There’s no denying that I have a special place for Europe in my heart and that a little piece of my soul gets left behind every time I visit. This trip was my 7th time in Europe, so I guess my soul is now split into 8 pieces now and I’m kind of like Voldemort (just as pale, but wears more colour).
I’m not sure if it’s since becoming a blogger (and thus on a perpetual hunt for photographic opportunities and outfit backdrops) that I became so aware of how UGLY Australia is. Okay so there is beautiful landscapes, but there is a severe lack of delicately constructed, sculptured, decorated and coloured buildings. Yes there are benefits of living in a new city. For example, elevators exist and are able to hold >0.8 person at once. A small fan is not classified as synonymous with air conditioning. You are able to shower without having to stand under the lukewarm trickle of water for 40min to get the shampoo out of your hair while also somehow simultaneously flooding the bathroom. Apart from that though, I feel like I would love Melbourne more if it just transported a few buildings from Paris / Lisbon / San Sebastian over and replaced Federation Square…
Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite things to do from where I recently visited. I’ve split this post up into 2, so I could spend as long as possible pretending I am not actually in Melbourne.
- Explore by foot / tram / funicular / elevador
The best way to experience this city is to walk around and keep your eyes on the coloured, tiled buildings around you (but also the road because the drivers are a little crazy in true European style). My favourite thing to do in Lisbon is simply walk around and look at all the different buildings, while stopping periodically to eat.
You can also catch adorable old trams/funiculars across and up/down the city. The Elevador da Glória takes you up the hill to the Bairro Alto area and Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara – where you can capture incredible views of the hilly city. The Elevador de Santa Justa is an incredible sight in itself – designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel (who, as I’m sure you can guess, designed the Eiffel Tower).
- Shop on Rua Augusta
If you like high street shopping, Lisbon is a great place to do it – the huge pedestrian street Rua Augusta has all the main stores (e.g. H&M, Mango, Zara, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear, Bershka) but they’re miles less busy and hectic than a lot of major European cities. They also don’t seem to care how many items you take into the change room…
- Eat Portuguese custard tarts, cod and octopus
If you didn’t try the Pastéis de Belém, did you even go to Lisbon? You’ll find these everywhere but the originals are (questionably) worth the trip and the wait. They also take great pride in codfish cakes – you can find these everywhere, but Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau is an entire shop dedicated to them. I personally found them quite awful, but I also don’t like the beach, so go figure. If you’re less into your cod being mushed up and packaged with cheese into a weird looking brown object, try a simpler baked cod, which you can find at most restaurants. The octopus dishes contain the largest pieces of octopus I’ve ever seen.
- Extra tip
If you have a spare day, make a trip to Sintra to see Pena Palace. It’s possibly the closest you’ll ever come to entering into a fairy tale book.
- Explore the ‘frescos’ and the old town / new town
Hidden (or not so hidden – they’re bloody huge) around Lyon, you can find a number of murals called ‘frescos’ painted on the facades of huge buildings. The murals follow people in everyday life – present and past – and are so realistic, you might even be able to trick someone with a photo into thinking they’re real.
Walk along the banks of the Saône and Rhône to see the adorably uneven-sized coloured houses along the rivers, through the city of grand cream structures, and to the old town (Vieux-Lyon) where the streets are windy and narrow.
- Shop at Printemps
Printemps is a French shopping dream – it’s a multilevel plethora of designer, high street and their own brand… and there’s an entire store just for women (men have a pathetic little store in a separate building).
- Eat pralines and ingredients you don’t want to know about
One of the sweets specialties in Lyon is ‘pralines’, candied almonds dyed pink (with what I assume is food colouring!) They put them in everything, brioche, tarts, etc. It’s a given that while in France you’re going to stuff yourself full of as many pastries as you can without throwing up. If you go a little too far and do end up throwing up… at least it will be pink right?
Head to the Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse – an indoor market, named after the Michelin 3-star chef based in Lyon – for all things cheese, meat, pastries, bread. They really love their sausages, some stalls might offer you tastings – if you don’t like accidentally eating blood sausage, it’s probably best to avoid these tastings.
- Extra tip
If you like peace and quiet (or photos without people in them), head out in the morning or on a Sunday. The city is deserted. Beware though – places will often shut on a Sunday in France, so check what’s actually open! Shops may even have special opening hours during sale times or specific Sundays of the month (confusion is their strong point).
- Explore the terrace of the Duomo di Milano
While most people would intuitively think to go INSIDE a cathedral, the most exciting way to visit the Duomo di Milano is actually by going onto the top. You can walk around the entire terrace of the cathedral and view the incredible intricate marble detailing from up close. The best part? You don’t even have to dress modestly as you’re not actually entering the cathedral. Of course if you do want to go inside, that’s a separate queue and you do need to dress modestly – unlike the outside and the terrace though, the inside does look pretty similar to the 34 other cathedrals you’ve already seen in Europe… Don’t forget to book a lift ticket ahead of time so you don’t have to walk up a billion stairs in a million degrees.
- Shop at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (kidding) and & Other Stories
The Galleria is a must-see, but if you want to actually be able to afford food ever again, I wouldn’t recommend trying to shop there.
& Other Stories on the other hand is a little more affordable – the brand is owned by the same group who own H&M and COS, and could be described as COS’ slightly less uptight, but still too-cool-for-you younger sister. It features designs from ateliers in Paris, LA and Stockholm and you’ll want to buy everything so you can be as cool as those effortless minimalist scandi gods you saw in Copenhagen.
- Eat in Brera and Navigli
A short walk or tram ride away from the tourist crowds in the main square, you’ll find Brera – originally the Bohemian/art district, it is now a very upmarket area for shopping, eating and admiring the beautiful streets. Grab breakfast, lunch, dinner or an Aperol Spritz and enjoy the charm of this area in contrast to the tourist hot spots. You can even stop at Acne on your way to dinner.
A must-do for dinner is to dine by the canal in the Navigli district. The Naviglio Grande (large canal) is surrounded by restaurants on both sides with spectacular views as the sun goes down. Just make sure you don’t choose a table closest to the canal if you don’t want to be interrupted by people trying to see you fidget spinners every 3 seconds.
- Extra tip
Trying to capture that perfect shot of the Duomo without 500 accidental photo-bombers? Simply walk a few hundred metres back away from where everyone seems to cluster. All you need is someone willing to squat in 35 degree heat for you, and there’s your perfect shot.
Let me know if you guys have any favourites in Lisbon, Lyon or Milan!