Lisbon has long-since been the ace up Portugal’s sleeve. This coastal capital is a vision of tiny cobbled streets, quirky dining and super-chic boutiques housed in grand old palaces. Set just 40 minutes outside the beach resorts and luxe hotels of the Lisbon coast, here’s how to strike the perfect balance between city and coast on your next holiday to Portugal.
Look out for personal recommendations from our favourite blogger and Lisboeta, Mrs O Around the World…
Culture and sightseeing
Start with Praça do Comércio; this gorgeous square tops our must-see list, bustling with local life, tourists and trams. It’s circled by grand old architecture in Lisbon’s signature style; white domes, soaring arcades and lemon-yellow facades.
Forget taxis – Lisbon is all about its century-old tram. Hop aboard the yellow carriages of the #28, and for a couple of euros you’ll navigate the city’s steep hills and swing by vibrant plazas and sights like the dizzying Romanesque cathedral, Sé.
Lisbon is crowned by seven scenic hills, each with their own miradouros (viewing points). They’re the best spots in the city to stop for fruit-filled jugs of sangria and leisurely Instagram moments (no filter required).
Art lovers, don’t leave without a nose around Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), a dazzling collection of European and Asian works within a sunshine-yellow 17th-century palace.
Go towards Bairro Alto and its many restaurants and bars. I would suggest leaving your heels at home. In this square, you can also find the Bairro Alto hotel, which has a fantastic rooftop bar and great Gin & Tonics.
The shopping in Lisbon is seriously good, from vintage stores in old palaces to boutiques that keep the fashionistas en vogue. Head for Embaixada – this newly-opened mini mall is housed in a 19th-century Moorish palace, packed with super-cool organic shops and cutting-edge boutiques squeezed in between architectural flourishes (look out for the huge sweeping staircases).
Pop your head in Paris em Lisboa (literally, Paris in Lisbon), one of the city’s oldest shops, selling fabrics and embroidery from Paris since 1888. For a more 21st-century experience, Armazéns do Chiado houses your big-name brands, while hipster paradise Bairro Alto stays open late – perfect for a post-shopping vinho verde in a rooftop bar.
I love the variety of Chiado – still lots of independent retailers, selling unique things, but also with a good mix of more international (and also Portuguese brands). My favourite? The chestnut vendor, which is part of Lisbon’s scenery this time of the year.
Drinking and dining
One of Portugal’s best kept secrets are its patisseries, or “pastelarias” as they are called. Most Lisboners go out for breakfast as it is delicious and not expensive at all. One of the best pastelarias in Lisbon is Versailles (located on Av. Da Republica).
Shopping hotspot Bairro Alto is also the local go-to for nightlife; Lisboetas drink, dine and socialise here before heading to a club. Moorish quarter Alfama is a more relaxed affair; atmospheric local tascas (taverns) set up tables out on the softly-lit lanes. Head here to tick off two Portuguese staples, bacalhau (a much-loved salted codfish dish) with a side of fado songs.
If codfish isn’t your thing, Lisbon’s undeniable foodie stripes come in the form of fabulous fresh seafood (octopus, monkfish and sardines are plentiful) with Michelin-starred restaurants and steamy Alentejan steakhouses jostling for prominence. Quirky eateries are fast becoming a Lisbon speciality – we love converted monastery Cervejaria da Trindade for the fresh fish menu (and waiters dressed as monks…)
Café Lisboa, by chef Jose Avillez was our chosen place – and we loved it! Located inside the Sao Carlos National Theatre, it did remind me of ‘old’ Lisbon. It was beautifully restored and the menu was fantastic – all Portuguese classics.
Cascais and the coast
Base yourself on Lisbon’s coast for the best beach proximity, chicest hotels and fewest miles on your seafood. Too often overlooked for the allure of the Algarve, this is one of Portugal’s prime pieces of coast – still a quick 40 minutes into the city (by car or an efficient rail service).
Cascais (that’s ‘kash-kaish’) is one of Portugal’s prettiest spots; a picture-perfect seaside town with a smart yachting marina (good for sailing trips and waterskiing) and pedestrianised old town, filled with art galleries, boutiques and little restaurants.
Two wheels is the way to go on the coast; there’s a cycle path straight along the seafront for spotting the best sunbathing spots. Don’t miss Estoril, a golden beach town with a glamorous past (its casino was said to have inspired the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale).
Where to stay: We love the artful Pestana Cidadela Cascais’ location, settled in the walls of an old fortress by the marina, while the five-star Palacio Estoril dates back to the 1930s with a fabulous spa and golf course.