So you have a long weekend to spend in Lisbon – how do you get the perfect city break with a little beach action thrown in? Here’s my timetable to the perfect mini break in Lisbon.
Do the sights – well as many of them as you can fit in. The trouble with Lisbon is that there really is too much to do – especially if you’re like me and want to have some beach action too. But in day one you can easily manage to fit in plenty of sights once you’ve breakfasted on a Pastella De Nata (custard tart) breakfast.
Take a ride on Tram 28 – it winds its way up and down some of Lisbon’s most picturesque streets and if you time it right (eg late afternoon) you can finish off with a drink at the rooftop bar at the Hotel Mundial at the end of the route.
Pop up the Arco de Vitoria down by the port. There’s a lift most of the way up – it’s not over-crowded – and the views are stunning. It’s also a good place to get your bearings.
Visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge – it’s a stunning well-preserved castle. But bear in mind that the camera obscura (an apparent must-see) shuts at 5pm, even though entry continues after this time – so try and make sure you visit this first if you opt for a late visit. I say apparent must-see, as I didn’t see it as I arrived at this part of the castle after 5pm so missed it.
Wander the narrow streets and see what you see – it will be plenty!
Once the daytime sightseeing is done it’s time to take in the nightlife in Alto Bario – we did cocktail bars, cheesy discos and finished off with a lovely live jazz club.
After a hectic day spent exploring the city, treat yourself to a day on the beach. We were recommended two beaches both easily reachable by public transport, one on the bus and one by train. For our first seaside trip we opted for the 161 bus from Areerio to Costa Caparica over the long red Golden Gate-style bridge.
The journey took around half an hour and ended up in a cute resort reminiscent of some of the old-fashioned resorts in the south of France or on the Costa Brava. There is a beautiful stretch of practically deserted golden sand and super-cool chill out bars – we lunched at Kailua Costa da Caparica and the seafood and sangria didn’t disappoint. After a relaxing few hours chilling on the beach (with one slight mishap when I encountered a bee and came off worse…) it was time to head back to city life.
This time rather than the usual choice of marauding around the streets of Alto Bario we decided to go for a classy sundowner at the rooftop bar of the Tivoli Hotel on the Av da Liberdade. Cracking views, chilled DJs, daybeds and delish cocktails, what’s not to like?
After a revitalising day on the beach it was time for more sightseeing. This time it was destination Belem, which can easily be reached by train or tram. There is so much to do in Belem so you really do have to pick just a few things or you will become overwhelmed and ultimately run out of time.
My recommendations include:
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – stunning monastery but you need to get there early or the crowds can be overwhelming.
Museu Coleccao Berardo – housing an astounding collection of modern art including Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Pollock, etc in a modern, well-designed gallery.
Padrao dos Descobrimemtos – inaugurated in 1960 this 52m high limestone monument reminded me of a much grander version of Birmingham Moving Forward with its carvings of real, great people. The lift to the top leads you to great 360 degree view of the area including the Belem Tower.
Torre de Belem – This World Herritage-listed fortess is simply beautiful.
There are plenty more excellent museums and sights in Belem but there’s only so much you can do in a day!
Upon return to the big smoke we quickly washed, changed, and headed off to Alto Bario for a cheap, tasty meal at the trendy Food and Booze (it does what it says on the tin! And indeed the food is served in tins a la Boy Scout camping stylee) before heading into the blur of bars and clubs. Once it all closes here (between 2-3am) it’s worth heading down to King Street by the water to see if any of the big late nightclubs take your fancy. But be warned if you decide you’re in need of a late night snack – you may well be unlucky…
On the fourth day we headed back to the beach for more chillaxing, and this time we opted for the other nearby beach at Calcais. This one is easily reached by train from Cais De Sodre (via Belem – so you can always whizz off here after Belem if you’re really short of time!). Cascais is a charming seaside resort (although I’m sure it gets packed in high season).
We enjoyed stunning food at the Villa De Mercado (fish and seafood by weight) at lunchtime, and later in the day we sampled some barbecued sardines by the sea at Sta Marta Esplanada overlooking the lovely lighthouse. The sheltered bay was the perfect spot for swimming and sunbathing – although being on the Atlantic the sea was a little chilly!
Back in the city for our final night we decided that this time we should go classy with our dining so it was sea food at Sea Me a contemporary Japanese/Portuguese fusion restaurant with the most delicious food as well as a great atmosphere.
On our last day we just about had time to whizz round all those Lisbon sights we had thus far failed to visit. I had wanted to go to the vertical Elevador De Santa Justa all weekend, but the queues were always massive – not at 9am tho! If you arrive at 9 (when it opens) you can avoid the queue and be first in the lift. Designed by Gustav Eiffel’s apprentice, it’s a fab experience, and cheap too as your 24-hour travel card is valid here.
Once at the top we checked out the viewpoint before wandering off to the square on the higher level for a pasteis de nata and coffee in the charming family owned café in the square. By the time we’d finished our final delicious Portuguese breakfast the Convento do Carmo was open (10am) and this was totally worth a sweep-browse before it got too crowded.
Then it was time for a quick ride up the Elevador De Gloria – the funicular that goes up and down a steep slope – definitely worth a quick detour before heading off to Cristo de Rei.
Visiting the Cristo de Rei is a bit more of a mission but so worth it I can’t emphasise this enough. My dream was to go here by tuk tuk but sadly we couldn’t find a willing driver within our timeframe. So we headed down to Cais De Sodre on the tuk tuk (another tourist treat ticked off the list) and jumped on the commuter ferry to the sweet, sleepy seaside area of Cacilhas for just over €2 – bargain! Once here we had a delicious local’s lunch of BBQ fish and meat (avoiding the cluster of tourist trap establishments right by the dock and instead heading to the small cafe called A Petisqueira set just back from the main road). We then jumped on the bus – there are two an hour – up to Cristo.
It’s a huge, imposing statue with a chapel inside it. Weirdly it’s very uncrowded and most atmospheric, with stunning views across the water and the bridge towards the city. With Rio de Janeiro’s rival ticked off my list it was time to head back to the city centre where we scooped up our bags and headed to the airport via the Expo 98 area of Parque das Nacoes. Although time was very tight at this point – it was good to visit this ultra modern area of Lisbon – and it’s definitely an area I would return to when I had more time and the kids with me. We just about had time to ride the cable car (Teleferico) which offered yet more amazing views – before the mad dash to the airport to jump on the plane home.