After decades in the semi-shadows, the Portuguese capital of Lisbon has been emerging lately as THE place for UK travellers looking for great weather combined with culinary and cultural delights. As a weekend escape the only problem is that two days isn’t quite long enough!
I’m here in November and I can’t think of a more perfect antidote to the grey, dark, rainy weather I left back at Stansted Airport. For me that feeling when the sun and cool breeze first hit your face somewhere new is magical and Lisbon is no exception.
The flight is just over 2 hours and from the airport it’s only a 15-20 min €10 taxi ride to my Hotel. I’m staying at the Avani Avenida Liberdade Hotel and Spa in the very centre of Lisbon. Today I’m in a rush and just have time to drop my bag before I’m straight out the door again.
I’ve booked a four hour culinary tour to get straight into the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this vibrant City. I meet up with Paulo from Lisbon Walking Tours, his tour is not just about the food though, he’s a walking dictionary of historical information and regales local insights about the city and Portuguese culture.
As day turns to night the lights star to twinkle and we explore the narrow lanes, cafés, bars and squares including Casa Brasileira (above) – THE perfect place to grab a famous Pasteis de Nata and a fantastic Portuguese espresso coffee. They sell thousands of those delicious Portuguese egg custard every day and they’re made fresh by the hour.
If you prefer a beer Trinvade (above right) is well worth a look. A former monastery and brewery, locally it’s famous for its great seafood and steaks (and beer). The mosaic tiled interior decor is stunning and prices are pretty reasonable. One thing to watch out for in Lisbon is that some restaurants will bring you cheese and bread and snacks with your beer without asking you, so if you don’t want to pay for it, just don’t eat it!
My favourite place of the tour is Casa do Alentejo (below), a former palace for the people from the Alentejo region. It is accessed through an unsuspecting doorway that opens up into a huge Moorish type courtyard full of mosaic tiles and large palm trees. There is several restaurant spaces, a smaller cosy cafe type place, external courtyards and two grand ballrooms. Some of the bigger spaces are often used for local weddings and parties and the building is full of history and stories.
You’re never too far from a drink in Lisbon; all around the centre are small kiosks selling delicious Portuguese tea and alcoholic drinks, cocktails and Sangria. They’re open till late in the evening and it’s very common for locals to go for dinner at 11pm and for the bars to close at 4-5am. That’s great if you’re enjoying a dinner or some local ‘Fado’ singing (see below), but not so great if they’re doing it outside your Hotel room when you’re trying to sleep!
Avani Avenida Liberdade Hotel
Thankfully I’m staying at the gorgeous Avani Avenida Liberdade Hotel, just off the upmarket Av. da Liberdade and only 5 mins away from Rossio Square, pretty much the Lisbon central. Despite its proximity, the Hotel is in a quiet location and has a wonderful feeling of calm and tranquility throughout.
Formerly known as the Tivoli Jardim Lisboa Hotel, they’ve recently spent €1.5million on refurbishments and of the 119 rooms many have balconies and great views over the city. There’s a fab outdoor pool (shared with the Tivoli, see below), a sauna and a range of beauty, massage and spa treatments available to really help you to unwind.
The rooms are bright and modern, mine has a proper bath and an invigorating shower. Helpfully there are some UK plug sockets next to the bed in case you forget your adaptor and a big flat screen TV on the wall. There’s also a cool Nespresso machine and a delicious plate of pastries in our room on arrival.
The chef, Olivier Avenida is a bit of a star in Lisbon, his restaurant at the Avani Avenida Liberdade has a reputation that extends way beyond the usual Hotel dining room. It’s where some of the movers and shakers come to eat when they are in town and apparently Supermodel Winnie Harlow was here with Olivier just a few nights ago.
Despite the added glamour Olivier’s is still friendly and non-pretentious. The food is ingredient-focused with strong Portuguese and Japanese influences. At lunch there is a wonderful buffet option full of quiches, lasagne, sushi, smoked salmon and tempting local deserts and cakes.
Avani Avenida Liberdade
R. Júlio César Machado 9, 1250-042
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
For those seeking just a teeny bit more glamour, right around the corner is the Avani’s sister Hotel, the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade. This 5 star luxury Hotel has everything, including the amazing SkyBar on the roof.
It’s the perfect pre-dinner cocktail location or late night chill area, it’s very chic, slick and modern and very different to some of the smaller cosy bars just down the hill. The views across Lisbon are fantastic and the SkyBar is open to guests and non-guests alike.
Meanwhile back on the ground floor we have a table booked at the Hotel’s Brasserie, Cervejaria Liberdade. A quick look at their reviews online and you’ll see they have a great reputation as one of the best places in Lisbon for fresh seafood . The Oysters & Lobsters on the ice look spectacular, my ‘Creme de marisco da nossa costa’ (fish soup) is packed full of flavour, so rich, spicy and delicious.
Next I have “Linguado Grelhado Ou “Au Meunier”, Espinafred salteados, puré de batata – Sole cooked in butter, sautéed spinach and potato puree”. My dining partner orders Salmon, tuna and white fish Ceviche. The fresh fish flavours positively zing with the lemon juice. We enjoy a bottle of Portugeuse Palacio da Brejoeira Alvarinho. Now it may be that Portugal is famous for it’s red wines, but this is extremely good and Palacio da Brejoeira is not too expensive either.
I can just about manage a dessert that is one half rice pudding & top half tiramisu. It’s so simple yet, so perfect and the end of a dining fantastic experience.
