One of Europe’s sunniest capitals, September and October temperatures in Lisbon still reach the low 60s and high 50s making it the perfect escape from the autumn chill in the UK. And with two new viewing points adding to the attractions of this sophisticated and cosmopolitan city, as well as some of the best value in the Eurozone, no wonder that over 90 per cent of Lisbon’s four million+ annual visitors say they plan to return.
Brimming with culture and heritage, yet just 30 minutes by train to the beaches of Estoril, Cascais and Costa da Caparica, Lisbon presents such an array of short break options that it can be difficult to decide what to include in a 48-hour itinerary. Here are some ideas:
Get into the swing of local life and kick-start the day with a powerful bica coffee at a pastelaria (pastry shop) where the irresistible local custard tarts are a city staple. Lisbon has a huge variety of cafes, from stylish establishments on leafy boulevards, to funkier places found in the old quarters.
A good starting point for exploration is the flat Baixa district on the edge of the main shopping and business area, the Tejo. Distinguished by imposing squares and grand buildings, Baixa was born out of the 1755 earthquake which devastated Lisbon, and a stroll around the area is almost a step back in time, discovering traditional shops, where goods are still hand-wrapped and specialise in such goods as wine, dried cod or antiques.
At the southern end of Baixa is the mosaic-paved pedestrianised Terreiro do Paço, dominated by a huge Triumphal Arch, the Arco da Rua Augusta, which recently opened a viewing gallery providing a bird’s eye of this part of the city. Rua Augusta is Baixa’s main thoroughfare and a bustling area in which to stroll among shops, cafés, market stalls and buskers.
And when the morning’s exploration has stimulated the appetite, this area offers great choice for lunch. You can eat well for very little by opting for the value menu do dia (fixed menu) or prato do dia (daily special) and, of course, grilled sardines are a must during any visit to this culinary city.
Afternoon sightseeing could begin by hopping on Lisbon’s most popular tram route, the yellow wood-panelled No 28, whose route passes two key sights, the Alfama district and the spectacular Castelo de São Jorge. Built by the Moors, this high and mighty fortress provides amazing views of the city and the River Tagus from its ramparts. The Alfama was the grandest part of Lisbon in Moorish times and today has a kasbah-style layout. There is a tangible sense of history here and in the cobbled lanes you will encounter chefs firing their barbecues, music, children playing, characteristic shops and surprising castle-facing viewpoints.
Dinner will be a difficult choice – from great value in a local tasca to the heady heights of Michelin stars. But after eating, visitors must experience fado, the true sound of Lisbon. Fado literally means ‘fate’ and is believed to have originated with 18th century immigrants from Portugal’s colonies with its guitar-accompanied soulful songs featuring popular themes of love and death.
The second morning could begin at one of Lisbon’s newer attractions, the Lisboa Story Centre – Memories of the City. Found on one of the finest squares, Terreiro do Paço, it features an imaginative 60-minute tour with multimedia and sensory experiences that bring the city’s history to life.
Or for an artistic edge to the morning, Lisbon’s galleries are bursting with fine art, from Dutch masters to Rodin and more modern masterpieces by the likes of Warhol and Picasso.
No visit to Lisbon is complete without a visit to at least one of its UNESCO World Heritage sites, the iconic Belém Tower, a 16th century riverside edifice, which has become a symbol of the city; and the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, an extraordinary monastery built in honour of Portugal’s famed navigators.
As the sun goes down, head to Rossio for an early evening shot of the local cherry liqueur – ginjinha – with the locals or take in the views of this beautiful city from one of its many miradouros (viewpoints). The Miradouro da Graça is a popular sunset viewing spot and this autumn a new park opens alongside it, with lawns and a playground. For a complete contrast, the day might end on a horticultural note, with a trip to Lisbon’s main central open space, Parque Eduardo VII, noted for its estufas, hothouses/greenhouses filled with exotic plants.
The Post Office Travel Money’s annual City Costs Barometer for 2013 named Lisbon as the most affordable city break destination in the Eurozone, underlining its ability to please the budget-conscious as well as offering luxury and sophistication. No wonder that UK visitors have increased by nearly 10 per cent between January and May 2013.