Lisbon: Year-round sun, seven hills teeming with culture and the world’s best custard tarts

Whether you're there for a week or only a couple of nights, Lisbon is the ultimate getaway destination for those keen to immerse themselves in the local culture instead of searching for a home away from home. Emily Anderson paid a visit.

The Portuguese capital’s appeal as a popular city break suggests there’s more to it than just a year-round sunny climate. Lisbon’s multi-coloured houses, historic architecture and tiled façades rise up from the gleaming River Tagus (Rio Tejo) through twisted cobbled streets and diverse neighbourhoods. It offers a unique balance of authentic Portuguese tradition, edgy hotspots and Instagram perfect vistas.

Pasteis de nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts.

Pasteis de nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts.

Where to Stay

It is important to be well located in Lisbon, unless you really love a daily climb. Right in the heart of the city, the boutique AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado hotel is close to all the main attractions and only five minutes walk from the waterfront. A short stroll away is the wonderful Alfama district where we enjoyed exploring the cobbled streets and local art shops – grab a Pasteis de Nata and check out the magnificent Lisbon Cathedral.

View (Deluxe Room & Deluxe Suite)

The hotel, housed in an 18th-century building, uses many local Portuguese brands to create an authentic experience. This includes a wide range of Castelbel’s luxury products and the relaxing aroma of their candles fills the hotel; along with the muted décor and earthy textures it offers a spa-like atmosphere.

The turn down service made the stylish rooms feel fresh and calm when we arrived back after visiting Lisbon’s lively bars and restaurants in the nearby Baixa district. They provide a complimentary continental breakfast downstairs at the Delfina restaurant which also serves a wide range of tapas and Portuguese classic dishes; try the delicious Pasteis de Bacalhau (codfish cakes) tapas.

Reception

To help navigate the city, the AlmaLusa hotel provided us with a pre-installed 4G Smartphone to use for international calls and internet. It acts like your very own concierge service. We could easily request a taxi to trendy hotspots like LX Factory, reserve a table at one of their recommended restaurants, or use it to book day trips or walking tours.

AlmaLusa Baixa/Chiado, double rooms start from 195EUR per night. To book, visit www.almalusahotels.com. 

Things to do

View across Lisbon, Sao Jorge Castle, sunset, Graca viewpoint, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is built on seven hills but they are well worth the climb to reach a number of miradouros (view points) where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramas of the capital.

Once we had navigated our way uphill, we explored the Principe Real district. Take a stroll around the Embaixada Shopping Gallery – a 19th century palace turned boutique shopping mall, selling unique items from carefully selected designers. We also took advantage of the wonderful Portuguese weather to wander around the enchanting Botanical Garden of Lisbon.

Botanic Gardens

This tucked-away landscaped garden, laid out between 1858 and 1873, showcases a huge collection of subtropical plants, trees and vegetation.

In the evening we took a short taxi over to Belem and enjoyed views from the top of Padrão dos Descobrimentos – an unmissable monument built in 1940 to mark 500 years since Henry the Navigator’s death.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Credit Emily Anderson

From here you can also take a sunset boat cruise along the river with Tagus Cruises. This two hour sailboat cruise gives you the chance to take in the warm, evening sun. Secure a spot at the back of the boat for the best sunset.

Tagus river cruises

Tagus Cruises are priced at €45 per person for 2 hours — www.taguscruises.com.

We decided to escape the city for the day with a trip to Sintra. It was worthwhile for the incredible scenery and architecture, but does require some planning due to its popularity.

palacio nacional da pena

Avoid the crowds by taking the 45-minute train journey as early as possible. On arrival, Quinta da Regaleira is an easy walk from the station; we spent 2 hours exploring the gardens of this early 20th century gothic-style residence. Navigating through hidden tunnels at the bottom of a huge well and posing for photos in the mini-towers. Before we headed back we grabbed a tuk-tuk to the National Palace of Pena. We decided to skip going inside the palace and opted instead for a 45-minute hike up to the Cruz Alta where you can get the best view of the palace and the rest of Sintra.

Where to eat

Páteo - Pastel de Nata Mille Feuille - Photo Credit Paulo Barata

After working up an appetite exploring Lisbon’s diverse districts, the hotel helped us reserve a table at the Bairro do Avillez restaurant. The Páteo dining area situated around the back of the restaurant has a very different atmosphere to the bustling Taberna which we experienced on arrival. Its impressive layout creates a real buzz and we were quickly enjoying wine pairings with every course, concocted by one of the most renowned Portuguese chefs, Jose Avillez. We couldn’t resist the garlic and chilli prawns and the eye fillet steak. Save room for dessert though, the Pastel de Nata Mille-Feuille is a fabulous twist on a Portuguese classic.

Montemar

It wouldn’t be a trip to Lisbon without trying some of the finest seafood on offer, reserve a table outside at Monte Mar Restaurante. On a weekday lunchtime we found ourselves amongst businessmen and art students while we soaked up the sea breeze on the decking overlooking the Tagus river and shared fresh clams, crab and the fish of the day.

For a quick bite, you will be spoilt for choice at Time Out Market which houses some of the best chefs and restaurants under one roof.