An insider’s weekend in Lisbon

By Alice Tate

Photography by Alice Tate

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Updated January 2019

From its postcard-pretty streets to its nostalgic charm, heavenly custard tarts to its wonderfully fresh seafood, Lisbon is ideal for a weekend away. Travel writer and blogger, Alice Tate, gives us the lowdown on how to spend 48 hours in the Portuguese capital.

Day one

Forty winks

On arrival in Lisbon, check straight into Altis Avenida. Modernism is alive and well at this boutique hotel, which was built in the forties and still has its original façade. Rooms are sleek and stylish, and the downstairs lobby has an abundance of velvet sofas. Head up to the rooftop restaurant for wonderful panoramic views. As you’ll soon realise, Lisbon is a hilly city – and every rooftop offers a complex, multi-layered view of hilltop castles, hidden churches and twisting alleyways. Sit here, look down, and plan where to go next.

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  • Whet your appetite with the host of delicious dishes at Bairro do Avillez.

    Out on the patio

    José Avillez’s Barrio do Avillez is a foodie’s paradise packed with the best Portuguese cuisine. You’ll find a market, tavern and the wonderful Páteo restaurant.

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  • Wander around the timeless streets of Lisbon’s old town.

    On the go

    Check out Alice’s Esplorio, to track her journey around the Portuguese capital.

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  • Marvel at the beautifully tiled buildings and quaint cobbled streets.

    Did you know…?

    There are no official documents proclaiming Lisbon as the capital city of Portugal. It was taken for granted after Alfonso III moved the courts there in 1255.

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Day two

09:30 – Bohemian breakfast

If you fancy doing a walking tour to get your bearings, then the Experience Lisbon Walk starts just two minutes from your hotel, at Restauradores Square.

If you’re going solo, take a fifteen-minute stroll up the avenue to breakfast: stop for coffee and a light bite at Delidelux, a great local deli. Then, head straight from the hotel down into Bairro Alto. This historic, bohemian district of Lisbon is all cobbles, and full of stores, bars and restaurants. It’s beautiful by day, but it really comes alive when the sun goes down.

11:00 – Midday markets

Potter around the luxury shops on Rua do Norte, then when you’re feeling peckish, make your way to the Time Out Market for a midday snack. This gourmet food court opened in May 2014 and has been a hit ever since for both locals and visitors. In the grand undercover market hall, over 30 kiosks sell all sorts of ready-to-eat regional specialities; and with plenty of tables and benches, it’s the ideal spot for either a light snack or meal. For a little something that’s typically Portuguese, try some salted cod fish cakes with a local dry white wine.

For a little something that’s typically Portuguese, try some salted cod fish cakes with a local dry white wine

14:00 – Sublime seafood

Saunter through the streets and along the waterfront, before stopping for lunch. Lisbon is home to Jose Avillez’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Belcanto, but if you can’t get a table or can’t justify spending your cents, make a beeline for Páteo, his more relaxed and better-on-a-budget seafood restaurant in Bairro do Avillez. With beautiful interiors, great wine, and impeccable seafood (the sea bass is a must!), there’s no better spot for lunch in the city. Have your fill, but leave room for his wonderful pasteis de nata millefeuille.

16:00 – Snap happy

Easily the most charming, picture-perfect part of Lisbon, Alfama is a maze of steep narrow, cobbled streets that wind up the hill from the Tejo estuary to the castle at the top. Of course, you could hop on the number 28 bus all the way – the streets are quite the workout – but you’ll miss the joy of getting lost in the backstreets and stopping to admire the view from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Go with a charged camera in hand because there’s no shortage of photo opportunities around here.

  • Take in the views of the picturesque rooftops at sundown.

    Head for heights

    Quirky PARK is a rooftop bar that sits on top of a multi storey car park. It might be difficult to find, but somehow word’s got out, and it’s always busy.£91 return

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17:00 – Relax and recharge

At the top of the hill, you’ll find São Jorge, a Moorish Castle that boasts an unmissable view of the city. Join the queue for tickets to enjoy a leisurely, insightful stroll round the grounds and a well-deserved rest, before making your way back down through the winding streets and basking in the sun at one of the bars around the Praça do Comércio.

