Portugal’s capital is the oldest city in the Western world, so it’s perhaps not surprising to find pretty cobbled streets, classic churches and crumbling tiled facades. However, Lisbon is also now rivalling Berlin and Barcelona for its seriously cool vibe. Attracting the hip set with hidden-away bars, cool concept stores and boutique hotels, Europe’s sunniest city is now the latest must-visit weekend destination.
If you’ve only got 48 hours to get to know this city, first start the morning off with a bica, a longer, Portuguese version of an espresso. Like Rome, the city is spread over seven steep hills so get a tram where possible to save your legs. Jump on the No. 28 tram for a tour of the city, or if it’s too packed with tourists, take
the No. 12 which will also take you up and down the hills around the Baixa and Alfama districts. Or, if you are feeling very fit, just follow the tracks!
In Baixa, you can hop out to explore the tiled streets….
The mosaic-like pavements called calçadas are as a result of the 1755 earthquake that devastated the area. When the area was entirely rebuilt, the calcadas were a way of using up the rubble. In the m
edieval Alfama district admire the gilded baroque churches and see the 12th century Se de Lisboa cathedral.
When you are in need of some sustenance, wander around the 13th-century Mercado da Ribeira, opposite Cais do Sodré station, where more than 30 Portuguese chefs serve up street food from their market stalls (open until 2am on weekends). The fish stalls are laden with sardines, cuttlefish and tuna. There’s no need for a table, just grab a spot on one of the benches, enjoy a tuna-steak sandwich and people watch to your heart’s content.
If you aren’t near the market just pop into one of the many pastelerias that you’ll spot around the city which are perfect for lunch. Try the emapanadas, rissoles and little pies all on view through the glass counter so you can just point to order. Stand at the counters to eat and you’ll mix in with the locals.
Visit the crenellated 6th century Moorish castle of Castelo de São Jorge.
You won’t miss it – the castle occupies a commanding hilltop position offering spectacular views across the city. For more great views across the
city’s hilltops and spires, take the lift up to the massive monument of Jesus Christ which guards the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge.
One of the city’s arty new spaces is the LX Factory, near the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. The old printworks is now home to cutting-edge shops, galleries and cafes selling everything from artwork to clothes. Concept stores are also the latest thing in Lisbon. Some of the best are in the Príncipe Real neighbourhood hidden within neo-Moorish mansions. Check out 21pr Concept for couture clothing, Embaixada for individual shops as well as the indoor market at Entre Tanto selling artworks, clothes and vintage furniture.
As evening falls…
Stroll through the winding, old quarters and soak up the atmosphere. Lisbon is the birthplace of ‘fado’, the evocative folk music you’ll hear across the city at night. The best nightlife can be found in upper neighbourhood of Bairro Alto reached via the historic Santa Justa lift, which was built by a Portuguese apprentice of Gustave Eiffel. Once you are at the top, there are endless bars, restaurants and clubs to spend the evening, most of which spill out onto the streets for the perfect Al fresco dining.
On your second day..
Take the No. 15 tram all the way to Belem. This is where the River Tagus meets the sea and you’ll see the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, or the Discoveries Monument, which depicts many of Portugal’s great 15th century explorers. There is also the impressive Monastery of Jeronimos nearby which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1501. The monastery’s other claim to fame is that it was where Portugal’s famous custard tarts, pasteis de Belem were first made. Do not leave Belem without buying some from the bakery across the road from the monastery. The 19th-century recipe is a secret and the bakery is hugely renowned so do expect to queue for them! Whilst you are in Belem, make the climb up to the16th-century Belem tower, built to guard the river-mouth and have a wander around the Belem Gardens that go down to the waterfront.
Buy a 48-hour travel card to cover all of the city’s public transport options, from trams to buses and funiculars, as this will allow you to hop on and off whenever you please.