48 Hour City Break in Lisbon

This week we take a weekend city break with our guest blogger Roseli Andrion to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. With some of the best hostels in the world opening up in this elegant but modern city, Lisbon is ideal for a cultured city break.

Laid back – that’s how Lisbon can be described. Spread over seven rugged hills, the city may be filled with grand buildings from its 14th and 15th century heyday, but modern-day Lisbon is a cool and cosmopolitan capital with buzzing nightlife. From the views overlooking the River Tejo to the colourful old buildings on the Bairro Alto’s streets, the city’s beauty are just some of the tricks Lisbon has up her sleeve…

Day One

View from the CastleCapture the Castle: Start your day at Castelo de São Jorge . Located on one of Lisbon’s highest hills, this fortress can be seen from virtually anywhere in the historic city centre. The breathtaking views from the top are the perfect introduction to the city, and the castle walls date back to before the city was even born. Once inhabited by Romans, Visigoths (Germans) and Moors (Arabs), the castle was strongly modified over the years, and from the 12th century, became the home for the Portuguese Real family.

Explore Alfama: The Alfama neighbourhood is located just below the castle. Lose yourself in the web of narrow streets and medieval alleys, and you’ll be rewarded with hidden squares of old churches, sleepy taverns, and whitewashed buildings complete with wrought iron balconies and pots of flowers. This former Jewish quarter is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods (many of the residents have lived here for years), and feels like a village within a city.

Tram Ride the Tram to Baixa: If you’ve worn yourself out wandering around the Alfama, the Eléctrico (tram) is a great way to get around. The pleasant ride on a bright yellow tram will take you through tree-lined streets to the lower part of the historic city centre, the Baixa. The historic heart of Lisbon is actually built on the medieval city ruins after the 1755 earthquake. But not all was lost – the 18th century buildings that sprung up in its place are filled with interesting little shops and old-world cafes. Today you can still see the old palace steps at the Praça do Comércio, and Lisbon’s oldest church, Igreja de São Domingos, rarely visited by tourists. Explore the Baixa’s grid of shopping streets and pick up a souvenir.

Feast in a Fado House: Fado music is a distinct part of Lisboan culture, its mournful tunes and lyrics inspired by Portuguese sailors and the city’s Arabic heritage. Dinner at a Fado House is a must in Lisbon, and a chance to experience the local cuisine, wine and culture. One of the best options is the Clube de Fado, where singers and musicians perform the Portuguese music style whilst you dine. Don’t forget to applaud loudly!

High Life in a Hostel: Lisbon has seen several top-class hostels opening up in recent years, where private rooms and artistic decor come as a standard. Try Lisboa Central Hostel, which has free Wi-Fi and breakfasts, plus funky decor and cool common areas. HB customers have rated it at 98%, and it’s within stumbling distance of Bairro Alto. Dorm beds start at EUR 16pppn.

Alternatively, the Travellers House is located at Rua Augusta, one of the most well-known streets in the country, and right in the city center. This 250-year old building has been renovated into a super-cool hostel, with a music lounge, movie room and a great free breakfast.


Day Two

A Morning in Belem: The Belem district is a testament to the city’s ‘Age of Discovery’, when many of the great Portguese explorers set off on voyages around the world. During this period the empire’s riches poured in and resulted in many of the city’s greatest monuments being constructed here. Belem is the best place to soak up the city’s former regal grandeur, with Palaces, traditonal houses and some of Lisbon’s best museums.

MonasteryStart off at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery), which dates from the early 16th century. This beautiful monastery shows the best of the Manuelino architectural style, but like most of Belem’s sights, is closed on Mondays.

Belem TowerNext head to the edge of the River Tejo, for the Torre de Belém and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Belém Tower and Monument to the Discoveries). Belem Tower was built in 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour, whereas the strikingly modern Monument to the Discoveries was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry the Navigator.

Pasteis de BelemA Sweet Treat: The Pastel de Belém (Belém’s pastry) is a must-try in Lisbon – these little cream tarts sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar have been around since the 19th century and are one of the most celebrated Portuguese specialities. Casa Pastéis de Belém (the coffee house where they were made famous) was founded in 1837 at the Rua de Belém, and its tiled walls echo a real Portuguese home. If there are no tables available, wait for one before placing your order: the service, pastries and the atmosphere are well worth the wait.

Lift Off: Lisbon is hilly, which can be tough after a morning’s sightseeing. Luckily there’s an easier way to get to the ‘upper’ city. Go back to the city center for the Elevador de Santa Justa, at Santa Justa street. Built in 1900, it covers a distance of approximately 45 meters between the lower and the upper neighbourhood. At the top platform, the Bairro Alto offers Portuguese culture at its best.

An evening in the Bairro Alto: The Bairro Alto is a picturesque quarter that has long been the boho-home of artists and writers, with colourful streets of graffiti-laden walls, fashion shops and edgy bars. The 16th-century streets may be silent by day, but at night they come alive with Lisbon’s legendary nightlife. There are plenty of cool pubs and restaurants in the area – order a Ginjinha, the local liqueur made of ginja berry (also known as sour cherry).

For more ideas on how to live it up in Lisbon, check out local blogs The Lisbon Connection and In Love With Lisbon – these clued up bloggers always know what’s going on in the city.

Roseli Andrion – If you’ve got any tips for a top weekend away in Lisbon, or a cheap 48 hour break in your favorite city to share, get in touch below!

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