19:30 – Little Peru

When you’re ready for dinner, make your way back through Bairro Alto to A Cevicheria. This tiny little place is a hit with the locals and it’s got a no-bookings policy so go early – from around 19:00 onwards – or expect a queue. The best seats in the house are up at the kitchen bar, to watch the chefs lovingly craft each colourful dish. As the name suggests, it’s all about ceviche, and the tasting menu is the best way to try a comprehensive selection of dishes; each one light but packed with flavour and that wonderful tiger’s milk zing.

21.00 – When the night falls

For Lisbon, the night is still young so if all the walking hasn’t worn you out, head over to Rua Cor-de-Rosa, a street painted bright pink that buzzes with crowds and energy when night falls. Here you can do like the locals and dance until you’ve got no more left.

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Day three

10:00 - Breakfast in Belem

Hop on the bus to the charming, sleepy neighbourhood of Belem and join the few locals and the hoards of tourists who’ve made the pilgrimage for the best custard tarts in the city. Pasteis de Belem has been making its famous pasteis de nata since 1837, and those years of experience show. Small, sweet, dangerously light bites of custard heaven with a delicate crisp case are the talk of the town and live up to the hype. Have a few, warm, with an espresso, then line up and get a box of six to take home – you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t.

  • Discover secret shops, bars and restaurants in city’s maze of alleyways.

    A new leaf

    Visit arguably the world’s smallest bookshop, Livraria do Simao – it’s only got room for one person at a time.

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  • Delve into the exciting menu on offer at Páteo restaurant.

    Tempting treats

    The relaxed Páteo restaurant is open seven days a week, from 12.30 to 15.00 and 19.00 to 24.00, serving fresh fish dishes on the glorious patio.

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  • The city is awash with history and culture, plus an emerging alternative art scene.

    A thing of beauty

    Why not visit the intriguing Design and Fashion Museum – locally known as MuDe – it opens every day, 10.00 until 18.00?

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11:30 - Look up

Fuelled up on sugar, there’s plenty of sightseeing to be had. Belém Tower is an impressive UNESCO-listed fortified tower that played a significant role in the Age of Discoveries and is definitely worth a look, as is Jerónimos Monastery, an ornate Gothic edifice that dates back to 1601.

13:30 – Like the locals

In the direction of the city, stop at LX Factory for lunch. This disused industrial estate just off the main road has been transformed into a street of bars, boutiques and restaurants. Of those, 1300 Taberna offer the best in local Portuguese flavours. For something hearty, authentic and comforting, try the octopus rice. There are some delicious local craft beers on the menu too.

15:30 – View from the top

Hop on the tram to the city centre to fit in one last drink before you fly – and make it a goodie, by heading to PARK. It’s a relaxed, rooftop bar that’s so unassuming you’ll never find it if you’re not in the know. Perched atop a standard multi-storey car park, just follow the levels up and up and up until you reach the top, then kick back with an Aperol Spritz and soak in the epic view.

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Where to stay

Heritage Avenida Liberdade

Choose to stay in the heart of the city at a four-star retreat, bursting with iconic Lisbon charm. After days exploring, take a dip in the Jet Pool then kick back in the lobby lounge and soak up the hotel’s boutique character.

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PortoBay Marques

Take a four-star break, close to the verdant Parque Eduardo VII. Head to the top floor terrace and lounge in the sun, cool off in the small poor and sip sundowner drinks by the bar. Dine at Trato 32, the hotel’s understated restaurant with tantalising dishes – try the seafood special.

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Iberostar Lisboa

Savour a five-star sanctuary this holiday. With its combination of a central location and open space, this hotel is the perfect place to relax after adventurous days out. Make a splash in the outdoor pool beside the vertical gardens, or unwind beneath the mist showers in the wellness and spa centre.

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