Situated in the historic Baixa district, the beating heart of Portugal's charming capital, this award-winning hostel was the city's first when it opened in 2005. The brainchild of four Portuguese artists, it's an original idea – to give travellers a first-class experience of Lisbon on a backpacker budget – brilliantly executed. First impressions: It's easy to walk right past the navy blue door at the base of this tiled building, but press the buzzer, climb the ancient stone steps inside and you'll arrive at an all-white, hotel-like reception area.
Inside, Lisbon Lounge is all white walls with high windows that open for fresh air and a view of the pedestrian street below. The nine co-ed dorm rooms (which sleep four, six or eight people in double-decker beds) occupy three floors, linked by staircases. Each floor also has a spacious, IKEA-looking living room, with a few quirky touches: a retro hairdryer lamp, a cardboard moose head on the wall, a turntable (for Lounge Nights), overhead lights made from army-green toy soldiers. Street-art-style murals and bright feature walls also hint at the hostel's creative roots. There are no outdoor spaces, but that's no loss with Lisbon's lively street culture just beyond the front door.
Each dorm room is enormous, with high ceilings, bare timber floors and white curtains framing the large windows and French-style doors, providing plenty of natural light and fresh air. There are six shared bathrooms, each a self-contained ensuite with hairdryer, which again makes you feel as if you're in a hotel, not a hostel. There's free Wi-Fi throughout (of course – this is a hostel, and this is Europe), free coffee and tea, and bed linen is provided (some hostels charge extra).
The timber-frame beds are comfortable and have a few thoughtful touches: in addition to a reading light, each bed has clothes hooks, a pouch for things you want to keep close while you sleep and an enormous locker (under the bed) with a triple-plug power outlet inside so you can lock up your devices while they charge. You hardly feel as if you're sharing a room with three, five or seven other people, there's so much space.
Every night, Lisbon Lounge (and its 23-room sister hostel, Living Lounge, a few blocks away) puts on a real Portuguese dinner for its guests. Prepared by a local chef, it's served in the hostel's beautifully rustic kitchen at the very Latin hour of 9pm and costs only 10 euros. When I was there the three courses were "Carrots in Wonderland" soup, oven-baked Portuguese salted cod served with vegetables, and ice cream, plus salad, bread and a few glasses of red wine. A basic breakfast is included in the room rate.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
In true hostel style, there's no shortage of activities, or new friends to do them with, including: free sunset walking tours, free Fado (Portuguese blues) nights at traditional bars and walks around historic Belem (where you can visit the cafe that invented the "pastel de nata" or Portuguese tart). There are also bikes for rent. Lisbon Lounge is just around the corner from Rua Augusta, the cobbled pedestrian street that ends in a massive arch (Rua Augusta Arch) which leads to Praca do Comercio (Commerce Square) and the harbourfront. It's a short walk to Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon and where Fado originated, or to Bairro Alto, a cobbled maze of bars and street parties.
This is the future of shared accommodation. Right in the heart of Lisbon, the stylish, spacious and immaculately clean Lisbon Lounge is more hotel than hostel, a place where "budget" can be beautiful.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the airport, it's a 15-minute taxi ride (7.5 kilometres) or 25 minutes by bus (Aerobus 91, which runs 7am-11pm daily) to Lisbon Lounge. The hostel is also just four blocks from the nearest Metro stop, Baixa-Chiado.
Beds in shared rooms (four, six or eight beds) from $17 a night, twin bed rooms from $32 a night per person and single rooms from $40. Rates include breakfast. 41 Rua Sao Nicolau, Lisbon. See lisbonloungehostel.com.
The writer travelled at her own expense.