Sunshine escape: 48 hours in Lisbon!
Stop the city break search! Portugal’s hilly capital’s bursting with colour, culture and great places to eat, drink and stay (not to mention custard tarts at every turn...)
Just over two hours’ flight from Heathrow, Europe’s most westerly capital has woken from its Covid slumber to offer a cultural shot in the arm to anyone looking for a relaxed and slightly bohemian city break. Pack your trainers, because Lisbon stretches from harbour-side plaza Parca do Comércio in the south, all the way to Castelo de Sao Jorge (Saint George’s Castle) on the highest of the city’s seven hills, with steep and winding cobbled streets to navigate in-between.
Vibrant and buzzing: streets are lined with cafes, bars and boutiques to browse. I found cool neighbourhoods to wander through such as Baixa & Rossi (a downtown area with shops and grand plazas); Barrio Alto & Chiado (great for vintage, vinyl and the oldest bookshop in the world!) and Av. de Liberdade (the Champs Élysées of Lisbon) with designer stores at designer prices including Prada, Giorgio Armani, Boggi, and Golden Goose.
Spend any time in Lisbon and you’ll soon hear locals mention the great earthquake of 1755, when much of the city was flattened. However magnificent Castle de Sao Jorge survived and is definitely a highlight today, with its beautiful citadel to walk around (a real-life fairytale castle kids young and old will love) and views of the Tagus River and 25 de Abril Suspension bridge (the longest in Europe, pub quizzers).
Convento do Carmo, a ruined church with beautiful open-air, ethereal arches and an archaeological museum inside, is another must-see.
Close by, the Elevador de Santa Justa built by Raul Mesnier, Gustave Eiffel’s apprentice, is an engineering marvel that lifts you high above the roofline for jaw-dropping city views from the viewing platform – get ready to elbow all the Instagrammers out of the way for your own #ILoveLisbon shot.
If you’re craving a bit of peace and quiet, hang out in Parque Eduardo VII with its beautiful city views, or visit some of the cool galleries and museums, such as Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporanea do Chiado (best for modern art) and Museu Calouste Gulbenikan (best for ancient & decorative arts).
SCOFF & QUAFF
Foodies should make a beeline for Barrio de Avillez, a culinary ‘neighbourhood’ that’s the brainchild of Jose Avillez, Portugal’s most famous Michelin-starred chef, which offers different dining environments under one roof to tantalise the taste buds; think gourmet deli, seafood bar, pizza parlour and excellent cocktail bar – book ahead!
The Time Out Market is also a no brainer – think food hall but not as you know it, with a curated selection of over 40 of the city’s best restaurants rated by an independent panel of local journalists and food critics. Must-try are Confraria for sushi, Manteigaria for pastéis de nata (don’t forget a sprinkle of cinnamon) and Miguel Castro e Silva for sardines, a local specialty.
I also loved JUNcQUOI (Ave. De Liberdade), a very cool DeliBar filled with Lisbon’s ‘beautiful’ people eating ‘beautiful’ food (lobster, oysters and local wines) at the marble-topped counter.
For a relaxing late lunch off-the-beaten-track, my favourite spot was the Editorial Terrace at the top of Pollox department store. Exiting the lift I was hit by breathtaking views across Lisbon’s terracotta roofline and then tucked into a fantastic board of Portuguese charcuterie, cheese and cold fresh beers.
Or for a rooftop bar more under-the-radar try Park Bar, tucked away at the top of a car park with industrial, hipster vibes and wow-factor views of the suspension bridge (especially at sunset). Or Topo Bar (above) with its cool neon signage and retro arcade machines. Even more of a hidden gem (it took me 20 minutes of going up and down the lift to realise I was in the right place), you’ll find it at the top of Centro Comercial Martim Moniz, an unassuming shopping centre at the end of the No. 28 Tram route.
And finally, you won’t find a more authentic experience than a meal at Fado em Si, a restaurant and bar nestled in the walls of the Castel de Sao Jorge in the Old Town. Our hearty supper of mountain lamb stew and six-hour slow oven-baked veal washed down with the local Vino Verdi was accompanied by musicians on acoustic guitars singing heartfelt Fado songs (folk music). Initially local diners sang along quietly to themselves, and even though I had no idea what they were saying I used my best pre-school phonics and joined in – by the end of the night we were all singing our hearts out!
WHERE TO STAY
Heritage de Liberdade Hotel is a 45-bedroom that’s walking distance from all the key city sights. It’s a tasteful mix of traditional and contemporary design with an inviting lobby of elegant floor-to-ceiling windows, original Portuguese tiled walls and a cute old wooden reception desk, a former herbal dispensary kiosk. After a long day sightseeing the complimentary teas, coffees, pasteis de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) and port wine snifter were very welcome. Our junior suite on the fifth floor was really spacious with a lovely comfy bed and squishy deep feather-filled pillows.
There’s also a gym and plunge pool – a great addition if you want to work off some of those delicious Lisbon pastries!
HOW TO SEE IT BEST
Take your trainers and brace yourself for some steep hills – my stilettos never made it out of my suitcase! You can walk the sights pretty easily using your phone’s SatNav, or hop on the famous No. 28 Tram which navigates the main city spots in vintage style. Go early morning or late afternoon to avoid queuing. If you’re feeling flush, or have a bad case of blisters, try hiring an electric scooter (Lisbon’s equivalent to a Boris Bike) – they’re scattered around the city and a fun way to zip around. Alternatively try a TukTuk – at €60 for one-hour with a tour guide included it’s a bit pricy, but it’s a fun way to explore the back roads and see all the best views and parks away from the throng.
THE LOCAL LOWDOWN
If you’re taken by the beauty of the colourful Portuguese ‘azulejo’ tiles on the city’s townhouses, then book an afternoon workshop at Lisbon Social Press, hosted by Tom Maryniak. A former London artist, Tom has created a budding art community and studio hosting a range of workshops for every level and you’ll be pleased to hear some involve alcohol!
I tried my hand at designing tiles and litho printing and whether you’re good at drawing or not is irrelevant (I’m terrible!), as Tom showed us how to draw and carve our tile designs, mix oil paints and print them by hand to make our own artworks, postcards and greeting cards – the perfect souvenirs to take home. It’s a great activity for couples, small groups including hen parties (did I mention the booze?), or with kids aged 11+.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
GOOD FOR: An active city break for couples, small groups and families with teenagers who are happy to go with the flow and wander the streets discovering boutiques, cafes, and Portuguese culture at every turn.
NOT GOOD FOR: Those less physically able and young families with toddlers and buggies as there are a lot of cobbles and hills to contend with!
HOW TO GET THERE
There are daily flights from Heathrow to Lisbon with TAP Air Portugal from £235 return per person. Heritage de Liberdade Hotel standard double room from £125.63 per night, including breakfast until midday and entry to several museums.