City Guide: Lisbon

I’m not sure if anyone else witnessed this, but last year I noticed a surge of people (friends, bloggers, travel journos) going to Lisbon for a city break. Never one to miss out on seeing what all the fuss was about, Mum and I booked for three days and two nights in the Portuguese capital in November. It did not disappoint. Sun-soaked even in the beginnings of winter, fresh food and fascinating architecture, the city really has something for everyone.

Where to stay:

  • Airbnb: I found Lisbon to boast one of the best selections of Airbnbs I’ve seen in a European capital. Go for the Barrio Alto/Principe Real neighbour if you want a Notting Hill/Shoreditch vibe, Alfama if you want to be in the historic centre or Baixa if you don’t mind the hustle and bustle and want to be in the middle of all the goings on. We opted for this flat, hosted by Tiago who was extremely helpful and left a little book with tips and recommended restaurants etc.

The view from Tiago’s AirBnb

  • Hotels: no first hand experience in this department but some good ideas here, here and here.

Where to eat:

  • A Cervicheria: a strong contender for best lunch in the city, this fresh seafood bar is extremely popular with the locals and it’s not hard to see why. More photos in this post.

Lisbon Portugal Travel

  • SeaMe: again, if fresh seafood is your thing, this place is for you. It gets very busy in the evenings but you can book ahead, which will secure you a table, rather than a perched place at the bar. There’s a display of freshly caught-that-day fish at the back of the restaurant so you can select yours and have it weighed up. Plenty of options à la carte too, with a handful of Asian-fusion dishes too.

  • Time Out Food Market: yes, the name may make it feel more British than Portuguese due to a heavy investment from the London-based publisher but this indoor market showcases Lisboan food at its very best. Similar to the ‘mercados’ in Spain or the ‘hallern’ in Denmark, small food stalls line the aisles of a lofty, wrought-iron building, each serving up a different speciality. The youngest and most ambitious Portuguese chefs are invited to cook here – a great platform for them to bring refined food to a mass audience. More photos in this post.
  • ZeroZero: if you’re after a more relaxed dinner, when only a couple of pizza and beers suffice, I’d highly recommend this place. We tried Pizza de Lisboa, but it was completely full so we walked back up the hill to go to somewhere closer to home. Alternatively, you can try O Prego da Peixaria, right next door, who also have a stall at the Time Out Market. Delicious Portuguese sandwiches.

Lisbon Portugal Travel

  • Café Pastéis de Belém: somewhat of an institution, to the extent that it’s difficult to plan your visit around the busloads of tourists making a pitt stop here, this café is supposedly home to the best ‘pastel de nata’ in the city and its surroundings. It was all the way back in 1837 when they began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The recipe remains a secret and is recreated every day in the bakery, by hand, using only traditional methods. You can have a peek into the kitchens to observe some of this process, but not the pastry preparation which happens in the ‘secret room’!

What to do:

  • Take the Number 28 tram: only the classic Remodelado trams, originally commissioned in the 1930s, are able navigate the steep inclines of the tracks on this route which passes through Baixa, up to the Sao Jorge castle and across to Estrela. These trams are genuinely still an integral part of Lisbon public transport network for commuters and tourists alike.

  • Castelo Sao Jorge: for the view, if not the history of it. Much of the present castle dates from the 1920s when a restoration project gave it a major face-lift but it was the ancient seat of power in Portugal for over 400 years.

  • Day trip to Cascais: read more about it in my previous blog post, but this is the perfect day/afternoon trip from the Portuguese capital. A fishing village with a charmingly lazy feel, you’ll pass buildings whose painted façades are gently peeling away and walk along the sea with waves lapping up onto the sand.

  • Go to Belém: just a tram ride away (number 15E), Belém is an affluent suburb of Lisbon about 5km to the west. Historically it was where the city’s elite went to escape the poverty and depravity on the inner city centre. Today it boasts a hugely impressive monastery, and a café selling the best custard tarts around (see above).