Lisbon, one of Europe’s most ancient and picturesque cities is all about pastry, patterned pavements and melancholic music. Here’s what you can do there in 24 hours.
(This article first appeared in the Sunday Times Lifestyle on 4 Feb 2018)
Breakfast, cake & coffee
But first coffee, right? Wrong. Pastries are the thing in Lisbon, serious business. Have your cake and eat it, first thing in the morning. The pastel de nata is Portugal’s (and much of the world’s) reigning queen of tarts, and one of the best places to indulge is at NATA, next to the entrance to Castelo St. Jorge entrance. The custard, best eaten with a teaspoon, is infused with hints of vanilla and cinnamon and the top is singed to a flaky perfection. Chase it down with a galao, an espresso with foamed milk, and then walk it off on a tour of the castle.
Sightseeing ~ the Castelo Sao Jorge
The Castle of St George is atop the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills and you can dust it in an hour. Parts of the fortress, once occupied by the Moorish royal family, date back to the 6th century. Much of the castle was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755 – the remaining towers, turrets and long ramparts are impressive ad offer stunning views over the city and the Tagus river.
Historical walkabout ~ Alfama
Take Tram 28 up to Alfama and walk through Lisbon’s oldest and most charismatic district that slopes down from the Castelo Sao Jorge to the banks of the Tagus. Influenced architecturally by the Moors, it has a wonderful air of authenticity about it. Wander down patterned pavements and through a maze of narrow cobbled lanes and small squares, where painted wall tiles and mosaics reveal the backstory of a time gone by. Alfama incorporates the Baixa and Chiado areas and is home to some of the best Fado Clubs and several historical sites like the remnants of the ancient Moorish Wall and the oldest church in the city, the 12th century Lisbon Cathedral.
Lunch in Belem
Darwin’s Cafe is the hippest spot in Belem, on the river, with superb views. The airy interior combines old-world charm and contemporary minimalist art. Nearby you have the exceptional Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument that celebrates the Portuguese Age of Exploration and is well worth a visit. Another world renowned pastel stop is in Belem too- miss it your peril!
Shopping ~ LX Factory
If you’re a creative, get to LX Factory in Alcântara on the riverside. The area, circa 1846, and has been restored into a hub of arts related business, from fashion to food, architecture, PR and design. This is where you’ll find out of the ordinary product in stores like Wish for pure wool scarves and India That Wears You for silk pants. On Sundays there is an open-air vintage market and Cantina is a great place to chill over a glass of wine.
Traditional drink experience ~ A Ginjinha
Ginjinha is a Portuguese cherry liqueur made combining sour ginja berries with alcohol and sugar. The most iconic outlet for this syrupy drink is A Ginjinga, a miniscule bar opened in 1840 on the Praça Dom Pedro IV square, more commonly known as Rossio. A Ginjinha is a festive meeting place for locals and €1.50 gets you a single shot, served with a cherry in the bottom of the glass.
Largo São Domingos 8, 1100-201 Lisboa
Dinner & Fado ~ Sr. Fado
Have dinner at Sr.Fado, a family run restaurant owned by the fado singer Ana Marina and the fado violinist Duarte Sa
ntos. The menu offers traditional Portuguese food and while you eat you can listen and sing a traditional fadinho, the melancholic song that reveals hope, longing and the soul of Portugal.
Night cap ~Pensão Amor
Pensão Amor is a fabulous Bohemian chic bar to visit in Cais do Sodre with a decadent interior that’s a throwback to its bordello days. The once seedy part of town with its famous pink Rua Nova do Carvalho street, got a makeover in 2011 and today is hip and happening. Go late, as things only amp up after 11pm.
DAY TRIP OPTION> If you have time for a day trip, head to Sintra and visit the glorious Pena National Palace (below).
BOAS FESTAS- happy holidays!
Previous Lisbon editorial: Sunday Independent 2015.
Until next time,