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Some cities lend themselves particularly well to short visits and Lisbon is definitely one of them. Here’s why:
- Location, location, location! With a yearly average of 17.5˚C, good weather is almost guaranteed. On top of that, the city centre is only a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport – and the sea is not that much further.
- Charm! Hardly any other large European city is as laid back as the Portuguese capital.
- The food. Little pastry cups filled with custard (in Portuguese: “pastéis de nata”), fresh cornbread, dried cod (“bacalhau”)… The local cuisine is varied and extremely tasty.
Where to start in a city that has so much to offer? Here are our tips for a 72-hour visit to and near Lisbon:
Bright and early, take the tramline 28E to Alfama. Not only is the journey rewarding – the tram takes you to the best viewing points (by all means, stop at “Miradouro Santa Luzia”!) – but the old yellow tram cars themselves are worth the trip.
The next stop is the Castelo de São Jorge, a 10th century citadel built by the Moors. Our tip: go around to the back of the castle and then start up the hill, the best way to avoid the hordes of tourists.
The ideal snack break: “Time Out Mercado da Ribeira” (Avenida 24 de Julho) with its 35 food stalls.
In the mood for some shopping? Our favourite spot: the winding streets of Bairro Alto. Between the bars and record shops you’ll find plenty of little boutiques, especially around the Rua da Rosa.
Any trip to Lisbon should include an evening of Fado music and tapas. Both are particularly good at “Bela Vinhos e Petiscos” (Rua dos Remédios 190), a restaurant frequented mostly by the locals who like to sing along to every song.
Tucked away in a courtyard in the old quarter of Chiado, “Café Fàbulas” is a favourite within Lisbon’s creative scene thanks to its cool vintage interior and affordable prices.
At noon, head towards the “Torre de Belém”. The massive tower is one of the few remaining examples of the ostentatious Manueline style that wasn’t destroyed 260 years ago by the great earthquake.
For those who want to sample the famous custard tarts, “Pastéis de Belém” – where the pastry was invented in 1837 – is the place to be (Rua de Belém 84-92). LX Factory (Rua Rodrigues de Faria) by bus 15E is also worth the trip, while Café Landeau serves a mean chocolate cake.
The restaurant “Tasca da Esquina” (Rua Domingas Sequeira 41C), headed by top chef Vitor Sobral, is particularly favoured by young couples.
Today, a trip to Pena National Palace is on the schedule. Known as the ‘Neuschwanstein of Portugal’, it was the royal family’s summer residence for over 800 years. If you don’t have a rental car, take the ‘Linha de Sintra’ commuter train from Rossio or Benfica to Sintra, the last station – there is a train every 30 minutes.
From the Sintra train station, you’ll walk through the São Pedro de Penaferrim district for around a half hour until you arrive at the fairy tale palace. On Saturdays, you can also see and experience one of the best farmer’s markets in Portugal there. But the walk through the charming district of whitewashed houses and churches is also interesting.
The palace at the top of the hill in Sintra was built in 1840, on the ruins of a monastery. A mixture of neo-Renaissance, neo-Gothic and Moorish elements with turrets and colourful mosaics everywhere, it looks like one of Disney’s cartoonists designed the façade. On the inside, there is an abundance of plasterwork, trompe l’oeil paintings and splendid 19th century furnishings. Although art historians aren’t particularly fond of this eclectic style, Pena National Palace (including the entire cultivated landscape around Sintra) has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.
The palace is open year-round from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. and admission costs €8.50. If you would like to see more, for instance, the ruins of the Moorish castle or the huge park with imaginative planted areas and many exotic plants, consider purchasing a combination ticket.
Sintra itself is full of souvenir shops in which you can pick out traditional ceramic ware and tiles. The best place to take a break is the ‘Fábrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa‘, which is known for its mini cheesecakes with cinnamon.
This is no longer an insider’s tip, but the locals still love it: Dom Pipas, right next to the train station. In tiled rooms typical of the region, they serve classical Portuguese dishes such as smoked sausage with pineapple and roast lamb with rice. Afterwards, we return to Lisbon, where we plan to let the evening draw to a close over a glass of red wine…