The capital city of Portugal has plenty to offer for an urban weekend this autumn – whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend, a shopping marathon or even a sleepy retreat. Here are my tips on how to spend a day the perfect way.
Start your day the right way: with a pastry the size of your head! You can’t go far wrong at the Café Nicola on the Praça Dom Pedro. Oversized pastries and traditional Portuguese custard tarts line the 1930s style counter and, once you’ve polished off your breakfast, you’re at the heart of the city for the start of a busy day. Just a word of warning: if you order the omelette, expect a side order of chips!
From here, get on an open top-bus and head for the Monastery of Jerónimos – an excellent base for a tour of the Garden of Belém, the Archeology Museum and even a stroll to the top of the Torre de Belém – a fortified tower on the edge of the sea.
All this walking deserves a hearty lunch. Not far from the Torre de Belém is a bustling marina – the Doca Santo Amaro. The water’s edge is lined with stylish restaurants serving fresh fish, Italian food…even typical Irish fayre! We opted for Capricciosa. Sound suspiciously Italian for a Portuguese city? There is plenty of loal food – if you can stomach the salt. Having sampled the turbot the evening before, my arteries needed a break! Reasonably priced, chic and modern, Capricciosa is a lovely place to dribble spaghetti down your chin whilst looking out to the Cristo Rei (the statue of Christ) on the horizon. Picturesque it may be but peaceful it’s not. This tiny dock sits almost directly beneath the 25 de Abril Bridge – the 21st largest suspension bridge in the world. All six lanes of traffic do make their presence known but they don’t spoil the laid-back atmosphere. The noise is like a coven of insects buzzing in the distance – you could even call it soothing at a stretch. If it really bothers you, there’s plenty of tables inside.
Hop on the bus back to the city centre and stroll around the shops of Chiado. A few streets away from the busy high street, there is a little more atmosphere and charm to the boutiques on offer here. Deliberately get yourself lost in the backstreets and side alleys. You never know what you’ll find. One of the treats of Lisbon is its shops don’t discriminate against location – you’ll find weird and wonderful shops in the most unlikely of places.
Meander down the Rua Alecrim towards the sea in the distance. Down this unassuming street lies an unassuming blackboard – the kind you find greasy layby burger vans. The kind your instinct tells you not to trust. But don’t be fooled. As the sign says, the Mesón Andaluzreally does have the ‘best tapas in Lisbon’. This isn’t an idle threat. Vaulted ceilings and low lighting make this an intimate spot. The service is genuinely friendly and they have the most mouth-watering tortilla I’ve ever tasted. Seriously good eggs dished up by seriously good eggs.
After dinner drinks have to be at Pavilhão Chinês (The Chinese Pavillion) on the Rua Dom Pedro. It’s a short walk up hill but stop off and catch your breath at the Garden of San Pedro for a view of the city set on fire by the twinkle of street lamps. A kind of magic toyshop of a bar, the Pavilhão Chinês is dripping in memorabilia dating from the building’s art deco roots to modern day. The walls are lined with carved masks, nude paintings and toby jugs – there’s even a Queen’s guard greeting you at the door. Imagine Mrs. Havisham as an interior designer and you’ll be in the ball park. Or, as Mr. Nathan so eloquently put it: ‘it’s like something from the twisted mind of David Dickenson’. Succint but right as always!
Be warned: when you get to the front door, you will want to turn and run but be brave! This is a gentleman’s club of the past with a whole brochure of cocktails to choose from – its pages illustrated with risque Vaudeville beauties. Drinks are brought to your table by red-waiscoated waiters. It’s the perfect ending to the perfect day…and you can even play pool.
Where to Stay
We spent a weekend in the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel and Spa on the Rua Latino Coelho, which is luxurious to say the least. The corridor walls are clad in dark leather spiked with spotlights – like a padded cell you won’t want to leave. The double room was nothing short of space age, with its glass cubed bathroom and electronic blinds. And if you can wriggle out of your straight-jacket, there’s a range of spa treatments fit for a Queen…or you can take in the view from the panoramic bar. Plush. Twenty minutes walk from the city centre but worth the effort. (2 room double deluxe cost £145 for two nights from lateroom.com)
Still not Convinced? Five Reasons to Visit Lisbon Right Now:
- It’s a mere 2 and a half hour flight from Liverpool.
- It’s warm…even in light showers (15-20 degrees in autumn).
- The air is scented with roasting chestnuts.
- Where else will you see police darting about the city on segways?
- The taxi drivers’ utter dedication to 1990s rock music (think Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams). And, yes, that’s a good thing!