Great fun, safe and very on trend with bohemian shops and funky bars. Great for a party but not necessarily your wedding day.
Your guests are important and if you plan to have your special day abroad, then they have made a great effort to join you. It was for this reason we pulled together some notes so they could make the most of their stay in Lisbon as I was lucky enough to be a regular visitor to the city.
Here is a plan that won’t fail…
The Night Before
Pavilhão Chinês or Chinese Pavilion is an incredible bar located in Principe Real. It’s a local secret and quite difficult to find although located on one of the most fashionable streets in Lisbon. I love this place so much that I proposed to my wife here…. If you visit any bar in Lisbon, then visit this one. Check out my website to get more details on how to find it.
The wedding morning will most likely bring its fair share of panic so being occupied is a good thing. Go with the flow but a little organization will ease the anxiety.
Ok guys, check out the place which David Beckham said was ‘most probably the best barbers in the world’. The barbers were asked to travel with the Portuguese football team when they won the European Cup and Ronaldo was there in June 2017. I’m a regular visitor to Figaro’s Barbershop and this is exactly where the lads headed on the morning of my wedding day. Below is a photo of my best man, me and some of the guys. An exceptional haircut and shave not to be missed. There is also a Peter Marks across the street for the ladies and we recommend that the ladies phone in advance to book in here.
For the guys, Figaro’s do not accept appointments apart from Mondays. They open at 11.00 am so I suggest to get there early and wait outside until they open so to avoid the queues. It’s strictly me only and I’m sure you’ll be offered a beer!
There is also a market in Lisbon, which is located near the river at Cais do Sodre. It’s called Mercado do Sodré Ribeira but it’s also known as TimeOut which is a famous foodhall. It’s here where you can choose your flowers and I suggest that you go there the day before to arrange what you require. Ladies, send the fellas down there to pick up the bouquets and table arrangements and tell them to be sure to drop off some champagne with them!
The Day After
After the best day of your life, you and your new wife or husband may like a little space and your guests may like a little sleep. So why not let everyone chill for the day and wait until sunset to catch up properly. Lisbon is famous for sunsets and here is my best choice for you.
Meet at Park Bar. It’s located between Bairio Alto and Santa Catarina and the sunsets are as spectacular as the mojitos! Check out the time that sunset will occur and arrange to meet 30 to 40 minutes beforehand.
Other things to know
Lisbon can be very hot in the summer and temperatures of 40 degrees are not uncommon, so make sure that all the venues you chose have air conditioning. May is a wonderful month to visit Lisbon, the city trees bloom with an incredible purple flower which transforms the streets and avenues.
High heels are an absolute no go, unless you plan to taxi to the door everywhere you go and even then, you may struggle as almost all the paths and roads are cobbled.
The local cakes are called Pasteis de Nata or ‘Nata’ for short and be sure to try them.
I really can’t recommend Lisbon highly enough as a wedding venue. It’s a close flight to Dublin, the people are wonderful and the city is captivating.
I prepared some notes for our guests so that they could get the most out of their stay. Places to see, Things To Do, Best Bars and Great Food. What were meant to be a few quick tips turned into a website. So, to save you the trouble of making your own website you can visit mine. The website also includes more details of the locations and venues mentioned above including map locations.
It’s called The Little Book of Lisbon and here’s the link www.littlebookoflisbon.com
I hope that this article gives you some food for thought when choosing your wedding destination, but where ever you decide on I truly wish you a wonderful day!