I lived in Lisbon for six months, and during that time I fell head over heels for the city. I loved everything about it. Colourful buildings, ancient trams rattling along, and the omnipresent smell of barbecued meat and fish. One of the best things about Lisbon is the laid back vibe, so different from capital cities like London where everyone’s in a hurry. Lisbon simply invites you to sit back, kick up your feet, and enjoy people watching over a strong espresso.
You really have to scratch the surface to get the most out of Lisbon, but if you’ve only got a couple of days in the city you might not have enough time to hit all the best bits. I thought I’d put together an itinerary for weekend breakers. While this list doesn’t include all of my favourite places, I reckon it’ll give you a good feel for the city. So here it is: my itinerary for the ultimate weekend in Lisbon!
6pm: Drop your bags in your hotel and get ready to watch the sunset with a pre-dinner cocktail: in a multi-storey car park. I’m not nuts, honestly. What looks like a normal multi-storey car park on Calçada do Combro is actually one of the city’s trendiest rooftop bars. Jump into the dodgy wee lift up to the fifth floor, then walk up the stairs to the sixth. Instead of a desolate roof, you’ll find yourself in a trendy bar with excellent views over to the west. Treat yourself to a port and tonic (my new favourite) and enjoy the atmosphere.
8pm: Once you’ve finished your aperitif, wander up the hill to the Bairro Alto and get yourself some dinner at Blend on Rua da Norte. This is one of my favourite places to eat in the city centre. It’s tapas style food, combining some interesting flavours that you don’t find anywhere else in the city. Try the fuul (kidney beans with peanut butter) and the ceviche. Yum yum.
The desserts here are also delish, but you’ve only got a couple of days to spend here and no time to waste. Cross the road to Tease: the rock ‘n’ roll bakery. Grab a seat on one of the sofas and choose a nice decadent cupcake. I like the ones with half a chocolate seashell sticking out the top. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a big glass of wine!
11pm: Now you have two options. One, you can go home (boo!) or two: you can wander deeper into the Bairro Alto, where the party is just getting started. The winding streets are packed with wonderful bars, most serving up great value cocktails in plastic cups so you can stand outside and join the street life. There are some nice wine bars too (I like the Old Pharmacy) but for something different pop up to Mezcal, a wee hole in the wall bar that specialises in the Mexican spirit of the same name. Mezcal margheritas: does it get any better? If you’re lucky, you might even get offered the worm.
10am: You’re pretty hungover. I know. Mornings after a night in the Bairro Alto are never good. Pop into your nearest bakery for a bica (espresso) and a pastel de nata (custard tart) or two and you’ll be right as rain: just in time for the 11am Sandeman’s free walking tour, leaving from Largo de Camoes in Chiado. These tours take three hours and cover some of Lisbon’s best sights, as well as filling you in on some of the city’s interesting history. I’ve done the tour myself, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The tour ends in Praça do Comércio; just in time for lunch. Avoid the touristy restaurants in Baixa and head past Rossio to Praca Martim Moniz. This is the multicultural heart of Lisbon. Named after a hero knight who died in the siege of the castle, the square is now home to loads of street food kiosks. You can get everything here, from sushi and ceviche to hot dogs and pizza. Grab yourself a bite to eat (and a hair of the dog) and sit outside, enjoying music from the DJ/live band/opera singer/whoever happens to be performing that day.
After lunch, you’re ready to hit the attractions that the walking tour missed out: the castle and Alfama. Instead of walking all the way up the hill, duck into the Pingo Doce supermarket and jump in the free lift. The castle offers some of the best views in the city. It costs money to get in, so if you’re tight fisted like me just climb the walls outside and admire the view from there.
Alfama, the medieval neighbourhood surrounding the castle, is great for a wander. Walk along behind Lisbon Cathedral and you’ll soon find yourself in the back streets. Pick up a souvenir or two; a tram fridge magnet, or a painting of Lisbon done in coffee and red wine. Alfama is where all of Lisbon’s fado houses are, too. Fado is Portugal’s mournful folk music, and it’s definitely worth taking in a show over dinner.
