Bairro Alto, Lisbon

Lisbon is a city steeped in history. Museums chronicle the country's past, celebrate its monarchy and provide perspective on Portugal's culture. However, Lisbon is also recognized as an accessible, laid back city. This is the kind of destination where it's possible to encounter people from incredibly diverse walks of life. Perhaps the best place to do so in the city is at the Bairro Alto.

Visitors who stop by the Bairro Alto while the sun is up find a quiet neighborhood dating back to the 16th century. Its closely built structures were created beyond the original walls of the city to accommodate the rapid expansion of Lisbon's population at the time. Originally, this was a combined commercial and residential district, but today Lisbon's Upper District or High Neighborhood is Portugal's capital for nightlife.

The tourist who drops into Bairro Alto both during the day and at night won't be able to believe that the incredibly crowded neighborhood found at night is the same sleepy spot during the day. Nightclubs, bars and restaurants dominate the scene, most of which don't open until the evening. It's not unusual for these spots to stay open until four or six in the morning. This means that patrons are often partying until the break of day, much to the chagrin of people with a hotel room in the district who are expecting a good night's sleep.

Bairro Alto is the best place to sample Lisbon's nightlife. There's a restaurant, club or bar for people of every description, and the businesses seem to promote a permissive, come as you are attitude. Few establishments charge a cover and most don't restrict entrance. The result is a massively crowded but highly celebratory atmosphere that is certainly chaotic.

This is not the destination for people anxious for personal space. Particularly in the small hours, people are packed shoulder to shoulder in the streets and in the clubs. Drinks are frequently served in plastic cups since drinking in the streets is legal and plastic cups promote the ability to wander between bars and clubs.

While some establishments in the quarter seem to stand the test of time, many others seem to spring up overnight and disappear just as quickly. In fact, some clubs are known only by their house number as the various bars are packed in with such density as to make it difficult to distinguish one from the other.

The Bairro Alto isn't just for club hopping. It's also known for its nighttime shopping experiences. Visitors can expect to find plenty of one-of-a-kind boutiques along the cobbled neighborhood streets. Among the shops are sellers of vintage couture and those selling the latest styles by Portugal's foremost fashion designers of today. Savvy shoppers will be on the lookout for work produced by local artisans, but don't expect to find too many shops open before night. Most of these places stay open until the wee hours.

For dining, shopping and club hopping, no other neighborhood can compare with Lisbon's Bairro Alto.