Your Lisbon Itinerary: 7 Days in the Portuguese Capital
Can you even say you’ve really visited somewhere unless you’ve stayed a full week?
Let’s face it, keeping the stimulation levels high over the course of a whole week in one city can be a tall order. There’s only so much gluhwein you can drink in Zagreb. There are only so many charming cobbled alleyways on which to twist your ankles in Bruge. But if you are crazy enough to dedicate 7 days to a single city break, let that city be Lisbon. For starters, the food there is good enough to be the focus of your entire trip should you wish it. But more importantly, thanks to its close proximity to some fascinating Lisbonish municipalities, you can cheat by adding in a day-trip or two to your Lisbon itinerary: 7 days.
Which is exactly what we’ve done. Although don’t think of it as cheating, think of it as enhancing. Think of it as a Lisbon itinerary 7 days sandwich – or prego – where Lisbon is your Portuguese bread and the short trips out of the city are your garlicky minute steak. Now tuck in and enjoy.
Start as you mean not to go on and spend the early days throwing yourself at some must-see touristy stuff. Make your way to Praça do Comércio (Lisbon’s Trafalgar Square), a huge plaza by the Tagus River. Smile appreciatively at the statue of José I on his horse then move on before someone seedy offers to take your picture. For maximum tourist points walk to Alfama and the Castle of Sao Jorge then stop for lunch, avoiding restaurants anywhere near Praça do Comércio unless you enjoy spending €95 for some sad looking scallops and a Diet Coke. Opt instead for mussels and sparkling wine at Grenache, the cafe in the courtyard of the Palacio Belmonte hotel. Spend the afternoon amid baroque artwork in the church of São Roque, and weeping softly along to mournful folk tunes in the Fado Museum. Jump in at the nightlife deepend by spending the evening in bohemian Bairro Alto. Dinner at 9pm at Pharmácia Restaurant followed by a meandering bar crawl or raucous street party, of which there seem to be around 30 per night.
Grab yourself a coffee at the Copenhagen Coffee Lab and head to The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. If the staggering collection of chronologically displayed artworks doesn’t impress you, perhaps the fact that it all belonged to one man – the philanthropic yet sinister-looking oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian – will.
Ten minutes in a cab will bring you to LX Factory, a media hub and industrial complex of art studios, cafes and vintage clothes. If you ever find yourself wondering what the opposite of Calouste Gulbenkian’s art collection might look like, this is it. Purchase a fairtrade hat and walk back along the coast towards the Time Out Market. While away the afternoon eating small bites from the market’s 50 restaurants and bars and chatting to the garrulous collection of tourists and locals on your table. Turn up early to join the queue for dinner at A Cevicheria for Peruvian ceviche with a Portuguese twist. Go easy on the pisco sours served to queueing diners to avoid ending the night swinging from the 8ft octopus. And no, that’s not a euphemism.
This morning you’re going to Belém, a place it’s impossible to visit without eating at least 24 pasteis de nata from world famous bakery and Lisbon institution Pastéis de Belém. The queue is intimidating but moves quickly, and you can enjoy your pasteis with a coffee in the Jardim Vasco da Gama just opposite. As you may have gathered, we’re approaching the meat in this 1 week itinerary Lisbon sandwich, and as such you’ll be hopping on the metro to Cascais. Outside the station you’ll be able to rent a couple of bikes and cycle along the coastal path to Guincho Beach. It’s an unchallenging 10km round trip and the beach itself is a good find. Be warned though that if it’s windy, the final stretch will feel like cycling through a Saharan sand storm. There’s nothing you can do about it, it’s just best you know. Tick off “physical activity” from your “things to achieve while in Lisbon” list, and take the train back from Cascais. Congratulate yourself with a cocktail at Topo rooftop bar before dinner at Sea Me.
Another day, another day trip, this time to explore the ancient castles of Sintra. It’s an easy train journey but be sure to start early because, as you will discover, everyone loves a day trip to Sintra. So, yes, it’s busy, but it’s also definitely worth it. Start off pottering around the historic centre sans but before committing to one of the many colorful palaces, castles or gardens. The Palácio Nacional da Pena and Quinta de Regaleira should be your priorities, and a late lunch and carafe at Tulhas will see you through until the enormous seafood dinner you have in store tonight at Ramiro. In order to access this feast, however, you will need to leave Sintra early enough to be in the queue for Ramiro on the outskirts of Alfama by 5.30pm latest. All good things come to those who wait, and boy will you have to wait. But if it were possible to award a holiday a man-of-the-match, Ramiro would be it.
Fun as it is to rely solely on expert chefs to cater for you for a week, occasionally you have to take matters into your own hands. This is one of those occasions. Make your way to Campo de Ourique Market – Time Out Market’s smaller, more sophisticated sibling – and stock up on things you’d be prepared to carry around on a park hike. Cured meats, cheese, tinned fish, crusty bread, a bottle or two of wine and a couple of pastries ought to do the trick. Then jump in a cab to Arrábida Natural Park, a large protected area of dense forest and alluring coastline, where you can quite easily avoid human contact for a good three hours. For ultimate seclusion and a killer dinner party yarn, seek out the hidden chapel of Lapa de Santa Margarida in the sea caves close to the village of Portinho. Find yourself a little luncheon spot (not in the cave), hike a little more, then summon a cab home to the city in time for dinner at Prado Restaurant around the corner from Lisbon Cathedral, or Sé to those in the know.
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Lisbon’s Botanical Gardens get a bad rap on some online reviewing sites, but when have you ever listened to the opinion on the masses? Take our word for it and spend a couple of hours roaming through the tropical fauna of the Jardim Botânico Tropical before the afternoon’s excitement. And by excitement, we mean a mind-bending journey through the history of traditional Portuguese tilework. Yes, the National Tile Museum may sound like a sleepy Sunday afternoon BBC4 documentary in building form, but it is genuinely interesting and impressive – which is more than can be said for most Sunday afternoon BBC documentaries.
For a treat-yourself occasion on this penultimate evening, discuss tiles and your new found love of them over cocktails at rooftop bar Chapitô à Mesa, accessed through a jewellry shop. Dinner at two Michelin-star Belcanto by José Avillez is a short walk away, and will be a back-up dinner party zinger if guests are unimpressed by your charming and hilarious hidden chapel story.
You’ve been pretty good at keeping away from organised fun, but on your final day just let it happen. There are all kinds of tours you can join but your best bet is a foodie walking tour, where you get a bit of history and heritage and a bit of food and wine. Withlocals is always a good shout for this kind of thing. In the afternoon reflect on your week spent in Lisbon while wandering around the Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira and join a guided tour of the gardens. You may feel like you’re winding down as you amble through the hedgerows, but snap out of your wistful reverie and start snapping your fingers because for your final evening you’ll be enjoying the best of the Lisbon jazz scene. Soak up as much old school traditional Lisbon as is humanly possible for dinner at Adega da Tia Matilde before heading for the Hot Clube de Portugal, where globally respected jazz fiends blow their horns until 3am.