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade,
185, Avenida da Liberdade, +351 21 319 8977
A 100 different ways
Lisbon is swimming with low cost, good quality eateries and the standard of food here generally is high. Another place really worth a brief mention is Bistro 100 Maneiras. The owners also have a Michelin star place just 5 mins walk away in Lisbon, but the passion for good food is shared with the less expensive, but no more creative Bistro. For some strange reason the staff all wear these slightly kinky leather strapping er, things, but don’t let that put you off. They also make a very mean cocktail, ask for a Red Hot Guava, Jorge Camilo and the team have won several awards with it.
Bistro 100 Maneiras
Largo da Trindade 9, 1200-466
Public transportation in Lisbon is great! Apart from the famous trams that still run on five routes, there are four metro lines serving 56 stations from Odivelas in the North to the Airport to Reboleira in the West and Santa Apolonia in the South on the rivers edge. Suburban trains come straight into the heart of the city and if you count the regular buses, three river crossings and the Tuk-Tuk’s (see below) Lisbon has the full set.
If you’re travelling around make sure you get a day ticket for 6 Euros it will cover you for pretty much everything apart from the boats, otherwise there is a fixed fee of €1.60 per journey. The day ticket will also cover you for the beautiful Santa Justa Elevator (just get there early in the morning to avoid the queues).
Another option is to purchase a Lisboa card, this covers all transport and free admission or big discount at many attractions (including Torre de Belem, Jeronimos Monastery and the Santa Justa Elevator). These are £19 per day for 24 hours or £16 per day for 48 hours. There are also helpful touch screen electronic info boards all around the city with maps and places of interest on them. You can also do a selfie and email it to your friends!
For more info visit www.lisboacard.org
Tuk Tuk and away!
One thing you’ll immediately notice about the centre of Lisbon is the large amounts of Tuk-Tuk style vehicles on the roads. They’re a great way to get around and we took 3 hour excursion tour with an awesome company called ECO Tuk Tours. They’re not too expensive and they’re a fantastic way to see some of the sites that are a bit too far to walk from the centre of Lisbon.
Our driver Nani was the perfect tour guide, knowing when to let us enjoy the sights and when to stop and show us a point of interest, from the historic Feira da Ladra (Campo de Santa Clara), otherwise known as the thieves’ market that has been running for nearly 1000 years to the large Cathedral dating from 1147, the Bohemian Bairro Alto, The Royal Palace, The Golden Gate-esque 25 de Abril Bridge and more modern places such as the Time Out Market and LX Factory(see below).
There is lots of fantastic murals and street art along the way and best of all, all their TUK-TUK vehicles are all 100% electric.
Time Out Market
There’s been a market in Pelourhino Square situated in front of the River Tagus since 1100AD and while many things have changed over the last 900 years, the market is still there and it’s latest re-invention is particularly exciting, especially if you are a bit of a foodie.
In 2014, the famous what’s on magazine ‘Time Out’ transformed the old market into a Mecca for food aficionados.
Housed within the wide open enclosed market are 24 pop-up type restaurants, 8 bars, and a dozen commercial spaces. To be invited to trade here you have to be really good at what you do and many of the stalls have a larger ‘proper’ restaurant in the city.
I think it’s a brilliant idea and the standard of food and drink is incredibly high. There is something for every budget, from the traditional Portuguese egg custards (Pasteis de Nata) to burgers, to the freshest seafood, pizza, lobster and steaks. There are also live demonstrations and cookery events and there is also a live music space.
On the other side of the market there is a food and flower market selling the best meat, fish, fruit and vegetables too. It’s brought new life to the Cais do Sodré area and the neighbourhood is now the second most popular tourist destination in Lisbon. In fact it’s success has led to Time Out planing another similar project, this time in Miami (watch this space).
Ribeira Market, Avenida 24 de Julho, 1200-479 Lisboa, Portugal
LX Factory is a 30 min walk along the waterfront from the Time Out Market (longer in the Sun). Under the shadow of the 25 de Abril Bridge, this large disused factory space has been regenerated into a wonderful market full of clothes, art, quirky home furnishings and all kinds of alternative produce created by hip Portuguese folk with cool tattoos. It’s like Camden market before the big business took over.
There are several funky bars, restaurants and coffee shops and LX Factory is a great place to spend the afternoon shopping, browsing or just drinking alcohol in the Sun.
R. Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300 – 501 Lisboa, Portugal
Fado and the traditional Portuguese music is very poular in Lisbon (it was invented here) and it is played in many of the restaurants to accompany a meal through the evening. The songs are usually based on stories of the sea, sailors yearning for lost love, melancholia and mourning and are hauntingly beautiful. For the best head to the Bairro Alto district and check out Casa De Linhares, Baiuca or Tasca do Chico as these are three of the finest in town.
Some venues will let anyone get up and sing, so it can be a magically unique experience. You might even see one of the more famous Fado singers who often perform in these smaller venues in Lisbon. I didn’t get a chance to go this time, but there’s also a museum of Fado on the waterfront.
Make Love, Not War
One of the many great things about Lisbon is its mixture of different cultures – South American, African, Mediterranean, European, Asian – Portugal wears all of these heritages proudly on its sleeve. Way back when the world was younger the Portuguese did a clever thing. Instead of fighting their way into new territories their pioneers traded and serenaded, taking wives from the colonies and bringing them back to Portugal. As a result there is cultural harmony and tolerance in Lisbon whatever your religion or sexual preference and it’s also one of the safest cities in Europe.
Combined with the fact English is spoken by virtually everyone, Lisbon adds up to a weekend getaway to remember more than once.