The long weekend: Lisbon

With vintage trams and vibrant street life, the sun-drenched Portuguese capital is an Instagrammer’s dream

Spread across seven steep hillsides that overlook the Tagus River, Lisbon lays on centuries of history and a mild, Mediterranean climate despite its Atlantic-facing location. Famous for its yellow trams, intricate azulejos (hand-painted tiles) and delicious pasteis de nata (custard tarts), visitors will also find cool cultural spaces and an exciting food scene.

Although hilly, the Portuguese capital is quite compact so you can walk to most places in the city centre. Above the 18th-century Baixa (downtown) area, Chiado is the cultural heart of the city with boutique-lined lanes, theatres and museums. Heading north, the once-sleepy Príncipe Real district is now awash with trendy restaurants and independent shops. Rising into the hills to the east is Alfama, the intriguing old Moorish quarter, while picturesque Belém, on the western edge of the city, is where Portuguese explorers set sail during the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s also home to the World Heritage-listed Monastery of Jerónimos and Tower of Belém.

Our Lisbon guide offers a curated list of the best things to see and do, and the hippest places to eat and shop, not to mention the best hotels to bed down. So, let’s start exploring…

Main image credits: The Bica Funicular 

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Belém Tower
HOT HOTELS
Find the perfect place to stay in the Portuguese capital

Lisbon is a stylish city, so it’s no surprise it has good-looking hotels to match. On the grand Avenida da Liberdade, Valverde Hotel has 25 rooms kitted out with rich colours and mid-century modern furniture. Downstairs, there’s a buzzy Mediterranean restaurant and a leafy courtyard that hosts regular fado and jazz performances. 

Housed in a former palace below the mediaeval St George’s Castle, Santiago De Alfama is another boutique beauty. There are 19 calm, neutral and stylish rooms, many with freestanding baths, and a restaurant serving seasonally-led Portuguese cuisine. 

Meanwhile, in a 15th-century palace attached to the castle walls, the intimate 10-suite Palácio Belmonte is a favourite of the fashion and film set. The art-filled hotel features thousands of antique blue-and-white Portuguese tiles as well as a black marble
infinity pool.

At the other end of the scale, the Corinthia Hotel is the city’s largest five-star abode. Overlooking a magnificent 18th-century aqueduct, there are 518 plush rooms and a fabulous spa featuring 13 treatment rooms.Down by the river, the glass-walled Altis Belém Hotel and Spa draws style-conscious travellers with its slick design, monochromatic interiors and Michelin-starred restaurant. Soak up the sun beside the rooftop pool and be pampered in the award-winning spa.

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Altis Belém Hotel and Spa, a member of Design Hotels™
TOP TABLES
Lisbon’s inventive chefs make the most of the country’s incredible bounty

Belcanto
This two Michelin-starred restaurant in Chiado is helmed by José Avillez, who combines respect for local ingredients with a playful touch.

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Leopold 
In the Palácio Belmonte hotel, chef Tiago Feio creates delicate dishes that fuse local ingredients with Asian flavours. Open for dinner Wednesdays to Sundays.

Cantina Peruana
With a laidback bohemian vibe and dishes made for sharing, Peruvian chef Diego Muñoz brings a bit of Lima to Lisbon. Be sure to order the tuna tiradito and wok-fried seafood.

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A Vida Portuguesa
RETAIL THRAPY
Looking to take home an authentic slice of the city? Check out these top shops

Embaixada
In the heart of the Príncipe Real district, this boutique shopping gallery is housed in a 19th-century Moorish-style palace, complete with a grand staircase and courtyard. There are around 20 stores specialising in fashion and design from local brands, including made-to-measure tailoring at UOY and organic skincare from Organii Cosmética.

Luís Onofre 
For statement heels and luxury handbags handcrafted in Portugal, stop by Luís Onofre’s flagship store on Avenida da Liberdade (aka Lisbon’s Champs-Élysées). Spread across two floors, you’ll find the latest women’s and men’s collections from Portugal’s premier shoe designer, whose celeb fans include Michelle Obama and Naomi Watts.

A Vida Portuguesa
This old-style emporium (pictured) stocks Portuguese-made products from small independent brands, including stationery, toiletries and homewares (don’t miss the iconic Bordallo Pinheiro cabbage leaf ceramics). There are four locations in Lisbon, including the flagship store in a former perfume factory in Chiado.

