Lisbon, Portugal | Free city guide

David Whitley August 10, 2012 Comments Off on Lisbon, Portugal | Free city guide

Lisbon’s mix of tradition, world class attractions and engaging bar scene make it a great option for an affordable city break.

One of the elevadores in Lisbon, Portugal. Copyright David Whitley.

Elevadores, chugging up hills so you don’t have to.

LISBON SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS

 

Lisbon icons

Parque das Nações, built for Expo 98, is modern Lisbon’s showpiece. The casino, a science exhibition and huge shopping mall are amongst the shiny goodies on offer, but the highlights are really the enormous Oceanário aquarium (Doca dos Olivais, 891 7002) and the views of the 17.2km-long Vasco Da Gama Bridge. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Praça do Império, 362 00 34) in Belém pulls in the tour buses, but the enormous monastery’s Manueline architecture is genuinely impressive. The real Lisbon icons, though, are the elevadores – three funiculars and one Eiffel Tower-esque lift that connect downtown with the hilly districts as part of the public transport network.

Cultural attractions in Lisbon

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Belém is the main exhibition hub, with individual museums given over to topics such as electricity, coaches and maritime history. Best of the bunch is the Museu Colecção Berardo (Praça do Império, 361 2400). It hosts staggeringly good modern art from the likes of Gilbert and George, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. Two uniquely Portuguese forms of culture also have their own museums. Fado music is covered in the Museu do Fado (1 Largo do Chafariz de Dentro, 882 3470) in Alfama , while the ubiquitous azulejos – blue-painted tiles – can be explored in East Lisbon at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (4 Rua da Madre de Deus, 810 0340).

Lisbon walks

Parque das Nações has a series of parks and gardens and the walking routes are interspersed with some bizarre public artworks and even a selection of odd musical instruments to play. For something less green but far more atmospheric, try a meandering stroll through the Castelo and – in particular – Alfama districts. It’s all cobbled streets, secret courtyards and old ladies hanging out washing. For guided walks, Lisbon Walker (886 1840)  offers a number of interesting themed strolls such as ‘City of Spies’ and ‘Lisbon Legends and Mysteries’ for €15 per person.

Lisbon tours

For personalised overviews of the city, MouriscasTours (963 857 776*) is excellent. The guides are extremely knowledgeable, and only one booking is taken per tour – therefore you get to concentrate on what your group is interested in rather than compromise for the herd. Four hour tours start at €200 for four people. If the walking’s too much, then Lisbon Segway Tours (425 4982) offers outings on Segways with audio guide commentary for €60. Also, the somewhat hypocritically-named We Hate Tourism Tours (911 501 720*) offers a nightlife jeep tour stopping off at a number of Lisbon’s quirkiest bars for €30.

LISBON HOTELS

Find the best deals on Lisbon hotels using the search box on the right, but the accommodation options below have been inspected and come recommended.

Budget accommodation in Lisbon

Travellers House (89 Rua Augusta, 011 5922) is owned by keen travellers, and it shows. There are four common rooms and a heavy emphasis is put on keeping everything spotless, while the downtown location and atmospheric old building are hard to beat. Dorm beds cost from €23 a night and private rooms start at €35. The Lisbon Lounge Hostel (41 Rua São Nicolao, 346 2061) is also a good backpacker option with dorm beds for from €18 and twins for from €25. Otherwise, bargain €60 rooms in a movie-themed design hotel are available at the Hotel Florida (34 Rua Duque de Palmela, 21 357 6145).

Mid-range accommodation in Lisbon

Hidden between the Santos and Lapa districts, York House (32 Rua das Janelas Verdes, 396 2435) is worth raving about. With stunning gardens, rooms with distinct personalities for from €80 a night and peaceful charm in spades, there’s very little not to like.

Hotel Lisboa Plaza (5 Travessa do Salitre, 321 8218) is a good four star option at from €99 a night, although it can’t decide whether it’s heritage or contemporary. Alternatively, Aparthotel VIP Eden Executive offers spacious suites for from €79 (24 Praça do Restauradores, 321, 6600) in the impressive setting of an old Art Deco cinema – rather tired furniture is the trade-off.

Luxury hotels in Lisbon

The Internacional Design Hotel (3 Rua de Betesga, 324 0990) has themed rooms that vary from tribal to pop. It’s stylish, fun and brilliantly located – expect to pay around €180 for a large room. Solar do Castelo (2 Rua das Cozinhas, 880 6050, from €150) is built into the castle walls, and the romantic rooms are matched by a courtyard that should win over the sternest heart. It’s boutique with charm rather than attitude. Meanwhile, the Hotel Britania (17 Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 315 5016) combines Art Deco good looks with massive rooms – a good bet with superior doubles starting at €180.

Top end hotels in Lisbon

The Hotel Bairro Alto (2 Praça Luís de Camões, 1200 243) has a swaggering hipness and to-die-for rooftop bar that pull in the fashionable set. At from €230 a double, however, the rooms should probably knock your socks off rather than merely raise a smile. At the other end of the scale is the Lapa Palace (4 Rua do Pau da Bandeira, 394 9494), which revels in its old school glamour – it’s more fit for royalty than young celebs. Hotel Avenida Palace (Rua 1 Dezembro, 321 8100) does attract the stars, and it’s the only old palace in the downtown area. Suites can be had for from €240.