Unfortunately I didn’t get round to seeing fado in Lisbon (although I managed to catch it in Coimbra and Silves) so I can’t make any recommendations here. I say choose whichever place looks good and enjoy a traditional meal with traditional music surrounded by traditional tourists. Order the porco preto (black pork) if they have it. It’s divine.
Get up bright and early: today we’re hitting the historic neighbourhood of Belém, out to the west of the city. Catch a Tram 15 (if you’re lucky it will be one of the old streetcars) and jump off outside Jeronimo’s Monastery. You’ll know it when you see it. In Portugal, the national monuments are free to enter before 2pm on a Sunday so it’s the perfect day to hit the cloisters of the monastery, the Torre de Belém, and the Coach Museum. But first: breakfast.
Remember that custard tart you had yesterday? Well, there’s a shop, Pastéis de Belém, that lays claim to the best ones in the city. There’s always a queue, but take it from me: it’s worth standing in it. Grab a nata or three and sit in one of the rooms, tiled in traditional azulejo tiles. Or if it’s too busy (or you’re not for queuing), try Chique de Belém (conveniently next to the coach museum). James insists that these are actually the best natas in the city: and they have an outdoor seating area, too.
Now do the monuments. Just go in and ask for a ticket: because it’s Sunday morning you won’t be charged. I recommend hitting the coach museum first, then the cloisters, then wander through the cute flea market and go under the subway to the riverside where you’ll find the tower. It’s worth going in, but if you don’t like crowded spaces I highly recommend avoiding a climb to the top.
The stairwells are only wide enough for one person at a time: for some reason the 16th Century architects didn’t account for hundreds of tourists tramping up and down all day. There are traffic lights, but people do ignore them. It can be a bit of a crush going up and down. We ended up trapped on the roof for about ten minutes: not fun.
Once you manage to get back down to ground level, it’s time for a nice 2km walk along the Tagus riverfront. You’ll pass the iconic Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), which features some of Portugal’s most iconic golden era figures. Just keep walking alongside the water and you’ll get a great feel for Lisbon life. People fishing in the Tagus, dog walkers playing with their furry friends on the grass, children cycling their bikes, and fitness fanatics like myself (cough) going for a run.
Walk under the Ponte 25th Abril (twin to the Golden Gate Bridge) and you’ll reach the Doca de Santo Amaro: my favourite place for a sunny lunch in Lisbon. The restaurants here are all nice, with outdoor seating areas. Lisbon is famous for its fish, and for good reason.
Head to 5 Oceanos and get a table on their deck, overlooking the dock. When your couvert arrives (bread, butter and olives) be sure to order some cheese. It’s lovely ooey gooey awesomeness, you won’t regret it. Browse the specials, or try something traditional. Bacalhau (salt cod) is the national dish. Don’t be put off by the name: it’s not salty at all. Dourado and robalo are also popular, so if you don’t fancy eating the heavy bacalhau con natas (cod with cream) opt for some grilled dourado or robalo instead.
Skip the dessert menu and head back along the river. Cross the footbridge into the Alcantara neighbourhood. You’ll pass the conference centre on your left: once you get to the main road (with the trams) turn right. Wander along for a bit, then once you reach Rua Rodrigues Faria turn right. Turn right again, and you’re in the LX Factory: Lisbon’s hipster hang out.
Once a massive factory complex, the old industrial area has been completely transformed. It’s now full of trendy cafes, quirky boutiques, and great restaurants. There are loads of great places to grab some dessert here. Bola da Marta, in the beautiful book shop Ler Devager, does a fine cake. As does Cafe Na Fabrica, another of my favourite haunts. But for the best chocolate cake in Lisbon, it has to be Landeau. One ‘fatia’ (slice) is enough to feed two. It’s seriously rich.
After eating all that food you’ll probably want to head back to your hotel for a well deserved ap, and I wouldn’t blame you. But if you’re still up for partying there’s always the pink street in Cais do Sodre (Rua Nova do Carvalho). People spill out of the bars and clubs clutching their beer until the wee small hours of the morning. It’s got got an awesome atmosphere, and is a must visit if you’re a party animal.
So have I tempted you? Go on, book those flights to Lisbon now. You won’t regret it!