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Museu do Design e da Moda, Luisa Ferreira
CULTURE FIX
Hit hard by the global financial crisis, Lisbon is undergoing a creative renaissance with new cultural landmarks and vibrant street art.

Start your gallery trawl in Belém at Museu Coleção Berardo, the city’s most acclaimed contemporary art space. Housed in the minimalist Belém Cultural Centre, the gallery displays an impressive private collection of abstract, surrealist and pop art, from Picasso through to Warhol and Portugal’s own Paula Rego. Continue along the riverfront to the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. Opened in 2016, this eye-catching cultural space is covered in 15,000 white tiles and capped with a rooftop terrace. Inside, you’ll find contemporary works across four sunken galleries. Keep walking east to LX Factory, a cluster of once-derelict warehouses beneath the 25 April suspension bridge that is now Lisbon’s coolest creative district. Browse the colourful collection of art spaces, boutiques and cafés, then check out the street art murals that adorn the old factory walls. Jump on a tram heading downtown and visit the Museu do Design e da Moda, a wonderful fashion and design museum housed in former bank in Baixa. Celebrating the connection between modern design and contemporary fashion, explore the vast collection of contemporary furniture from iconic names such as Philippe Starck and vintage couture from the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Yves St Laurent. Finish up at the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Gallery in nearby Chiado, the first international outpost of the Parisian gallery, which exhibits works by lesser-known contemporary artists such as André Bauchant and Michael Biberstein. street art and graffiti.

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Fado Museum
SOUL MUSIC

Known as the Portuguese blues, fado originated in the streets of Alfama in the 19th century. Mournful folk ballads feature a lone singer accompanied by a Portuguese 12-string guitar and overflow with the feeling of saudade – a yearning for something lost. Stop by the engaging Fado Museum in Alfama to learn about the history of fado and listen to its most celebrated artists. Next, skip the touristy tavernas and catch a live performance at local favourite Tasca do Jaime, a tiny restaurant in Graça (get there early or book a table).

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The red rooftops of Miradouro das Portas do Sol
INSPIRING VISTAS
Lisbon’s many miradouros (viewpoints) offer picture-perfect views of the city

Miradouro das Portas do Sol The city’s most famous vantage point offers unbeatable views over Alfama’s red rooftops. Head here for sunset, stopping first at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, just a minute’s walk away, to admire its historic azulejos.

Miradouro do Recolhimento Walk along the ramparts of the 11th-century St. George’s Castle for fabulous views of the city all the way to the Tagus. Then seek out the Miradouro do Recolhimento, an olive-shaded square within the castle walls, for more dreamy views minus the crowds.

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte Take the rickety yellow Tram 28 to the Graça neighbourhood and then stroll to this lesser-known miradouro. It’s one of Lisbon’s highest lookouts, boasting panoramic views of St. George’s Castle and the Bairro Alto and Baixa districts.

INSIDER TIPS
Filipa Valente, founder of Taste of Lisboa Food Tours (tasteoflisboa.com), shares her favourite hometown haunts:

The famous Tram 28 route finishes in the Campo de Ourique neighbourhood, but many tourists don’t explore this relaxed residential neighbourhood. It’s full of trendy and traditional restaurants where locals hang out, as well as the Campo de Ourique Market  which is packed with gourmet food stalls. Don’t leave without tasting a pastel de nata (custard tart) at Manteigaria in Chiado where you can watch the bakers at work. And definitely try our seafood – I love Ramiro (cervejariaramiro.pt) in Downtown and Nune’s Real Marisqueira (nunesmarisqueira.pt) in Belém. Bring your appetite!

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The gardens at Frontiera Palace
AMAZING AZULEJOS

Introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in the Middle Ages, azulejos (hand-painted tiles) adorn many palaces, buildings and metro stations around Lisbon. Explore 500 years of tile trends at the National Tile Museum, housed in a splendid 16th-century convent, and join a guided tour of Fronteira Palace in the Benfica area, known for its antique azulejos in both the palace and gardens. Check out the geometric-patterned tiles in the Parque and Restauradores metro stations, and stop by Sant’Anna, Portugal’s oldest ceramic factory, to join a tile-painting workshop or buy some azulejos to ship home.

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