LISBON RESTAURANTS

 

Cafés in Lisbon

A Brasileira (120 Rua Garrett, 3 469 541) is a classic creative crowd haunt and is regarded as having the best coffee in Lisbon. The art nouveau interior has more charm than the Metro station-facing outdoor terrace – and prices are cheaper indoors too. For something a little bit different, Chapitô (7 Costa do Castelo, 886 73 34) offers decently-priced tapas and coffees with great views at a circus school. Then there’s the legendary pastéis de Belém – custard-cream tarts that have been flying off the shelves at Antiga Confetaria de Belém (84-92 Rua de Belém, 363 7423) since 1837.

Snacks in Lisbon

Forget Nandos or Oporto, the real deal can be found at Bom Jardin (12 Travessa de Santo Antão, 214 427 424). They’ll bring you out half a grilled chicken for €5.60. Be warned – the half chicken is only on the Portuguese-language menu. It’s also worth taking advantage of a major new trend in Lisbon – big name chefs opening up affordable side-projects. José Avillez of Tavares has weighed in with JA À Mesa (Pátio Moreira Rato, 155 49 45) in Santos, selling almost canteen-style soups, sandwiches and pre-packed hot meals for under €8. Bairro Alto is good for tapas crawling.

Best restaurants in Lisbon

Michelin-starred Tavares (35 Rua da Misericórdia 342 11 12) is thought to be the oldest restaurant in Portugal and does rich foods in old school splendour. Think immaculate tablecloths, mirrors and chandeliers with your roasted pigeon and foie gras. Joining it on the one star list is Eleven (Rua Marques de Fronteira , 386 2211) – a more contemporary affair with an emphasis on art displays and minimalist architecture as well as fine dining. Bocca (87 Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 380 83 83) is the latest spot to get the local food critics purring, however. The menu is innovative and concentrates on seasonal ingredients.

LISBON ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE

Lisbon bars

The Bairro Alto district is easily the best place for a night out, whether for cheap cocktails, old man bars or upmarket style. There are hundreds of tiny bars fighting for attention. To single out one or two is entirely missing the point – it’s about jumping between them until you find the right one for your mood.

Slightly to the north of Bairro Alto is Pavilhão Chinês (89 Rua Dom Pedro V, 342 4729) –a wonderfully eccentric haunt full of antique furniture and slightly freaky dolls.

To get a taste for the local drops, there are free tastings of Portuguese wines at Vini Portugal (Praça do Comércio, 342 0690).

Live music in Lisbon

Fado – a uniquely Portuguese combination of blues, folk and soul – is the big thing in Lisbon. There are many slick Fado-over-dinner operations in Bairro Alto and Chiado, but Alfama is the real heartland. Casa de Linhares (2 Beco dos Armazéns do Linho, 886 5088)is regarded by many knowledgeable locals to be the best spot – for the performances, food and 18th century setting. Meanwhile, Hot Clube de Portugal (36 Travessa da Galé, 361 9740) has a long-standing reputation for its almost-nightly live jazz concerts. For something distinctly more lively, join the sizable African community for Angolan and Cape Verdean beats at B.Leza (50 Largo do Conde-Barão, 396 3735).

Nightclubs in Lisbon

A cluster of the be-seen clubs can be found near the riverfront in Santos – although your face needs to fit and ‘minimum consumption’ charges can be outrageous. Kapital (68 Avenida 24 de Julho, 395 7101) and Kremlin (5 Rua das Escadinhas da Praia, 395 7101) are arguably the biggest magnets for the beautiful people.

Bar Incógnito (37 Rua Poiais de São Bento, 390 87 55) also attracts the serious clubbers, although the split level design means the dance floor and more chilled loft bar space are kept neatly separated. The name isn’t an accident – there’s no sign above the door.

LISBON SHOPPING

Markets in Lisbon

Lisbon’s main market is the Mercado da Ribeira (Avenida 24 de Julho), which stares out over the river by the Cais do Sodré metro station. It’s good for seafood – including specialities such as octopus. It’s sizable, although modern extensions to the building rob it of some old world atmosphere. More engagingly frenetic is the fish market at nearby Cascais – which Lisbon has effectivelly co-opted as a beachside suburb. The fresh catch is auctioned off every Monday to Friday behing the Praia da Ribeira. Alternatively, the Feira da Ladra in Campo de Santa Clara every Tuesday and Saturday is the spot to hunt gems amongst the second-hand tat.

Shopping in Lisbon

Chiado is the upmarket shopping district, and there are some big fashion names amongst the specialist – and often rather bohemian – stores. For souvenirs just off Rua Garrett – the most prestigious shopping street – try A Vida Portuguesa (11 Rua Achieta, 345 6073). It’s stuck in a Salazar dictatorship-era timewarp, selling antiques as well as soaps, notebooks and old toys that ape what was available at that time.

Otherwise A Arte De Terra (40 Rua Agusto Rosa, 274 5975) behind the cathedral offers smile-raising handmade handicrafts in a unique setting – it’s an old stable, and it has been kept as the horses would remember it.

LISBON TRAVEL INFORMATION

Lisbon travel tips

Tram number 28 is an excellent way to get a drive-by tour of Lisbon’s highlights on the cheap – but it’s almost too popular for its own good. It’s often standing room only. Tram 25 is less crowded, and also passes through many of the most appealing parts of town.

Currency

Portugal uses the euro.

Calling Portugal

The Portugal country code is +351, and the Lisbon city code is 21. To call Lisbon from abroad, add +35121 to all seven digit numbers here. For those marked with an asterisk, just add +351.

Tourist information

Visit Lisboa

Details correct as of July 2010, when this guide was researched by David Whitley. It was originally published by the Sun-Herald in Australia.

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